A Warning From History

Tuesday, July 16, AD 2013

We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst.

CS Lewis, The Abolition of Man

 

 

Too late for Bastille Day, but this reflection by Steven Hayward at Powerline on a book written by French historian Marc Bloch draws my attention.  Bloch was not only a historian but in World War I he had been an infantry combat officer, rising to the rank of Captain and earning a Legion of Honor.  In the wake of the defeat of France in 1940 he asked a simple question:  Why?

Bloch was one of the pre-war founders of the Annales school of historical analysis, which was neither exactly Marxist nor purely “social” history as we know it today, but was an early version of bottom-up meta-history.  (Think of it an the anti-Carlyle/great man school, or history without any dominant figures.  Fernand Braudel is the best-known figure of this school of thought.)

And yet when France succumbed easily to the Nazi invasion in 1940 despite superior forces on paper, a dumbfounded Bloch found he could only explain it by returning to the old fashioned style of thinking about and writing history.  The result was his classic, Strange Defeat: A Statement of Evidence Written in 1940.  His main conclusion is one that no academic historian today would dare to put to paper: France suffered an ignominious moral collapse.  The entire book—it is only 176 pages—is a thrilling read, but I’ll confine myself to just a few selections from the final chapter, “A Frenchman Examines His Conscience,” which, with due adjustments, can serve as a warning for our own intellectual flabbiness in the Age of Terror, as well as a reproach to the dessicated academic history of today:

This timidity of the nation at large was, no doubt, in many cases but the sum of the timidity of individuals. . .  Whatever the reasons, there can be no doubt that our governors, both individually and as a class, did lack something of that ruthless heroism which becomes so necessary when the country is in danger. . .

Bloch is especially hard on the pacifists (and the news media) of the interwar period:

Since the gospel they preached was one of seeming convenience, their sermons found an easy echo in those lazy, selfish instincts which exist in all men’s hearts side by side with nobler potentialities.  These enthusiasts, many of whom were not, as individuals, lacking in courage, worked unconsciously to produce a race of cowards.

And in words that ought perhaps to be emblazoned above the door to every history department in every American university (especially the third sentence), Bloch says:

I do not say that the past entirely governs the present, but I do maintain that we shall never satisfactorily understand the present unless we take the past into account.  But there is still worse to come.  Because our system of historical teaching deliberately cuts itself off from a wide field of vision and comparison, it can no longer impart to those whose minds it claims to form anything like a true sense of difference and change.

Finally (for now), Bloch warns that the consequences of an essentially nihilist culture and education will be the destruction of democracy:

A democracy becomes hopelessly weak, and the general good suffers accordingly, if its higher officials, bred up to despise it, and drawn from those very classes the dominance of which it is pledged to destroy, serve it only half-heartedly.

This is historical reflection when it really counted.  Can it be made to count again?  Not as currently “constructed” (to use the trendy terms against them) in academia today.

Bloch joined the French Resistance in 1942.  The Germans executed him in 1944.

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27 Responses to A Warning From History

  • Donald McClarey you have a gift from God to say (post) the right thing at the right time.

  • Wow – I really want to read that book! Great stuff and I agree with Anzlyne 🙂 I have no idea how in the world you found this…

  • One of Stanley Rothman’s projects was documenting the variation in opinion on social questions among various sectors of the elite (business executives v. journalists v. federal judges, &c). One thing to ponder is the distinction between the military and the police, who are demonstrably better at what they do than was the case a generation ago (if not more ethical); the general business community and the medical profession (of ambiguous direction); and every other sector (who grow more and more appalling).

    Start with our politicians. George McGovern’s political views were wrong, but he was a decent human being who had paid his dues (bomber pilot during the 2d World War). Walter Mondale departed the vice presidency with a net worth of $15,000; Michael Kinsley (among others) found it seedy that he cleared about $500,000 as a lawyer-lobbyist in 1981-83 (or about $1.3 million in today’s currency). Now the newspapers and the public scarcely notice that members of Congress drawing government salaries for decades might have a net worth in seven or eight digits (see Harry Reid, Rahm Emmanuel, and, supposedly, Mitch McConnell). Gerald Ford took considerable flak for post-presidential buckraking, now the press does not bat an eye when Bilge Clinton’s going rate is $189,000 for 46 minutes of oleagenous boiler plate.

  • I’ve had one of his books on feudalism on my to be read list for years. Maybe it’s time to dive in. Thanks for the post.

  • Heck of an article. I never think to read Powerline, but I should.

  • You can find the roots or genesis of this book he wrote most likely began in the French Revolution. Not that the Catholic monarchy was all good and the republican revolution all bad, but the complete and absolute annihilation of the past made France what it is today, at least the secular part, a nation of cowards and nihilists.

  • The Germans, Spanish, Austrians, English, and Russians would be surprised to learn that the French were softies after 1789.

  • Pingback: Love the EF Mass, Doesnt Stop Me Loving Pope Francis - BigPulpit.com
  • Excellent post and a most accurate description of what’s happening today. It reminds me of how the King and his court treated Jeremiah the Prophet. Sad that history must repeat itself. 🙁

  • Excellent article, Donald

    I believe the religious division of the nation played a greater part than is often recognized.

    Since 1870, the open hostility of most Catholics to the Republic had neatly matched the anti-clericalism of the bouffeurs de curé. Leo XIII had exhorted Catholic to “rally to the Republic,” explaining that a distinction must be drawn between the form of government, which ought to be accepted, and its laws which ought to be improved, only to be accused by the Catholic press of “kissing the feet of their executioners.” This hostility reached its zenith in Action Française and the Catholic atheism of Charles Maurras; this was “civic religion” with a vengeance, a religion well described by the Catholic philosopher, Maurice Blondel: ““A Catholicism without Christianity, submissiveness without thought, an authority without love, a Church that would rejoice at the insulting tributes paid to the virtuosity of her interpretative and repressive system… To accept all from God except God, all from Christ except His Spirit, to preserve in Catholicism only a residue that is aristocratic and soothing for the privileged and beguiling or threatening for the lower classes—is not all this, under the pretext perhaps of thinking only about religion, really a matter of pursuing only politics?”

    “The higher officials, bred up to despise the Republic,” were particularly prominent in the army; a significant segment of the officer corps was composed of members of the ancien noblesse.

    In 1940, alas, too many Catholics rallied, not to the Republic, but to Vichy.

  • Pinky wrote, “The Germans, Spanish, Austrians, English, and Russians would be surprised to learn that the French were softies after 1789.”

    You are right, of course. One has only to look at the “generation of genius,” with the army of Sambre et Meuse, commanded by Kléber, Moreau, Reynier, Marceau, and Ney; better still, the army of the Rhine, commanded by Hoche, Desaix, and St. Cyr; best of all, in the Apennines, Bonaparte and Masséna.

    One recalls Belloc,

    ““You that put down the mighty from their seat,
    And fought to fill the hungry with good things,
    And turned the rich men empty to the street,
    And trailed your scabbards in the halls of kings”

  • The divisions between Catholics and Republicans in the Third Republic did play into how various factions in France reacted to the defeat in 1940, and perhaps even to the defeat itself, but clearly the largest factor in the defeat has to be looked for in the French experience of the Great War as filtered through the subsequent twenty years between the wars.

    In the Great War, France successfully held off the Germans for four and a half years, suffered a higher casualty rate as a percentage of the population than Germany, and nonetheless won the war. Even the mutinies of 1917 are not correctly represented (as they came to be since) as a pacifist disillusion with the war or refusal to fight for France — they were a more a refusal to wage unsuccessful offensive operations. During the 1918 German spring offensive, many of the same units which had refused to attack during the mutinies fought very hard to slow the German advance and eventually turn it back in the final Allied offensive.

    Part of the moral collapse between the wars can be found in a utter disillusion with the fact that France had sacrificed so much in the Great War and yet increasingly appeared not to have gained a final victory.

    There was also an intentional attempt on the part of some factions in French society between the war to remove fighting spirit from the population, in the belief this would prevent another war.

    One can almost hear the murmurs of surprise that filled the hall as Gaston Clemendot addressed his colleagues in the autumn of 1923, five years after the end of the First World War. … when Clemendot stepped to the podium he asked union members to turn their attention to what he felt was a far more urgent matter. “Comrades,” he thundered, “I come before you to demand the total suppression of the teaching of history in primary schools.” Though his argument was multifaceted, one assertion in particular captured his fellow teachers’ attention: Clemendot claimed that the lessons of history, as taught in schools across France, inspired hatred of foreigners, glorified the experience of battle, and laid the moral groundwork for future wars. For peace to flourish, he insisted, the discipline of history would first have to be abolished in the primary schools, where the vast majority of French citizens received their only education.

    From: “History Is the Opposite of Forgetting”: The Limits of
    Memory and the Lessons of History in Interwar France
    by Mona Siegel

  • Two more cents: I’ve heard it argued that the French people picked up the attitude of the soldiers who had been overrun by the German blitzkrieg, and the English picked up the attitude of the flyboys who danced in the skies over Britain.

  • I echo some of what commenter Darwin said.

    I tend to think you could look at the French response in WWII as a rational response to the irrational experience of WW I.

    A decorated, heroic veteran of the U.S. Civil War had this to say late in the war:
    “When I think sometimes what those men all do and endure day after day, with their lives constantly in danger, I can’t but wonder that there should be men who are such fools, I can’t call them anything else. And that is just the trouble we are laboring under now — the fools have all been killed and the rest think it is about played out to stand up and get shot.”

  • “I tend to think you could look at the French response in WWII as a rational response to the irrational experience of WW I.”

    That “rational response” would have caused them to still be a province of the Third Reich but for their being rescued by other nations.

  • Yeah, I would say that far from being the rational response, it was the exact opposite. Significant parts of France experience German occupation during WW1, and that occupation was often as brutal as Nazi occupation during WW2: summary executions of civilians, deportation of civilians, forced labor, etc.

    That’s part of why Clemendot wanted the teaching of history suppressed. The French rightly became more determined to fight for France if they dwelt much on the experience of German occupation in 1871 and in 1914-1918. And the lesson of the Great War should have been that France could in fact stop Germany.

    There was bad military leadership and strategic doctrine which was also key to the 1940 defeat, but one major problem was that too many had suppressed the historical memory of what German occupation meant, and that it was possible for French poilu to hold off the Germans.

  • It’s not as easy as all that. Bloch was right to say that the defeat of France was caused by the collapse of its ruling class, but you have to remember that for twenty years and more that ruling class had suffered from the joint pressure of violent anti-French prejudice among all the “progressive” strata of England and America (and quite a few reactionaries too – JRR Tolkien was quite crass about his contempt for the country) and the immediate and close danger of Germany. The sap had been drained from French spirits by the constant pressure, nagging, and open contempt of all the most influential groups around them. France was treated as Israel has been treated now, and no wonder in the end it broke. Why should it fight for allies that had consistently trashed her and had consistently rubbed into her the idea that her legitimate and terrifying need for security was nothing more than a militaristic, racist delirium of hate against a fundamentally benevolent and pacific Germany? GK Chesterton, as so often, had got it right:

    The World State

    Oh, how I love Humanity,
    With love so pure and pringlish,
    And how I hate the horrid French,
    Who never will be English!

    The International Idea,
    The largest and the clearest,
    Is welding all the nations now,
    Except the one that’s nearest.

    This compromise has long been known,
    This scheme of partial pardons,
    In ethical societies
    And small suburban gardens –

    The villas and the chapels where
    I learned with little labour
    The way to love my fellow-man
    And hate my next-door neighbour.

  • “Why should it fight for allies”

    Because it was their neck on the line, not Great Britain or the US. Their experience in 1870 and World War I should have convinced them that the Germans would be out for blood the next time, as the French were in World War I, until the mammoth losses they sustained cooled their ardor in 1917. Instead of taking the threat seriously France wasted money on the Maginot Line and hoped that things would somehow work out. With the Soviet Union uninterested in a French alliance, not that Stalin would have honored one in any case, France was in a bad strategic position with a Germany that could turn its undivided attention against them. France was infected with the same pacifist lunacy that infected both Great Britain and the US post war, but France could ill afford such illusions.

  • Your reasoning goes backward. France knew from November 11, 1918, that she could not ever fight Germany alone. Clemenceau knew it and said so. Foch knew it and said so. Tardieu knew it and said so. They knew that their only hope was in a permanent alliance with the Anglo-Saxon powers. When the Anglo-Saxon powers turned against France, France was essentially roasted over a slow fire. Your notion that France could have fought Germany alone is nonsense, and would have been laughed at by the most obstinate French patriot of the time; even De Gaulle, in his famous manifesto, gave as his reason to hope for a reverse of fortune the fact that the war would certainly spread to other countries. During World War One, Germany had held back with its own strength the armies of Britain, France, and the British Empire (especially Canada) and a good half of the Russian Army, and still had found the time to inflict a nearly deadly wound to Italy at Caporetto. During the Versailles negotiations, Field-Marshal Smuts, Prime Minister of South Africa and the only Allied leader who had direct and recent experience of military command, made a simple and terrifying remark: for every German soldier killed, he said, the Germans had killed three Allies. And remember that Germany had almost twice the inhabitants of France. If the French had been the idle cowards that ignorant modern Anglo-Americans are pathetically trying to make them, they’d have made their peace and submission with Germany in 1920.

    Instead of which, they built the Maginot Line. Yes: they “wasted money” on a visible and formidable token of their firm belief that they could not have peace with their neighbours, that sooner or later the Boche would come back, and that when they did they would find France still willing to resist in the hope that someone, however stupid, however selfish, would wake up and come to help.

  • “Tardieu knew it and said so. They knew that their only hope was in a permanent alliance with the Anglo-Saxon powers.”

    Then they might as well have surrendered immediately and become slaves of the Germans since a permanent alliance was never going to happen and Clemenceau surely knew that unless he was delusional. Wilson clearly did not want a peace of revenge against Germany and Lloyd George was eager to demobilize the British war time forces.

    “When the Anglo-Saxon powers turned against France,”

    Which didn’t occur. They simply were not going to fight France’s battles for her and it was ridiculous if any French leaders were daft enough to think that was going to occur. Britain of course did join France in 1939 and if the French had fought with the spirit of 1914 I doubt if they would have lost in 1940.

    “Your notion that France could have fought Germany alone is nonsense, and would have been laughed at by the most obstinate French patriot of the time; even De Gaulle, in his famous manifesto, gave as his reason to hope for a reverse of fortune the fact that the war would certainly spread to other countries.”

    France could have fought much better than it did in 1940. France paid the price of rotten military leadership and rotten political leadership and a population that was quite willing to accept defeat if it could be spared the losses of World War I. The Maginot Line was a symbol of a France that simply was unwilling to fight for national survival. In manpower in the field the French were not much inferior to the Germans. Their tanks were superior and they had more of them, along with a heavy superiority in artillery. Their military doctrine stank and French morale was rotten, and that is why they lost. Vichy was probably supported by a majority of the French population until it was clear that the Nazis were going to lose the War. This takes nothing away from the French Resistance, but they were a distinct minority until well into 1944. As for DeGaulle, his Free French movement was a complete waste of Allied resources. He did his best to alienate both the British and the Americans. In his own way he was more of a pain in the rump to the Allies winning the War than Petain and Vichy ever were.

    “During the Versailles negotiations, Field-Marshal Smuts, Prime Minister of South Africa and the only Allied leader who had direct and recent experience of military command, made a simple and terrifying remark: for every German soldier killed, he said, the Germans had killed three Allies.”

    Unsurprising considering it was trench warfare for most of the War and the Germans were usually on the defensive in the West. British and French military deaths were about 2.4 million compared to 2 million Germans, most of the Germans being killed on the Westen Front, so I assume that Smuts was including in his total the 1.8 million Russians, where exchange rates on the Eastern Front of 10-1 in favor of the Germans were not uncommon. This leaves out the 1.1 million Austrians and the 651,000 Italians. Smuts made a hash of the East African campaign against a German force he outnumbered more than 10 to 1 so he was lacking in military accumen himself.

    “Yes: they “wasted money” on a visible and formidable token”

    Actually a monument to the fact that Generals tend to fight the last war and that the French high command had learned precious little from the mobile war of 1918. Some French generals did see the future of armored warfare including DeGaulle, but they were ignored by a France that was ready to submit to a conqueror rather than go through the losses of World War I again.

  • If you are not willing to listen, just say so and I’ll be done. Mobile warfare? To quote Ben Grimm, are you outta your ever-lovin’ gourd? Foch had fought that mobile warfare with the whole armies of France, Britain and Canada, plus massive and increasing American contingents, and even so he had not managed to occupy a square yard of German territory by the time the Italians took Austria out of the war and started the chain of events that led to the ceasefire. The resources of France alone (39 million men) were absolutely not up to the task of facing those of Germany (70 million) without allies. Foch, whose name you take in vain, said that in a future war, an unsupported France would fall to the Germans in weeks – his words, not mine. As for the French fighting “badly” in 1940, you can explain that to the 200,000 Frenchmen who died fighting between May and June that year – as many dead as America had through the whole war. Your statement comes dangerously close to insulting the dead.

    The truth is that the French surrendered – instead of moving their government to Algiers, as Clemenceau had seriously proposed in 1918 – because they did not trust Britain not to stab them behind their back and make peace with Germany on terms favourable to them. Churchill knew that, which is why he made his last-minute proposal to have a political union between the two countries. He knew that, given Britain’s behaviour to France in the previous twenty years, nothing would convince the French that the British would not sell them to their enemies; the French resolved to make their own deal first. Let alone that the French knew that the British had no army worth speaking of, and that they had expected the much larger French army to do the fighting on land for them, at least for the first year or two of war, till the British had organized, trained and equipped the two or three hundred divisions required to meet the Germans on equal terms.

    And for God’s sake be coherent. First, there is no contradiction between the proposition that “generals tend always to fight the previous war” and the proposition that “the Maginot Line was a sign that France would commit all the resources it had to resisting Germany as much as it could.” It might, as backseat drivers everywhere have since said, have been a misconceived effort – although I notice that no tank assault was ever launched against it, which means that it was designed well enough to meet the best military technology of the age, and that German tank commanders feared it – but it was a monumental effort, showing that France as a whole country was committed to a policy of active defence. This when Britain and America wasted – yes – enormous amounts of effort, and more than a little treasure, on useless pacifist demonstrations. What else could France possibly have done? A “policy of mobile defence” against an enemy at least equal in armaments and training and far superior in numbers would have been suicidal madness, as well as opening all French territory to the destruction they had already experienced a couple of decades earlier. Backseat drivers and ex post facto experts should tell us what alternative they had in mind. The alternative was surrender.

    Wilson’s attitude at Versailles was nothing short of criminal. It amounted to treating enemies as friends and friends as enemies. Forgetting in one second that Germany had deliberately stoked and started the war, that it had assaulted Belgium without an excuse, that it had committed innumerable war crimes – the enormity of German behaviour in WWII makes us forget that the Germans in WWI took slave workers from occupied territories, shot civilians for terror effect, destroyed ancient monuments, and looted at will – and that its destruction was the pure and simple result of the hatred it had roused across the world, driving one neutral power after another to fight. Wilson was the effective saviour of Germany, and for that alone – his domestic policy is better left untouched, as vile things should be – he deserves damnation to the ends of time. As for Lloyd George, he was a crook with the reverse of the Midas touch, turning everything he touched to filth. He was the man most responsible for the doom of the Liberal party, and before he had done that he had managed to make Britain the enemy of France and friend of Germany against any sense and interest. (Even the notorious British tradition of “balance of powers” should have led Britain to support France, the weaker power, against Germany, the stronger.)

  • Smuts was lacking in military acumen… the French fought badly…. de Gaulle was a waste of resources… I get it. Nobody who does not have a US passport is worth your admiration. Frankly, the list of enormities in this post is beyond my ability to answer.

  • Donald is right about widespread support for Vichy (and for fascism). Even before the War, and especially after the victory of the Front Populaire in 1936, there were French industrial and banking interests who, according to William Langer of the OSS, “even before the war, had turned to Nazi Germany and had looked to Hitler as the saviour of Europe from Communism. These people were as good fascists as any in Europe. Many of them had extensive and intimate business relations with German interests and were still dreaming of a new system of ‘synarchy’, which meant government of Europe on fascist principles by an international brotherhood of financiers and industrialists.” Notable amongst them was Eugène Schueller, founder of the terrorist group, Le Cagoule (and of the cosmetic firm L’Oréal)

    It is worth recalling that the Maquis was founded by escaped Spanish Republican internees. Eventually some 60,000 of them were active, especially in the South. Many had served in the 26th Division (Durruti Column) and in the Army of the Ebro and they were continuing a war they had begun behind the barricades of Barcelona. On 22 June 1941, they were joined by Pierre Villon’s Francs-Tireurs et Partisans Francais. This included men like Colonel Henri Rol-Tanguy, who had been political commissar of the famous André Marty Battalion of the International Brigade and had been wounded at the Battle of the Ebro. As Serge Ravanel of the French Resistance in the Toulouse area acknowledged: “During the War of Spain our comrades had acquired the knowledge that we did not possess; they knew how to make bombs; they knew how to set ambushes; they had a profound knowledge of the technique of guerrilla war.” Before that, most working-class movements had advocated a policy of non-resistance; it was the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union that created a mood of protest and revolt among the French working class as a whole. There is a reason that the French Communist Party became known as « le parti des 80 000 fusillés » [The party of the 80,000 shot]

    Allied troops never entered the South. The whole area west of the Rhône and South of the Loire was liberated by the Maquis.

  • “If you are not willing to listen, just say so and I’ll be done.”

    Oh I am always willing to read what you have written Fabio. Your comments are always incisive and interesting. However, automatic agreement does not follow as a result.

    “Foch had fought that mobile warfare with the whole armies of France, Britain and Canada, plus massive and increasing American contingents, and even so he had not managed to occupy a square yard of German territory by the time the Italians took Austria out of the war and started the chain of events that led to the ceasefire.”

    The German Army was in retreat and had already suffered its black day Fabio, August 8, 1918 so designated by Ludendorf, which began the Allied Hundred Days Offensive. The Germans surrendered because they had been decisively beaten in the field by the Allied armies in the West during this offensive. With the advances of air power and armor, not to mention perfection of the stosstruppren offensive doctrine, in the interwar period it should have been obvious to all observers that the next war was not going to be a repeat of the static trench warfare of 1915-1917 but that is precisely what the French military and political leadership counted on.

    “As for the French fighting “badly” in 1940, you can explain that to the 200,000 Frenchmen who died fighting between May and June that year – as many dead as America had through the whole war. Your statement comes dangerously close to insulting the dead.”

    It takes nothing from the dead to say that almost all of the Generals who led them, and their entire political leadership, were incompetents. I would be surprised if not most of them would have agreed with that assessment. Certainly there was enough French commentary at the time and in the years following to support that conclusion. French kia’s during the battle of France were actually 100,000. Total French military deaths for the entire war were 217,000.

    “The truth is that the French surrendered – instead of moving their government to Algiers, as Clemenceau had seriously proposed in 1918 – because they did not trust Britain not to stab them behind their back and make peace with Germany on terms favourable to them.”

    I would say that shows a grave lack of understanding both of Churchill and of Hitler. The truth is that the French government wanted out of the War at almost any price, and if that meant living under the swastika they were willing to accept that price. It is interesting to compare the attitude of the French government with that of Holland and Norway which set up exile governments in England, the Free French movement being a poor substitute.

    “First, there is no contradiction between the proposition that “generals tend always to fight the previous war” and the proposition that “the Maginot Line was a sign that France would commit all the resources it had to resisting Germany as much as it could.””

    The true alternative for France was to build up a modern army with armored divisions and adequate air power as fought for by Reynaud and DeGaulle and others prior to the War. Additionally, it took no Clausewitz to predict that the Germans would go around the Maginot line with the armored divisions they had developed. All the Maginot line accomplished was to have a large portion of the French army sitting idly by while the Germans won the war with their thrust to the Ardennes and their race to the coast. As bad as the Maginot line was as a military concept, the French did not even complete it to guard against such an obvious eventuality as the Germans going through Luxembourg and Belgium, as they had in the Great War.

    “This when Britain and America wasted – yes – enormous amounts of effort, and more than a little treasure, on useless pacifist demonstrations.”

    The cost of pacifist delusions for America was Pearl Harbor and the cost for Great Britain was the battle of Britain in 1940. The cost to France was the loss of its national independence. France had always more at stake, and therefore to point at American and British folly in the postwar years is no defense for French folly. No Frenchman who knew his own history since 1870 could possibly have thought that the Germans were going to rest content with the result of 1918

  • “Wilson was the effective saviour of Germany”

    I have no great love of Wilson, to say the least, but that is incorrect. That Wilson was a soft-headed idealist who confused his 14 points with the Ten Commandments, in Clemenceau’s acerbic comment, is correct, but the actual problem with Versailles was that it was neither one thing nor another. It was neither a generous peace to a defeated Germany nor was it the type of result following World War II where Germany was occupied, dismembered and new regimes imposed by Allied bayonets. A truly Carthaginian peace was going to require huge Allied forces in control of all Germany for decades following the War and that was simply not going to happen. Such an occupation might well have hastened the coming to power of a Hitler, and probably would have been as unpopular throughout most of the Allied countries as the Franco-Belgian occupation of the Ruhr from 1923-1925 was. A truly generous peace to a defeated Germany involving no reparations, no admission of war guilt and no loss of territory other than Alsace-Lorraine might have fared better, although I doubt it. Unlike World War II, the Germans were able to lie to themselves after World War I and claim they were not beaten, and a generous peace would have fostered that delusion, although it might well have forestalled the rise of Hitler.

    As for Lloyd George, once again not one of my heroes, he was not going to have a large permanent British military establishment in an occupied Germany. Such was directly contrary to British practice for centuries and it was foolish if any of the French leadership was counting on that. Britain had effectively bankrupted itself during the War, and any British government was going to follow his policy of rapid demobilization and retrenchment.

  • “Smuts was lacking in military acumen… the French fought badly…. de Gaulle was a waste of resources… I get it. Nobody who does not have a US passport is worth your admiration. Frankly, the list of enormities in this post is beyond my ability to answer.”

    Smuts did mismanage the East African campaign. That is not opinion but a simple statement of historical fact. The French did not fight well in 1940, certainly in comparison to how they fought in World War I. DeGaulle and his Free French posed endless problems for the Allies, as Churchill noted when he said that the heaviest cross that he had to bear during the War was the Cross of Lorraine. In assessing historical events nationality is never foremost in my mind, but the actual historical record is.

Of Social Darwinists, Robber Barons and Libraries

Tuesday, April 17, AD 2012

Jonah Goldberg has a great column in which he takes apart the myth of the Social Darwinists.

This raises the real problem with the AP’s analysis. It has the history exactly backwards. The topic was not popular in the 19th and early 20th centuries, but it is now. And it’s not suddenly “making its way” into modern politics. Liberals have been irresponsibly flinging the term Social Darwinism rightward for decades. Mario Cuomo, in his famous 1984 Democratic Convention keynote speech—which “electrified,” “galvanized,” and “inspired” Democrats, who went on to lose 49 states in the general election—declared that “President Reagan told us from the very beginning that he believed in a kind of Social Darwinism.” Walter Mondale, the Democratic nominee that year, insisted that Reagan preferred “Social Darwinism” over “social decency.” Even Barack Obama’s April 3 speech to the American Society of Newspaper Editors was so much recycling. In 2005, then-senator Obama denounced the conservative idea of an “ownership society,” charging that “in our past there has been another term for it—Social Darwinism—every man or woman for him or herself.”

Meanwhile, the myth that Social Darwinism was a popular term in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was largely created by the liberal historian Richard Hofstadter, whose 1944 book Social Darwinism in American Thought didn’t merely transform our understanding of the Gilded Age, it largely fabricated an alternative history of it.

Go here to read the brilliant rest.  Richard Hofstadter was a professor of American history at Columbia University.  In his youth he was a Communist, breaking with the party in 1939 over the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact.  However, his hatred of capitalism remained, and his  Social Darwinism in American Thought was a mere polemic with an academic wrapper.  Hofstadter did almost no primary research in the documents of the late 19th and early 20th centuries and relied on the research of other historians as support for the conclusions he wished to reach.  Almost throughout his entire academic career Hofstadter was a fairly reliable man of the Left, always ready to slam conservatives as provincial and paranoid.  His 1964 The Paranoid Style in American Politics and other Essays is fairly typical.  Ironically, by the time of his death in 1970 Hofstadter was no longer popular on the Left, due to his criticisms of the New Left, and especially the antics of student radicals on campus.

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13 Responses to Of Social Darwinists, Robber Barons and Libraries

  • Social Darwinism is “ever man for himself”?
    How is that a bad concept? Anyone can see that playing out in life.

  • “Anyone can see that playing out in life.”

    And with usually disastrous consequences. Anyone who is simply out for number one leads a life to be pitied.

  • Giants of industry? Carnegie painted himself as a Captain of Industry, himself, so I do not have to. Robber Baron yes, murderer yes, I was having a good day until I read this post. The Robber Barons robbed and killed their competition if they had to. I read in Andrew Carnegie’s biography (?) tell me that I am wrong, that Andrew Carnegie hired Pinkerton guards from England to shoot to kill any underpaid striking employee. Americans would not shoot to kill their own. The Pinkertons from England killed nineteen men. The word went out that anyone who did not share their Thanksgiving turkey with the striking families “ought to choke on it”. When Carnegie became a pariah and realized that he was going to hell, as his friend Harvey Firestone told him, he built the University at Pittsburg (The Steelers) for the sons of his workers whom he had murdered. Then, Carnegie went about donating to every large city a library. The City of New Brunswick, New Jersey, has one such library with Andrew Carnegie’s portrait in the entrance, kind of a mausoleum for his memory. A fascinating place I frequented until I learned about the man. I could not even look at his portrait in the entrance and soon refused to go there.

  • “In 2005, then-senator Obama denounced the conservative idea of an “ownership society,” charging that “in our past there has been another term for it—Social Darwinism—every man or woman for him or herself.” Of public property, each and every person owns it all, in joint and common tenancy, and holds it in trust for our constitutional posterity, all future generations, not yet born but to be born. Ownership of private property is held in trust as an inheritance for the heirs. Rural Councils Executive Order 13575 removes anyone’s claim to ownership of private property. Obama’s czars, every one of them, from Timothy Geitner to Cass Sustein are in charge of administering Rural Councils, Obama’s abrogation of all ownership of private property, unauthorized arrogation to himself of all our unalienable civil rights. What may I ask is “social” about being impoverished so that somebody else can steal your children’s inheritance?

  • I read Father Robert Barrons and I thought we could not have enough. God bless.

  • Amazing that people who are typically extremely supportive of abortion for almost any reason, and who virtually insist upon it when a child may be born with Downs Syndrome or some other disability – in other words, the modern left – can then complain about “Social Darwinism.”

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  • @ Student: Forget The Catcher in the Rye, read Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics and the Gospel According to Saint Matthew, if possible at the same sitting. An interesting dichotomy of contrast and congruence.

    As for “. . . every man for himself, How is that a bad concept?,” moral purpose is a deliberate desire to love. Love is not accomplished by isolated individuals.

  • Glad to see that Goldberg’s got a new book coming out.

  • Wasn’t Carnegie into eugenics? That was a little scary.

  • Brian,

    No offense, but you really need to offer better articles than the ones you usually recommend. The folks and crooksandliars hardly offered a meaningful rebuttal of Jonah’s article, instead cherrypicking statistics and offering strawmen arguments.

    I will say it’s a step up from Little Green Footballs.

  • May I show this?

    No. That site is vulgar and stupid. If you wish to read gliberal and leftoid literature, your time is properly invested in Dissent, the Boston Review, The Atlantic Monthly, the Utne Reader, or perhaps the New York Review of Books.