The Locomotive of War: Money, Empire, Power, and Guilt

Peter Clarke. Bloomsbury, $30 (432p) ISBN 978-1-62040-660-1
“War is the locomotive of history,” Leon Trotsky declared in 1922, and former professor Clarke (Lancashire and the New Liberalism) uses this oft-quoted line as the driving force for his own narrative of world war and the making of liberal internationalism. Apart from their significance as global conflicts, he argues, the two world wars fundamentally altered the nature of Anglo-American capitalism, ushering in an era of full employment and decreasing inequality among classes—in other words, reform, not revolution. To Clarke, fully understanding this transformation involves rethinking the relationship between militarism and the political liberalism that flourished in the first half of the 20th century. Readers prepared for an exploration of these subjects will be disappointed, as Clarke instead embarks on a whistle-stop tour of the lives of prominent Anglo-American liberals, including Winston Churchill, David Lloyd George, John Maynard Keynes, and Woodrow Wilson, detailing their roles in the First and Second World Wars. While Clarke’s tightly coiled prose is as incisive as ever, the focus on great men means the book falls short of its ambitious aims. It succeeds as a reassessment of several historiographical tropes—namely, German war guilt—but never teases out the implications of the dalliance between liberalism and militarism. War, it turns out, is apparently the locomotive of biography. (July)
Reviewed on: 05/01/2017
Release date: 07/18/2017
Genre: Nonfiction
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