Beyond Appeasement: Interpreting Interwar Peace Movements in World Politics

Beyond Appeasement: Interpreting Interwar Peace Movements in World Politics

Beyond Appeasement: Interpreting Interwar Peace Movements in World Politics

Beyond Appeasement: Interpreting Interwar Peace Movements in World Politics

Synopsis

The interwar peace movements were, according to conventional interpretations, naive and ineffective. More seriously, the standard histories have also held that they severely weakened national efforts to resist Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia. Cecelia Lynch provides a long-overdue reevaluation of these movements. Throughout the work she challenges these interpretations, particularly regarding the postwar understanding of Realism, which forms the basis of core assumptions in international relations theory. The Realist account labels support for interwar peace movements as idealist. It holds that this support-largely pacifist in Britain, largely isolationist in the United States-led to overreliance on the League of Nations, appeasement, and eventually the onset of global war. Through a careful examination of both the social history of the peace movements and the diplomatic history of the interwar era, Lynch uncovers the serious contradictions as well as the systematic limitations of Realist understanding and outlines the making of the structure of the world community that would emerge from the war. Lynch focuses on the construction of the United Nations as evidence that the conventional history is incomplete as well as misleading. She brings to light the role of social movements in the formation of the normative underpinnings of the U. N., thus requiring scholars to rethink their understanding of the repercussions of the interwar experience as well as the significance of social movements for international life.

Excerpt

Great Britain and the United States in the interwar period witnessed the most polemical and complex peace movement activity in history. Conventional interpretations of this activity have framed debates in history, international relations, and international security studies. These interpretations, however, are misleading. They have limited our historical understanding of the role, influence, and meaning of interwar peace movements. They have also constrained theories about the role of social movements in world politics.

In contrast to conventional interpretations, I argue that interwar peace movements in Britain and the United States contested traditional security norms and legitimized significant norms that underlay global international organization and, ultimately, the construction of the United Nations. The importance of this activity has been masked, however, by the prevailing narratives of the interwar period, which blame peace movements for appeasement in Britain and isolationism in the United States and ignore social agency in the founding of the United Nations. The power of these dominant narratives, in turn, has reinforced theoretical tendencies that label social agency as "idealist" as opposed to "realist," implying that it is dangerous, simplistically liberal, or unworthy of serious consideration.

Scholarship and conventional wisdom provide contradictory answers to the question about the role and meaning of interwar peace movements, a stance that leads to a double paradox. First, popular and academic discourse blames peace movements for interwar failures, yet scholars argue . . .

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