Ayn Rand on World War I: (In)Decisive Arguments and the Lessons of History

I’ve been prepping to teach a course on international relations this term. In the course of doing so, I decided, on a lark, to re-read Ayn Rand’s essay “The Roots of War,” which I hadn’t read in awhile. On re-reading it, I was startled at how crazy it seemed since the last time that I’d read it–baffling, misleading, exasperating, and confusing.

Here is one of the baffling claims she makes, about the origins of World War I:

Observe that the major wars of history were started by the more controlled economies of the time against the freer ones. For instance, World War I was started by monarchist Germany and Czarist Russia, who dragged in their freer allies (Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, p. 33 in the Centennial Edition).

The first sentence is debatable, but the second sentence strikes me as bizarre. Can anyone¬†think of a plausible interpretation of the origins of World War I that holds Germany and Russia jointly responsible for starting it? I’m not questioning the abstract possibility that two antagonists can separately and simultaneously initiate force against one another. That’s odd, but can in principle happen (and does happen). What I find puzzling is why Rand thinks Russia can be saddled with having started this particular war. Continue reading