THE WORLD FROM THE TWENTIES TO THE NINETIES
In Other's Words
#1 A RELATIVISTIC WORLD
The modern world began on 29 May 1919 when photographs of a solar eclipse, taken on the island of Principe off West Africa and at Sobral in Brazil, confirmed the truth of a new theory of the universe. It had been apparent for half a century than the Newtonian cosmology, based upon the straight lines of Euclidean geometry and Galileo's notions of absolute time, was in need of serious modifications. It had stood for more than 200 years. It was the framework within which the European Enlightenment, the Industrial Revolution, and the vast expansion of human knowledge, freedom and prosperity which characterized the 19th century, had taken place. But increasingly powerful telescopes were revealing anomalies. Why?
In 1905, a 26-year-old German Jew, Albert
Einstein, had published a paper which became known as the Special Theory
of Relativity. Einstein's observations on the way in which, in certain
circumstances, lengths appear to contract and clocks to slow down, are
analagous to the effects of perspective in painting. In fact the discovery
that space and time are relative rather than absolute terms of measurement
is comparable, in its effect on our perception of the world, to the first
use of perspective in art, which occured in Greece c.500 BC.
The originality of Einstein, amounting to a form of genius, and the curious elegance of his lines of argument, which colleagues compared to a kind of art, aroused growing, worldwide interest. In 1907 he published a demonstration that all mass has energy, encapsulated in the equation E=mc2, which a later age saw as the starting point in the race for the atomic bomb.
Einstein's theory, and Eddington's much publicized expediton to test it, aroused enormous interest throughout the world in 1919. No exercise in scientific verification, before or since, has ever attracted so many headlines or become a topic of universal conversation. The tension mounted steadily between June and the actual announcement at a packed meeting of the Royal Society in London in September that the theory had been confirmed. To A. N. Whitehead, who was present, it was like a Greek drama.
From that moment onward, Einstein was a global hero, in demand at every great university in the world, mobbed wherever he went, his wistful features familiar to hundreds of millions, the archetype of the absracted natural philosopher. The impact of his theory was immediate, and cumulatively immeasurable.
At the beginning of the 1920s the belief began to circulate, for the first time at a popular level, that there were no longer any absolutes: of time and space, of good and evil, of knowledge, above all of value. Mistakenly but perhaps inevitably, relativity became confused with relativism.
No one was more distressed than Einstein by this public misapprehension. He was bewildered by the relentless publicity and error which his work seemed to promote. He wrote to his colleague Max Born on 9 September 1920: 'Like the man in the fairy-tale who turned everything he touched into gold, so with me everything turns into a fuss in the newspapers.' Einstein was not a practicing Jew, but he acknowledged a God. He believed passionately in absolute standards of right and wrong.
He lived to see moral relativism, to him a disease, become a social pandemic, just as he lived to see his fatal equation bring into existence nuclear warfare. There were times, he said at the end of his life, when he wished he had been a simple watchmaker.
The public response to relativity was one of the principal formative influences on the course of twentieth-century history. It formed a knife, inadvertently wielded by its author, to help cut society adrift from its traditional moorings in the faith and morals of Judeo-Christian culture.
"All the horrors of the age were brought together, and not only armies but whole populations were thrust into the midst of them. The mighty educated States involved conceived - not without reason - that their very existence was at stake. Neither peoples nor rules drew the line at any deed which they thought could help them to win. Germany, having let Hell loose, kept well in the van in terror; but she was followed step by step by the desperate and ultimately avenging nations she has assailed. Every outrage against humanity or international law was repaid by reprisals - often of a greater scale and of longer duration... When all was over, Torture and Cannibalism were the only two expedients that the civlized, scientific, Christian States had been able to deny themselves; and they were of doubtful utility."
It is a myth that European youth was ruthlessly sacrificed in 1914 by a selfish and cynical age, The speeches of pre-war politicians were crammed with appeals to youth... All over Europe, sociologists were assidiously studying youth to find out what it thought and wanted. And of course what youth wanted was war.
By 1919 virtually all European intellectuals of the younger generation, not to speak of their elders, subscribed to the proposition that the right to national self-determination was a fundamental moral principle. There were few exceptions, Karl Popper being one. These few argued that self-determination was a self-defeating principle since 'liberating' people and minorities simply created more minorities.
At a stroke, the dissolution of these dynastic and proprietary empires opened up packages of heterogenous peoples which had been lovingly assembled and carefully tied together over centuries. The monarchies were the only unifying principle of these multi-racial societies, the sole guarantee (albeit often only a slender one) that all would be equal before the law. Once that principle was removed, what could be substitued for it? The only one available was nationalism, and its fashionable by-product irredentism.
It must not be supposed that already, in
1919, the progressive disintegration of the British Empire was inevitable,
indeed forseeable. The British Empire, to most people, appeared to be not
only the most extensive but also the most solid on earth. Britain was a
superpower by any standards. She had by far the largest navy. She also
had the largest air force and, surprisingly in view of her history, the
world's third largest army. In theory at least the British Empire had gained
immeasurably by the war.
Britain's spoils, which carried the Empire to its greatest extent - more than a quarter of the surface of the earth - were also thought to consolidate it economically and strategically.
Nietzsche saw God not as an invention but
as a casualty, and his demise was in some important sense an historical
event, which would have dramatic consequences. He wrote in 1886: "The greatest
event of recent times - that 'God is dead', that the belief in the Christian
God is no longer tenable - is beginning to cast its first shadows over
Europe." Among the advanced races, the decline and ultimately the collapse
of the religious impulse would leave a huge vacuum. The history of modern
times is in great part the history of how that vacuum has been filled.
Nietzsche rightly perceived that the most likely candidate would be what he called the 'Will to Power', which offered a far more comprehensive and in the end more plausible explanation of human behavior than either Marx or Freud. In place of religious belief, there would be secular ideology. Those who had once filled the ranks of the totalitarian clergy would become totalitarian politicians. And, above all, the Will to Power would produce a new kind of messiah, uninhibited by any religious sanctions whatever, and with an unappeasable appetite for controlling mankind. The end of the old order, with an unguided world adrift in a relativistic universe, was a summons to such gangster-statesmen to emerge. They were not slow to make their appearance.
CHAPTER 2 : THE FIRST DESPOTIC UTOPIAS
War breeds revolutions. Amd breeding revolutions is a very old form of warfare. The Germans called it 'Revolutionieurungspolitik'. If the Allies could incite the Poles, the Czechs, the Croats, the Arabs and the Jews to rise against the Central Powers and their partners, then the Germans, in turn, could and did incite the Irish and the Russians.
Once Lenin had abolished the idea of personal guilt, and had started to 'exterminate' (a word he frequently employed) whole classes, merely on account of occupation or parentage, there was no limit to which this deadly princple might be carried. Might not entire categories of people be classified as 'enemies' and condemned to imprisonment or slaughter merely on account of the colour of their skin, or their racial origins or, indeed, their nationality? There is no essential moral difference between class-warfare and race-warfare, between destroying a class and destroying a race. Thus the modern practice of genocide was born.
With one exception none of the Allied statesmen
involved even began to grasp the enormous significance of the establishment
of this new type of totalitarian dictatorship, or the long-term effect
of its implantation in the heart of the greatest land power on earth. The
exception was Winston Churchill. With his strong sense of history, he realized
some kind of fatal watershed had been reached.
To Churchill it seemed that a new kind of barbarism had arisen, indifferent to any standards of law, custom, diplomacy or honour which had hitherto been observed by civilized states.
Lenin had systematically constructed, in all its essentials, the most carefully engineered apparatus of state tyranny the world had yet seen. In the old world, personal autocracies, except perhaps for brief periods, had been limited by other forces in society: a church, and aristocracy, an urban bourgeoise, ancient charters and courts and assemblies. And there was too, the notion of an external, restraining force, in the idea of a Deity, or Natural Law, or some absolute system of morality. Lenin's new despotic utopia had no such counterweights or inhibitions - all had been swept away. Everything that was left was owned or controlled by the state. All rights whatsoever were vested in the state.
The Great War saw the bifurcation of Leninism and Mussolini's proto-fascism. It was a question not merely of intellect and situation but of character. Mussolini had the humanity, including the vanity and the longing to be loved, which Lenin so conspicuously lacked. He was exceptionally sensitive and responsive to mass opinion. When the war came and the armies marched, he sniffed the nationalism in the air and drew down great lungfuls of it. It was intoxicating: and he moved sharply in a new direction. Lenin, on the other hand, was impervious to such aromas.
As Marxist heretics and violent revolutionary activists, Lenin and Mussolini had six salient features in common. Both were totally opposed to bourgeois parliaments and any type of 'reformism'. Both saw the party as a highly centralized, strictly hierarchical and ferociously disciplined agency for furthering socialist objectives. Both wanted a leadership of professional revolutionaries. Neither had any confidence in the capacity of the proletariat to organize itself. Both thought revolutionary consciousness could be brought to the masses from without by a revolutionary, self-appointed elite. Finally, both believed that, in the coming struggle between the classes, organized violence would be the final arbiter.
In a very characteristic mixture of arrogance
and fatalistic despair, Mussolini announced the beginning of fascism in
a notorious speech delivered on 3 January 1925. Opposition newspapers were
banned. Opposition leaders were placed in confinment on an island. As Mussolini
put it, opposition to the monolithic nation was superfluous - he could
find any that was needed within himself and in the resistance of objective
forces - a bit of verbal legerdemain that even Lenin might have envied.
He produced a resounding totalitarian formula, much quoted, admired and
excoriated then and since: 'Everything within the state, nothing outside
the state, nothing against the state.'
But there was always something nebulous about Italian fascism. Its institutions, like the Labour Charter, the National Council of Corporations and the Chamber of Fasces and Corporations, never seemed to get much purchase on the real Italy. Mussolini boasted, 'We control the political forces, we control the moral forces, we control the economic forces. Thus we are in the midst of the corporative fascist state.' But it was a state built of words rather than deeds.
But if Mussolini did not practise fascism, and could not even define it with any precision, it was equally mystifying to its opponents, especially the Marxists. Sophisticated Anglo-Saxon liberals could dismiss it as a new kind of mountebank dictatorship, less bloodthirsty than Leninism and much less dangerous to property. But to the Marxists it was much more serious. By the mid-1920s there were fascist movements all over Europe. One thing they all had in common was anti-Communism of the most active kind. They fought revolution with revolutionary means and met the Communists on the streets with their own weapons.
It had to be squared with Marxist-Leninist historiography and therefore shown to be not a portent of the future but a vicious flare-up of the dying bourgeois era. It was unthinkable to recognize it for what it actually was - a Marxist heresy, indeed a modification of the Leninist heresy itself. Hence after much lucubration an official Soviet definition was produced in 1933: fascism was 'the unconcealed terrorist dictatorship of the most reactionary, chauvinistic and imperialistic elements of finance capital'. This manifest nonsense was made necessary by the failure of 'scientific' Marxism to predict what was the most striking political development of the inter-war years.
In the meantime, Mussolini's Italy was now
an empirical fact, just like Lenin's Russia, inviting the world to study
it, with a view to imitation, perhaps, or avoidance. The historian of modern
times is made constantly aware of the increasingly rapid interaction of
political events over wide distances. It was as though the development
of radio, the international telephone system, mass-circulation newspapers
and rapid forms of travel was producing a new conception of social and
political holism corresponding to new scientific perceptions of the universe
According to Mach's Principle, formulated first at the turn of the century and then reformulated as part of Einstein's cosmology, not only does the universe as a whole influence local, terrestrial events but local events have an influence, however small, on the universe as a whole. Quantum mechanics, developed in the 1920s, indicated that the same principle applied at the level of micro-quantities. There were no independent units, flourishing apart from the rest of the universe. 'Splendid isolation' was no longer a practicable state policy, as even the United States had implicitly acimitted in 1917.
The influenza virus of 1918 had enveloped the world in weeks and penetrated almost everywhere. The virus of force, terror and totalitarianism might prove equally swift and ubiquitous. It had firmly implanted itself in Russia. It was now in Italy.
Mussolini could not or would not conjure
a new fascist civilization out of his cloudy verbal formulae. But what
he liked doing and felt able to do, and indeed was gifted at doing, was
big construction projects. He tackled malaria, then the great, debilitating
scourge of central and southern Italy.
In Sicily, the Mafia was not destroyed, but it was effectively driven underground. Above all, there was no more violence on the streets. Some of these accomplishments were meretricious, others harmful in the long run. But taken together they looked impressive, to foreigners, to tourists, to many Italians too. No Utopia was emerging in Italy, but the contrast with hungry, terrorized Russia was striking. To those north of the Alps, who rejected alike the Bolshevism of the East and the liberalism of the West, the Italian renaissance seemed offer a third way.
CHAPTER 3 : WAITING FOR HITLER
The object of the 1914 war was to create a new European order in which Germany would be dominant.
The shock of defeat to most Germans, especially the soldiers, was enormous. It was something no one in the West understood. The Germans knew they were retreating on the Western Front. But the withdrawal was orderly; the army was intact.
The truth was finally brought home to Germany only when the terms of the Versailles Treaty were published in May 1919.
Germany's defeat in 1918 was bound to unleash a quest for scapegoats, alien treachery in the midst of the Volk.
Christianity was content with a solitary hate-figure to explain evil: Satan. But modern secular faiths needed human devils, and whole categories of them. The enemy, to be plausible, had to be an entire class or race.
The Jews tried everything to combat the poison.
Some brought up their children to be artisans or farmers. They enlisted
in the army. They attempted ultra-assimilation.
But each policy raised more difficulties than it removed, for anti-Semitism was protean, hydra-headed and imprevious to logic or evidence.
The syphillis of anti-Semitism was not the only weakness of the German body politic. The German state was a huge creature with a small and limited brain. The state was nursemaid as well as sergeant-major. It was a towering shadow over the lives of ordinary people and their relationship towards it was one of dependence and docility. The philosophy was Platonic; the result corporatist.
Hitler's artistic approach was absolutely
central to his success. Lenin's religious-type fanaticism would never have
worked in Germany. The Germans were the best-educated nation in the world.
To conquer their minds was very difficult. Their hearts, their sensibilities,
were easier targets. Hitler's strength was that he shared with so many
other Germans the devotion to national images new and old: misty forests
breeding blond giants; smiling peasant villages under the shadow of ancestral
castles; garden cities emerging from ghetto-like slums; riding Valkyries,
burning Valhallas, new births and dawns in which shining, millennian structures
would rise from the ashes of the past and stand for centuries. Hitler had
in common with average German taste precisely those revered images which
nearly a century of nationalist propaganda had implanted...
In a rare moment of frankness, Lenin once said that only a country like Russia could have captured so easily a country as he took it. Germany was a different proposition. It could not be raped. It had to be seduced.
In 1923 the German currency, long teetering
on the brink of chaos, finally fell into it. The German financial authorities
blamed the fall on the reparation clauses of the Versaillies Treaty. In
fact reparations had nothing directly to do with it.
The crisis was due entirely to the reckless manner in which the Ministry of Finance, abetted by the Reichsbank, allowed credit and the money supply to expand.
CHAPTER 4 : LEGITIMACY IN DECADENCE
The notion that industrialization, as opposed to primary production, is the sole road to high living standards is belied by the experience of former colonies like Australia, New Zealand, much of Canada and the US Midwest, where exports of meat, wool, wheat , dairy products and minerals have produced the most prosperous countries in the world.
Colonialism was a highly visual phenomenon. It abounded in flags, exotic uniforms, splendid ceremonies, Durbars, sunset-guns, trade exhibitions, postage stamps, and above all, coloured maps. Seen from maps, colonialism appeared to have changed the world. Seen on the ground, it appeared a more metriculous phenomenon, which could and did change little. It came easily; it went easily. Few died either to make it or break it. It both accelerated and retarded, though marginally in both cases, the emergance of a world economic system.
History shows us the truly amazing extent to which intelligent, well-informed and resolute men, in the pursuit of economy or in an altruistic passion for disarmament, will delude themselves about realities.
America and Japan viewed each other with increasing hostility. As a result, America put the sharp question to Britain: whom do you want as your friends, us or the Japanese?
CHAPTER 5 : AN INFERNAL THEOCRACY, A CELESTIAL CHAOS
"Well-organized nations count votes out of ballot boxes. Badly organized nations count bodies, dead ones, on the battlefield." (Sun Yat-sen)
As long as Britain was Japan's ally, the
latter had a prime interest in preserving her own internal respectability,
constitutional propriety and the rule of law, all of which Britain had
That was why the destruction of the Anglo-Japanese alliance by the USA and Canada in 1922 was so fatal to peace in the Far East.
In two decades the pursuit of radical reform by force had led to the deaths of millions of innocents and reduced large parts of China to the misery and lawlessness that Germany had known in the Wars of Religion or Frances in the Hundred Years' War.
The tragedy of inter-war China illustrates the principle that when legitimacy yields to force, and moral absolutes to relativism, a great darkness descends and angels become indistinguishable from devils.
CHAPTER 6 : THE LAST ARCADIA
"Perhaps one of the most important accomplishments of my administration has been minding my own business." (President Calvin Coolidge)
Who was an American? What was America for? Many, perhaps most, Americans thought of their country, almost wistfully, as the last Arcadia, an innocent and quasi-Utopian refuge from the cumulative follies and wickedness of the corrupt world beyond her coean-girded shores. But how to preserve Arcadia?
America's proclaimed indifference to events in North China was a bluff, an elaborate self-deceit. A nation which numbered 106 'ethnic groups', which was already a substansial microcosm of world society, could not be genuinely blind to major events anywhere.
The Utopianism inherent in Prohibition, though strongly rooted in American society, came up against the equally strong rooted and active American principle of unrestricted freedom of enterprise. America was one of the least totalitarian societies on earth; it possessed virtually none of the apparatus to keep market forces in check once an unfulfilled need appeared.
Prohibition was the 'take off point' for big crime in America.
The trouble with the Twenties expansion was not that it was philistine or socially immoral. The trouble was that it was transient. Had it endured, carrying with it in its train the less robust but still (at that time) striving economies of Europe, a global political transformation must have followed which would have rolled back the new forces of totalitarian compulsion, with their ruinous belief in social engineering.
CHAPTER 7 : DEGRINGOLADE
The 1929 crash exposed the naivety and ignorance of bankers, businessmen, Wall Street experts and academic economists high and low; it showed that they did not understand the system they had been to confidently manipulating. They had tried to substitute their own well-meaning policies for what Adam Smith called 'the invisble hand' of the market and they had wrought disaster. Far from demonstrating, as Keynes and his school later argued, the dangers of a self-regulating economy, the 'deringolade' indicated the opposite: the risks of ill-informed meddling.
If the recession had been allowed to adjust itself, as it would have done by the end of 1930 on any earlier analogy, confidence would have returned and the world slump need never have occured. Instead, the market went on down, slowly but inexorably, ceasing to reflect economic realities - its true function - and instead becoming an engine of doom, carrying to destruction the entire nation and, in its wake, the world.
The first fallacy to be dispelled is that America pursued an isolationist foreign policy in the 1920s... instead they sought to keep the world prosperous by deliberate inflation of the money supply.
This deliberate interference in the supply and cost of money was used in the 1920s not merely to promote its original aim, the expansion of US business, but to pursue a supposedly benevolent international policy.
Hoover's corporatism - the notion that the state, business, and other Big Brothers should work together in gentle, but persistent and continuous manipulation to make life better - was the received wisdom of the day, among enlightened capitalists, left-wing Republicans and non-socialist intellectuals. Yankee-style corporatism was the American response to the new forms in Europe, especially Mussolini's fascism.
In all essentials, Hoover's actions embodied what would later be called a 'Keynesian' policy. He cut taxes heavily and pushed up government spending, deliberately running up a huge government deficit of $2.2 billion in 1931.
By 1933 Hoover's interventionism had prolonged the Depression into its fourth year. The cumulative banking crisis had, in all probability, the deflationary effect which Hoover had struggled so hard and so foolishly to prevent, so that by the end of 1932 the very worst of the Depression was over. But the cataclysmic depth to which the economy had sunk in the meantime meant that recovery would be slow and feeble.
It was only in 1932 that the Republicans finally lost the progressive image they had enjoyed since Lincoln's day and saw it triumphantly seized by their enemies, with all that such a transfer involves in the support of the media, and approval of academia, the patronage of the intelligentsia and, not least, the manufacture of historical orthodoxy.
If the Interventionism of Roosevelt's New Deal worked, it took nine years and a world war to demonstrate the fact.
CHAPTER 8 : THE DEVILS
At the very moment the American intelligentsia turned to totalitarian Europe for spiritual sustenance and guidance in orderly planning, it was in fact embarking on two decades of unprecedented ferocity and desolation — moral relativism in monstrous incarnation... For Americans, then it was a case of moving from a stricken Arcadia to an active pandaemonium. The devils had taken over.
On 21 December 1929 Stalin had celebrated his 50th birthday, as absolute master of an autocracy for which, in concentrated savagery, no parallel in history could be found. A few weeks earlier, while the New York Stock Exchange was collapsing, he had given orders for the forced collectivization of the Russian peasants, an operation involving far greater material loss than anything within the scope of Wall Street, and a human slaughter on a scale no earlier tyranny had possessed the physical means, let alone the wish, to bring about... 5 million peasants were dead; twice as many in forced labour camps... the devils had taken over.
The result was what the great Marxist scholar Leszek Kolakowski has called 'probably the most massive warlike operation ever conducted by a state against its own citizens'.
Under Stalin the system of political slaves expanded, first slowly, then with terrifying speed. Once forced collectivization got under way, in 1930-33, the concentration camp population rose to 10 million.
In the outside world, the magnitude of the Stalin tyranny - or indeed its very existence - was scarcely grasped at all.
Totalitarianism of the Left bred totalitarianism of the Right; Communism and fascism were the hammer and the anvil on which liberalism was broken to pieces. The emergence of Stalin's autocracy changed the dynamic of corruption not in kind but in degree. For Stalin "was but old Lenin writ large." The change is degree nonetheless was important because of its sheer scale. The arrests, the prisons, the camps, the scope, the brutality and violence of the social engineering - nothing like it had ever been seen or even imagined before. So the counter-model became more monstrously ambitious; and the fear which energized its construction more intense. If Leninism begot the fascism of Mussolini, it was Stalinism which made possible the Nazi Leviathan.
It had taken Hitler less than 5 months to destroy German democracy completely.
Hitler's state was not corporatist because corporatism implies a distribution of power between different bodies, and Hitler would share power with no one... he had no economic policy. But he had a very specific national policy. He wanted to rearm as fast as possible consistent with avoiding an Allied pre-emptive strike. He simply gave German industry his orders, and let its managers get on with it.
By the mid-1930s Hitler was running a brutal, secure, conscienceless, successful and, for most Germans, popular regime. The German workers, on the whole, preferred secure jobs to civil rights which had meant little to them.
By early 1933, therefore, the two largest and strongest states of Europe were firmly in the grip of totalitarian regimes which preached and practiced, and indeed embodied, moral relativism, with all its horrifying potentialities. Each system acted as a spur to the most reprehensible characteristics of the other... they were animated by a Gresham's law of political morality: frightfulness drove out humanitarian instincts and each corrupted the other into ever-deeper profundities of evil.
In social engineering, mass murder on an industrial scale is always the ultimate weapon: Hitler's 'final solution' for the Jews had its origins not only in his own fevered mind but in the collectivization of the Soviet peasantry.
If the decline of Christianity created the modern political zealot - and his crimes - so the evaporation of religious faith among the educated left a vacuum in the minds of Western intellectuals easily filled by secular superstition.
The attempt by Western intellectuals to defend Stalinism involved them in a process of self-corruption which transferred to them, and so to their countries, which their writings helped to shape, some of the moral decay inherent in totalitarianism itself, especially its denial of individual responsibility for good or ill.
The advent of Stalin and Hitler to absolute dealt a decisive blow to a world structure which was already unstable and fragile... hence the arrival of these two men on the scene introduced what may be termed the high noon of aggression.
CHAPTER 9 : THE HIGH NOON OF AGGRESSION
During the 1920s, the civilized Western democracies had maintained some kind of shaky world order, through the League of Nations on the one hand, and through Anglo-American financial diplomacy on the other. At the beginning of the 1930s, the system - if it could be called that - broke down completely, opening an era of international banditry in which the totalitarian states behaved simply in accordance with their military means. The law-abiding powers were economically ruined and unilaterally disarmed. France retreated into isolation and began to build her Maginot Line, itself a symbol of defeatism. The Americans and British were obsessed by economy. In the early 1930s, the American army was only the 16th largest in world, behind Romania. The Americans persuaded the semi-pacifist Labour government to sign the London Naval Treaty, which reduced the Royal Navy to a state of impotence it had not known since the 17th century.
In the 1920s the world had been run by the
power of money. In the 1930s it was subject to the arbitration of the sword.
A careful study of the chronology of the period reveals the extent to which
the totalitarian powers, though acting independently and sometimes in avowed
hostility towards each other, took advantage of their numbers and their
growing strength to challenge and outface the pitifully stretched resources
of dmeocratic order. Italy, Japan, Russia and Germany played a geopolitical
game together, whose whole object was to replace international law and
treaties by a new Realpolitik in which, each believed, its own millennarian
vision was destined to be realized.
The process by whereby one totalitarian state corrupted another internally now spread to foreign dealings, so that a Gresham's Law operated here, too, driving out diplomacy and replacing it by force.
Even with their existing forces, Britain and America could have deterred and contained Japan... a strong line with Japan would then (1932) have been feasible. But such joint planning was ruled out by America's growing isolationism - a feature of the 1930s much more than the 1920s. America was moving towards the 1935 Neutrality Act.
The 1932 murders of the Japanese prime minister, finance minister and leading industrialists marked the end of government by parliamentary means.
Here again we see the process of mutual corruption at work. Mussolini's putsch had been inspired by Lenin's. From his earliest days as a political activist, Hitler had cited Mussolini as a precedent.
The handling of the Abyssinian crisis, in which Britain was effectively in charge, is a striking example of how to get the worst of all possible worlds. Abyssinia was a primitive African monarchy which practiced slavery; not a modern state at all. It should not have been in the League. The notion that the League had to guarantee its frontiers was an excellent illustration of the absurdity of the covenant which led Senator Lodge and his friends to reject it. The League should have been scrapped after the 1931 Manchurian fiasco. However, if it was felt worth preserving, and if the integrity of Abyssinia was a make-or-break issue, then Britain and France should have been prepared to go to war; in which case Italy would have backed down. The two Western powers would have lost her friendship, aroused her enmity indeed; but the League would have shown it had teeth, and could use them; and the effects might have been felt elsewhere, in central Europe particularly. But to impose sanctions was folly. Sanctions rarely work: they damage, infuriate and embitter but they do not deter or frustrate an act of aggression. In this case they made no sense because France would not agree to oil sanctions (the only type likely to have any impact on events) and America, the world's greatest oil producer, would not impose sanctions at all. Britain would not agree to close the Suez Canal or impose a naval quarantine: the First Sea Lord, Chatfield, reported only seven capital-ships were available. While the cabinet argued about whether or not to try and impose oil! sanctions, Hitler remilitarized the Rhineland on 7 March, making nonsense of both Versailles and the Locarno pact. On this date Britain had only three battleships in home waters, scarcely sufficient to neutralize Germany's 'pocket battleships'. Mussolini took Addis Ababa on 5 May and annexed the country four days later. On 10 June the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Neville ChamberIain, described the sanctions policy as 'the very midsummer of madness', and a week later the cabinet scrapped them.
The only effect of the sanctions policy was to turn Mussolini into an enemy. From mid-1936 the Germans began to court him. There were visits to Rome by Frank, Goering, HimmIer and Baldar von Shirach. On 1 November Mussolini spoke of the Rome-Berlin Axis'. By 22 February 1937, a review by the British Chiefs of Staff noted, 'The days are past when we could count automatically on a friendly and submissive Italy.' That meant existing plans to reinforce the Far East fleet in the event of a crisis with Japan by sending ships through the Mediterranean and Suez were impractical. Britain now had three major potential naval enemies: in home waters, the Mediterranean, and the Pacific-Indian Ocean theatre. There was also the possibility that they might operate in concert. Three weeks after Mussolini spoke of the Axis, Japan and Germany signed the Anti-Comintern Pact, aimed at Russia but signaling the possibility of groups of totalitarian powers acting in predatory wolf-packs. On 27 September 1937, Mussolini was in Berlin. He found Hitler's admiration irresistible... and the process of corruption culminated the next month (22 May) when he signed the 'Pact of Steel' with the man he had considered a potential 'enemy of civilization' only five years before.
By this time Mussolini and Hitler had collaborated together in the first of the ideological proxy-wars. Their 'opponent' in this cynical ritual was Stalin. The theatre selected for their devastating performance was Spain, which had been virtually outside the European power-system since the early nineteenth century and which now became its agonized focus. This was itself extraordinary: Spain was aloof, self-contained, xenophobic, the European country most resistant to the holistic principle, the least vulnerable to the foreign viruses of totalitarianism, of Left or Right, social engineering, relative morality. That is what makes the Spanish Civil War so peculiarly tragic. The infection entered through the Socialist Party (PSOE) and then spread.
Franco's philosophy is worth examining briefly
because it was so remote from all the prevailing currents of the age, both
liberal and totalitarian. His own motivation he invariably described as
'duty, love of country'. For Franco, the army was the only truly national
institution, ancient, classless, non-regional, apolitical, incorrupt, disinterested.
He was in no sense a clericalist and never took the slightest notice of ecclesiastical advice on nonspiritual matters. He hated politics in any shape. The Conservatives were reactionary and selfish landowners. The Liberals were corrupt and selfish businessmen. The Socialists were deluded, or worse. He exploited the two insurrectionary movements, the Falange and the Carlists, amalgamating them under his leadership, but their role was subservient, indeed servile. Franco was never a fascist or had the smallest belief in any kind of Utopia or system.
Franco said: 'Spaniards are tired of politics and of politicians.' Again: 'Only those who live off politics should fear our movement.' He spent his entire political career seeking to exterminate politics.
Franco determined to end the destructive process of corruption by amputating the agonized limb of Spanish collectivism. His feelings towards the Left anticipated those of the wartime Allies towards Nazism: he got unconditional surrender first, then de-Communized, but in a manner closer to the drumhead purges of liberated France than the systematic trials in Germany. It was not a Lenin-style totalitarian massacre by classes: the Law of Political Responsibilities of 9 February 1939 dealt with responsibility for crimes on an individual basis (the only exception was Freemasons of the eighteenth degree or higher).
Thus ancient and traditional Spain, led by a man who regretted every second that had passed since the old world ended in 1914, sought to immunize herself from the present. The attempt did not succeed in the long run; but it gave Spain some protection from the pandemic which now overwhelmed Europe.
CHAPTER 10 : THE END OF OLD EUROPE
"We have succeeded in leaving the enemy in
the dark concerning Germany’s real goals, just as before 1932 our domestic
foes never saw where we were going or that our oath of legality was just
a trick. We wanted to come to power legally, but we did not want to use
power legally. They could have suppressed us. They could have arrested
a couple of us in 1925 and that would have been that, the end. No, they
let us through the danger zone. That’s exactly how it was in foreign policy,
In 1933 a French premier ought to have said (and if I had been the French premier I would have said it): 'The new Reich Chancellor is the man who wrote Mein Kampf, which says this and that. This man cannot be tolerated in our vicinity. Either he disappears or we march!' But they didn’t do it. They left us alone and let us slip through the risky zone. … And when we were done, and well armed, better than they, then they started the war!"
- Joseph Goebbels (1940)
The age of aggression was bound to end in a world war. Nevertheless, it is vital to understand precisely how and why this climax came about, for what happened in the 1930s determined the contours of our age in the 1980s.
Hitler was always pragmatic. Like Lenin he was a superb opportunist, always ready to seize openings and modify his theory accordingly. This has led some historians to conclude he had no master-programme. In fact, while always adjusting the tactics to suit the moment, he pursued his long-term strategy with a brutal determination which has seldom been equalled in the history of human ambition.
It is the essence of geopolitics to be able to distinguish between different degrees of evil. This was a gift Anthony Eden, now foreign secretary, did not possess. He could not differentiate between Mussolini, who was corruptible but open to civilized influences too, and Hitler, a man who had already murdered hundreds and placed scores of thousands in concentration camps.
Would the Allies have been better advised to fight in autumn 1938 over Czechoslovakia, than in autumn 1939 over Poland? This too is in dispute, but the answer is surely 'Yes'. It is true that the pace of Allied rearmament, especially of British air-power, was overtaking Germany's. But in this sense alone was the strategic equation better in 1939 than in 1938.
In the closing weeks of 1938 Hitler, without firing a shot, appeared to have restored all the splendour of Wilhelmine Germany. Was he not the most successful German statesman since Bismarck? So it appeared.
During the winter of 1938-39, the mood in Britain changed to accept war as inevitable... fear gave place to a resigned despair, and the sort of craven, if misjudged, calculation which led to Munich yielded to a reckless and irrational determination to resist Hitler at the next opportunity, irrespective of its merits.
Perhaps Hitler's biggest single misjudgment was his failure to appreciate the depth of hostility he had aroused in Britain.
The adoption of terror-bombing was also a measure of Britain's desperation... the policy, initiated by Churchill, approved in cabinet, endored in parliament and, so far as can be judged, enthusiastically backed by the bulk of the British people - thus fulfilling all the conditions of the process of consent in a democracy under law - marked a critical stage in the moral declension of humanity in our times.
Lend-Lease was important to Churchill simply because he believed it might tempt Hitler into conflict with the United States. Indeed, by the beginning of 1941, he recognized that the old European system of legitimacy had disappeared and that the only hope of restoring some system of law lay in Hitler's own miscalculations. Churchill was not to be disappointed.
CHAPTER 11 : THE WATERSHED YEAR
"Russia is never as strong as she looks.
Russia is never as weak as she looks."
- Old diplomatic proverb
Surveying this watershed year of 1941, from
which makind has descended into its present predicament, the historian
cannot but be astounded by the decisive role of individual will. Hitler
and Stalin played chess with humanity.
It was Hitler, no one else, who determined on a war of annihilation with Russia, cancelled then postponed it, and resinstated it as the centrepiece of his strategy, as, how, and when he chose. Neither man represented irresistible or even potent historical forces.
We have here the very opposite of historical determinism - the apotheosis of the single autocrat. Thus it is, when the moral restraints of religion and tradition, hierarchy and precedent are removed, the power to suspend or unleash catastrophic events does not devolve on the impersonal benevolence of the masses but falls into the hands of men who are isolated by the very totality of their evil natures.
Western assistence to the USSR... included 200 modern fighter aircraft, intended originally for Britain's highly vulnerable base in Singapore, which had virtually no modern fighters at all. The diversion of these aircraft (plus tanks) to Russia sealed the fate of Singapore. Thus, by one of the great ironies of history, Churchill, the last major British imperialist, may have sacrificed a liberal empire in order to preserve a totalitarian one.
(On Pearl Harbor) All this was a meagre military return for the political risk of treacherously attacking a huge, intensely moralistic nation like the United States before a formal declaration of war.
In 1945 General Jodl claimed that, 'from the start of 1942 on', Hitler knew 'victory was no longer attainable'. What he did not then grasp, but what 1942 made painfully clear, was that the huge coalition he had ranged against himself and his two allies had a decisive superiority not merely in men and material but in technology. The real significance of the Battle of Midway was that it was won primarily by the Allied success in code-breaking. In launching war, the Germans and Japanese had pushed the world over the watershed into a new age, outside their or anyone's control, full of marvels and unspeakable horrors.
CHAPTER 12 : SUPERPOWER AND GENEOCIDE
The skill with which Britain and America used advanced technology to illuminate global war was one of the principal reasons why the Germans and Japanese, with all their courage and energy, were fightin an unsynchronized struggle from 1942 on. Like Bronze Age warriors facing an Iron Age power, they appeared increasingly to be survivors from a slightly earlier epoch.
The British had been leading code-breakers for half a century... the breaking of the German 'Triton' code by Bletchley park in March 1943 clinched the Battle of the Atlantic... as a result victory in the Atlantic came quite quickly in 1943 and this was important, for the U-boat was perhaps Hitler's most dangerous weapon.
From early 1942, the marriage of British and American technology and intelligence led to the early breakthrough in the Pacific war. Midwat in June 1942 was an intelligence success. Thereafter, the Allies knew the positions of all Japanese capital ships nearly all the time.
The real engine of Allied victory was the
American economy... the essential dynamism and flexibility of the American
system, wedded to a national purpose which served the same galvanizing
role as the optimism of the Twenties.
America won the war essentaially by harnessing capitalist methods of production to the unlimited production of firepower and mechanical manpower.
Bombing used up 7% of Britain's total military
manpower and as much as 25% of Britain's war production. The entire strategy
may have been, even in military terms, mistaken. Bombing, which killed
600,000 Germans altogether, reduced but could not prevent the expansion
in German war-production up to the second half of 1944...
True, from the end of 1944 bombing effectively destroyed the German war-economy. Even before that, the need to defend German cities by night and day had prevented the Luftwaffe from keeping its air superiority on the Russian front.
There were no means whereby public opinion could bring pressure on an inaccessible, isolated and paranoid Hitler to negotiate surrender.
Hitler's only prospect of achieving stalemate by a decisive technical advance lay in marrying the A10 rocket to a nuclear payload. There was never much prospect of him achieving this within the timescale of the war. Yet there was continuing fear on the Allied side that Hitler would come into possession of atomic bombs.
The concept of the bomb was born among the
mainly Jewish refugee scientific community, who were terrified that Hitler
might get it first. Fear was the primary motive.
Hence the real father of the atomic bomb was Hitler and the spectres his horrifying will conjured up.
The Americans wre compressing perhaps three decades of scientific engineering progress into four years. There was no other way of being sure to get the bomb. There was no other country or system which could have produced this certainty.
There was a huge overlap between the slave system and German industry. It might be recalled that the Germans had used slave-labour and working-to-exhaustion in 1916-18; it was a national response to war, a salient part of the 'war socialism' Lenin so much admired. Race paranoia was deeply rooted in German culture and had been fostered by generations of intellectuals. It antedated Hitler; dwarfed him. Forty years later it is difficult to conceive of the power and ubiquity of inter-white racism, especially anti-Semitism (and not in Germany alone). In a sense, then, it was the German people ho willed the end; Hitler who willed the means.
The Japanese fought desperately throughout,
but technology and productivity allowed the Americans to establish and
maintain a colonial-era casualty rate. The pattern was set in the 'hinge'
battle of Guadalcanal, November 1942, when the Japanese lost 25,000 against
only 1,592 American casualties... on Leyte, the Japanese lost all but 5,000
of their 70,000 men; the Americans only 3,500.
Most Japanese were killed by sea or air bombardment, or cut off and starved. They never set eyes of an American foot-soldier or got within bayonet-range of him.
The Allied commanders assumed that their
own forces must expect up to a million casualties if an invasion of Japan
became necessary. How many Japanese lives would be lost? Assuming comparable
ratios to those already experienced, it would be in the range of 10-20
The Allied aim was to break Japanese resistance before an invasion became unavoidable.
The evidence does not suggest that the surrender could have been obtained without the A-bombs being used. The use of nuclear weapons thus saved Japanese, as well as Allied, lives. Those who died in Hiroshima and Nagasaki were the victims not so much of Anglo-American technology as of a paralyzed (Japanese) system of government made possible by an evil ideology which had expelled not only absolute moral values but reason itself.
The true nature of Japan's form of totalitarianism only became apparent when the POW camps were opened up... they were run on the same economic principles as Nazi and Soviet slave-camps... the Japanese killed more British troops in prison camps than on the battlefield. Of the 132,000 POWs in Japanese custody 27% died.
CHAPTER 13 : PEACE BY TERROR
The Cold War may be said to date from the immediate aftermath of the Yalta Conference, to be precise from March 1945. Of course in a sense Soviet Russia had waged Cold War since October 1917: it was inherent in the historical determinism of Leninism. The pragmatic alliance from June 1941 onwards was a mere interruption. It was inevitable that Stalin would resume his hostile predation sooner or later.
CHAPTER 16 : EXPERIMENTING WITH HALF MANKIND
Gandhi was not a liberator but a political exotic, who could have flourished only in the protected environment provided by British liberalism... All Gandhi's career demonstrated was the unrepressive nature of British rule and its willingness to abdicate. (p470-2)
Up to the mid-1950s, however, he [Nehru] was the cynosure of a new entity which progressive French journalists were already terming le tiers monde. The concept was based upon verbal prestidigitation, the supposition that by inventing new words and phrases one could change (and improve) unwelcome and intractable facts. There was the first world of the West, with its rapacious capitalism; the second world of totalitarian socialism, with its slave-camps; both with their hideous arsenals of mass-destruction. Why should there not come into existence a third world, arising like a phoenix from the ashes of empire, free, pacific, non-aligned, industrious, purged of capitalist and Stalinist vice, radiant with public virtue, today saving itself by its exertions, tomorrow the world by its example? Just as, in the nineteenth century, idealists had seen the oppressed proletariat as the repository of moral excellence--and a prospective proletarian state as Utopia--so now the very fact of a colonial past, and a non-white skin, were seen as title-deeds to international esteem. An ex-colonial state was righteous by definition. A gathering of such states would be a senate of wisdom. (476-477)
In the late 1940s, the Asian half of the human race had been told that there was direct, immediate and essentially political solution to their plight. Experience exposed this belief as a fallacy. There were strong grounds for concluding, indeed, that politics, and especially ideological politics, was a primary contributor to human misery... Calcutta became the realized anti-Utopia of modern times, the city of shattered illusions, the dark not the light of Asia. It constituted an impressive warning that attempts to experiment on half the human race were more likely to produce Frankenstein monsters than social miracles. (p573-4)
The scheme (by the Communist Khmer Rouge in Cambodia) was an attempt to telescope, in one terrifying coup, the social changes brought about over twenty-five years in Mao’s China. There was to be a "total social revolution." Everything about the past was "anathema and must be destroyed." It was necessary to "psychologically reconstruct individual members of society." It entailed "stripping away, through terror and other means, the traditional bases, structures and forces which have shaped and guided an individual’s life" and then "rebuilding him according to party doctrines by substituting a series of new values." (p654)
In due course the term "Third World" began to seem a little threadbare from overuse. The Paris intellectual fashion-factory promptly supplied a new one: "North-South." ... The idea was to link guilt to "the North" and innocence to "the South." This involved a good deal of violence to simple geography, as well as to economic facts... In short the concept was meaningless, except for purposes of political abuse. But for this it served very well. (p692)
The notion that Israel was created by imperialism is not only wrong but the reverse of the truth. Everywhere in the West, the foreign offices, defense ministries and big business were against the Zionists.
The argument that the West was somehow to blame for world poverty was itself a Western invention. Like decolonization, it was a product of guilt, the prime dissolvent of order and justice.
CHAPTER 20: THE RECOVERY OF FREEDOM
Reality cannot for long be banished from history. Facts have a way of making their presence felt.
From the initial tragedy of the First World War, 1914-18, the 20th century had appeared to many a relentless succession of moral and physical disasters. These had occured despite the rapid increase in wealth, notably in the advanced countries, and the steady forward march of scientific discovery.
Yet with the 1980s, there came a great wind of change in the affairs of mankind which, gathering momentum throughout the decade and beyond into the 1990s, swept all before it and left the global landscape transformed beyond recognition. The 1980s formed one of the watersheds of modern history. The spirit of democracy recovered its self-confidence and spread. The rule of law was re-established in large parts of the globe and international predation was checked and punished. Capitalist economies flourished mightily and, almost everywhere, there was growing recognition that the market system was not merely the surest but the only way to increase wealth and raise living standards.
What is important in history is not only the events that occur but the events that obstinately do not occur.
The success of the free enterprise economies
of the Pacific undoubtedly helped to rekindle belief in the market system
both in North America and Europe... towards the end of the 1970s, as high-quality,
low-priced Japanese (and South Korean and Taiwanese) goods began increasingly
to penetrate Western markets, there was a growing demand for changes which
would bring about Japanese-style efficiency.
The watershed year was 1979, and the battlefield was Britain.
The Falklands action served to reinvigorate the Western sense of the proprieties of international behaviour and to remind the United States of her responsibilities as the leading democracy and defender of the rule of law.
It was Jean-Jacques Rousseau who had first announced that human beings could be transformed for the better by the political process, and that the agency of change, the creator of what he termed the 'new man', would be the state... in the 20th century his theory was finally put to the test, on a colossal scale, and tested to destruction.
By the 1990s state action had been responsible for the violent or unnatural deaths of some 125 million people during the century.
By the last decade of the century, some lessons had plainly been learned. But it was not yet clear whether the underlying evils which had made possible its catastrophic failures and tragedies - the rise of moral relativism, the decline of personal responsibility, the repudiation of Judeo-Christian values, not least the arrogant belief that men and women could solve all the mysteries of the universe by their own unaided intellects - were in the process of being eradicated. On that would depend the chances of the 21st century becoming, by contrast, an age of hope for mankind.
# IN OTHERS' WORDS
I am absolutely convinced that the gas chambers of Auschwitz, Treblinka, and Maidanek were ultimately prepared not in some ministry or other in Berlin, but rather at the desks and in the lecture halls of nihilistic scientists and philosophers.
- CS Lewis, "The Poison of Subjectivism"
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