Yes, in WWI, the european multinationals did badly. But people saw that coming and said that they would never allow a war! How do you know you've quantified it right this time?

I'm not saying there'll never be war. I'm saying this is one of the biggest factors that maintain today's stable state of internal European peace. Of course it's possible for affairs to leave this state, but there will need to be a (visible) change pushing in that direction.

In 1914 there were very visible and long-standing forces pushing for war. It was at best an open question which opposing political force would win, and I would certainly predicted war, as did most other observers. The nearly-autocratic ruler of the biggest Continental European country (Germany) had been saying for years he was going to go to war. He had full political and military support for this at home, and based all his foreign policy and diplomacy on this. He constantly made or tried to make alliances with pretty much every single country in the world other than France with the explicitly stated goal of going to war together; not just in Europe, but including e.g. offering alliance to Mexico against the US to keep the US out of a European war. And remember Germany had recently (1870-1) fought France and won.

Even without analyzing the pro-war sentiment in many other countries, it was reasonable to conclude there would be a big war. Wars were pretty much constant - a war in continental Europe once every 20-30 years for centuries. The only difficulty was predicting such a big and long war as WW1 turned out to be, and that only happened because no side managed to win quickly - and the Germans came extremely close to defeating France completely in the first assault of 1914, within a single tactical decision's worth. (Ref: Guns of August, also The Proud Tower, both by Barbara Tuchman.)

The idea that multinationals would prevent war was mostly Woodrow Wilson's vision at the time, and I think even he saw it as an ideal for the future; he recognized that it wasn't achieved yet. Most pro-peace people placed their hopes on the International Socialist movement preventing a war by general strikes in belligerent countries and soldiers refusing to fight. This failed miserably because the Socialists didn't dare anything of the kind; even in countries where they were fairly strong politically (a very recent turn of events at the time), as in France, they declared support of the warring government in the end. A pity.

Rationality Quotes November 2009

by Eliezer Yudkowsky 1 min read29th Nov 2009281 comments


A monthly thread for posting rationality-related quotes you've seen recently (or had stored in your quotesfile for ages).

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