Today is the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I. At least it is considered the anniversary. This is the day Gavrilo Princip shot Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife Sophie in the city of Sarajevo. The Austrians blamed the Serbs and in July delivered an ultimatum they surely knew would be rejected. The point was to provoke war with the Serbs, which it did. In a month the great powers of Europe were aligned against one another in what would be a massively brutal war. Close to 40 million men were killed, wounded or went missing in 51 months of war.
To put that in some perspective, the population of the United States at the start of the war was roughly 99 million. Every hour of every day of the war over 1,000 soldiers were killed, wounded or went missing. Put another way, one day’s fighting in WW1 had more military casualties than the entire Iraq War. It is why, as John Derbyshire points out in his latest transmission, that Europeans called it a suicide attempt.
The Great War has got slighted in the history books, but that may be changing. Outside the Rousseauist bubble, more and more of us are taking a fresh look at this war in the context of civilizational suicide. Watching the American ruling class feverishly try to flood the country with third world peasants in an attempt to break the back of the middle-class, one cannot help but think things are headed to a dramatic denouement. One hundred years ago the ruling elites of the civilized world tried to commit suicide. They seem to be at it again.
The question that naturally arises when looking at the prelude to the Great War is how did these people not see what was coming? As John points out, all of the principles were highly civilized and highly cultivated. These were not savage people lead by glory seeking leaders. The rulers of Europe were often related and certainly familiar with one another though social connections. They were highly educated men leading a class of men with much to lose and little to gain from war. Yet, the actions of a lone madman set the civilized world on fire.
Similarly, no one outside the Rousseauist bubble can figure out why our current rulers want to destroy their countries. Pat Buchanan famously noted that we may be the first civilization in history in which the ruling elite despises that which holds them up as elites. The drive to bring in 50 million exotic peasants to destroy the American middle-class is an act of suicide. The sorts of leaders these peasants favor tend to murder the types of leaders we have in place.
Today as 100 years ago, the causes and explanation are complicated. You really can’t point to one thing to place the blame. Part of our trouble today is due to the strange religious-political cult that dominates American politics. It is a toxic blend of Utopian lunacy and rage against the limits of nature. The collapse of Christianity as an active part of people’s lives means there is no transcendent alternative to the Utopian scheming. What fills the void is the sterile conservatism we see in the pages of National Review and the platform of the GOP.
The years leading to the Great War had a similar feel. Europe had abandoned Christianity following the 30 Years War. What came to fill the void was a strange nationalism that was loosely based on blood and soil. Contemporaneous accounts give one the sense that imperialism had run its course and everyone knew it could not last. The Great War was the way to find out what came next. But, there were economic forces as work, in addition to good old fashion human error.
Perhaps it is just a natural process. Marx described capitalism as the organized destruction of productive forces. What he saw was a natural process where competition commoditized labor and capital. Perhaps at the civilizational level, material success destroys the will to thrive. When there are no more hills to conquer, the leaders lose focus and this devolves into petty, selfish behavior leading to no good end. I don’t know, but today sure has the vibe of Europe’s last summer. Maybe one day Jean-Claude Juncker will be remembered like Gavrilo Princip.