I find most accounts of the Second World War unsatisfying. They usually focus on the events of the war and the actions and speeches of individuals. Rarely does an account consider the ideas which prompted particular courses of action.
In a previous post, I excerpted sections of Omnipotent Government: The Rise of the Total State and Total War. Having now finished it, I can advise that it is a satisfying read for those interested in the ideas behind the actions which make up the lamentable record of human history. The book is very much in the style of The Open Society and Its Enemies or The Road to Serfdom.
The message is this:
- Classical liberalism collapsed to be replaced by various socialist ideas and militarism.
- “Etatism” arose: a belief in the power and efficacy of the state.
- Interventionism became popular, since it was “mid-way” between capitalism and socialism.
- Etatism increased, causing problems which led to economic nationalism, protectionism and the search for autarky.
- Etatism and aggressive nationalism combined.
- Total war arose as a consequence of etatism, economic nationalism and militarism combined.
Mises, an economist of Jewish descent born into the Austro-Hungarian empire, then goes on to consider Nazism specifically, including its foul racist doctrines and the collapse of the Weimar Republic. These factors are obviously vital to understanding the events of the time, but Mises does not ascribe to them a primary role in the rise of the total state and total war. The root cause is, Mises insists, government intervention in the economy.
Mises goes on to consider the future of western civilization. He considers “The Delusions of World Planning” and contemporary “Peace Schemes”. His is a particularly interesting analysis of prospects for a union of the western democracies.
Please see my post on CentreRight for more.