Nations Still Count in a Globalized World

Revealing the Invisible Hand

At the end of every major period of international strife since at least the Seven Years War, the claim has been put forth that a New World Order has finally arrived that makes possible the substitution of commerce for geopolitics and of law for armaments.  This view came into its own after the Napoleonic Wars with the blossoming of “classical” liberal thought.  As conservative jurist Sir Henry Maine noted at the time, “War appears to be as old as mankind, but peace is a modern invention.”

In England, James Mill could write that “There is, in the present advanced state of the civilized world, in any country having a good government and a considerable population, so little chance of civil war or foreign invasion, that, in contriving the means of national felicity, but little allowance can be rationally required of it.”  Mill would refer any remaining problems to an international court of arbitration.  Like nearly all liberals, Mill believed that, while a country could have economic connections anywhere in the world, it had no legitimate political or security concerns outside its own borders.

Jeremy Bentham wanted to replace “offensive and defensive treaties of alliance” with “treaties of commerce and amity,” while, across the Channel, economist J.B. Say argued that “it is not necessary to have ambassadors.  This is one of the ancient...

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