Clarke "shows how the experience of the First World War transformed the laissez-faire liberalism of two generations of Anglo-American politicians"by Ian Irvine / April 12, 2017 / Leave a comment
Published in May 2017 issue of Prospect Magazine
The Locomotive of War: Money, Empire, Power and Guilt, by Peter Clarke (Bloomsbury, £25)
When Leon Trotsky coined his arresting phrase, “War is the locomotive of history,” he took for granted that there was a single destination at the end of the line: the communist state. Peter Clarke begs to differ. In his engrossing history, he shows how the experience of the First World War transformed the laissez-faire liberalism of two generations of Anglo-American politicians. The vast state-directed energies required to prosecute a global conflict, hitherto unimagined, revealed to them the potential progressive force which would reform capitalism and shape the 20th century.
With effortless command of detail and pointed anecdote, Clarke tells the story through the biographies and interactions of leading members of a gilded elite on both sides of the Atlantic: Woodrow Wilson, David Lloyd George, Edward Grey, Winston Churchill, Franklin D Roosevelt and, pre-eminently, John Maynard Keynes. All had grown up under the long shadow of William Gladstone.
The late 1870s had seen Gladstone’s return to politics, revolted at the “Bulgarian Horrors”—the civilian massacres of the Ottoman Empire. In the great public speeches of his Midlothian Campaign he created a new means of garnering popular support in the dawn of mass democracy as well as forging a new moral approach to foreign policy. It is only the largest of the many ironies explored that it would take global conflict, the seeming anathema of his liberal world view, to eventually bring about its success following the Second World War.