The Great Illusion

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The Great Illusion is a book by Norman Angell, first published in the United Kingdom in 1909 under the title Europe's Optical Illusion and republished in 1910 and subsequently in various enlarged and revised editions under the title The Great Illusion.

In this book, Angell argued that war between industrial countries was futile because conquest did not pay. J.D.B. Miller writes: "The 'Great Illusion' was that nations gained by armed confrontation, militarism, war, or conquest."[1] The economic interdependence between industrial countries meant that war would be economically harmful to all the countries involved. Moreover, if a conquering power confiscated property in the territory it seized, "the incentive to produce [of the local population] would be sapped and the conquered area be rendered worthless. Thus, the conquering power had to leave property in the hands of the local population while incurring the costs of conquest and occupation."[1]

A new edition of The Great Illusion was published in 1933; it added "the theme of collective defence."[2] Angell was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1933.

It is sometimes said that the outbreak of World War I disproved Angell's argument in The Great Illusion, but Angell had not maintained that a war was impossible, rather that it would be futile. Although some aspects of Angell's argument have dated, his discussion of economic interdependence "was important and innovative."[3]

As well, Angell said that arms build-up, for example the naval race that was happening as he wrote the book in the early 1910s, was not going to secure peace. Instead it would lead to increased insecurity and thus increase the likelihood of war. Instead he said that only respect for international law, a world court, in which issues would be dealt with logically and peaceably would be the only route for peace. He reprinted his book in the closing months of the 1930s under the title The Great Illusion - Now, reiterating the same point but again his warning was disregarded. In this edition he also added his belief that if France, Britain, Poland, Czechoslovakia, etc. had bound themselves together to oppose all military aggression, including that of Hitler's, and to appeal to world justice for solution to countries' grievances, then the great mass of reasonable Germans would have stepped up and stopped Hitler from leading their country into an unwinnable war, and WWII would have been avoided.

See also[edit]

  • Grand Illusion (1937), classic French film whose title was inspired by the book

In popular culture[edit]

The Grand Illusion was mentioned in the novel Death of a Hero by Richard Aldington It was used as evidence by the main character that the coming WW1 would not happen.



  1. ^ a b Miller (1995), p.105.
  2. ^ Miller (1985) p.120 n.9.
  3. ^ Miller (1985), p.106.

Further reading

  • Miller, J. D. B. "Norman Angell and Rationality in International Relations," in D. Long and P. Wilson, eds., Thinkers of the Twenty Years' Crisis (1995)
  • Miller, J. D. B. Norman Angell and the Futility of War (1986).
  • Liberman, Peter. Does Conquest Pay? (1996).

External links[edit]