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Alex_Martelli comments on Beyond the Reach of God - Less Wrong

68 Post author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 04 October 2008 03:42PM

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Comment author: Alex_Martelli 04 October 2008 05:06:02PM 15 points [-]

"In sober historical fact", clear minds could already see in 1919 that the absurdity of the Treaty of Versailles (with its total ignorance of economic realities, and entirely fueled by hate and revenge) was preparing the next war -- each person (in both nominally winning and nominally defeated countries) being put in such unendurable situations that "he listens to whatever instruction of hope, illusion or revenge is carried to him on the air".

This was J.M. Keynes writing in 1919, when A. Hitler was working as a police spy for the Rechswehr, infiltrating a tiny party then named DAP (and only later renamed to NDA); Keynes' dire warnings had nothing specifically to do with this "irrelevant" individual, which he had no doubt never even heard about -- there were plenty of other matches ready to set fire to a tinderbox world, after all; for examle, at that time, Benito Mussolini was a much more prominent figure, a well known and controversial journalist, and had just founded the "Fasci Nazionali di Combattimento".

So your claim, that believing the European errors in 1919 made another great war extremely likely, "is an unreasonable belief", is absurd. You weaken your interesting general argument by trying to support it with such tripe; "inevitable" is always an overbid, but to opine that the situation in 1919 made another great war all too likely within a generation, quite independently of what individuals would be leading the various countries involved, is perfectly reasonable.

Keynes's strong and lucid prose could not make a difference in 1919 (even though his book was a best-seller and may have influenced British and American policies, France was too dead-set in its hate and thirst for revenge) -- but over a quarter of a century later, his ideas prevailed: after a brief attempt to de-industrialize Germany and push it back to a pastoral state (which he had already argued against in '19), ironically shortly after Keynes' death, the Marshall Plan was passed (in rough outline, what Keynes was advocating in '19...) -- and we *didn't* get yet another great european war after that.

Without Hitler, but with Versailles and without any decent reconstruction plan after the Great War, another such great war WAS extremely likely -- it could have differed in uncountable details and even in strategic outline, from the events as they actually unfolded, just like the way a forest fire in dry and thick woods can unfold in many ways that differ in detail... but what exact match or spark lights the fire is in a sense a detail -- the dry and flame-prone nature of the woods makes a conflagration far too likely to avoid it by removing one specific match, or spark: there will be other sparks or matches to play a similar role.