The Twenty Years’ Crisis, 1919-1939 by E. H. Carr

9/10

This book is incredible – in fact, many people suggest that it should be required reading for all politics students.

Edward Hallett Carr was an English diplomat, historian and journalist, and lived an incredible life. After graduating from Trinity College, Cambridge, he joined the Foreign Office to pursue diplomatic work, getting particularly involved in Anglo-Russian relations. His notable books are What is History?A History of Soviet Russia and The Twenty Years’ Crisis, 1919-1939.

For many, The Twenty Years’ Crisis is a neoliberal book, though I seriously beg to differ. In the book, Carr analyses the “peace” between World War I and World War II to criticise both neoliberalism (the idea that nation-states can cooperate over mutual, strategic gains) and neorealism (the idea that nation-states are inherently aggressive and driven by their perceived, selfish interests). Essentially, Carr believed the following:

  1. A neoliberal worldview is too idealistic to provide political thinkers with a realistic framework for strategising.
  2. A neorealist worldview is too grounded in reality, devoiding political thinkers of any goals, aspirations and tangible progress to work towards.

I’m almost certain that the aftermath of World War I – that came at the cost of 40 million lives, a Versailles Treaty and revolutions across Europe – had contributed, in some way, to the bittersweet air of pessimism enshrouded within Carr’s book.

What I found particularly genius about was Carr’s pre-World War II prediction that the next superpower to emerge would be an English-speaking nation. Carr explains that, following the British Empire, most of international politics had been institutionalised in the English language. For example, international law had begun being transferred from French to English. Therefore, the “game” of politics would be more easily played by a nation who shares this common language and has a formidable command of it.

Indeed, following World War II, the United States is now the major player in international politics. This may seem obvious in hindsight, but it is a genius prediction that has been lost amongst other great postmodern writers of Carr’s time, such as Radiguet, Camus and Foucault.

Unfortunately most of the writers that were recognised for this period were men. Nonetheless, Carr’s prediction for the English-speaking power begs many current questions for today’s world. In a world where currency is pegged against the dollar, and where the English language is even more embedded international institutions such as NATO, the EU, the ICC and the UN, what would it take for a non-English-speaking nation to replace the US as a dominant power?

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