Why Historical Revisionism Matters
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 caused 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.
In general, though, states 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 democratic societies, these are endorsed—often invented—by compliant writers and intellectuals.
The unmasking of such excuses for war and war-making is called historical revisionism, or simply revisionism.
Revisionism and classical liberalism (what is today called libertarianism) have always been closely linked.
The greatest classical liberal thinker on international affairs was Richard Cobden, whose crusade against the Corn Laws, brought free trade and prosperity to England in 1846. Cobden’s two-volume Political Writings (reprinted by Garland Publishing in 1973) all deal with 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 claimed to be representatives of a free people. Cobden went so far as to trace the calamitous English wars against revolutionary France—which ended only at Waterloo—to the fear and hostility of the British upper classes to the anti-aristocratic policies of the French.
Castigating the aristocracy for its
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