Cobden's Pacifist Political Economy: From Special Interests to Irrational Voters
By Bryan Caplan
Like David and Robert Higgs, I’m a fan of Ralph Raico. Just one stand-out section of Raico’s new book explains the evolution of Cobden‘s pacifist political economy. He began like an orthodox public choice economist, blaming special interests for wars against the public interest:
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 aspired to be representatives of a free people. Cobden went so far as to trace the calamitous English wars against revolutionary France–which went on for a generation and ended only at Waterloo–to the hostility of the British upper classes to the anti-aristocratic policies of the French.
But then the facts rudely introduced Cobden to the reality of voter irrationality:
Castigating the aristocracy for its alleged war-lust was standard for liberal writers of earlier generations. But Cobden’s views began to change when he observed the intense popular enthusiasm for the Crimean War, against Russia and on behalf of the Ottoman Turks. His outspoken opposition to that war, seconded by his friend and co-leader of the Manchester School, John Bright, cost both of them their seats in the Commons at the next election.