War, revolution, and peace are the themes to which the Hoover Institution, of which I am a fellow, is formally dedicated. The first two are what we cope with. The last is what we hope and work for; it now prevails over a large, but by no means as yet decisive, part of the earth.
Revolution, in the extreme twentieth-century sense of the seizure of power by a fanatical ideological group, has largely faded. But we do see destructive revolutions fueled by lesser aims, and the heirs of the old totalitarian revolutions remain in power in a number of untrustworthy countries, some of them equipped with nuclear weapons.
As for war, minor wars keep breaking out and the threat of larger and worse conflicts still looms.
From the knowledge accumulated on the background and history of the world, what have we learned? We can certainly see that the lessons have not been properly attended to–in part because of Western failure to see that the necessary education is given to our citizens and politicians.
What, then, are the lessons that need learning? First, history is an immensely complex weave of facts and forces that produce unforeseeable concatenations, especially so in what has become a global, and thus even more complex, perspective. We must cover what may appear to us now as unlikely eventualities.
Another major lesson from history is that powerful human beings and movements have acted irrationally, both in the sense that they harbored insane ideas and in the sense that they miscalculated and misunderstood the motives and intentions of others.
The world will not be safe unless the open society, and nations not possessed by modern fanaticisms and archaic enmities, prevail everywhere. Clearly the largely Western political culture is the hope and can be the core of such a development.
But the necessary elements of the Western-style political and economic order do not emerge easily among culturally dissimilar populations. That order requires not only sound institutions and the rule of law but also the development of pluralist habits of mind.
The conclusions to be drawn from the century's history are, one would have thought, unavoidable. We can have no lasting and stable world peace until the conditions prevailing in, and between, the advanced democratic countries are established everywhere. Meanwhile, our tasks are not merely to provide a pluralist model but also to see that the superior technology so far achieved be used in defense of our present and the world's future. Military and political necessity dictates that the Western, and especially the American, lead in defense technology be not only maintained at the research level but actually deployed in weapons systems of a type and quantity that even the most ideology-crazed rulers cannot underestimate. At the same time, our foreign policy must be conducted in a manner they cannot misunderstand.
A truly crucial corollary is that the United States should not be inveigled into committing itself to attractive-sounding, but worthless or actively deleterious, arms treaties that other signatories in any case have no intention of observing.