So Much Killing, So Many Führers
Neither the Wars Nor the Leaders Were Great
by Ralph Raico
The king of Prussia, Frederick II (“the Great”), confessed that he had seized the province of Silesia from the Empress Maria Theresa in 1740 because, as a newcomer to the throne, he had to make a name for himself. This initiated a war with Austria that developed into a worldwide war (in North America, the French and Indian War), and went on to 1763. Of course, many tens of thousands died in that series of wars.
Frederick’s admission is probably unique in the annals of leaders of states. In general, rulers have been much more circumspect about revealing the true reasons for their wars, as well as the methods by which they conduct them. Pretexts and evasions have proliferated. In today’s democratic societies, these are endorsed – often invented – by compliant professors and other intellectuals.
For generations, the unmasking of such excuses for war and war making has been the essence of historical revisionism, or simply revisionism. Revisionism and classical liberalism, today called libertarianism, have always been closely linked.
The greatest classical-liberal thinker on international affairs was Richard Cobden, whose crusade for repeal of the Corn Laws triumphed in 1846, bringing free trade and prosperity to England. Cobden’s two-volume Political Writings are all revisionist accounts of British foreign policy.
Cobden maintained that
The middle and industrious classes of England can have no interest apart from the preservation of peace. The honours, the fame, the emoluments of war belong not to them; the battle-plain is the harvest-field of the aristocracy, watered by the blood of the people.
He looked forward to a time when the slogan “no foreign politics” would become the watchword of all who aspired to be representatives of a free people. Cobden went so far as to trace the calamitous English wars against revolutionary France – which went on for a generation and ended only at Waterloo – to the hostility of the British upper classes to the antiaristocratic policies of the French.