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‘We Have Never Recovered from World War I’

And we missed the lessons we should have learned.

by
Ed Driscoll

Bio

October 12, 2013 - 1:00 pm
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This sea change in intellectual worldviews during that period would have profound ramifications for Europe’s future, Claire Berlinski wrote in her review of Dalrymple’s book:

Europeans, then, “are fearful of the future because they fear the past” and are desperate to secure material comfort, for it represents the purpose of their existence. So important to them is this that they “see children not as the inheritors of what they themselves inherited, as essential to the meaning of life, but as obstructions to the enjoyment of life, as a drain on resources, an obstacle to next year’s holiday in Bali or wherever it may be.”

Larger efforts to find transcendence in brief, meaningless, mortal lives have failed. Marxism has been discredited. Thus the rise of “small causes”-environmentalism, feminism, and anti-nationalism, too, in the form of enthusiasm for the European integration project.

Patriotism in Europe has been discredited. Like most observers, Dalrymple locates this loss of confidence in World War I, which shattered the belief that European history was a form of natural blossoming toward a garden of peace, rationality, and material advance. Whether in fact the war was “senseless,” as commonly accepted, is immaterial. His analysis of the change of perspective on the war is particularly interesting. The assignation of the epithet “meaningless,” he notes, emerged after the war, not during it: “not as a direct and spontaneous consequence of the war, but as the result of intellectual reflection on its meaning.” It is, again, well known among psychiatrists that victims of trauma are best able to recover if able to assign meaning to the experience they have endured. To have retrospectively understood the war as “meaningless,” in other words, is to have adopted the psychological strategy least likely to lead to emotional recovery. If even the victorious countries concluded that the war had been meaningless, there was no hope whatever in the defeated countries of making a meaningful narrative of events, “no way of incorporating it into a memory that could be other than humiliating to national self-esteem.” We all know the consequences: “In Germany, disillusion bred a mad militarism; in Britain and France, a blind pacifism.” World War II then “destroyed European self-confidence once and for all.”

In her post, Neo-Neocon concluded, “Whether people are aware of the details of the events of WWI or not, they are part of a culture of profound cynicism that has taken hold the Western world afterward and has been part of the reason for its decline. Simply put, the West lost a great deal of its boundless confidence in itself.”

Leftwing intellectuals recovered it for a time after World War II, but since the mid-to-late 1960s have been effectively stuck in a permanent malaise, and their cynicism infects millions directly and indirectly, occasionally with hilarious results, when true believers have drunk a little too much of the Kool-Aid, such as the classic headline yesterday in the London Daily Star: “Sir Bob Geldof: ‘All humans will die before 2030.’” But for the most part, it’s not much fun sharing the country with those who have effectively given up hope and replaced it with a toxic mixture of cynicism and doomsday rhetoric.

Does the left have a way out of such box canyon thinking? They certainly could use it, particularly now.

****

Cross-posted from EdDriscoll.com

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Blogging since 2002, affiliated with PJM since 2005, where he is currently a columnist, San Jose Editor, and founder of PJM's Lifestyle blog. Over the past 15 years, Ed has contributed articles to National Review Online, the Weekly Standard.com, Right Wing News, the New Individualist, Blogcritics, Modernism, Videomaker, Servo, Audio/Video Interiors, Electronic House, PC World, Computer Music, Vintage Guitar, and Guitar World.

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This article is fine and very worthy of reading. It is, of course, directed at an American readership. But look at it from the German point of view and the catastrophy is perhaps worse. The Kaiserreich was full of people dedicated in their ideals to "Kultur" (a rallying call in the German populationS before Germany even came to be as a political unity) ruled by a monarchy evolveing slowly towards a constitutional democracy as in England. Germany was no autocratic oligarchy as was Czarist Russia. What was originally just one more German vs French battle (going back to the 30 Years War and Napoleon when the French got the best of it to times when German got the best of it, i.e., Germany would have easily won in 1914 as in 1870. Then, as Prof. Niall Ferguson maintains, England, fearing competition in the imperialism business, entered the fray and, voilà, a Pan-European war with some overseas (Canada mixing in) outliers. But, then, the PROGRESSIVES in America and a real World War.

Teddy R and particularly Wilson began the drift (now a torrent) away from constitutionalism towards centralization in the US and mixing-in foregin adventures. One should read the propaganda directed at the Germans at the time and examine Wilson's tryannical surpression of all things German in America, even the language (my grandparents spoke German only behind closed doors), arresting pro-German Americans, etc. In Wilson we have the prototype of both of progressive centralization and progressive interventionism. So America went to war to "Make the World Safe for Democracy" (DEMO-cracy, not a Republic) and became the just-too-much for the Kaiser's armies. The result in Germany was a total breakdown and disqualification of "Kultur" embodied in the Kaiserreich. I doubt many Americans have an inkling of the loss of cultural identity in German society, all of which led to a basic dislike of the so-called Weimar Republik, a democracy without democrats as on perceptive German has said. The Right upto Hitler and the Left upto communists came to be >> the utter destruction and recontruction of Russia >> double menance of Hitlerism and Stalinism >> WW II and beyond.

My ideas above or no more than abbreviated theses. But, Germany today is remodelled as the US along the lines of "cultural marxism" (consult Prof. Kimball on this one or Alan Bloom in a way). The current German leadership, yes, Queen Bee Merkel, is basically a leftist (cf. her East German heritage) pushing a cultural marxism (by another name) and, horrified by the idea of another European mass war, is leading Germany without much democratic meanssuper into an European pan-superstatism (just consult Nigel Farage). In short, and I end here, the barbarity noted in the article is being repeated here in Germany, not to speak of other countries of the Old (and worn-out) World. America is not alone!!!


44 weeks ago
44 weeks ago Link To Comment
"The lamps are going out all over Europe, we shall not see them lit again in our life-time." Little that Lord Grey know that they haven't been turned back on yet. Gert Wilders knew that to be true.
44 weeks ago
44 weeks ago Link To Comment
Hmm...this refried bean has more comments than the first time it was posted.

http://pjmedia.com/eddriscoll/2013/10/06/we-have-never-recovered-from-world-war-i/
44 weeks ago
44 weeks ago Link To Comment
That the West hasn't recovered from WWI represents something of a narrative climax in Jacques Barzun's magnum opus, 'From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life": The cultural dislocation and generational loss in the wake of WWI was the decisive point at which the West broke with its past. So, yes, there's no recovery, as such; only echoes.
44 weeks ago
44 weeks ago Link To Comment
Problem with this way of looking at WW1 and WW2 is that it omits the impact of European colonialism in driving the hostilities. Spanish, French, and British prosperity was largely based on being long unified and having colonial holdings all over the planet. Germany and Italy didn't unify until the 1860's and missed out on the development (or plunder, as you wish) of colonies. Besides I've spent a lot of time in France, if I was their next door neighbor I'd want to steal it away. It really is beautiful enough to kill for.
44 weeks ago
44 weeks ago Link To Comment
I thought WWI was hardly touched on in my history classes, because it was so unflattering to us. The US entered the war after the bloodiest battles had been fought. And Gallipoli does not flatter our official WWII historian Winston Churchill. WWI does, however, flatter Hitler. So, there's nothing to see there, move along.
44 weeks ago
44 weeks ago Link To Comment
If the US had stayed out of WW I, Germany would have won, the Versialle Treaty would have never been enacted and the whole chain of events leading to Hitler's rise to power would have never happened. In a way it sort of reminds me of our current Middle East policy.
44 weeks ago
44 weeks ago Link To Comment
Agreed, lzzrdgrrl.

If the U.S. had struck east and West after taking Baghdad, Syria and Iran would not be roiling the Mideast today. It was a failure of will and a refusal to identify and destroy our (and the West's) enemies.
44 weeks ago
44 weeks ago Link To Comment
If America, and the West in general, had treated the War on Terror as the immigration problem that it actually is we could have avoided over a decade of foreign adventures bringing "Democracy" to people who neither want it, nor are fit for it.

Our problem with the Middle East is that we let its inhabitants migrate over here. When they're confined to their own countries they really can't get up to too much mischief no matter how much they want to.
44 weeks ago
44 weeks ago Link To Comment
I read that quoted paragraph from Theodore Dalrymple about WWI, and it occurred to me. The forces of Light and Civilisation lost that great conflict and all of the rest of the Second Thirty Years War, because they stopped fighting before it was over.......
44 weeks ago
44 weeks ago Link To Comment
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