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1 ... MODERN POLITICAL ECONOMIC HISTORY AND INTERNATIONAL POLITICS OBJECTIVES What has occurred in the past and what will occur in the future are not due to happen- stance but rather depend on choices about alternative paths that could be taken. To understand international affairs, we need to know the facts of history-and we need theories to organize these facts. Discussion of pivotal historical events of the past five hundred years provides common ground to explore the present and the future. The past several hundred years have been a natural experiment in the success and failure of the alternative forms of governance that have shaped our world. Today, as throughout human history, heads of state and policymakers must choose their course of action in international politics. Whether they seek the best outcomes for their country or their own personal aggrandizement, they must weigh the facts and the logic of their circumstances in deciding what to do. Decision makers need knowledge and skill in making their choices, and we need them to have that knowledge and skill because what they do may have great consequences for the future of their state and the world as a whole. In this chapter we focus on developing a common historical background that touches upon the most important events of the past several centuries and their place in contemporary international relations. This gives us a common set of factual referents to draw upon as we develop the tools for analyzing international affairs. The events ofhistory are sometimes described as a sequence of chance-path depen- dent--developments. Such a view leads to the memorization of key dates and names rather than an appreciation of how intertwined the events of history really are. If we think of historical developments and change as arising by chance, then we have no reason to believe that lessons for the future can be taken from a study of the past. This book rejects that viewpoint and maintains that lessons can be learned from history. To learn those lessons we must understand what has transpired and why. This chapter gives a necessarily too-brief answer to the question, What has happened? The next chapter introduces ideas and tools for answering the question, Why did and do things happen as they do? lV1UVt,ff.N rULl Although we can readily imagine alternative courses history might have taken, still we should not infer that the actual flow of events was due to happenstance in the past or that it is likely to be due to happenstance in the future. What happened in history is largely dependent on the anticipated consequences of alternative courses of action that were not chosen. These alternative courses-sometimes called counterfactual histories- are what did not happen. An assumption held throughout this book is that history can teach us lessons for the future, both by understanding why particular choices were made and by understanding why other choices, leading to alternative histories, were not made.
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This note was uploaded on 02/06/2011 for the course POL 130 taught by Professor Simonelli during the Spring '08 term at Purdue University.

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