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I wish it were not everlastingly necessary to reiterate the fact that the world has moved. Norman Angell, The Great Illusion IN A 1904 ESSAY TITLED “The Law of Acceleration,” historian and novelist Henry Adams became one of the first to observe that the pace of societal evolution was substantially increasing as time went on. Borrowing imagery from Newton , Adams explained how the revolutions in science and industrialization were rendering many aspects of traditional life obsolete at ever-increasing speeds. The law is as “definite and constant as any law of mechanics,” Adams argued, and it “cannot be supposed to relax its energy to suit the convenience of man.”1 The speedatwhichtechnologywaschangingallaspectsofsocietycouldbedisorienting and disconcerting. “The hunger for stability is entirely natural,” according to the philosopher William James. “Change is scary; uncharted change, demoralizing . If the law of acceleration is not to spin the world out of control, society must cherish its lifelines into the past.”2 But the speed of change would not wait for the anxious to adjust their expectations. By mid-century, Arnold Toynbee could note without controversy that it was “not an article of faith” but “a datum of observation and experience history” to note that history was accelerating, and “at an accelerating rate.”3 For better or for worse, the twentieth century witnessed greater transformation in humanity’s lot than all others that came before it combined. Fortunately, the vast majority of the changes turned out to be positive.4 Angell cited the Law of Acceleration too, hoping that it could account for a rather rapid change in the way humanity regarded war.5 Was Norman Angell a naïve utopian, or was he merely born a century too soon? Will war always be with us, like sex, death, and taxes? Perhaps it is too soon to pass any definitive judgment. But it is worth pausing a moment to ponder the profound changes that have taken place in international society over the course of the last couple of centuries. The world has indeed moved, and in remarkable, if sometimes underappreciated, ways. Angell, Honor, and the Proliferation of Peace Conclusion 216 Conclusion If history is the best guide to human nature, then the evidence seems overwhelming that skeptics are correct when they argue that our innate aggressions guarantee that war will always be a central feature of international politics. The extent to which aggression is innate or learned is a controversial question that cuts across many of the social sciences, from psychology to anthropology to sociology , and one that stands at the heart of the debate between the major schools of international relations theory.6 Realists tend to believe that human nature is not only bellicose but immutable, and that passions will, at least occasionally, overrule reason. Alexander Hamilton spoke for this perspective when he warned those who would believe in the “paradox of perpetual peace” to remember that people are “ambitious, vindictive, and rapacious.” Those who seek perpetual peace “disregard the uniform course of human events, and to set at defiance the accumulated experience of ages.”7 “The struggle that is history,” wrote Samuel Huntington, “began with the eating of the forbidden fruit and is rooted in human nature.”8 To him and many other classical realists, war, like murder, is an inevitable and fundamental aspect of the human experience. Mainstream international relations theory is guilty at times of assuming that nothing of consequence changes. Scholars search for eternal rules of state interaction , implicitly discounting the possibility that they aim at a moving target, that the rules they seek to describe could be in constant flux. Some have argued that extended stability gives only the temporary illusion of progress, since history goes through identifiable cycles between war and peace.9 Periods of calm are merely pauses between cataclysms, which give each new generation its own opportunity to learn lessons about the horrors of war. Colin Gray has argued on behalf of the conventional wisdom that “scholars who periodically discover accurately enough that military security appears not to matter very much today are akin to people who decide that because the weather now is fine the days of bad weather obviously have passed.”10 The climate cannot change, in Gray’s mind; weather patterns will always be the same.11 International politics, alone among human institutions, is evidently immune to the forces of evolution. Constructivists, many of whom have the classical liberal’s faith in the potential for humanity to learn and progress, generally argue that passions...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9781589016866
Related ISBN
9781589017108
MARC Record
OCLC
695994113
Pages
272
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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