During the period of inter-war years (1918-1939) idealism also known as liberal internationalism became the dominant ideology for both political figures and International Relations theorists. Ultimately the outbreak of World War Two proved that the idealism of this era was incapable of preserving the peace and that the fundamental beliefs of these early idealists were misplaced. This solution offers a comprehensive explanation of how the inter-war idealists viewed the international structure of the 1920s and 1930s as they wished it to be as opposed to how it truly was.
ORIGINS AND MAIN PRINCIPLES OF THE INTER-WAR IDEALIST MOVEMENT
The idealism of the 1920s and 30s was heavily influenced by the work of the German philosopher Immanuel Kant. Although primarily a philosopher Kant wrote a number of essays on the causes of war including how nations can achieve perpetual peace. His work led to the development of two of the principal characteristics of inter-war idealism.
First, the creation of Republican nation states. Kant argues that in a Republican state the important decisions are made by the people and the citizens would be very cautious about declaring war. Their caution he contends would be natural considering that in war it is the populace who suffer as it is they who must fight, pay the costs of war and repair the devastation caused by conflict. In comparison autocratic leaders exercise little caution when declaring war as it is not the leaders who will suffer the consequences of their decisions.(1)
Kant also proposes the creation of a league of peace to establish law and order in international relations. This league unlike a peace treaty would not merely terminate one war but seek to prevent any future wars. The league would be an international body and would aspire to maintain and secure the freedom of all nation states.(2)
The First World War was also a major factor in shaping early idealist thought. When war broke out in 1914 military and political leaders on both sides envisaged a quick and decisive victory. In fact the war lasted four years and over 10 million soldiers lost their lives. The tragic loss of life and the terrible conditions that the armies were forced to endure solidified widespread public support for liberal internationalism and the hope that the people should never again suffer the horrors of war.
The idealist movement shaped by both the work of Kant and the memory of World War One thus placed their hopes for a lasting peace on three important ideals. First, the creation of the League of Nations at the Versailles peace conference of 1919. The League of Nations was an international organization whose function was to keep the peace. It was similar to the league of peace proposed by Kant and it possessed the authority to impose sanctions or conduct military operations against any aggressor state.(3)
Second, that the spread of democracy combined with self-determination for all nations would ensure peace and stability in Europe.(4) This followed the logic of Kant that the people themselves would not choose war and are only led into conflict by undemocratically elected totalitarian leaders.
The final characteristic of inter-war idealism was that through the forum of the League of Nations 'law not war' was believed to be the way to resolve international disputes. This was the idea of 'collective security' in which all nations would support the independence and territorial integrity of each other. The intention was that law and upholding the law would become the crucial principles of the new international order.(5)
THE FAILURE OF IDEALISM IN PRESERVING LONG TERM PEACE
THE LEAGUE OF NATIONS
For the idealist movement the League of Nations was the perfect solution to the military and political alliances which had led Europe into World War One.(6) The idealists envisaged the league as a respected and influential international body that would represent the desire of all nations for peace and that any aggressor state would be faced by the collective will of all member nations. The League of Nations formally came into being on January 30th 1920 and was given the authority to either impose sanctions on states defying international law or if this deterrent failed then military force could be used.
In practice however it soon became clear that the League of Nations would be unable to preserve the peace unless ...