The causes of the Great War are still being debated a century after Armistice Day 1918. Like all great ghosts its creaks and moans are still heard on dark nights and we're not really sure if it's gone. French president Emmanuel Macron reassured the public at the centenary commemoration that the nationalistic "demons" that caused it would never return. They had been banished he said, by the European Union. The New York Times reported:
In marking the centennial of the armistice, Mr. Macron said that from the ashes of that war and the next one came hope. “This hope is called the European Union, a union freely entered into, never before seen in history, a union that has freed us of our civil wars,” he said.
"Yet absent from the ceremony," the NYT noted with some nervousness, "was the prime minister of Britain, which is currently in the throes of trying to detach itself from the European Union." Her absence was in stark contrast to the man who was actually present: Donald Trump. "Mr. Trump, who recently declared himself 'a nationalist,' appeared grim as he listened" to Mr. Macron indict nationalism as threat to world peace.
Macron took aim at the style of nationalism that has been embraced by President Trump, warning a crowd of dignitaries and heads of state about how the splintering of multilateral institutions led to the first World War and now threaten to divide the world once again.
If Macron's great hope falters there's the ready made excuse of Paradise Lost. The saga of the Fall has Theresa May in the role of Eve tempted by the Brexit apple with Donald Trump naturally as the snake. But it's not clear that the collapse of multilateral institutions in 1914 caused the war in the first place. It might be argued it was the international system with its entangling alliances and secret treaties that dragged the world kicking and screaming to slaughter of the trenches. Integration can pose dangers of its own, perils that British Labour Party MP Norman Angell underestimated in his 1909 work The Great Illusion. To Angell as with Macron it seemed obvious that economic integration would bring peace in Europe for time to come.
What is the real guarantee of the good behaviour of one state to another?” Angell asked. “It is the elaborate interdependence which, not only in the economic sense, but in every sense, makes an unwarrantable aggression of one state upon another react upon the interests of the aggressor.
Ten years and ten million deaths later Angell's thesis was in tatters for a world without firebreaks can internationalize a local incident that might otherwise have remained isolated. It was precisely the telegraph, railroad and even the invention of corned beef that made "some damned fool thing in the Balkans" able spread like wildfire. Once the finger of Serbia had been caught in the mangle the entire European arm was pulled into the meat grinder, inevitably and inexorably. As Ben Chu at the Independent put it, integration by itself does nothing; it cannot compensate for a political class gripped by madness.