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Error in Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal?

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skap35
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I'm reading Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal and there is a passage that doesn't seem right to me. In The Roots of War chapter (page 38 of the centennial edition):

Let those who are actually concerned with peace observe that capitalism gave mankind the longest period of peace in history - a period during which there were no wars involving the entire civilized world - from the end of the Napoleonic wars in 1815 to the outbreak of World War I in 1914.

The first two wars in this period that come to mind are the Civil War and the Spanish American War. The only thing I can think of is that she meant that Capitalism never caused a war. If I'm interpreting that wrong can anyone tell me what she means by this?

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The passage you quoted includes the phrase "...no wars involving the entire civilized world..." The Spanish-American War and The American Civil War, unlike the Napoleonic Wars and the World Wars, clearly did not involve the entire civilized world.

- Grant

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The first two wars in this period that come to mind are the Civil War and the Spanish American War. The only thing I can think of is that she meant that Capitalism never caused a war. If I'm interpreting that wrong can anyone tell me what she means by this?

Between 1815 and 1914 we also had:

-The Crimean War (1853-1856)

-The Wars of German Unification, against Denmark (1864), Austria (1866) and France (1871)

-The 1st and 2nd Boer Wars (starting in 1881 and 1899)

-The Russo-Japanese War of 1905 (By 1905, Japan was quite the modern nation)

During this time, the ammount of Free Trade between England and Germany was at some of the highest levels historically, yet that did not actually stop those nations from creating a huge ammount of pre-war tension and so in the end, all the capitalism in the world did very little to stop World War One.

Ayn Rand wants to make the case that capitalism was responsible for the period of "peace" in the 19th century. As we have already identified many wars in during that period, we can see she is exagerating her claim. As for her claim involving wars involving "the entire civilized world", it was always difficult to fight a war on that scale and the 19th century actually allowed for the technologies to make fighting a true world war possible.

Ayn Rand is arguing that Capitalism and Free Trade always trade prevents war. There are more then enough examples to show that this is not the case. She also does a great disservice to history by providing and naively simplistic view of the 19th century. Her advocacy of capitalism is a good thing, but she really should not have written misleading hyperbolic statements like that.

Edited by Strangelove
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Did you read what the other posters said, Strangelove? During all the wars mentioned above life continued in the rest of the world pretty much as normal. It wasn't like WWI or WWII when EVERYONE was at war and there was pretty much nowhere to go to escape it. In centuries prior to that there were very few large "civilizations" going at the same time, and usually they were either at war with each other or about to go to war with each other.

Capitalism didn't cause WWI or WWII, but the death of the ideals of capitalism (caused by the lack of philosophical bedrock holding it up) sure did. There's never been a time or place when capitalism was more than partial and approximate; this is why Objectivists aren't conservatives; we are not trying to hang onto the ideals of the semi-capitalism that provided some vestiges of civilization in the past, we are seeking to have the whole thing some time in the future.

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And as far as I know, during the latter part of the middle ages there was near-constant war throughout Europe, which was pretty much the whole "civilized" world at the time. For example the colonial powers had quite a lot of fights in that period (and also after/during the 16th century), Spain was usually at war with someone, France and England fought quite a few times, and on and on it goes.

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Before the Napoleonic Wars, you have the 7 Years War (the American portion of which was called the French and Indian war), which involved most of the globe as well.

This also predates the period we're talking about . . . the French and Indian war was before the Revolutionary war! It certainly wasn't in the 19th century.

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This also predates the period we're talking about . . . the French and Indian war was before the Revolutionary war! It certainly wasn't in the 19th century.

Didn't I say that? The original quote references the Napoleonic wars. I did use the word "before". I added it simply as extra info, lest one assert that a "world war" before Napoleon didn't occur. :)

Edited by KendallJ
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Ayn Rand is arguing that Capitalism and Free Trade always trade prevents war. There are more then enough examples to show that this is not the case.

Good post Strangelove. However, I wish to comment on the above two sentences. I interpreted Ayn Rand's essays in CUI to be more along the lines of "the more capitalistic a society is, the greater the opportunity cost of going to war." (my quote, not hers). This suggests that in an ideal capitalistic world there would be no large scale military conflicts. There has not been any historical examples of two or more quasi-idealistic capitalist societies going to war although there has not really been an opportunity for this to happen!

The paraphrased idea above is not wrong but I agree with you that to described the time period between the Napoleanic Wars and the World Wars as peaceful would be an exaggeration.

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There has not been any historical examples of two or more quasi-idealistic capitalist societies going to war although there has not really been an opportunity for this to happen!

The only possibility that I can think of off the top of my head is the War of 1812 between the Brits and the Americans, though I dont know anything about that war to know how capitalist those two nations were.

I also wasn't alive to see it, but I do remember reading how there was a lot of popular literature written in the 1980's about how a second war between Japan and America was coming again because Americans could not stand to have Toyota make more money then Ford.

In a similar vein, there is one book I have been very intrigued by called A Free Nation Deep in Dept. looking at how representitive nations theoretically actually have an easier time funding their wars then oppresive ones. Here are some things it argues according to some reviews:

-"MacDonald, a former investment banker, examines the historical linkage between political freedom and public debt, showing why representative governments have been able to borrow more cheaply from citizen lenders than autocratic heads of state who do not consider their citizens to be equals."

-"There is superb chapter on France versus England in eighteenth century. England had half the GNP of France, but it was always able to outspend France in their wars. England relied on 3% perpetual debt, readily marketable by holders, with published information about budget and single market indicator of England's credit rating. Plus England was run by "heroic citizen-creditors" who were willing to entrust their capital to Bank of England (for loan for war) because they ran the government and were sure they would get taxes to make the debt sound. France had kings who defaulted on a whim, a bramble bush of borrowing instruments, a terribly inefficient tax system, with lots of exemptions for their aristocrats, no public information and a lousy resale market. French citizen did not lend to France. England paid 3% on its debt and France paid 11% on its debt as the Revolution neared. England carried debt of double its GNP and France went bankrupt which killed the ancien regime with debt of 2/3d of GNP. Terrific story."

The 18th Century example intrigues me because it was my understanding that England at the time was quasi-Capitalist in some way.

Edited by Strangelove
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The only possibility that I can think of off the top of my head is the War of 1812 between the Brits and the Americans, though I dont know anything about that war to know how capitalist those two nations were.

I was using the adjective "capitalistic" according to Ayn Rand's definition; so some considerable degree of ethics would be required from the government for a nation to be considered capitalist. Since the United States and Great Britain were still heavily involved in the slave trade as well as in colonialism, it is not accurate to describe them as capitalistic nations. To reiterate, there has not really been any nation that have had a truly capitalistic overarching philosophy. When such nations come into existence, I suspect that they will not have reason to initiate force against one another.

I also wasn't alive to see it, but I do remember reading how there was a lot of popular literature written in the 1980's about how a second war between Japan and America was coming again because Americans could not stand to have Toyota make more money then Ford.

Hah! I hope not. I was born in 1981 and I do not remember hearing about such hostile envy at all. Of course, all this would take would be a political party that is both for buffoonish protectionism and unwarranted, jingoistic military aggression. Nevertheless, I am very skeptical that a war with Japan to remove them from the automobile market was ever given any serious consideration by individuals in power.

In a similar vein, there is one book I have been very intrigued by called A Free Nation Deep in Dept. looking at how representitive nations theoretically actually have an easier time funding their wars then oppresive ones.

Before reading the book description or the reviews, I would agree with this hypothesis. Democratic republics should have an easier time funding their wars than totalitarian regimes.

  1. The populace would have more wealth to begin with.
  2. The populace would be more willing to fight for a just cause.

Since this book appears to be filled with examples in history, it could be an interesting read.

Edited by DarkWaters
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