Technocratic Internationalism in the Interwar Years: Building Europe on Motorways and Electricity Networks
Authors: Johan Schot and Vincent Lagendijk
In the autumn of 1898, the popular English journalist William T. Stead undertook a journey around Europe to find out whether the upcoming Peace Conference in The Hague stood any chance of success. He visited London, Brussels, Berlin, Moscow, Yalta, Constantinople, Sofia, Budapest, Vienna, Rome and Bern in rapid succession. He travelled the Orient Express of the international railway company Wagon-Lit, and proudly testified as to the ease, speed and comfort of travelling. In his articles, he expressed the view that the European nation-states were ready to unite in a Union comparable to the United States of America in order to escape the ‹blighting curse of the armed peace›, and prevent war. He was full of hope, because the countries he passed through were not at war and permission to cross borders was obtained with ease. He noted with great satisfaction that ‹for travelling purposes Europe is already a commonwealth›. Stead appealed to an oftinvoked conception. In the second half of the nineteenth century, many intellectuals before him had argued that trade between countries, facilitated by transport and communication networks, not only promoted economic growth but also made those countries unlikely to go to war. One of the best known expressions of this set of ideas was Norman Angell’s book The Great Illusion, published in 1909, which had several editions in Britain and innumerable translations and editions abroad. According to Angell the logic of economic progress and the interests of the people in Europe made war illusory.
When the Great War erupted, the alleged networks of peace turned into instruments of war. The discourse of the peace-creating and integrative effect of networks did not wane, however. It continued to thrive on the foundations laid during the nineteenth century. In this article, we argue that this particular discourse is one of the pivotal elements of what we call technocratic internationalism. While we describe technocratic internationalism in general terms in the following section, the main body of our article analyses and compares the development of two infrastructures: motorway and electricity networks. These were two of the major new international networks whose development started in the interwar period. They allow us to demonstrate not only technocratic internationalism at work, but also the particular European direction it took in these years. Technocratic internationalist arguements were integrated into an agenda for European unification, one already alluded to by Stead.
Cite this article as: Schot J, Lagendijk V. Technocratic Internationalism in the Interwar Years: Building Europe on Motorways and Electricity Networks. Journal of Modern European History. 2008;6(2):196-217. doi:10.17104/1611-8944_2008_2_196