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From Prof Juan E. Corradi.

Hobbes’ warre is the real threat

Sir, Gideon Rachman’s article “The long shadow of the 1930s” (November 29) presents two frightful scenarios: depression and war. His consideration on what might prevent them, however, is less convincing.

First, the collective memory of 20th-century tragedies is no deterrent, because the speed of transactions, the new technologies of instant communication, the need to multi-task, and the sheer velocity of daily life, jointly militate against long-term memory. Few people have the time to ponder and reflect.

Second, the fact that we live better than our forebears does not cancel the general hypothesis that deprivation is relative, not absolute. Relative deprivation, even among the affluent, can trigger widespread discontent, which is what should give us pause.

Third, while massive conventional or nuclear war is unlikely, the spread of many and diverse “low-intensity conflicts” is not. They multiply like maggots on a corpse, and can (without the millions sacrificed in two world wars) instil suffering and terror. The “better angels in us” will not prevail. The probability of a third world war is low, but the real threat is what Thomas Hobbes called “warre” – multiple aggressions of all against all.

Juan E. Corradi, New York University, US

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