The Worth of War

Benjamin Ginsberg. Prometheus Books, $24 (270p) ISBN 978-1-61614-950-5
“At the risk of being excommunicated from the faculty club,” Ginsberg, director of the Center for Advanced Governmental Studies at the Johns Hopkins University, gives an unexpected answer to the question “War! What is it good for?” He proposes four ways in which war encourages significant elements of human progress. First—and arguably most surprising—war is an “agent of rationality.” States that practiced “magical thinking” suffered disaster, while those able to “rationalize authority”—from the Aztecs and the Mayas to the Third Reich—moved toward a more modern world. War was also central to the development and diffusion of technology through “conquest, imitation, and civil-military technology transfer.” Ginsberg offers another unconventional judgment when he concludes that wars diminish government brutality: subjects become citizens; citizens become consumers of war-induced production. During WWII, the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. both learned the links between “warfare and welfare,” voluntary participation, and victory. Finally, Ginsberg argues, war “has served as a great spur to economic development,” as economic strength tends to be a consequence of military power—to a point where administrative and coercive capacities can be turned inward: swords beaten into “malign plowshares.” Ginsberg’s work is certain to stir controversy—particularly his conception of “human progress.” Agent: Claire Gerus. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 06/09/2014
Release date: 09/02/2014
Genre: Nonfiction
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