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          Ideas and Movements opposed to Humanitarianism

                            Racialism in Europe and the Humanitarian ideal

                                          European anti-semitism; a failiure of the humanitarian                                               movement

                            The Enlightenment and antisemitism (1790-1870) – the graft that failed to ‘take’                                                                            Christian antisemitism
                                          Antisemitism- post 1870- racialism

                                          Jews in China.
                                          Letter from I.G.Farben Chemical Trust  

                                         War in Europe since the 18th Century

                                          War in Europe since the eighteenth century
                                          Attitudes to War during the Enlightenment
                                          War and nationalism and ideas related to nationalism
                                          The nature of nationalism
                                          The idea of nationality
                                          Patriotism and national feeling
                                          Rousseau, the ‘general will’ and nationalism
                                          War and the merger of German nationalism with Prussian militarism
                                          German nationalism – its development
                                          Prussia and militarism
                                          The union of German nationalism and Prussian militarism
                                          The influence of German philosophy and Rousseau – the nation identified with the state
                                          The merger of German nationalism and Prussian militarism
                                          German nationalism and war
                                           Ideas related to nationalism
                                           Nationalism and the masses
                                           War and conscription
                                           Destructiveness of war in the 20th century
                                           Concluding remarks and summary of the central ideas

                                          End Notes

                                          List of Works consulted



  Racialism in Europe and the humanitarian ideal 

Racialism, the differentiation of human beings because of the race to which they belong and the stigmatising the non-white race as inferior – is opposed to the humanitarian ideal.

But, as this essay explains, by the mid-nineteenth century racialism was generally accepted throughout Europe. It was believed that culture was determined by race. Certain races were, so it was believed, superior to others and their biological superiority was reflected in the cultures to which they belonged. The ‘highest’ race was the white race and its culture was superior to the Asian and so on.

 This had not always been a European belief. Indeed the evidence supports the view of the English historian Lord Bryce that ‘self-conscious racial feeling hardly existed in any country until the French Revolution. Different countries might fight and these countries might be composed of different races but that was not because they fought.’ The basic fault in racialism is to assume that cultural differences are biologically determined. That, as anthroplogist, Claude Levi-Strauss said, is ‘the original sin of anthropology’.

 Western racialism seemed to have originated in some crude impressions formed by colonial contact but the idea only captured Europe after the publication in the mid-nineteenth century of Essai sur l’inegalite des races humain by the Comte de Gobineau. From then until after the second world war it was a dominant European belief. It is now exploded as this essay explains. It was at all times foreign to the western conception of spiritual equality.

 European antisemitism

 Antisemitism is primarily, if not wholly, a European phenomenon. This essay traverses its history chiefly in order to ask and answer the question why it did not disappear with the Enlightenment.

 Originally antisemitism was inspired by religious antagonism. This was so especially at the time of the Crusades. Religious antisemitism may have had its origins in the Roman world where christianity and Judaism were rival minorities but whether this was so or not, from 591AD when Pope Gregory the Great forbade the compulsory conversion of the Jews until the first Crusade (1095-1099), Jews, although not perhaps equal, were able to live relatively peaceful lives. Thereafter, antisemitism became increasingly virulent and widespread throughout Europe.Its base was religious, founded upon the condemnation of the Jew as slayer of Christ, the Son of God.

 The European Enlightenment, with its rationalism and message of toleration, seemed to bring a new era. For almost one hundred years, except in Russia, religious antisemitism became subdued and largely disappeared. But this neither lasted nor developed.

 As mentioned, the essay examines why it did not do so; why, as stated in the essay, the ‘graft – Enlightenment rationalism-- failed to take’.

 The immediate reason for this was the rise in racialism which (except in Russia where religious antisemitism remained) became a substitute ground for antisemitism in 19th and 20th century Europe. This change was partly the result of the popularity of certain racialist philosophies in mid-nineteenth century Europe [referred to in the essay ‘Racialism in Europe and the Humanitarian ideal, outlined above] but also because of the large number of Jews fleeing east from the Progroms in Russia into Germany and other European countries to compete for employment with the new declasse of late 19th century Europe. Events such as the Dreyfus case exacerbated  this. It was from this source that the horrors of Hitlerian antisemitism and the policy of extermination, as described in the essay, emanated.

War in Europe since the 18th century

 When the Thirty Years War ended in 1648 Europe was exhausted. [Germany’s population of 21m. in 1618 had been reduced to not much above 13 m. in1648]. Religious fanaticism had waned. The conditions prevailing in Europe suggested ‘a lasting change of attitudes as to result in war becoming,in Gibbon’s words, ‘an irregular interruption of civilisation.’

 There was more to this hope than war-weariness. As stated in the essay, ‘religious fanaticism had waned. Nationalism had not yet been born.’ Social values in Europe were, except in the case of Prussia, against war. The military spirit was opposed by Enlightenment rationalism. Voltaire regarded the military spirit ‘with abhorrence’. And he was not alone. Kant, Lessing, Goethe, Rousseau, Condorcet, Priestley and Gibbon were of more or less the same opinion.

 The essay seeks to explain why these 18th century expectations of a universal recognition of war’s barbarity were disappointed and ‘European wars of universal and dreadful destruction eventuated’.

 Nationalism was largely a product of the French Revolution. National feeling and patriotism had long existed but, as explained, these lacked the ‘aggressive edge’ of nationalism and, more importantly, the claim of right which was essential to it. It was this ‘claim of right’ which led to colonies throwing off their colonial status in South America and the oppressed in Europe rising up against their oppressors in the name of self-determination. Nationalism’s claim of right derived from the Rousseau’s doctrine of sovereignty of the ‘general will’. In Germany, under the influence of Fichte and Hegel, the ‘general will’, deprived of its Rousseauite democratic base, was constituted by the state not the people,

 The most important development in nationalism’s tendency to war was the conjunction of German nationalism and Prussian militarism. These had originated separately – Prussian militarism beginning with Frederick the Great’s father: German nationalism, the nationalism of Schiller, Lessing and Goethe, was the cosmopolitan national feeling of the Enlightenment. Their conjunction was the product of a number of factors, notably the Napoleonic wars and the unification of Germany which followed them

Important as German militarism was a number of other reasons coalesced in the nineteenth century to accentuate the developing militarism .These were conscription, the destructiveness of technology applied to weaponry, imperialist rivalries and the advent of a newly literate class and the influence upon it of the mass Press.

 The essay traverses the history of these developments.

Racism and the Humanitarian Ideal

It was fundamental to medieval thought that every person possessed a soul. The immediate effect of colonisation was to shake this assumption and give rise to a very new question — had these very different and apparently human peoples with their strange and barbarous customs, souls?

King Ferdinand sent a Commission to the Indies shortly after the arrival of Columbus. The Commission held that the Indians were human beings with souls capable of being saved.

The Church’s mission became the salvation of the Indians’ souls. It was thus necessary for them to be converted to christianity. But because they possessed souls and were like all other human beings, including Europeans, spiritually equal, they had certain claims under natural law — not to be coerced in their belief, not to be enslaved and not to be forced to labour.

But for explorer, trader as well as missionary a further question arose, why if these people’s were human did their cultures diverge so greatly from the European and between themselves?

It was largely through the missionary activity necessary to convert souls that Europeans began to discover some of the reasons for cultural difference. “Through the missionary enterprise that followed exploration … Europeans learned to tolerate and at certain points respect other cultures.”*  This was particularly true in China and Japan where, to be acceptable, missionaries needed to have some understanding of Buddhist, Taoist and Confucian thought. “This contact with sophisticated China and Japan taught missionaries a totally unmedieval quality — compromise in religious matters”.*

The Pacific was opened up in the eighteenth century.  The explorers looked at the cultural landscape in much the same way as Cook’s artist, Sydney Parkinson, looked at the distinctively Australian environment of New South Wales.  He saw and painted it through European eyes.

This did not necessarily mean formation of an adverse judgment upon these cultures.  A romantic misconception, originating with Montaigne, idolised the Polynesian.  It took hold in the eighteenth century after the voyages of Bougainville and Cook.  The idea of the Noble Savage, which was popularised by Diderot and the philosophes (1), was not strictly one of Polynesian superiority.  It was used rather as justification for the philosophe theory of the original state of society and the happiness of Mankind before becoming ‘enchained’ by the encumbrances of civilisation.

There was no strong racial feeling at this time.  It is true that exploration had made Europe conscious of Race - Liebniz first used the term in 1694.  Both Hume and Voltaire thought the Negro inferior and, in this, they were not exceptional.  But no racial theory had yet developed attributing culture to race. As the English historian, Lord Bryce said ‘self-conscious racial policy hardly existed in any country until the French revolution… however much men of different races may seem to have striven with one another, it was seldom any sense of racial opposition that caused the strife.  They fought for land.  They plundered one another.  They sought glory by conquest… but strong as patriotism and national feeling might be they did not think of themselves in terms of ethnology, and in making war for every reason they never made it for the sake of imposing their civilisation… In none of such cases did the thought of racial distinction come to the front’.*

The puzzle of race and culture became the subject of Enlightenment scholarship and study.  Perversely, racial theory was initially the result of Enlightenment scientific inquiry.

It was very difficult to form any idea on the origins or nature of culture so long as there was no comprehension of the longevity of mankind.  If the Earth were only 6000 years old it is difficult to imagine creatures having changed greatly in so short a period or that human culture could have evolved or diversified within that time.  The different cultures must, it was thought, have been fixed by God at the time of creation.  Cultural difference thus had divine imprimatur (2).  In the case of racial theory, some scholars, in that pre-Darwinian era, believed that God had created each race separately from the start.  Others believed that all races had resulted from a single act of creation and that diversity of race had emerged naturally from a single origin. 

Whilst scholars turned to the genesis of race and its classification, ethnographers attempted to introduce order into the mass of odd customs, rites and beliefs that were being recorded.  In 1768 a Scot, Ferguson, published a History of Civil Society in which he distinguished between ‘savagery’ and ‘barbarism’.*  In 1812, a Dane, Thomsen, attempted a classification of the large number of exhibits in the newly founded Museum of Antiquities in Copenhagen.  Thomsen knew that bronze had been used for cutting stone before iron and stone before bronze.  This led to an ascending classification through the Stone, Bronze and Iron ages.*  By 1859 it was recognised that the range of technology sought to be covered by the Stone Age was too large and diverse.  At the suggestion of the English scholar, Sir John Lubbock, it was divided into the palaeolithic and neolithic periods. Human change was thus seen as a unilinear process from savagery to civilisation.  Its development was classified in terms of technology.  In a sense this was natural as technology is the most obvious objective indicator of cultural development.  Understandable though this may have been, it led to an identification of higher technology with civilisation.  Each other culture was considered to be on a progressive line to the attainment of civilisation as exemplified in nineteenth century Europe.  An example of this kind of thinking was Sir John Lubbock’s own view that the Tasmanian Aborigines provided vital evidence of what peoples in Europe had once been like.

Racial theory developed concurrently with these studies of culture.  The link between it and cultural diversity began with language.  In 1786, the British orientalist Sir William Jones (1746-1794), settled the foundations of modern philology when he observed the similarities between Sanscrit, Greek, Latin, Persian, Celtic and German.  He believed that these similarities could only be explained by a common ancestral tongue.  Thomas Young (1773-1829), who was involved in the endeavour to decipher the Rosetta stone, designated the common root of this family of languages as ‘Indo-European’.*

The idea of the Aryan race had its genesis in this early linguistic analysis.  The notion was first advanced by Friedrich Max Müller (1823-1900).  It was an idea which was to have profound consequences.  Müller himself was an Anglo-German philologist and orientalist.  He believed that the Persians, who had swept down into Northern India from about 2000 B.C. were the original Aryans.  It was they who spoke Sanscrit, the oldest Indo-European tongue.  This racial group was the ancestor of the European peoples.  Eventually, in 1888, with marked integrity and courage, Müller repudiated his earlier views, saying ‘to me, an ethnologist who speaks of the Aryan race, Aryan blood, Aryan eyes and hair is as great a sinner as a linguist who speaks of a dolichocephalic dictionary or a brachycephalic grammar’.*  But the damage was done.  The idea of the Aryan race was established in Western thought, almost at a popular level.  From thence to Gobineau.  In the middle of the nineteenth century the Comte de Gobineau published a four volume work under the title ‘Essai sur l’inegalite des races humanies’ which advanced a highly detailed theory of Race and which concluded that the white race was superior to other races and that, within the white races, the Nordic was ‘highest’.

The study of Race, which defined races as ‘higher’ or ‘lower’, lined up with early nineteenth century pre-history, which found that culture had moved progressively to a higher state, that of the contemporary European.  The ‘highest’ race - the European - possessed the highest culture.  Racial theory had thus emerged as a primitive explanation of cultural difference.

Let us sum up mid-nineteenth century thought on this subject.  Culture was determined biologically by race.  Certain races were superior to others and their biological superiority was reflected in the cultures of the societies to which they belonged.  The ‘highest’ race, biologically, was the white race and its culture was superior to that of the yellow race and both were in turn superior to that of the black race so that cultural inferiority corresponded to biological inferiority.  Races were seen as a biological totality so that every individual member of a race attracted its relative superiority or inferiority.  It followed that any interbreeding by a member of the white race was to be deplored for it would inevitably produce inferior progeny.  Culture was also viewed as a totality.  Thus the European culture was totally superior to that of, say, the Australian Aborigine.

In ‘Race and History’, Claude Lévi-Strauss wrote of nineteenth century anthropology and racial theory as follows:

“The original sin of anthropology, however, consists in its confusion of the idea of race, in a purely biological sense… with the sociological and psychological production of human civilisations.  Once he made this mistake, Gobineau was inevitably committed to the path leading from honest intellectual error to the unintentional justification of all forms of discrimination and exploitation.”*

Racial theories were propagated during the high-watermark of imperialism in the second half of the nineteenth century.  They naturally appealed to the growing number of semi-educated Europeans whether or not directly involved in the colonial process.  It was to them that Kipling spoke when he described the lower races as ‘your new-caught sullen peoples, half-devil and half-child’.

It would be wrong however to suppose that racism was restricted to the less highly educated.  It ran through upper class and educated Europe.  One might instance as typical the Australian Isaac Isaacs who on the introduction of the Immigration Bill in 1901, embodying the White Australia policy, said it was necessary ‘to ensure that Australia was white and that we shall be free for all time from the contaminating and degrading influence of the inferior races’.  Isaacs was later a Justice of the High Court and Chief Justice of Australia.  He became Australia’s first Australian born Governor-General.  Isaacs was no black letter lawyer but a gifted linguist and widely cultivated man.

The concept of the person as developed by European thought assumes equal moral significance  Racial theory leads, logically, to the contrary position, that those belonging to the inferior race may not have these claims, at least not vis a vis the superior races.  As Dr. Verwoerd was to put it concerning the Bantu, ‘they could not hope to rise above the level of certain forms of labour’.

During the nineteenth century certain tendencies in scholarship had begun to counteract racialism.  At first it was simply greater knowledge.  The immense age of the planet had become recognised in the 1830s by some scholars.  By 1859, as Glyn Daniel has said, ‘all the evidence for the proper recognition of the antiquity of man was available’.*  Archaeology and pre-history had extended our understanding of the diversity and longevity of urbanised cultures.  Social anthropology destroyed the old idea of unilineal cultural progress.  Anthropologists combated directly the idea that cultural difference was a consequence of biological difference.  In 1871 the anthropologist, Morgan, had written that ‘we have the same brain perpetuated by reproduction’* and in 1889, Tylor said that ‘human institutions’ are ‘shaped by similar human nature’ and ‘that it was both possible and desirable to eliminate considerations of hereditary varieties of races of men’.*

Racialist theory has collapsed.  Many of the nineteenth century theories were too absurd to survive educated discussion.  What we now know is that culture is very largely acquired.  It is true that the almost total exclusion of heredity contemplated by Morgan and Tylor go too far.  Molecular biology has demonstrated the genetic origin of certain behavioural characteristics.  But the distribution of intelligence and other characteristics of civilisation among the members of all races of the human species is so uniform as not to constitute a material factor in cultural difference.*  Of all the environmental factors leading to a lively and progressive culture by far the most important is access to new ideas.  As Claude Lévi-Strauss has written - for a culture, ‘isolation is the fatal flaw’.*  A society located in the Highlands of New Guinea and a society on the shores of the Mediteranean will inevitably develop differently because of the inability to receive ideas in the one case and the proximity to ideas in the other.  An isolated society may adapt marvellously to its environment as in the case of the Australian Aborigine but there is no stimulus for innovation in transforming it.  In the following extended quotation, Ruth Benedict graphically explains western civilisation’s dependence on foreign ideas:

            “Western civilisation itself is based on inventions borrowed from every part of the world…. the alphabet was invented by Semitic people in areas north of the Red Sea and carried by the Phoenicians to Greece and Rome.  Over centuries it spread throughout Europe and into India.  Paper and gunpowder too are old inventions made in China.  The true arch, with its keystone, was a great architectural invention made in Babylonia 30 centuries before Christ; but ancient Greek architecture is not based on it.  The great monuments and temples of Peru and Central America were built without any knowledge of it.  Gradually, however, the Babylonian invention was adopted in ancient Etruria and in Rome and became basic in Gothic Cathedrals.  Modified into a dome, it is used in modern public buildings…. coffee was brought into cultivation by South American Indians, and Bolivian Indians cultivated 240 varieties…. bananas come in from Central America, but wild varieties were first brought into cultivation in South Asia, and Polynesian peoples had carried themselves over immense areas of the Pacific before European navigators made their voyages of discovery.” (3)


End Notes


(1)   Cultural differences - the idea of the Noble Savage

  The idea of the ‘noble savage’ was first suggested around the fifteenth century and especially in France.  Montaigne not only talked with explorers but with Indians brought to the court at Versailles.  The idea was also fostered by certain Jesuit missionaries in Canada.  But it was Rousseau in Les Discours sur les Arts Sciences, 1749, who introduced the supposedly simple and unsophisticated man living in Arcady as a central piece of his philosophy.  For it was the ‘chains’ of civilisation especially feudal civilisation, which were, in his view, destructive of mans’ freedoms.  The discovery of Tahiti, shortly afterwards, gave apparent empirical credence to his ideas.  Bougainville published an account of his Pacific voyages.  Diderot in his ‘Supplement Au Voyage de Bougainville’ supported the idea of the noble savage and told the Tahitians that the Europeans would ‘one day’ come ‘with crucifixes in one had, and a dagger, in the other’.  The idea of the ‘noble savage’ did not however last so very long.  John Adams, later President of the United States said, in 1799 ‘I’m not of Rousseau’s opinions.  His notion of the purity of morals in savage nations and the decadence of civilised nations are mere chimera’.

(2)  Cultural differences - archaeology and prehistory - the changed understanding of time

The incomprehensibility of cultural difference gave rise to the explanation it was divinely created.  The European coloniser of 1800 could not have understood that, had the benchmark for judgment been 500 A.D. instead of 1800 A.D., a quite different judgement upon different cultures would have been reached.  At that earlier date Celtic chieftains were contending in primitive warfare with Anglo-Saxon tribes whilst in India a magnificent culture flourished under the Gupta empire.  Likewise, if the judgment had been made in the ninth century during T’ang Dynasty China at a time when Vikings were ravaging Europe. 

            The reality was that the contemporary European ignorance of historical time was paralleled by ignorance of geological and prehistorical time.  Such understanding, as it was, was clouded by theology. 

            As late as 1650, the Archbishop of Armagh, James Ussher, calculated from the Old Testament that the date of the earth’s creation was 4004 B.C.  Dr John Lightfoot, the Master of St Catherine’s College at the University of Cambridge, refined this date and pronounced that the creation had taken place at nine o’clock on the 23rd of October 4004 B.C.  When fossils began to be discovered in increasing number it was said that they were the remnants of extinct animals that had been drowned in the Flood.  As more and older fossils were found it was suspected that there must have been a number of catastrophes after each of which God had restocked the earth with quite new species.  Noah, it was suggested, had built his Ark in order to deal with the last of these catastrophes.  Such a position became increasingly improbable.  The publication in 1831 by Charles Lyell of his ‘Principles of Geology’ (which Darwin took with him on the ‘Beagle’) had considerable impact on scientific thought.  Then Boucher de Perthes, a French customs officer, led the way when in 1838 he elaborated his views on the great antiquity of man in his work De la Creation: Essai sur L’origin et la Progression des Etres.  His work was greeted with scepticism and even Darwin was to doubt, with subsequent shame, de Perthes’ findings.  But the discoveries of human remains in the ravines of Neanderthal and at Gibraltar vindicated them.  And as mentioned in the text, by 1859, all the evidence for the proper recognition of the antiquity of man had been established. 

            Archaeology had begun as early as 1748 with excavations at Pompeii.  It was however the discoveries by Schliemann, of Troy in 1871, and of Mycaenae in 1876, which led to the explosion of archaeological research and discovery. 

            To mention some only of the discoveries: Knossus, Sir Arthur Evans (1900); the Hittites, Dr Winckler (1906); Yang Shao Tsun, China, Anderson, (1921); Harrapa and Mohenjo-Daro, Sir John Marshall, (1922); tomb of Tutenkhamen, Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon (1923) and the Royal tombs of Ur, Leonard Wooley (1926).

            What had emerged from all this scholarship was a totally different picture of mankind and of human culture. History was divided very unequally.  Biological evolution represented millions of years: cultural history only thousands.  About 20,000 years ago Men were hunters; about 10,000 years later they had begun to domesticate animals and cultivate plants and only in the last 6,000 years had cities been built and established.  But even that relatively brief period was longer than what had been conceived biblically to have been the entire history of creation.

3)     Culture not racial but social tradition

Culture is learnt and acquired, ‘It is essential to the concept of culture that instincts, innate reflexes, and any other biologically inherited forms of behaviour be ruled out.  Culture is, therefore, wholly the result of social invention, and it may be thought of as a social heritage for it is transmitted by precept to each new generation’.*

            Factors leading to cultural diversity vary greatly but the most important is simply that of borrowing.  The initiating invention may occur by chance but thereafter it is contact between societies which stimulates cultural change.  Anthropologists refer to this process as diffusion.

            What is fundamental for cultural change and evolution is proximity and contact.  The highlands of New Guinea isolated small communities for thousands of years.  No significant cultural change could be noted.  In that small area 13% of the worlds languages are spoken.

            Europeans not only had the advantage of the proximity of peoples in the Mediterranean but also of the influx of peoples from the north.

            One can see this advantage in the development of sailing ships which led to the age of exploration.  The northern Viking Knorr was swift and sea-worthy and capable of long voyages but had a small cargo capacity.  The Mediterranean Lateener was chunkier and able to carry large cargo.  By the fourteenth century both traditions were merged in the carrack, a strong square-rigged ship with a Lateen-rigged mizzen-mast. 

            Borrowing may, however, be selective.  A L Kroeber in, ‘Anthropology: Culture Patterns and Processes’ describes interestingly the cultural borrowing of Japan:*

            ‘Japanese civilisation is partly autochthonous, whence it’s God-descended Emperor and Shinto ritual; partly Chinese such as its writing and philosophy; Indian in its prevalent Buddhism; Western in its factories, export trade, telephones, and movies.’

            But although the Japanese ‘gradually took over most of Chinese civilisation they resolutely refused to accept rhymed tonal poetry, civil service examinations, foot-binding and a number of other particular Chinese features.  “The reason for the first resistance is simple and in a way extra-cultural:  The character of the Japanese language is such as to make a rhymed and tonal observing poetry almost impossible, whereas in Chinese, prose and poetry would be difficult to distinguish except by rhyme and tone.  Civil service examinations as the basis for office holding, power, and wealth began to be developed in China when the aristocracy was crushed in the great national unification more than 2100 years ago.  In Japan, however, aristocracy of descent always maintained itself, in fact has pretty consistently been the dominant power in the country and never submitted to bowing to the yoke of a merit system of tests.’




*           Hale. Age of Exploration, Time-Life, p.167.


*           Ibid.p.167.


*           Quoted by Louis. L. Snyder, The Idea of Racialism. D. Van Nostrand,p.25.


*           Gordon Childe, Social Evolution, Fontana, p.14.


*           Ibid, p.28.


*           See Snyder, op.cit., p.40.


*           ‘dolichocephalic’ means long-headed skulls; ‘brachycephalic’ means short-headed skulls, Shorter Oxford Dictionary; see Snyder, op.cit., p.42.


*           U.N.E.S.C.O publication, p.5.


*           See generally, The Idea of Prehistory, Pelican, chapters 1,.2 and 3.


*           Ancient Society, (1871), p.61.


*           Quoted Gordon Childe, Social Revolution,pp.16-17.


*           For a contemporary analysis, see Chapter 11, “The content of our chromosomes” in The End of Racism by Dinesh D’Souza.


*           Race and History, U.N.E.S.C.O. publication, op.cit., p.43.


*           E Adamson Hoebel: The Nature of Culture in Man, Culture and Society, 1956 p.208-209.


*           A Harbinger Book, p.67.



             European antisemitism  - a failure of the humanitarian movement

Antisemitism is a European phenomenon (1).  It has never been a feature of the societies in the Islamic world where large numbers of Jews have lived.  But in Europe, under the influence of the Enlightenment, there was a period lasting about one hundred years from the middle of the 18th century when antisemitism began to wane.  Why it revived in a peculiarly virulent form in the 20th century is the principal question this essay seeks to answer.

 The Enlightenment and antisemitism (1790-1870) – the graft that failed to ‘take’

Throughout the middle ages the ghetto had become a feature of city life.  Venice introduced the first ghetto for the complete isolation of the Jews in 1516. “The name (Ghetto) came to be used across Europe … Major ghettos were created in Prague, Frankfurt, Trieste, and in Rome where the ghetto was maintained from 1536 to 1870.”*

We have a description of ghetto life in the late eighteenth century.  It is the ghetto in which Mayer Rothschild, the founder of the Rothschild dynasty, lived in 1764:

“Yet when he re-entered Frankfurt that spring day, not a shred of grandeur greeted him, only petty humiliation.  Crossing the river Main, he had to pay Jew toll.  From afar he would see, and smell the quarter where he had been born 20 years earlier.  The ghetto brimmed along a single dark alley, just 12 feet broad. ... On his way Mayer could not escape the street urchins whose favourite amusement was to shout ‘Jew do your duty!’ - whereupon the Jew had to step aside, take off his hat, and bow.  Having thus entertained the local children, Mayer reached the heavy chain with which soldiers manacled the Judengasse (Jew street) every night. 

Inside, the ghetto was not very encouraging either, shops spilled heaps of second hand clothes and soiled household goods into the alley; this welter reflected an ordinance that barred Frankfurt Jews from farming, from handicrafts, even from dealing in nobler goods such as weapons, silk or fresh fruit.

And the young Jewish girls Mayer encountered - they too were subject to the stern hand of the Gentile.  Another city edict limited the Jews to 500 families and no more than 12 marriages a year.”*

The ending of the ghettos in the eighteenth century symbolised an immense change.  In Germany the first ghetto to fall was that of Bonn in 1798.  Singing Germans marched to the gate of the ghetto and pulled it down.  Other restrictions began to fall away.  In Austria, Joseph II had, in the year following his accession (1765), issued a Patent of Tolerance which included both Jews and Protestants.  Jews were not quite placed on a footing with Protestants under this Instrument.  They were, however, permitted to leave the ghetto, were not required to dress distinctively and were allowed to engage in commerce and attend university. 

In Prussia a similar decree granted toleration to Jews and Catholics.

The liberation of the Jews from the ghetto led many to embrace the Enlightenment and enter into Europe’s intellectual life.  The ‘salon Jew’ became a recognised figure in Europes’ capitals.  Nowhere was this more so than in Germany.  A remarkable man, Moses Mendelsohn (1729-1786), undertook to combine Judaism with the Enlightenment.*  He encouraged Jews to enjoy wider European learning without jettisoning their Judaism. 

Mendelsohn himself had been born in the ghetto but, in his youth, had walked to Berlin to gain a secular education; this having recently become permitted.  In time, he became a friend of figures of the German Enlightenment, such as Kant and Lessing.  He wanted to break down the intellectual confinement of the ghetto.  He believed that the German language would be the best means of doing this.  He made a superb translation of the Pentateuch into German and correctly assumed that once Jews had learnt German they would read German literature.  At the same time Mendelsohn encouraged them in such a way as to enable them to retain their religion.  Ghetto education began to lose its hold on Jews and, as he had hoped, they began to absorb general European culture. 

Jews also moved into new occupations and professions.  Old clothes men became tailors and pawnbrokers; pedlars were at last able to set up shop and became merchants and money lenders became bankers.  Soon there were Jewish lawyers, Jewish journalists and Jewish authors. 

One possibility in such a situation was that Jews might have given up their religion or become apathetic about it.  It is true that many did, especially in Germany.  But thinkers like Mendelsohn had built a bridge between the old narrow ghetto life and the new and secular thinking.  And so for the most part Jews retained their faith. 

In 1791 the French National Assembly allowed Jews the rights of citizens.  Fifty three of the sixty districts of Paris voted for equality.  As a result 70,000 French Jews became citizens.  In an endeavour to incorporate them into the nation, Napoleon convoked a National Assembly of Jewish notables.  From this Assembly, he appointed the great Sanhedrin which had not met for 1800 years; not since the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem by the Romans.  This Assembly proclaimed that Jews owed allegiance to the State and that the jurisdiction of Rabbis did not extend into civil and judicial affairs.*

In Italy Jews were granted their freedom by one of Napoleon’s generals in a torchlight procession upon entry into Rome.*  In Prussia emancipation came in 1812.

In 1831 Jews were permitted to open retail shops in the City of London.  Restriction after restriction was done away with in England in the first half of the century.*  In 1858 Jews were admitted to sit in the Commons and 28 years later, the first Jew was raised to the Peerage. 

Within fifty years the ghetto had been swept away in most of Europe (other than Russia).  It was swept away by those forces of the Enlightenment which we have described elsewhere leading to tolerance especially of conflicting religious belief.*

To sum up, the historical effect of the Enlightenment on antisemitism is described by Louis Golding in The Jewish Problem as follows:

“Thus, in 1870, it may be said that Jewish emancipation had been generally achieved, except in backward parts of the world such as Czarist Russia and the Barbary States …

It is not to be imagined that this ‘emancipation’, in the period between the downfall of the French Monarchy and the establishment of the German Empire, implied simply the right to sit in Parliament with a vote for the Municipal Council.  This was only part - an insignificant part of the whole.  By and large, the change meant that the Jews were at last accorded the rights, not of citizens only, but of human beings.  It meant that they could at last live where they pleased.  It meant that certain cities were no longer barred to them.  It meant that they no longer had to return each night to their Ghetto.  It meant that they need no longer wear a distinctive dress.  It meant that they were no longer compelled to restrict themselves, as their fathers had done, to ignoble callings of money lending … and old clothes dealing.  They could study at universities.  They could enter the professions.  They could become lawyers or doctors, and practice among the ordinary population without restrictions.  Most precious privilege of all, all might now marry, if they were so inclined and not the eldest son of the family alone.”

We know that this trend collapsed and that in the years that followed, antisemitism, in a more virulent form, swept through Europe. The enlightenment attempt to eradicate antisemitism was, in retrospect, like a graft on the body of European civilisation which failed to ‘take’.*

We must though not suppose that the antisemitism of the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries was identical to medieval antisemitism. The basis of the former was predominantly racial. The basis of medieval antisemitism was religious. And yet the two are not disconnected. The element of pathological hatred of the one flowed like a poison into the other.

Christian antisemitism

The source of medieval antisemitism was religious and christian.  It had its origins in the Roman Empire when Judaism and christianity were rival minorities. But with the adoption of christianity by the Roman Empire in the fourth century the situation changed. There is some difference of view as to just how the Jews were treated in the centuries which followed.*  It is clear that Jews were discriminated against.*  On the other hand, in Italy Theodoric the Great (456-526) invited the Jews to settle in every city in his domain – Rome, Naples, Venice, Milan and Ravenna and Charlemagne encouraged them to settle in France.

What may be said is that from 591 when Pope Gregory the Great forbade compulsory conversion of the Jews until the First Crusade (1095-1099) Jews were not equal but could live relatively peaceful lives.  “Popular hatred of the Jews was not a particularly active sentiment until inflamed by the Holy Wars.”*

The First Crusade (1095-1099) was a calamity for the Jews in Europe.*  Thereafter Jews faced extreme  religious intolerance punctuated by persecution.  The Church had become increasingly concerned about heresy. It is no coincidence that the Fourth Lateran Council called by Innocent IV in 1215, which decided that the Jews must wear an identifying badge, included in its agenda the threat of the Albigensian heresy and the danger of unconverted Jews There then followed the expulsions from Western Europe; from England in 1290; from France in 1306 and (more completely) in 1394; from Spain in 1492, from Portugal in 1497, from Naples in 1540, from Vienna in 1670 and from Bohemia in 1745.*  The expelled Jews went East. By the sixteenth century anti-Jewish legislation had become general. The Jews were forced to wear a yellow identifying badge, were forbidden to eat with christians and were compelled to step aside whenever a christian passed them in the street.  They were stripped of every dignity and were the objects of scorn and derision.

In the seventh century the Papacy had prohibited the forcible conversion of Jews but it allowed Jews to escape discrimination by voluntary conversion. At the time of the expulsion of the Jews from Spain, almost one third - 50,000 in all - avoided expulsion in this way.  (In Shakespeare’s ‘Merchant of Venice’ the Duke decreed, at Antonio's suggestion, that Shylock become a christian and thereby eliminate his bad Jewishness.) 

The reason for christian animus against the Jews was the belief that they were responsible for the killing of Jesus Christ. Christ was the Son of God. The Jews were thus guilty of murdering God.*

Translated into popular feeling this resulted in some weird notions. It was believed that Jews carried out the sacrifice of christian children in mockery of the Passion of Christ. The blood procured in this way was, it was said, used in the Passover Rites. This fantasy became very widespread.*

The disappearance of young boys was attributed to Jewish blood lust. In 1161, 86 Jews were burnt as a result of a rumour that Jews were plotting to poison christians. In France, in 1321, it was reported that Jews were employing lepers to poison all the wells in christendom. By the fourteenth century such accusations had become commonplace.  The Black Death (1349) was widely believed to have been caused by Jews having poisoned the wells with a mixture of christian flesh, hearts and blood (obtained by ritual murder) and of spiders, frogs and lizards.

It was thought that as the plague had been caused by God's anger, it could be appeased by destruction of the Jews.  And so, 300 Jewish communities in Germany, France and Spain were exterminated. For this reason also, l200 Jews in Bavaria, 300 in Erfurt and 2000 in Strasbourg were killed.

The Pope, seemingly alone, protested against this madness. The impression is one of mass hysteria. The medieval vision conjured up is of Bruegal's ‘Triumph of Death’ with its hellish landscape swarming with the dead and dying. The hysterical fear of the Jews was not materially different from the fear of witchcraft. We have moved from ordinary hatred to a pathological condition. 

*          *          *          *          *

It is important to emphasise that Enlightenment Europe had established equality for the Jews in the name of religious toleration. In the Austrian decree Jews were included with protestants; in Prussia, with Catholics and, in Italy, Napoleon's General declared toleration on equal terms for all religions. It was for this reason that questions which Napoleon put to the National Assembly of Jewish Notables were designed to show that the Mosaic law was religious and did not impinge upon the claims of the State. 

If antisemitism had merely proved to have been a matter of religious intolerance, humanitarian toleration would simply have ended it by removing the discrimination against the Jews.

There was much more to it than difference of belief. The intensity of feeling against Jews in Europe drew upon 800 years of emotional and irrational antagonism. Jews were not simply human beings with a different set of religious beliefs.  The Jew was the stranger, the alien in European society. Human beings tend to feel disturbed and uncomfortable in the presence of the ‘Other’. In European society all of this animus against the ‘Other’ had, since the first Crusade, been directed against the Jew.

The antisemitism of the post‑Enlightenment period was not, except in the case of Russia, religious but racial. The Nuremberg laws said nothing about Judaism and Christianity but spoke of ‘the purity of German blood’. Racialist philosophy cloaked the pathological hatred of the Jew with the mantle of an apparently rational theory.*

Antisemitism post-1870 ‑ racialism

We have referred already to the Comte de Gobineau and his work mid‑century on the inequality of races. Racial differences were permanent.  Each civilization depends upon race. Civilizations fail because of an admixture of blood causing racial degeneration. ‘European peoples degenerate only in consequence of the admixture of blood which they undergo; where degeneration corresponds exactly to the quantity and quality of the new blood’. And ‘there is no true civilization among the European peoples where the Aryan branch is not prominent’. Alexis de Tocqueville was himself unpersuaded by de Gobineau's racial philosophy but wrote to him saying, ‘at least your fame will be an echo from across the Rhine’.  In his writings between 1835 to 1855 de Gobineau described Jews as “bacilli’ dangerous to French blood.  He influenced German Revolutionaries of the mid-century who linked antisemitism to rising nationalism.  Among these was the composer Richard Wagner who in 1849 published an antisemitic tract, Das Judentum in der musik.  And so de Tocqueville’s prediction proved to be true. It was the Germany of the second Reich which first seized upon racialism as the base for antisemitism.

In 1871 Germany achieved national unity.  It achieved it at the same time as its armies  victoriously crushed France.  And it achieved it under Prussian leadership.  A certain national vanity was understandable.  But in Germany, after the Franco-Prussian war, the dominance of Germans was taught day in and day out in schools, at the university and from the pulpits.  With it were taught the virtues of war.  A leading historian like Heinrich von Treitschke (1834-1896) could assert with general approval that the individual should sacrifice himself for the higher community and was not justified in resisting the authority of the State.

During this period Prussian Germany became the leading country educationally in Europe.  It nationalised its existing education system in 1872 and made education free in 1888.  By 1901 the Prussian government was spending thirty times as much on primary education as it had in 1871.

Between the Franco-Prussian war and the First World War Germany experienced unprecedented economic expansion.  It was the period of the Grunderzeit.  It outpaced all other nations in the production of wealth.  Between 1871 and 1913 the coal produced in Germany multiplied seven-fold.  The large German steel industry originated in this period.  With the initiative of Siemens, Germany became electrified and established its international dominance of the chemical industry.  This rapid economic expansion was socially dislocating.  It led to urban expansion and congestion.  Berlin, a city of less than 200,000 in 1820 and only 774,000 in 1870 was 1.8 million by 1900 and 2 million by 1910.

This industrial and commercial development threw up a new and large social group of white collar workers.  This swelling group was semi-educated but able to take in the frothy notions of superiority -  notions which conflicted with their own status.  These were what Hannah Arendt in ‘The Origins of Totalitarianism’ described as the declassé.  They saw and envied the Jews thrusting forward economically as a result of their new-found equality.  It was this group which produced the emotional drive for the new racialist philosophy.  It was, as de Tocqueville had forecast, ‘across the Rhine’ that Aryanism first became significant establishing a claim to Teutonic superiority.  It needed only a twist to turn it against the Jews. 

Antisemitism was pursued by a number of writers.  In 1879, Wilhelm Maar, an apostate half-Jew made a bitter attack on the Jews in Germany.*  It was in fact Maar who coined the term ‘antisemitism’.  Von Treitsche who, from 1879 on, published a ‘History of Germany in the Nineteenth Century’, was, as has been mentioned, very influential.  Von Treitsche gave strong impetus to antisemitism.  His cry that ‘the Jews are our misfortune’ became a popular slogan among German antisemites.  In 1881 Richard Wagner, whose antisemitism had originally been cultural, introduced de Gobineau to the German public.

All of this was taking place in a political context which itself was becoming increasingly antisemitic.  The Peace of Frankfurt, which concluded the Franco-Prussian war, had imposed an enormous war indemnity upon France.  The flow of gold across the Rhine provided an unprecedented stimulus to financial activity.  In February 1873, a liberal leader Lasker - who happened to be a Jew - called attention to the dangers of this situation.  When the bubble burst it was Jewish financiers who received the blame notwithstanding that non-Jews as well as Jews had taken part in speculative activities.

In 1879 Bismarck abandoned constitutionalism.  This resulted in the National Liberal Party led by two Jews - Lasker and Bamberger - going into opposition.  Bismarck’s powerful support was henceforth lent behind the scenes to the antisemitic movement.  In particular he relied upon Pastor Adolph Stoecker an antisemitic orator in the 1881 election.  Jews were now attacked openly in the right-wing press.  At the end of 1879 the Antisemitic League was formed.  Antisemitic deputies began to appear in the Diet and Reichstag.  Eventually they numbered 25.  Their direct influence was not great but they halted any tendency towards toleration.  Commissions in the army and appointments to the civil service were strictly limited so as to exclude Jews.* 

In 1899, Houston Stewart Chamberlain, an Englishman who had become a naturalised German, completed the conversion of de Gobineau’s Aryanism into Teutonic racial supremacy in his work ’Foundations of the Nineteenth Century’.  According to Chamberlain the entry of the Teutonic race into history met with its opposition, the Jews - always ‘as an alien force face to face’.  His work was hailed by the Kaiser and, although expensive, sold 60,000 copies.  Now forgotten, it exercised a fateful influence in maintaining antisemitism.*

During this period Germanic antisemitism was fanned by the influx of Jewish refugees from the east.

We must turn to the other country which was to have a profound influence on the revival of European antisemitism - Russia.

Russian antisemitism was more closely linked with the religiously derived antisemitism of the middle ages.  Every moujik regarded the Jew as a Christ-slayer. 

At the beginning of the nineteenth century there were 5 million Jews in Russia, nearly 50% of the total world Jewish population.  A great many had become Russian subjects following the partition of Poland and the annexation of the South-Western Russian territories which had a large Jewish population. 

The Jews lived mainly in the western provinces.  By a law of 1804, Jews were forbidden from settling in the central Russian provinces.  The statutes fixed a ‘pale of settlement’ where Jews alone could live.  This included the western and southern provinces. 

Alexander II included Jews in a number of reforms that were made before his assassination in 1881.  He ended the forcible conscription of Jewish juveniles for the army, made education available to all and made Russia available for occupation by the three million Jews living in the Pale. 

After his death reaction struck.  The Jews were herded back into the Pale.  They were forbidden from settling outside the towns and villages even when within the territories they might inhabit.  In 1891, 17,000 Jews were deported from Moscow.  Alexander III subjected them to further restrictions.  At one level it seemed that this was simply because of a rather illogical association between the Jews and the liberal reforms of Alexander II.  But, at the popular and clerical level, something more sinister was intended.

In April 1881 a wave of massacres began at Elisavetgrad.*  The pretext for the massacres was a dispute about a ritual murder.  By the autumn of that year at least 160 communities had been devastated and thousands of Jews had lost their lives.  Thenceforth, pogroms were a regular occurrence so long as Czarist Russia existed.  They were encouraged by Pobedonostsev, head of the Holy Synod.  In 1903 a bloody massacre took place at Kishinev, which lasted for three days.  It sent a wave of horror throughout the world.  From 1905 to 1909 it was reckoned there were 284 anti-Jewish outbreaks and no fewer than 50,000 victims.  A similar outburst took place in Romania.  The pogroms nearly broke the spirit of Eastern European Jewry.  The only hope for them lay in flight.  Every fresh pogrom sent thousands to join the fugitives.  Between 1881 and 1914, two million Russian and Polish Jews left their countries settling mostly in the United States but also in Europe and Palestine.

France had imbibed antisemitism from Germany.  One of the earliest works to synthesise racism with antisemitism was Drumont’s ‘La France Juivre’ published in 1886.  It helped give people with vague antisemitic feelings a rationale for feeling the way they did.  Unlike the medieval caricature of the Jew, Drumont depicted him as intelligent, clever and infinitely cunning.

The Union Générale was formed to combat not merely Jewish but Masonic influence in banking. 

Antisemitism in France exploded in the Dreyfus Affair.*

French counter-espionage came into possession of a document known as the Borderau which listed five items of military information delivered to the Germans.  Suspecting that the leak came from their own general staff, intelligence officers began running through files to compare handwriting with the Borderau.  When the card with Alfred Dreyfus’s name came up the search automatically stopped.  Dreyfus was the only Jewish officer on the French general staff.  The general staff was prepared to do anything to rid itself of the only Jewish member which had been foisted upon it by a Republican regime. 

Dreyfus was arrested on a charge of espionage.

Soon afterwards, the general staff discovered that a certain Major Ferdinand Esterhazy not Dreyfus was guilty.  Esterhazy had fallen into debt and begun selling secrets to the German Embassy.  To accuse a French aristocrat and career officer of espionage was unthinkable.  It would mean an enormous loss of prestige for the army.  And so the decision was made to sacrifice Dreyfus.  He was sentenced to life imprisonment on Devil’s Island after a dishonourable discharge from his command at a public ceremony.  The antisemitic character of the trial of Dreyfus was demonstrated by the leading part played by Drumont.  He was in the vanguard of the rioters demanding the conviction of Dreyfus.

Colonel Georges Picquart was promoted to the office of intelligence after the Dreyfus conviction.  Accidentally he stumbled upon the fact that the Borderau had been written not by Dreyfus but by Esterhazy.  He excitedly took this to his superiors.  They told him to keep quiet.  ‘Why should you care about this Jew?’ he was asked. 

Picquart eventually made public statements.  In many ways it was the steps taken by the Church, army and government to prevent justice which reveal the depth of antisemitism in France.  This antisemitism was implicit or explicit in the demonstrations between Dreyfusards and anti-Dreyfusards - during the faked trials of Esterhazy, the arrest of Picquart, the Zola letter ‘J, Accuse’, the suicide of Colonel Henry, the new trial of Dreyfus at Rennes and his exoneration by the French Supreme Court in 1906.

At a certain point it is not possible to account for antisemitism within a framework of rational discussion.  We have mentioned the mass hysteria of the middle ages.  In a different and more modern context one captures it in the Ku Klux Klan lynchings in the southern states of America.  It is the kind of frenzy Arthur Miller sought to depict dramatically in ‘The Crucible’.  It is a condition that becomes pathological.  It is that emotional state rather than any intellectual idea which represents the continuum between medieval and nineteenth century antisemitism.

Central to this was the belief that the Jews were engaged in a world-wide conspiracy against the rest of European civilisation.

This is necessary background to understanding the effect of a remarkable work known as ‘The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion’ published in 1905.

It purported to be a report of a series of 24 meetings held at Basle in 1897 by the Wise Men of Zion.  Their Supreme Head explained to them how they would be able, in conjunction with Freemasons, to make Christians turn against one an other, to undo them politically, economically and morally.  A world state in which Jews and Freemasons would be supreme was to replace existing nations.  The means for doing this included an ample use of liquor to befuddle the leaders of European opinion, the corruption of European womanhood, and the provision of underground railways.  A second edition was published in 1917.  Its contents became widespread towards the end of the First World War.

The only reason for recounting as history this absurdity is the impact which the work had.  In England, the Morning Post believed in it implicitly and took it as documentary evidence of the conspiracy of Jews against the western world. It was translated into many European languages and widely sold.

It emerged in due course that the work itself was nothing but an adaptation of a political satire on Napoleon III and that the Wise Men of Zion had simply been substituted for the characters in that satire.  The work had in fact been prepared in Russia by the Political Department of the Tsar that had been instructed to prepare a document showing that the 1848 revolution was being fermented by Jewish Freemasons.  This revelation did not halt the printing of further editions.  Even after its exposure by the Times in August 1921 it continued to be publicly quoted.

The ‘Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion’* is the perfect prelude to the climax of European antisemitism in Nazi Germany.

Hitler achieved power in Germany on 30 January 1933.  Henceforth antisemitism was German national policy.  It reached its apogee in the ‘Final Solution’ - mankind’s greatest crime against humanity.

We have described the German antisemitic environment.  This was more pronounced in Austria and southern Germany where the Nazi Party grew.  It cannot be doubted that the kind of paranoid fantasy in the ‘Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion’ became aggravated by the loss of the war, the Versaille Treaty, inflation and the financial crisis of the early 20s, all of which were blamed upon the Jews.

The origins of Hitler’s own antisemitism is a matter of doubt.  It has been suggested that it related to incidents in his youth including the rejection of his candidature to the Academy of Arts by Jewish directors.  This has been questioned by a boyhood friend who says that Hitler was already a confirmed antisemite when he went to Vienna.

At all events we know that Hitler was influenced by Chamberlain’s work.  He met Chamberlain in 1923 and, despite the very few followers which Hitler then had, he made a great impact upon Chamberlain.  Hitler attended Chamberlain’s funeral in 1927.

In 1924 after the failed Putsch Hitler wrote Mein Kamf in prison.  In 1925, when published it sold 9,473 copies.  In 1933 it sold over 1 million and by 1938 it had sold 5 million copies.  The work was to be a bible of the Nazi party.  In it Hitler set out his ideology of antisemitism.

From Mein Kamf to Auschwitz is a very clear and direct line:

“Once when I was walking through the inner city I suddenly came across a being in a long caftan with black side-locks .  My first thought was: is that a Jew?  In Linz they did not look like that.  I watched the man stealthily and cautiously but the longer I stared at that strange countenance and studied it feature by feature the more the question in a different form turned in my brain: is that a German? …

I could not well continue to doubt that here it was a matter not of Germans of another religion, but of a separate nation: for as soon as I began to study the question and take notice of these Jews, Vienna appeared to me in another light.  Now, wherever I went, I saw Jews and the more I saw, the more strikingly and obviously were they different from other people.  The inner city and the parts north of the Danube Canal especially swarmed with a population which bore no similarity with the German”.*

Hitler then described how he examined the leaders of the Social Democratic movement:

“I noted the names of nearly all the leaders, the great majority were equally members of the ‘chosen people’… one thing now became clear to me; the leadership of the party, with whose minor supporters I had been fighting hard for months, were almost entirely in the hands of a foreign race, for to my inward satisfaction I knew finally that the Jew was no German.  It was only now that I thoroughly understood the corruption of our nation … I was left staring.  One did not know which to admire most - their glibness or their artfulness in lying.  I gradually began to hate them…”.

Speaking of Vienna, Hitler said ‘I hated the mixture of races displayed in the capital, I hated the motley collection of Czechs, Poles, Hungarians, Ruthenians, Serbs, Croats etc. and above all that ever present fungoid growth - Jews, and again Jews’.*

Hitler described the Aryan and Jewish races as follows:

“The people, therefore, were always a state within the state.  It was one of the cleverest tricks ever invented when that state is stamped with ‘religion’ and so assured of the tolerance which the Aryan is always to extend to religious creeds.  For the mosaic religion is really nothing but a doctrine for the preservation of the Jewish race”.*

“If we divide the human race into three categories - founders, maintainers and destroyers of culture - the Aryan stock alone can be considered as representing the first category.

The Aryan races - often in absurdly small numbers - overthrow alien nations, and favoured by the numbers of people of lower grade who are at their disposal to aid them, they proceed to develop, according to the special conditions for life in the acquired territories - … the qualities of intellect and organisation which are dormant in them.  In the course of a few centuries they create cultures originally stamped with their own character of the land and the people they have conquered.  As time goes on, however, the conquerors sin against the principle of keeping the blood pure … and begin to blend with the original inhabitants whom they have subjugated and end their own existence as a peculiar people; for the sin committed in paradise was inevitably followed by expulsion.”* … Blood-mixture, and the lowering of the racial level which accompanies it, are the one and only cause why old civilisations disappear.  It is not lost wars which ruin mankind, but loss of the powers of resistance, which belong to purity of blood alone”* … The exact opposite of the Aryan is the Jew.  … His intellectual capacity is not the result of personal development, but of education by foreigners.”*

Upon coming to power Hitler enacted the Nuremberg laws of 1935.*  Article 1(i) provided that ‘any marriage between Jews and citizens of German or kindred blood are herewith forbidden …’.  Article 2 provided that ‘extra-marital relations between Jews and citizens of German or kindred blood are herewith forbidden’.  Article 3 provided that ‘Jews are forbidden to employ as servants in their households female subjects of German or kindred blood who are under the age of 45 years.’

The situation of the Jews in Nazi Germany of the 1930s was described by Louis Golding in ‘The Jewish Problem’:

“Town after town, reverting to the precedent of the middle ages, rid itself of the Jews and boasts on sign-boards at their entrance that the town is Judenrein.  Jews are no longer admitted to the public baths - just as in the middle ages.  They are excluded from many spas and watering places.  In the public parks, separate yellow-painted seats are assigned to them, and they may occupy no others.  It is a sufficient pretext for cancelling a lease if a man finds that the tenant of a neighbouring flat is a Jew.  Inter-marriage between Jews and non-Jews is now forbidden by law, and an elaborate code has been drawn up indicating the precise degrees within which persons of partly Jewish blood may now find themselves partners in wedlock.  Extra-marital intercourse between Jew and non-Jew (or half-Jew and non-Jew) is now a penal offence savagely punished…  Official instructions have been circulated that Jewish children must be constantly made to be conscious of their position.  At school, the non-Aryan child may not sit by the side of Aryans; he is made to sit on a separate ghetto bench, at the back of the room…”

On 7 November 1938, a grief-stricken seventeen year-old German-Jewish refugee shot and killed the third secretary of the German Embassy in Paris.  The youth’s father had been among 10,000 Jews deported in box-cars shortly before.  William Shirer in ‘The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich’* describes what happened:

“On the evening of November 9, according to a secret report made by Chief Party Judge Major Walter Buch, Dr Göebels issued instructions that ‘spontaneous demonstrations’ were to be ‘organised and executed’ during the night.  But the real organiser was Reinhard Heydrich, the sinister number two man, after Himmler, in the SS … His teletyped orders during the evening were among the captured German documents.   ‘(a) only such measures should be taken which do not involve danger to German life or property (for instance Synagogues are to be burned down only when there is no danger of fire to the surroundings)  (b) business and private apartments of Jews may be destroyed but not looted.  (c) the demonstrations which are going to take place should not be hindered by the police.  (d) as many Jews, especially rich ones are to be arrested as can be accommodated in the existing prisons.

The Kristalnacht, as it came to be described, ‘was a night of horror throughout Germany.  Synagogues, Jewish homes and shops went up in flames and several Jews, men, women and children were shot or otherwise slain while trying to escape burning to death.’

A preliminary confidential report was made by Heydrich to Goering on November 11:

“The extent of the destruction of Jewish shops and homes cannot yet be verified by figures … 815 shops destroyed, 171 dwelling houses set on fire only indicate a fraction of the actual damage so far as arson is concerned … 119 Synagogues were set on fire and another 76 completely destroyed … 20,000 Jews were arrested.  36 deaths were reported and those seriously injured are Jews…”*

These figures were upgraded.  Heydrich himself raising the number of Jewish shops looted to 7,500.

On 30 July 1941 Goering sent a directive to Heydrich as follows:

“I herewith commission you to carry out all preparations with regard to … a total solution of the Jewish question in those territories of Europe which are under German influence.  I furthermore charge you to submit to me as soon as possible a draft showing the … measures already taken for the execution of the intended final solution of the Jewish question”.*

At the Nuremberg trial, Camp Commandant Rudolph Hoess deposed:

“The ‘final solution’ of the Jewish question meant the complete extermination of all Jews in Europe.  I was ordered to establish extermination facilities in Auschwitz in June 1941.  At that time there were already in the general government of Poland three other extermination camps: Belzec, Treblinka and Wolzek … so when I set up the extermination building in Auschwitz I used Zyklon B, which was a crystallised prussic acid which we dropped into the death chamber from a small opening: it took from 3-15 minutes to kill the people in the death chamber, depending upon climatic conditions.  We knew when the people were dead because their screaming stopped”.*



(1)       Jews in China

It is interesting to observe that Chinese racial tolerance may have been one reason why the Jews in China were perhaps the only Jews to become completely assimilated.  In 1163 a colony of Jews from Persia settled at K’aifong in Honan.  It was still there 500 years later.  The Jews had then just rebuilt their Synagogue under Imperial permission.  But by 1830 the last Rabbi had died.  The colony no longer knew Hebrew, could not read the Scrolls, were uncircumcised and were indistinguishable in manner and dress from other Chinese.  We must, however, allow for the possibility that isolation from contact with other Jews was just as important in this unique example of Jewish assimilation as tolerance by the absorbing society.  Moreover, the Han Chinese have historically asserted racial superiority to neighbouring Peoples such as the Turkic Uighurs. Nevertheless, clearly they accepted the Jews. Perhaps it simply demonstrates the significance of the christian animus against the Jews in European antisemitism

(2)       Letter from I.G. Farben Chemical Trust – the ultimate dehumanisation

A letter from I G Farben Chemical Trust to the camp at Auschwitz in the 1940’s is chilling:  ‘In contemplation of experiments with a new soporific drug, we would appreciate your procuring for us a number of women … we received your answer but consider the price of 200 marks a woman excessive.  We propose to pay not more than 170 marks a head.  If agreeable, we will take possession of the women.  We need approximately 150 … ‘  Subsequently ‘Received the order of 150 women.  Despite their emaciated condition, they were found satisfactory.  We shall keep you posted on developments concerning this experiment … The tests were made.  All subjects died.  We shall contact you shortly on the subject of a new load.’



*           See N. Davies, Europe, A History,Pimlico,p.338.


*           Frederic Morton, History of the Rothschilds, Secker and Warburg,p.26.


*           Moses Mendelsohn was grandfather of the composer, Felix; see Dimont, Jews, God and History, Signet, pp 296-297; see also Barbara W. Tuchman, Bible and Sword,p.226.


*           Max I Dimont, Jews, God and History, Signret, p.302.


*           Max I Dimont.op.cit.p.303.


*           Golding, op.cit. p.74.


*           Golding, op.cit. pp76-77. See also the analysis of Barbara Tuchman in Bible and Sword, op.cit. pp.275-276.


*           Although the Enlightenment is the critical event one should note the willingness of the Dutch to take in Jews expelled from Spain and of Oliver Cromwell’s proposal to readmit Jews into England. In addition to Enlightenment notions of equality ran a puritan Old Testament devotion to the Jews , see Barbara Tuchman. op.cit pp.175-176.


*           c/f Golding’s view op.cit.p.35, “hitherto, the bitternesses had been those of two rival sects. But now the christian policy ... was taken over bodily by the state” with Dimont.op.cit.p.152 who regarded these centuries as relatively peaceful.


*           Constantius (399) forbade marriage between christian men and Jewish women; Theodosius II (439)  prohibited Jews from holding high positions in government and Justinian (531) prohibited Jews from giving evidence against christians.


*           Tuchman op.cit. p.57.


*           See Geoffrey Hindley, A Brief History of the Crusades, Robinson, pp 26-27,74-75.


*           Golding, op.cit.p.75.


*           Golding, op.cit. pp 33-34 and generally, pp 59-63.


*           Dimont,op.cit.p.233 and generally, pp233-236.


*           Snyder.op.cit. p.80.


*           Golding, op.cit., pp 92-94.


*           Snyder, op.cit. p.82.


*           Snyder, ibid,p.131; see also Heinrich von Treitsche on Racialism and Nationalism, Snyder, ibid, at page 151.


*           Golding, op.cit., p.96.


*           For a comprehensive description of the Dreyfus case, see Barbara W. Tuchman, The Proud Tower, Macmillan, Chapter 4, “ Give me Combat”, pp.171-226.


*           Golding, op.cit, pp 104-107.


*           Hitler, Mein Kampf, Hurst and Blackett, pp.30-31.


*           Ibid, p.59.


*           Ibid, pp.69-70.


*           Ibid, p.121.


*           Ibid, p.123.


*           Ibid, p.125.


*           Hannah Arendt in Eichmann and the Holocaust, Penguin Books, Great Ideas, pp 91-92 contrasted the Nuremberg Laws as national laws with genocide which is “an attack upon human diversity as such, that is, upon a characteristic of the ‘human status’ without which the very words ‘mankind’ or ‘humanity’ would be devoid of meaning”. The distinction is correct even if today discriminatory laws would not be treated as simply ‘national’.


*           The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, Secker and Warburg, p.430.


*           Quoted Shirer, op.cit. p.431.


*           Ibid, p.964.


*           Ibid, p.968.



War in Europe since the Eighteenth century 

Attitudes to war during the Enlightenment

 If we were to survey Europe in the early part of the eighteenth century, at the conclusion, say, of the Treaty of Utrecht (1713), we might have predicted not merely a period of peace but such a lasting change of attitudes as to result in war becoming, in Gibbons’ words, ‘an irregular interruption of civilisation’.

The moderation of religious fanaticism had withdrawn war’s sting.  The ending of the ‘Thirty Years War’ had left Europe exhausted.  That war was a catastrophe.  The overall population of Germany, 21 million in 1618, was by 1648 reduced to 13½ million.*  By the late seventeenth century war had become principally a dynastic struggle. 

As if to justify the prediction we have foreshadowed, there was in fact a generation of peace from the Treaty of Utrecht until the commencement of the War of Austrian Succession in 1740. 

The reason for supposing an era for peace goes beyond war-weariness.  There had occurred a fundamental change in outlook and values.  The eighteenth century affirmed reason.  Rationalism begets tolerance and negatives irrational aggression. 

Social values may tend a society towards militarism.  The military virtues are applauded.  Certain classes exhibiting these virtues acquire status as, for example, Prussian officers and Japanese samurai.  But social changes or a change in social values can also do the reverse.

In his ‘A History of Warfare’, John Keegan described the influence of Confucianism in this way:*

“The Confucian ideal of rationality, continuity and maintenance of institutions led them to seek means of subordinating the warrior impulse to the constraints of law and customs.  The ideal could not be and was not always maintained.  Internal disorder and irruptions from the steppe, the latter often the cause of the former, prevented that.  Nevertheless, the most persistent feature of Chinese military life was moderation, designed to preserve cultural forms rather than serve imperatives of foreign conquests or internal revolution.  Among the greatest of Chinese achievements was the sinicisation of successful steppe intruders and the subordination of their destructive traits to the civilisation’s central values.”*

The natural tendency of the eighteenth century Enlightenment was in a similar direction.

In his ‘Lettres sur les Anglais’, published in 1733 Voltaire described the Quakers, whom he had seen in England, as courageous for their denunciation of war as unchristian.  The motifs of Voltaire’s ‘The Century of Louis XIV (1754) was that wars and religion had been the great obstacles to human progress.  He sincerely hated the military spirit and the church’s glorification of war: ‘miserable physicians of souls.  You declaim for five quarters an hour against the mere prick of a pin, and say no word on the curse which tears us into a thousand pieces’.

In the words of Voltaire’s biographer John Morely: ‘one consequence of the histories of Louis XIV and Louis XV and most of all in the ‘Essay on Man’ was the degradation of war from the highest to the lowest place among the historian’s regard… We can never honour Voltaire too long nor too deeply for the vehemence and intensity of his abhorrence of the military spirit, nowhere do we feel more distinctly that he marked the end of the medieval spirit than in his noble protests against the glory of bloodshed…’.* 

Voltaire was not alone in this eighteenth century attitude towards war.  Kant, Lessing, Goethe, Rousseau, Condorcet, Priestley, Franklin and Gibbon were of more or less the same view.*  At the end of the century, in 1795, Kant published, ‘A Philosophical Essay on Perpetual Peace’, in which he formulated the articles of an international treaty to secure the disappearance of war.  He advocated a federation of peoples bound by a peace alliance guaranteeing the independence of each member.*

Kant was under no illusions.  He knew that establishing the kind of alliance he had in mind would be a long process.  Peace was not the natural order of things.  It would, he thought, be helped if the decision by States to engage in war was not (as it was in the eighteenth century when the State was identified with the King) a matter exclusively for Kings but should also require ratification by the people.  Kant hoped that his proposals might be a ‘seed of enlightenment’ and that eventually the mutual advantages of peace would be evident.*

In addition to Enlightenment Rationalism, the Quakers had by 1800 followed the principle of absolute pacifism for more than a century.  Their influence never spread outside the English-speaking world but within it that influence was out of all proportion to their number.  Perhaps their greatest triumph was the peacefulness the Quakers practised towards the Indian tribes, with whom they lived safely, in the new colony of Pennsylvania.* 

Aside from this intellectual background the development of standing armies, particularly since the Thirty Years War, facilitated the internationalisation of the laws of war between States.  In his Treatise on the Laws of Peace and War Grotius initiated international law for the conduct of war and in the eighteenth century Vattel established the principles of sovereignty and of non-intervention (see Endnote 1). 

Also for a time war itself seemed to acquire some of the rococo spirit of the period.  ‘Military movements were apt to be slow and deliberate, as befitted an Age when even admirals wore full-bottomed wigs and methodical siege warfare contributed the most important part of military science.  Commanders heedful of the difficulty of replenishing their armies with fresh recruits, sought rather to avoid than to invite decisive encounters - Marlborough was exceptional’.*

Such then were the eighteenth century attitudes which one might have predicted would have formed the pre-eminent influence. 

In a sense it is the purpose of this Essay to explain why these expectations failed and European wars of universal and dreadful destructiveness eventuated. 

The immediate difficulty lay in the dependence of Enlightenment ideas upon monarchs.  ‘Like Luther turning to the princes, like Erasmus believing in the princes’ education, the philosophes placed their hope in despots.  They favoured reform imposed from above’.  In other areas Enlightenment despots had embraced the ideas of the philosophes but war in the eighteenth century remained unaffected.  The key figure in this was Frederick the Great*.  Voltaire could write to Frederick in 1742, after a successful battle, saying ‘I do not like heroes; they make too much noise in the world’ but that was all he could do. 

The personal idiosyncrasies of Frederick the Great and his undoubted military ability do not of course explain the rise of war in Europe during the course of the next two centuries.  Frederick’s influence was however significant in inhibiting the general rationalism and cosmopolitanism of Enlightenment from penetrating the area of relations between nations and their attitudes to war as an instrument of national policy. 

The rise of war during this period was by no means continuous. There was no war of significance between the Battle of Waterloo and the Crimean War. For a time peace was kept by the balance of power. (The only supra-national institutions designed to keep the peace following Waterloo were the short-lived Quadruple Alliance and the eccentric Holy Alliance proposed in 1815 by the Tsar).

Three factors developed during the nineteenth century led to European war in the twentieth, which will be discussed below.  They were (a) nationalism generally but specifically nationalism in the case of Germany where it conjoined with Prussian militarism; (b) the introduction of conscription, first in France during the Revolution and then in other European countries and (c) the ever-increasing deadliness of technology applied to weaponry - machine guns, artillery and, finally, aerial bombing involving in war entire civilian populations.

It is clearer to explore each strand separately although this will involve sacrificing a complete description of their interaction.

War and Nationalism and Ideas Related to Nationalism

The idea of nationality

Nationalism is composed of three elements: the idea of nationality, national feeling or patriotism and the sovereignty of the ‘general will’. 

The idea of nationality is post-medieval.  ‘The absence of nationality is characteristic of medieval institutions’.*  By the sixteenth century the authority of the Church had been fractured by its own excesses and religious divisions within Christendom.  The authority once possessed by the Holy Roman Empire was in decline.  The prevailing feudal social order was disintegrating, especially in England.

If one had to choose - artificially perhaps - a date for the origin of the nation-state one might select Henry VII’s victory at the Battle of Bosworth on the 22nd August 1485 although Louis XI of France had begun in France the kind of centralisation of power which Henry VII brought about in England.  Ferdinand and Isabella united Aragon and Castile into one kingdom.  Later Holland, following its revolt against Spain, joined the new nations. 

Economically, these new nation-states established internal markets coherent enough for commercial organisation.  The territories of England and France were large enough to create the optimum demand for rising production but small enough for effective administration.  The common law in England and the reception of Roman law on the continent unified national communities.

Centralisation of authority was thus the first characteristic of the new nation-state.  Within each territory the State claimed unchallenged authority.  Sovereignty had previously been diffuse and vague.  Now it was concentrated in the Prince and embodied in the absolutism asserted by Kings such as Louis XIV and justified by Hobbes and Bodin.

A second characteristic, which seemed to follow from the first, but took a little time before becoming settled was that just as each State was absolute within its own territory, ‘no one of them has the least right to interfere in the government of the other’ (Vattel).*  This was the principle of non-intervention (1).

These principles were implicit in the Peace of Westphalia (1648), which brought to an end the Thirty Years War.* Almost all the European powers attended the Congress which arrived at the Treaty, (England was a notable exception). And, more importantly, almost all powers attended in their own right, not in some subordinate or submissive relationship to Pope or Holy Roman Emperor. The Peace of Westphalia accepted the territorial state as the unit of international society. Each state was independent and each was equal in international law.

These were the political facts upon which nation-states were based and upon which they operated.  These political facts gradually became established as doctrines of the new international law created by Grotius and the other jurists of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries (1).  The principle that the nation-state recognised ‘no institutional superior on earth’ implied that there was no superior ethical standard by which a nation would or could be judged.  The controlling influences of the church and of natural law were abandoned.  The principle of non-intervention depended upon acceptance of the legitimacy of the territorial sovereign.  If, as with the Spanish or Austrian succession,* this was contentious or if dispute arose in the less definite territories of the New World, no natural law or external ethical standard constrained the competing demands of ‘absolute’ sovereigns. Nation-states became in this way sub-ethical entities.  It followed that peace increasingly depended only upon mutual fear controlled by the balance of power. 

Patriotism and national feeling

Loyalty has always existed, often attaching to a charismatic leader such as Alexander in the ancient world or Nelson or Napoleon more recently.  Patriotism was rarer.  It never existed in the large oriental empires of history which maintained a loose and distant control.  In the classical world the kind of feeling that we identify with patriotism existed, but it focused upon the city or, in the case of Rome, upon Empire.

In the middle ages loyalty attached to the Church which was supranational.  What had survived of culture was very largely restricted to the clergy until the twelfth century.  Latin was the common language of culture throughout.  National or parochial languages were confined to the uneducated.  The loyalty of the clergy was exclusively to the Church.  Alternatively, loyalty existed in the more or less personalised fealty between feudal lord and inferior.

The novelty of national feeling in medieval Europe was portrayed by Shaw in his play ‘Saint Joan’ in only slightly anachronistic terms.

The ecclesiastic, Peter Cauchon, is speaking:

“But as a priest I have gained a knowledge of the minds of the common people; and there you will find yet another most dangerous idea.  I can express it only by such phrases as France for the French, England for the English, Italy for the Italians, Spain for the Spanish and so forth.  It is sometimes so narrow and bitter in country folk that it surprises me that this country girl can rise above the idea of her village and its villagers.  But she can.  She does.  When she threatens to drive the English from the soil of France she is undoubtedly thinking of the whole extent of the country in which French is spoken.  To her the French-speaking people are what the Holy Scriptures describe as a Nation.  Call this side of her heresy nationalism if you will: I can find you no better name for it.  I can only tell you that it is essentially anti-Catholic and anti-Christian; for the Catholic Church knows only one realm.”

With the rise of the new nation-states the feelings of loyalty or patriotism were redirected from local community, personalised feudal relations or transnational bodies to these newly-established national entities.

National feeling however required something more organic than institutional change through the creation of the nation-state.  The grounds upon which national sentiment was founded were described by John Stuart Mill as follows:

“The feeling of nationality may have been generated by various causes.  Sometimes it is the identity of race or descent.  Community of language and community of religion greatly contribute to it … but the strongest one is identity of political antecedents, the possession of a national history and consequent community of recollections, collective pride and humiliation, pleasures and regret, connected with incidents in the past”.

National feeling, standing alone, is not nationalism.  It may contribute to war-like tendencies as by romanticising war through accentuating its heroism, valour and self-sacrifice and by submerging its brutality, cruelty and aggression.  But the war-like character of national feeling is limited when compared to nationalism. This was brought out by George Orwell in his ‘Notes on Nationalism’, which he wrote during the Second World War.  He said ‘that patriotism (national feeling)  was defensive; nationalism on the other hand, was aggressive. By patriotism I mean devotion to a particular place and a particular way of life which the patriot has no wish to force upon others’.  Most of us would feel that something like this is correct and that the simple identification of ‘nationalism’ with ‘love of country’ in the Shorter Oxford Dictionary, strips it of an essential xenophobic quality.

Even when national survival is at stake and the intensity of national feeling is so great as to be akin to nationalism there is a defensive as well as transitory quality about it.  One might instance England at the time of the Armada, or the enthusiasm and relief which swept the country upon hearing of Nelson’s victory at Trafalgar or, in our own time, during the Battle for Britain.*

The question is how did national feeling become transformed into nationalism?  How did it maintain not just its intensity but acquire its aggressive character?

To answer this question we must go to the third element of nationalism – the sovereignty of the general will.

Rousseau, ‘the general will’ and nationalism

Rousseau, who died eleven years before the French Revolution, was its leading philosophical inspiration.  Rousseau was the prophet of modern democracy.  He was also the prophet of modern nationalism.  Central to his thinking was the idea of sovereignty of the ‘general will of the people’; an idea which flowed through European thought for the next century.

The consequence of this doctrine was to give to nationalism a sting which patriotism never possessed. 

Sovereignty vested in what Rousseau termed ‘the general will’ of the people.  It is the State ‘under the direction of the general will (which) bears, as I have said, the name of sovereignty’.*

This doctrine of sovereignty thus coalesced with national feeling.  The ‘people’ replaced the King as the subject of sovereignty.  It was their will and not that of a monarch, whose claim depended only upon the hereditary principle which gave moral legitimacy to government. The nation had become ‘the people’.  National feeling was an expression of the will of the people.  It now had the extra ‘bite’ of a claim of right given it by the doctrine of popular sovereignty.

It followed that as national feeling, (now renamed ‘general will’), possessed sovereignty, it had rights.  The assertion of rights gave to national feeling an aggressive tendency so that those rights might be vindicated.  It was because of the legitimacy conferred by the theory of the ‘general will’, that the principle of self-determination became the first and clearest expression of nationalism (2).

The American war of Independence; the overthrow, within a mere fifteen years, of the three hundred year-old Empire of Spain in Latin America, excepting Cuba and Puerto Rico (1825); the creation of modern Belgium (1831) and the rising of the Serbs under Kara George (1804) were all inspired and justified by the principle of self-determination.  Nothing exemplified more its power and influence than Europe’s reaction to the Greek war of Independence.  At first the Greek patriots fought alone but after Egyptian intervention on behalf of the Turks, the Greek freedom fighters received international support.  “We are all Greeks” cried Shelley and Lord Byron who perished (1824) for Greek independence became the hero of the Age.

Intensification of national feeling could also become a unifying factor as a result of which new nation-states would be born: Italy (1860) and Germany (1871) are examples.

This Rousseauite intensification of national feeling was heavily influenced by Napoleon.  Within two decades he had ejected the Austrians and reduced the number of States in Italy to three, reduced the power of the Pope, created the Confederation of the Rhine (1806), ended the Holy Roman Empire and revived Poland within his own empire, as the Grand Duchy of Warsaw (1807).  He gave to those States the Code Napoleon.  As States they proved to be short-lived but their people had been given a feeling of national unity. 

The other side of Napoleonic influence proved no less significant.  Napoleon’s armies provoked national resistance and the great battles that resulted impressed themselves on the historical memory of the countries he had fought or conquered - Trafalgar (1805) in the case of England; Jena (1806), and Leipzig (1813) in the case of Prussia and Moscow in the case of Russia (1812).

As Professor Toynbee has written:

“The France which Napoleon used as the instrument for his empire-building work had already learnt to think of herself as La Grande Nation; and it was manifestly inevitable that the Italians and Belgians and Germans who had become the political pupils of the French, in the act of becoming their subjects, should revolt against French Imperial regime which, for the sake of the aggrandisement of a nationally adult and emancipated France, was illogically and inequitably depriving these other nations in embryo of the ‘natural right’ to national self-determination which the French had insistently claimed and successfully secured for themselves”.*

(ii)       War and the merger of German nationalism with Prussian militarism

The merger of German nationalism with Prussian militarism

‘War’ in twentieth century Europe was very largely the product of German nationalism and Prussian militarism. It was not either in isolation but their convergence which made such an explosive contribution. 

German nationalism was in the first place a genuine product of the Enlightenment.  Prussian militarism was in origin purely ‘Prussian’ and dynastic.  It derived its initial European significance from Frederick the Great.  Napoleon and the Napoleonic wars thrust Prussia into the leadership of the movement to unite the hitherto politically disunited Germany.  It eventually achieved this, submerging in the process the old Enlightenment values with Prussian militarism.

(a)  German nationalism - its development 

Germany, unlike England and France, had not become a nation-state by the eighteenth century.  The signs of centralisation in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries did not grow: in fact the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II legally recognised the autonomy of the German princes in the famous Golden Bull of 1356.  The Treaty of Westphalia (1648) which ended the 30 year war left Germany with more than 300 separate units of government.  Nevertheless, the German ‘nation’ was more than a mere geographical expression.  There was a true unity and not merely the phantom of the Holy Roman Empire. 

The German Enlightenment was profoundly influential in awakening a sense of this unity.  It did so with a tolerant and cosmopolitan spirit.  Gotthold Lessing (1729-1781) taught tolerance very specifically in such works as ‘Nathan the Wise’ (1779) and ‘On the Education of the Human Race’ (1780).  He was a close friend of Moses Mendelsohn.  Not only was there a cross-fertilisation between Jewish and German cultures but the ending of the ghettos was a practical expression of German tolerance.  Lessing sought to emphasise German culture and opposed French influence.  Both Schiller (1759-1805) and his friend and greatest of the three, Goethe, (1749-1832) were quite internationalistic.  The greatest thinker of the age, Immanual Kant, also a German, was throughout his life an advocate of peace.* 

In regard to war there is no better description of the Enlightenment attitude than that of Goethe in one of the last conversations of his life with Eckermann.  Goethe had been reproached for not having written war songs.  Discussing this with Eckermann, he said: ‘how could I write songs of hatred without hating!…  Altogether national hatred is something peculiar.  You will always find it strongest and most violent where there is the lowest degree of culture.  But there is a degree where it vanishes altogether and where one stands to a certain extent above nations, and feels the weal or woe of a neighbouring people as if it happened to ones own.  This degree of culture was conformable to my nature and I had become strengthened in it long before I had reached my sixtieth year’.*

(b)  Prussia and Militarism

Helmuth von Moltke, victor of Sedan and Commander of the German armies in the Franco-Prussian war said of ‘perpetual peace’ that it ‘is a dream, and it is not even a beautiful dream.  War is an element in the order of the world ordained by God.  Without war the world would stagnate…’  With forthrightness he stated the philosophy of Prussian militarism.  Militarism eventually became inseparable from German nationalism and remained so until Germany was crushed in 1945.

Prussian militarism ante-dated German nationalism.  In origin Prussian militarism was dynastic (3).

Prussia became a kingdom in 1701.  It thereupon became the Sparta of northern Europe.  Its militarism was consolidated during the reign of Frederick the Great’s father, Frederick William (1713-1740).  He became known as the ‘soldier king’ and was the first European monarch to wear military uniform constantly.  He increased the army to 83,000 in a population of 2.2 million.  Under the Anton system the obligation to give military service was imposed upon the peasant population (1733).

Frederick William was mockingly described by Lord Macaulay in his essay on ‘Frederick the Great’ written in April 1842.  It sufficiently brings out the eccentricities of the author of Prussian militarism:

“Frederick William is a prince who must be allowed some talents for administration… but whose eccentricities were such as had never before been seen out of a mad house… He was the first who formed the design of obtaining for Prussia a place among the European powers, altogether out of proportion to the extent and population by means of a strong military organisation.  Strict economy enabled him to keep up a place of establishment of 60,000 troops.  These troops were disciplined in such a manner, that placed beside them, the household regiments of Versailles and St. James would have appeared an awkward squad.  The master of such a force could not but be regarded by all his neighbours as a formidable enemy and a valuable ally…  It is remarkable that though the main end of Frederick William’s administration was to have a great military force, though his reign forms an important epic in the history of military discipline, and though his dominant passion was the love of military display, he was yet one of the most pacific of princes.  We are afraid that his aversion to war was not the effect of humanity, but was merely one of his thousand whims.  His feeling about his troops seems to have resembled a miser’s feeling about his money.  He loved to collect them, to count them, to see them increase, but he could not find it in his heart to break in upon the precious hoard…  But the great military means which he had collected were destined to be employed by a spirit far more daring and inventive than his own..”*

Frederick the Great ruled Prussia from 1740 to 1786.  He seized Silesia from the Austrian Empress, Maria Theresa, and successfully resisted Austria, France and Russia during the seven year war.  He then joined in the First Partition of Poland (1772) thereby acquiring a very large area of territory.  All told his conquests almost doubled the area of Prussia.  He fought some of the classic battles in the history of warfare.  The regular army grew to 200,000 - a huge army for those days.*  The army was merely an instrument of the King.  The people were of no more account than in the France of Louis XIV.  The common soldiers were drawn from serf-peasants.  The discipline was harsh and brutal. 

Frederick the Great combined brutal militarism with considerable personal culture.  He was himself both a considerable flautist and a minor composer.*  He built Sans Souci Palace at Potsdam and invited philosophers, architects and poets to his Court.  But they were all French.  Voltaire stayed as his guest until they quarrelled.  He did invite Johann Sebastian Bach to Potsdam and The Musical Offering was the fruit of their meeting but in general, Frederick despised Germans.  “Culturally, Frederick the Great was a Frenchman.”*  Whilst Voltaire was feted at Frederick’s Court, Kant lived out his life at Konigsberg in East Prussia.  Frederick seemed to be unaware of Lessing’s existence.  The Prussian State never embodied the national spirit.  Nor did Prussia have any relationship with the German cultural renaissance.  Prussia was a military state and remained so after Frederick’s death in 1786.

(c)  The union of German nationalism and Prussian militarism

  The union of German nationalism with Prussian militarism was begun both wittingly and unwittingly by Napoleon.

First, was Napoleon’s direct influence upon the evolution of German nationalism.  Napoleon established the Confederation of the Rhine - giving Germany’s rulers only 24 hours to adhere to the Confederation.  All but one did.  The purpose of the Confederation was to break Germany up into three main entities only.  At the same time Napoleon ended the Holy Roman Empire.  The Confederation did not survive but Napoleon’s sweeping away of the smaller German principalities did.  In effect, the Congress of Vienna (1815) confirmed Napoleon’s work by reducing the number of German states from 200 odd to 39. 

Of more importance was his indirect influence.

On 14th October 1806 Napoleon destroyed the Prussian army on the heights of Jena and at Auerstadt a few miles to the north.  No Austrian army had collapsed so completely before Napoleon as had the Prussian Army at Jena.  The humiliation was extreme.  The French entered Berlin and then captured towns and fortresses with ease.  The King of Prussia fled to the Russian army in the north.  The Prussian kingdom was only saved from dissolution by Russian intervention at the Peace of Tilsit (July 1807). 

And yet a new Prussia was born in the bitterness and humiliation at Napoleon’s colossal triumph.  And it was Prussia which henceforth was the leader of German nationalism. 

The recovery of Prussia after Jena was no less remarkable than had been the speed of its downfall a few years before.  Some have likened it to the triumph of the Romans after Cannae or of the French after Agincourt.  Prussia was filled with activity.  Military reforms came first.  This was chiefly the work of Scharnhorst, Gniesenau and Clausewitz.  They began their work with almost spiritual passion.  Clausewitz was the theorist of military tactics and the creator of the idea that took Prussian arms to their military achievements throughout the nineteenth century.  The main military reforms were: the army became national, foreigners were excluded, officers were no longer drawn exclusively from the nobles, service in the ranks was no longer a mark of serfdom and all citizens were called up for military service.  Within six years the Prussian army had defeated Napoleon at Leipzig (1813) and was important in his final defeat at Waterloo. 

From this time militarism merged with German nationalism in a way that did not occur in other European countries.

The military defeats and triumphs, the humiliations and general turbulence of the Napoleonic period stirred German nationalism as much as Prussian energy.  Shortly after the battle of Jena, Fichte delivered his famous ‘Addresses to the German Nation’ calling for national regeneration.

Prussia became the pre-eminent military power in Germany although it did not become unquestioned leader of German nationalism until the defeat of the Austrian empire at the Battle of Sadowa in 1866.  Even so, as early as 1812, the leading Prussian statesman Von Stein called for ‘a German nation’.  The German empire which emerged from the Franco-Prussian war was essentially a Prussian creation.

What was important at this time was that a number of strands of thought and feeling came together to turn what had hitherto been only a Prussian into a Germanic philosophy of militarism with its undertones of glory. 

·          Romanticism affected nineteenth century Europe generally but it had a particular attraction to the German mind.  Romanticism was reflected in the ‘Sturm and Drang’ (Storm and Stress) movement named after Von Klinger’s opera (1776).*  Lessing and the Enlightenment were superseded along with the minuets of the early Mozart and of Haydn and the dainty elegance of rococo architecture. 

            A change of mood had taken place even before the French Revolution.  Rousseau was its father.  In the 1760s his novel ‘La Nouvelle Heloise’ and his work on education, Emile, emphasised emotion.  He urged return to nature ‘which never lies’.  He opposed romantic feeling to the dominant rationalism of his time.  With the French Revolution romantic feeling became uppermost.  Romantic feeling was not, at its inception, inseparable from the internationalism of the Enlightenment.  Schiller, for example, was affected by Sturm and Drang.  He called his ‘Maid of Orleans’ a romantic tragedy.  Goethe, who looked askance at exclusive national feeling, assimilated the movement to classicism.

            The essence of romanticism was direct and even violent emotion.  It did not matter greatly whether passion had any rational foundation.  It was easy for feeling of this kind to become assimilated to rising nationalism. 

·          German historical thought had developed an intense interest in things German.  This led to the study of old Germany myths and folk songs: Schlegel discovered the Niberlungeleid thereby giving Germany its Iliad.  This search for the spirit of the nation, its Volkgeist, as it was called, aroused strong feelings for the nation, its history and its people.  That interest ran on through the century and was very evident in the operas of Wagner. 

            This intense study of the ancient history of Germany, particularly of its mythological past, led to the assumption that the nation had, so to speak, a common ancestor and that there was a blood relationship between all its citizens.  In this way the nation became identified with race. The rise of German racialist theory joined with nationalism and militarism to proclaim the superiority of the nation. 


(d)  The influence of German philosophy and Rousseau – the nation is identified with the state

  We have traced how Prussian militarism transformed German nationalism.  We now come to the influence of German philosophy, drawing upon and in some respects exaggerating Rousseau, in the subjection of the nation – and with it the nationalism of the nation – to the control and direction of the state.

Throughout the nineteenth century German nationalism was profoundly influenced by  philosophic thought. The greatest philosopher of the Age was Kant. He in turn influenced Fichte and Hegel. They were to have a more powerful effect upon German policy and national emotion.

In Kant’s philosophy, the ‘will’ occupied a unique place.  Simply to say that a person did something would not enable us to assign value to the act unless we knew what the person willed.  No amount of observing what he or she did would enable us to describe it as good or bad.  Everything, except that act of ‘will’, could be described in causal terms.  The will alone was free.  An act could only be called ‘good’ if it was freely done in accordance with the moral law.  It followed from this that freedom was critical as there was no sense in talking of the act being willed unless the subject were free to choose.  Kant also said that each person was an ‘end’.  It followed that each ‘free will’ had to accommodate itself to the exercise of other ‘wills’.  Only by apparently qualifying freedom in that way could the wills of all be freely expressed to the maximum degree.

Johann Gotlieb Fichte (1762-1814) was, in many ways, the father of post-enlightenment German nationalism.  He read Kant in the early years of the French revolution.  He took Kants’ ideas on the ‘will’ and proceeded to give the ‘will’ exclusive emphasis.

Both Fichte and, later, Hegel looked upon the exercise of ‘will’ as itself the display of freedom and any restraint upon its exercise in order to accommodate others, as constituting a restriction upon freedom.  Turning Kant ‘on his head’ in this way, it followed that the individual ‘will’ should be untrammelled by other wills.  In the words of Hegel:

 “The innermost Spirit of my spirit is no longer a foreign power, but it is in the strictest possible sense, the product of my own will… I do not accept it because I must.  I accept it because I will.*

And so man is at his highest when he is emphatically dominating by the force of his ‘Will’. 

Hegel’s philosophy was the culmination of this movement.  Hegel (1770-1831) following Fichte, said that great ‘historical men’ ‘were great men because they willed’.  A great man is not controlled by ordinary morality.  He must ‘trample down many a flower - crush to pieces many an object in its path’. 

Given this idolisation of the ‘Will’ it was understandable that both Fichte and Hegel should have been attracted to Rousseau’s doctrine of the ‘general will’.  Bertrand Russell said of Rousseau’s ‘general will’ that ‘it is very important and very obscure’. It is important because sovereignty is embodied in it and all the claims of sovereignty attach to it. *  It is obscure because it is difficult to define with precision and how it is to be ascertained.

The general will was not, in Rousseau’s view, the will of the majority of the community or even all the members of society.  Rousseau expressly distinguished between the ‘general will’ and the ‘will of all’ ‑ the latter being merely the ‘sum of particular wills’.  The ‘general will’ was a collective will.  Perhaps this is best be explained by adopting an analogy with the commercial activities and transactions of the modern corporation which are legally distinct from those of its members.

Consistently with his rejection of particular interests Rousseau rejected elections or representative assemblies as means of ascertaining the general will.  Rousseau asked himself the question ‑ ‘in order to determine the general will, must the whole nation be assembled together at every unforseen event?  Certainly not.  It ought the less to be assembled because it is by no means certain that its decision would be the expression of the general will … the ruler will know that the general will is always on the side which is most favourable to the public interest’ (italics added).*

Hegel particularly approved Rousseau’s distinction between ‘the general will’ and the ‘will of all’ and complained that ‘Rousseau would have made a sounder contribution to the theory of the State if he had always kept this distinction in sight’.*

The State was, in Hegels’ words, ‘the Divine Idea as it exists on earth’.* And so Hegel discarded the social contract and those elements in Rousseau’s philosophy requiring the consent of the governed. It was only through the ruler that the general will could be expressed. The states’ commands directed and controlled the ‘general will.’*

German philosophy had fused the popular emotion of nationalism with the State.*

(e)  The merger of German nationalism and Prussian militarism – a summing –up

  We have seen how, in the eighteenth century, German nationalism and Prussian militarism were disconnected.  Nationalism was a product of the cultural renaissance within Germany.  It was a child of the Enlightenment.  German nationalism was cosmopolitan, tolerant and rational.  This fell before historical circumstance, changes in feeling and changes in thought.  These historical circumstances were the French Revolution, Napoleonic conquest and the dynamic revival of Prussia.  Henceforth Prussia and German nationalism were united.  It was not merely a matter of nationalism being infected by Prussian militarism.  Quite separately it too had changed.  This was attributable to the disengagement of nationalism from enlightenment cosmopolitanism and its infusion with romanticism and the obsessive study of German mythology.  Finally the State alone expressed the sovereighty of the nation embodied in the ‘general will’ of the nation.  The State did this by the assertion of its Will, thereby displaying Hegelian ‘freedom’

German nationalism and War

Nineteenth century nationalism had justified the right of rebellion and the splendour of war in defence of liberty.  What we now see in the case of Germany is a steady move towards aggressive nationalism under the direction of Prussian militarism.  Militarism was advocated by Friedrich Nietzche (1844-1900)* .  It would seem inevitable that once the Will was construed as ‘Will to Power’ war should have been approached along the lines of Helmuth von Moltke.  Nietzche said:

“It is a mere illusion and pretty sentiment to expect much (even anything at all) from mankind if it forgets how to make war.  As yet no means are known which call so much into action as a great war.  That rough energy born of the camp, that deep impersonality born of hatred, that conscience born of murder and cold-bloodedness, that fervour born of effort in the annihilation of the enemy, that proud indifference to loss, to one’s own existence, to that of one’s fellows, that earthquake like, soul-shaking which a people needs when it is losing its vitality.”*

These ideas swept Germany.  By the 1870s it had the best education system in Europe and the newly educated took to a philosophy which taught German racial and cultural superiority.  In fact, no professor or teacher could afford to deny it.  One remembers the narrow, pedantic but fanatically nationalist teacher in ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’.

The Kaiser said: ‘The Germans who are the salt of the earth* must not weary in the work of civilisation, Germany like the spirit of imperial Rome must expand and impose itself’.  The Kaiser’s tedious speeches continued regularly in the early part of the century inflaming feeling both in Germany and in Europe generally.  (They led Great Britain’s King Edward to remark ironically of his relative that he understood his speeches did not sound quite so absurd in German.)  But the Kaiser left no doubt of his seriousness.  In his Bremerheven Speech spoken to the contingent going to China to help put down the Boxer Rebellion (1900),  he said:

“Give no quarter.  Take no prisoners.  Anybody who falls into your hands must be destroyed.  Just as a thousand Attila’s huns made a reputation for ruthless violence that still resounds through the ages then let the name of Germany through your actions in China, acquire a similar reputation…”

Thus was German nationalism in the decade before the First World War.

Ideas Related to Nationalism

Nationalism was a concept highly charged with emotion.  It attracted like a magnet other ideas so as to form a cluster, each idea barely distinguishable from the other as motives for action.  The chief of these were imperialism and racialism.

Imperial expansion made an appearance in the second half of the nineteenth century and for the remainder of the century Europe was dominated by the pursuit of empire and the rivalry it engendered.*   Nationalism expressed itself in imperialism.  Each empire claimed the same patriotic loyalty as had the nation when defending itself or fighting for its liberty.  It may be wondered how the right of self-determination could be reconciled with the imperial subjugation of peoples.  Of course it could not.  The supposed rationale was that the ‘lower races’ were too inferior to be able to exercise self-determination and it was the function of the imperial powers to teach colonial peoples the art of self-government.  The racial inferiority of subject and coloured peoples was justified by current racial theory which was being purveyed in late nineteenth century Europe.  These ideas fused with nationalism ‑ a compound which excited primitive aggressions amongst the European powers.

Nationalism and the masses

In ‘Sartor Resartus’, written in the early part of the nineteenth century, Thomas Carlyle asked: “What speaking in quite unofficial language is the net purport and upshot of war?”

Carlyle then took for comparison the inhabitants of two fictitious villages, one in France and the other in England and asked: “Had these men any quarrel?  Busy as the Devil is, not the smallest!  They lived far enough apart, were the entirest strangers; nay, in so wide a Universe, there was, ironically, by Commerce, some mutual helpfulness between them.  How then?  Simpleton!  Their governors had fallen out; and, instead of shooting one another had the cunning to make these poor blockheads shoot”.

Oversimplified as this is, it nevertheless recognisably represents the situation in the eighteenth century.  The subjects of Louis XIV or Frederick the Great did not, in any continuing sense, hate each other when at war.  War was fought with a relative lack of animosity.  This changed.  In the twentieth century a nation at war ‘must hate the enemy’.  It is this which Orwell, in his ‘Notes on Nationalism’, regards as the most destructive feature of nationalism:

“The assuming that human beings can be classified like insects and that whole blocks of millions or tens of millions of people can be confidently labelled as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ … (and) identifying one’s self with a single nation or other unit placing it beyond good and evil and recognising no other interest than that of advancing its interests”.

The sovereignty of the ‘general will’ had given intensity to nationalism.  It was because, in defending the British or other empire, one was defending a righteous cause that nationalism came to resemble the religious fanaticism that swept over whole peoples in the seventeenth century.  With the advent of nationalism the masses influenced government in a way which could never have been imagined in the Days of Kings.  To say, however, that government only responded to mass emotion oversimplifies the relationship between leader and led.  Public opinion on the issue of war could be manipulated, as was demonstrated in 1870 by Bismarck* . 

Compulsory education was the foundation upon which public opinion came to be formed from the last quarter of the nineteenth century.  The main instrument of its formation was the popular Press. 

The Education Act in England was passed in 1870.  Ten years later school attendance was made compulsory.  Mention has been made of Prussia which nationalised the education system in 1872 and made it free from 1888.  The same or substantially the same was happening throughout Europe.  The introduction of a mass franchise together with an educated or, at least, literate electorate transformed the democracies.  Gladstone in the Midlothian campaign stomped the electorate and although this direct appeal to the masses was frowned upon by the Queen and not emulated by Disraeli, Gladstone won the election.

It was this new potential to arouse mass feeling which Bismarck worked upon so cunningly both in Germany and also upon France to bring about war.  It was the publication of the Ems telegram which brought both countries to a fever pitch.  Edward Crankshaw describes what happened:

“On the very next day the Quartoze Juillet itself, the Paris newspapers came out with special editions and glaring headlines.  By nightfall the Parisians had gone to war, the streets crammed with hysterical demonstrators yelling ‘A Berlin’.  On that day too the reservists were being called up in France, while the Landwehr in Germany were being secretly mobilised”. *

In the 1870s the word ‘Jingo’ came into use in England.  It is defined in the Shorter Oxford Dictionary as ‘a nick-name for those who supported Lord Beaconsfield in sending a British Fleet into Turkish waters to resist the advance of Russia in 1878; hence a blatant patriot’.  The work had been taken from a popular Music Hall song:

“We don’t want to fight
Yet by Jingo!  If we do, we’ve got the ships, we’ve got the men, we’ve got the money too.” (1878).

During the last two decades of the century the number of newspapers published in Europe doubled.  They were a different kind of newspaper, no longer literary, but ‘more popular in their mass appeal, more sensational and irresponsible, cheaper and more dependent upon commercial advertising’.*  Such middle-class papers as the Daily Telegraph in London and Le Matin in Paris gave way to the proletarian type of paper modelled on the spectacularly successful Hearst papers in the United States.  In London, Lord Northcliffe began the Daily Mail* selling it first for a half-penny; a paper ‘written by office boys for office boys’ as Lord Salisbury described it.  It was almost inevitable that such papers should seek to stir and arouse nationalism and bellicosity.  ‘You furnish the pictures and I’ll furnish the war’ cabled William Randolph Hearst to a photographer he had rushed to Cuba to cover the uprising.  The photographer reported that he could find no war.  After a campaign of sensation, lies and atrocity-mongering in support of Cuban liberty and his own circulation, the United States government declared war on Spain on 19 April 1898.  ‘How do you like the journal’s war?’ reported Hearst in headlines the next day.  Circulation soared to over one million.* 

Nationalism under popular influence was becoming increasingly xenophobic.  It is to be noted that enthusiasm for the Cuban war was just as great in Spain even though on any detached or objective view it would, as the event proved, be disastrous.

In England, Northcliffe’s Press stirred the same feelings when the Afrikaaners in South Africa rebelled.  These feelings reached fever pitch when, in 1900, Mafeking was relieved. 

Nationalism increasingly personified the nation-state.  This personification became very important.  The nation was not merely a community of peoples differing individually.  It was a block.  A nation could be ‘good’ or ‘bad’.  In some ways political cartoons played their part so that in, say, Punch one finds ‘Britannia’ and ‘Germania’ embracing, arguing or rejoicing.*  Most importantly a personified nation could be humiliated.  Its honour could be at stake.  This personification of the nation could very much affect its leaders - even the most cynical.  When Bismarck was told of Prince Charles Anthony’s decision to renounce the Spanish throne (which may thus have ended any casus belli between Germany and France in 1870) he thought of resigning because he ‘saw in the surrender to blackmail a humiliation for Germany for which I was not willing to be officially responsible’ and, on the other side, shortly afterwards, Napoleon III, sick and suffering pain from gallstone and who personally had no heart for the war felt that he had to assert ‘the honour and glory of France’, by fighting. 

It is difficult to deny that by August 1914 Europe was in a state of ‘abnormal psychology’. ‘Austria had to humiliate Serbia in order not to be humiliated herself, but Austria’s effort at recovering self-esteem was profoundly humiliating to Russia; Russia was allied to France, who had been feeling generally humiliated since 1871, and Austria in turn was allied to Germany whose pride required that she support Austria no matter how insanely Austria behaved ... for these ennobling reasons the world was plunged into a war which took tens of millions of lives, precipitated the Russian Revolution and set in motion the events which led to another World War’.*  The masses were heavily involved in the pride and humiliations of the personified nation-state to which they belonged.

Bertrand Russell records his amazement at London’s reaction to the declaration of war:

“I spent the evening (after war was declared) walking around the streets, especially in the neighbourhood of Trafalgar Square noticing cheering crowds... During this and the following days I discovered to my amazement that average men and women were delighted at the prospect of war ...”*

Shortly afterwards, on 15th August 1914, Russell wrote an article in ‘The Nation’ as follows:

“A month ago Europe was a peaceful comity of nations; if an Englishman killed a German he was hanged.  Now, if an Englishman kills a German, or if a German kills an Englishman, he is a patriot ... Those who saw the London crowds during the nights leading up to the declaration of war, saw a whole population, hitherto peaceable and humane, precipitated in a few days down the steep slope to primitive barbarism letting loose, in a moment, the instincts of hatred and bloodlust against which the whole fabric of society has been raised”.

Stefan Zweig, in ‘The World of Yesterday’,* described the same emotional reaction on the other side, in Vienna:

“So deeply, so quickly did the tide break over humanity that, foaming over the surface, it churned up the depths, the subconscious primitive instincts of the human animal - that which Freud so meaningfully calls ‘the revulsion from culture’, the desire to break out of the conventional bourgeois world of codes and statutes, and to permit the primitive instincts of the blood to rage at will”.

The half-Hungarian and half-Montenegrin Yugoslav, Danielo Kis, described ‘nationalism’ as ‘first and foremost paranoia, collective and individual paranoia.  As collective paranoia it results from envy and fear..’  One sees the force of this in the profound national emotion generated by the recollection of past victories and defeats where fear of the supposed enemy continues to this day.  Thus the Battle of the Boyne (1690) in the case of the Northern Ireland protestants and the Battle of Blood River (1838) in the case of the Afrikaaners.

Konrad Lorenz in his study of aggression* said that the ‘social bond embracing a group is closely connected with aggression against outsiders’.  A sense of nationality is founded upon a sense of singleness of race, language or culture which may be generated by historical experiences but can be largely subjective and imagined.  But the feeling of national inclusiveness is intensified and reinforced by a consciousness of outsiders and feelings of fear towards them.

These characteristics were perfectly illustrated by the nationalism of German national socialism.  Fear and hatred for the ‘outsider’ was engendered by the sense of victimisation arising out of Versailles and by the selection of an identifiable minority, such as the Jews, who could be blamed for all continuing misfortunes real or imagined and who could be fulminated against at the mass rallies where the nation’s ‘collective paranoia’ was aroused.  We may see this in Dr. Göbbel’s description of a 1936 speech by Hitler ...  ‘When the Fuhrer addressed his last appeal to the people on March 28th, it was as if a profound agitation went through the whole nation; one felt that Germany was transformed into a single House of God, in which its intercessor stood before the throne of the Almighty to bear witness… It seemed to us that this cry to heaven of a people for freedom and peace could not die unheard.  That was religion in its profoundest and most mystical sense’.*

War and Conscription

Before the French Revolution there had, it is true, been one or two examples of purely periodic or emergency conscription: in Spain in 1637, in Sweden during the 1630s and in France during the War of Spanish Succession.*  Frederick the Great refrained from compelling artisans to fight but the serfs of Prussia were pressed into service as part of their feudal dues.  The only real example of pre-revolutionary conscription, as we would understand it today, occurred in Peter the Great’s Russia where he preserved a Mongol custom of procuring recruits by compulsion.

The French Revolutionary government was originally anti-militarist.  In May 1790 it renounced wars of conquest.  At first the French fought defensively to protect their freedom.  The Revolutionaries had to create their own armies because the Royal Army could not be trusted.  Volunteers flooded to the National Guard but, by 1792, when invasion was threatened the levée en masse was called for (23 August 1793).  The French Convention decreed ‘from this moment until that in which our enemies shall have been driven from the territory of the Republic, all Frenchman are permanently requisitioned for service in the army.  The young men will fight; the married men will forge weapons and transport supplies; the women will make tents and clothes and serve in the hospital; the children will make up old linen into lint; and the old men will have themselves carried into the public squares to rouse the courage of the fighting men’.*  Upon its introduction the French deputies cheered this decree and asked for it to be read again.  This was the ‘levée en masse’ and was the origin of modern conscription.* 

In many ways conscription was a natural counterpart of nationalism.  Nationalism had made war an affair of the ‘nation’ not just of the ‘State’.  It was the patriotism, aggression and hatred of the people which nationalism aroused.  Likewise conscription meant that all the people were involved in military engagement.  In a significant comment Hugh Thomas has said, that ‘no hereditary monarch of the eighteenth century would have dreamt of imposing mass conscription’.*  And substantially that was true.  Armies before the Revolution comprised mostly volunteers and mercenaries.  Conscription was, as Thomas pointed out, very much related to the new ‘general will of the people’ as expressed in the French National Assembly.  The coercion involved was democratically based.  It also meant that the size of armies was transformed. 

Except in Prussia,* the French ‘levée en masse’ was not applied in any other country - not even in France itself - in the period between 1815 and 1870.  It is to be remembered that no European war was fought between Waterloo and the Crimean war.  At all events during this period all the continental European countries, other than Prussia, applied a system devised in France which was a mixture of the Revolution levée en masse and the eighteenth century tradition.  Under this system the obligation to perform compulsory military service was universal but less than one fifth of the total annual contingent of potential conscripts was actually levied.  This fraction was worked out by lot:  anyone on whom the lot fell was allowed to contract out of his obligation if he could afford to pay for a satisfactory substitute.  Those men finally selected were kept in the colours for seven years.  Prussia, alone, began applying a system of universal compulsory military service and continued to apply it throughout the century.  In the United Kingdom conscription had been instituted during the Napoleonic wars but was then abandoned.  Both the southern and northern states of America introduced conscription during the Civil War - the south in 1862 and the north in 1863.  In fact, the word ‘conscription’ came from that war.  Conscription in the Civil War ended in 1865.  The only English speaking countries to have adopted conscription in the early years of the twentieth century were Australia and New Zealand.*

Conscription immeasurably increased the size of armies - at Leipzig (1813) a total of 539,000 fought; at Solferino (1859) 300,000 were involved.  In the United States the ‘South’ conscripted 90% of all men, perhaps 1.4 million, and the ‘North’, 2.9 million.*  In the First World War all the participating countries had several million men under arms.  By October 1915 it had become abundantly clear that the first recruiting campaigns were not providing sufficient men needed for the Western Front notwithstanding the magnificent ‘Kitchener’ posters.  Sensitive to public opinion the Government instituted the Derby scheme under which men undertook to ‘attest’ that they would serve if and when called upon.  The failure of the Derby scheme led in January 1916 to the conscription of single men followed by universal conscription in March of that year. 

Destructiveness of War in the Twentieth Century

In the Napoleonic wars the casualties at Leipzig (1813) were 92,000; at Austerlitz (1805), 25,000 and at Waterloo (1815), 42,000.  Losses  of this magnitude continued into the wars of the second half of the nineteenth century: at Solferino (1859) the casualties were 31,000 and at Gettysburg (1863), 37,000.*

These casualties were insignificant compared with the losses in the First World War.  Between 31st July 1916 and 10th March 1917 the British alone lost 328,000 men in the Flanders Operations.  In his ‘Memoirs’ England’s Prime Minister, David Lloyd George wrote:

“For the massacre of brave men, who won just four miles of indefensible mud, the government was not prepared by any warning or prediction given by the military leaders.  The total British casualties on the whole British front during the progress of that battle amounted to the appalling figure of 399,000 men…”

The death and destruction of the First World War* was surpassed by the Second, the most destructive war in human history. 

In terms of combatants alone the Soviet Union suffered 7 million casualties; Germany 4 million; Japan 1.2 million; Britain 244,000 and the United States 299,000. In no other war had civilians suffered so greatly. Five million Russians and six million Jews died.*

These figures constitute the crudest compilation of human suffering.  But they show clearly enough that war had become enlarged by conscription and the involvement of whole ‘peoples’.

There is a further difference beyond the quantum of suffering.  The cruelty inflicted upon defenceless civilians in earlier wars - by the Spaniards when they invaded Italy in the sixteenth century or, in the course of the Thirty Years War in the seventeenth - was almost incidental and due to indiscipline.  The infliction of death and destruction upon civilian populations in modern war is inherent to successful military strategy. 

Increased destructiveness of weapons was due in the first place to technology.  Invention and industrialisation* transformed the weapons of war.  The new weaponry allowed for increasing geographic distance between killer and killed.  It was this extension of the capacity of weapons to enable armed forces to kill and harm the defenceless as part of their military duty which led suffering populations in turn to ‘hate’ with unrestrained intensity. 

There were three technological inventions which greatly contributed to this: the extended range of the rifle, the use of artillery and the introduction of aerial bombing.

Eighteenth century infantry were armed with muskets with flintlocks.  The range of these was no more than a hundred yards and obviously they could be fired with only limited speed.  Modifications to the rifle and to bullets themselves - by Shrapnel and others - increased range and accuracy and above all rapidity of fire.  By the 1860’s rifle-carrying infantry had become the rule in most armies. The Austrians who continued to use muzzle loading muskets at the Battle of Konninggratz in the 1860’s were overwhelmed by the Prussians.  The Prussians had adopted the breach-loading ‘needle gun’, invented in the 1840’s, and Prussia had begun to mass produce them within two decades.  The Prussians were again successful against the French in 1871.*  By the First World War all the European powers had magazine-loading rifles which could be sighted to two thousand yards.  In 1884 Sir Hiram Maxim devised a recoil operated gun, the machine gun.  By the First World War two thousand rounds could be fired in three minutes.  By this time also, the torpedo and mines had not only been invented but were pouring out of factories owned by Krupp, Skoda and Vickers-Maxim.

Artillery had been first introduced by Frederick the Great.  The field gun ended the significance of the fortress.  But in a short time it also outranged the musket, particularly guns firing grapeshot which were used by Napoleon at Toulon.  Napoleon, himself an artillery officer, did much to increase its use.  It was not, however, until the Crimean War that a breach-loading reflex gun had been used.  By the 1870’s the German nine centimetre gun had a range of three thousand metres and shortly after artillery began to outrange infantry fire.  Smokeless powder opened up and extended the battlefield.  In the First World War, the artillery was set the task of clearing the ground.  Thus, in the first dawn of the third battle of Ypres, 107 tonnes of explosives were deposited by the British and French.*

Aerial bombardment, especially as developed during the second world war and after, was the next stage in human destructiveness.

Concluding Remarks and  Summary of Central Ideas

By the eighteenth century religious fanaticism had waned; nationalism was not yet born.  Enlightenment rationalism proclaimed the virtues of peace and Enlightenment thinkers advanced proposals to achieve it.  International law had established the doctrine of sovereignty and the correlative principle of non-intervention.  On the face of it there was much to justify Gibbon’s complacency about the limited future of war evident in his remark quoted in the introduction. 

That remark proved to be drastically mistaken.  An immediate explanation for this was that Enlightenment despots were not the transmitters of ideals in this area as they had been in others, such as religious toleration and the abolition of torture.

War was for them the ‘Sport of Kings’ in the sense that in an age of absolute monarchs wars were begun and carried on without reference to their subjects and independently of national feeling.  But in another sense eighteenth century wars were anything but ‘sport’.  War was not a game but a brutal instrument in the pursuit of State power, as exemplified in the seven years war or the colonial wars between England and France.  The constant element in the eighteenth and the two following centuries has been the pursuit of territorial and economic power by governments through war.  The variable has been the place occupied by national feeling. 

The central means devised to counteract the excessive pursuit of territorial power by nations and to preserve the peace has been maintenance of the balance of power.  The balance of power depends upon two factors: the relative equality between potentially antagonistic nations or blocks of nations and the principle of non-intervention - that no nation was to intervene in the internal affairs of another.  The various alliances whether Bismarck’s ‘League of the Three Emperors’, the Triple Alliance or the Triple Entente were not constructed as a preparation for war but in order to keep the peace by balancing potentially hostile Powers. 

As early as 1815 difficulties emerged in sustaining these objectives.  The Great Powers who formed the Quadruple Alliance, other than England,* saw its purpose as not merely a preservation of the integrity of the territorial boundaries agreed at the Treaty of Vienna but of intervention in the internal affairs of other nations to suppress democratic revolution and self-determination.  Metternich took the lead in intervention for this purpose and for the next thirty years - until the revolution of 1848 - succeeded more or less in containing nationalist movements within Europe. 

This had two consequences: (a) Intervention of this kind necessarily undermined the principle of non-intervention.  Without acceptance of the principle of non-intervention the balance of power could only be maintained by mutual fear.  (b) During the same period there was an attempted reversion to the pre-revolutionary eighteenth century position in which Kings made war independently of their subjects.* 

After 1848 neither of these positions were wholly tenable.

The balance of power doctrine was further destablised by:

(a)        The vastly increased weaponry from the time of the American Civil War which meant the balance of power could be maintained only by an equivalence in military technology.  This stimulated escalating expenditure on armaments.*

(b)        The second half of the nineteenth century was the age of imperialism.  The principle of non-intervention, increasingly rickety, scarcely applied in a colonialist context. 

During the nineteenth century national feeling became increasingly aggressive.  National feeling pre-existed the French Revolution, especially in England, but the revolution gave it a great deal more ‘intensity’.  This was so in France during the revolutionary repulsion by the republic of hostile states such as Austria.  Beyond that was the impact of Napoleon.  “The whole of western Europe between the Pyrenees and the Baltic was infused with a strange mixture of general sympathy for the original ideals of the Revolution and an immediate hostility to the practices of the French.  It was the perfect mixture for nourishing the seeds of nationalism”.*  At first national feeling was confined to antagonism by subject peoples against their conquerors - the French in Spain during the Peninsular War, Austrian rule in Italy, Russian rule in Poland, Ottoman rule in Greece and Serbia, Spanish rule in South America.  Subsequently, it was expressed in the making of new nations, Italy, Germany or Greece.  After 1848, nationalism, whilst still important as an agent of self determination - successfully in Italy, less so in Poland - became increasingly allied to the military ambitions of governments.  Nowhere was this more true than Germany.

It is not easy to define the point at which national loyalty to the group transforms itself into antagonism to another group, except of course where war actually begins.  Antagonism to an outsider is as important in stimulating aggressive nationalism as it is to religious fanaticism or racialism.

“The social bond embracing the group is closely connected with aggression directed against outsiders.  In human beings too, the feeling of togetherness which is essential to the serving of a common cause is greatly enhanced by the presence of a definite, threatening enemy whom it is possible to hate.  Also it is much easier to make people identify with a simple and concrete common cause than with an abstract idea.”*


Germany became the dominant example of aggressive nationalism.

The Franco-Prussian War was begun by Prussia in a state of feverish nationalism in both countries.  In part it was designed to crush the power of France.  In part it was aimed at uniting Germany under Prussia.  In this is was spectacularly successful.  France was bitterly humiliated especially at the loss of Alsace Lorraine.  France repaid the indemnity imposed upon it within a very short time and proceeded to re-arm.  Germany, for its part, never regarded the French defeat in 1870 as final.  Within decades it was planning for war with France.  The Schleiffen Plan for the invasion of France through Belgium was more or less completed by 1906. 

After 1870 all continental powers followed Germany in imposing conscription.  The armies of 1870 were 200,000 to 300,000.  By 1914 they had grown to more than a million.

German nationalism came increasingly to be expressed through the neurotic and voluble instability of William II.  But nationalism was present to a greater or less degree in almost all the European powers in the last quarter of a century, exacerbated by imperialist rivalry.  A new element in that period was the advent of public education and the popular press which made manipulation of national feeling, as exemplified in the case of Bismarck’s Ems telegram - so easy.  In a different context we have seen the effectiveness upon the masses of the ‘dummy enemy’ in the prevailing European anti-semitism.

In 1910 Norman Angell published a very influential book, The Great Illusion, to present the view that war was impossible.  He proved this by showing the economic interdependence of nations.  No country would find it profitable to engage in war and therefore no country would start one.*

This of course proved to be drastically wrong only four years later.  The fallacy was to assume with the more extreme Enlightenment thinking that man was predominantly rational and always responded to reason.  One does not by any means have to go as far as Freud in Civilisation and its Discontents, and hold that reason is only the hand maiden to the aggressive instinct.  But nevertheless reason is, in Kant’s phrase, operating ‘with crooked timber’. 

It is not possible to eliminate war simply by transposing to mankind in general those interpersonal ‘feelings’ of identity and togetherness characteristic of groups.  A group thinks itself distinctive.  It is the difference from the ‘other’ - the non-group - which give rise to interpersonal feeling within the group.  It is true the ground for that sense of distinctiveness has varied throughout history - kinship, religion, ethnicity and nationality - are examples, but it remains the case that whatever the group, a sense of group identity implies a corresponding sense of differentiation from the non-group.


On the whole we have admired the positive aspects of group feeling.  We take pride in national cultures and deplore their increasing erosion by the insistent uniformity of the globalised media.


On the other hand, although attitudes by the group to the non-group may vary, aggression is, as Lorenz observed, a common reaction. There would seem to be a broad correspondence between increasing intensity of group feeling and hostility towards a non-group.  Consciousness of the non-group does not inevitably involve aggression.  It is possible to recognise differences but tolerate them whether they be differences in belief, race or custom.  The sweep of religious toleration throughout Europe after the religious wars was an example of this.  It is also possible to defuse group feeling by embracing the group within wider entities, which, whilst not groups themselves, involve political and economic mutuality.  The European Union is such a case.  An Italian or German would not ordinarily describe himself today as a European rather than by nationality but the political and economic advantages of the Union tends to submerge nationalistic feeling of an aggressive kind.  Another possibility is to recognise the common humanity with the non-group, as by the universal recognition of human rights.  And so, whilst it is not possible to straighten the ‘crooked timber’ of humanity by eliminating group feeling it is possible to strike a balance by which those feelings are restrained through respect and concern for humanity at large. 



(1)       In 1625 Grotius produced the first systematic ‘Treatise on the Law of Nations’.  Each sovereign state, he said, is independent of each other and recognises no institutional superior on Earth.  Each State thus stood equal in law.  For this reason Grotius urged freedom of the seas as a principle of international law.  The other principle reflecting the sovereignty of each nation-state, was that of non-intervention.  It evolved more slowly.  Grotius, for instance, had written:


“It is also proper to observe that kings and those who are possessed of sovereign power have a right to exact punishment not only for injuries affecting immediately themselves or their own subjects, but for gross violations of the Law of Nations done to other states and subjects.”


            Just over a century later this notion of natural law controlling the conduct of nations had been jettisoned.  The Swiss international lawyer, Emmrich Vattel,* enunciated the doctrine of non-intervention in its complete form:


“It clearly follows from the liberty and independence of nations that each has the right to govern itself as it thinks proper, and that no one of them has the least right to interfere in the government of another.  Of all the rights possessed by a nation that of sovereignty is doubtless the most important and the one which others should most carefully respect if they are desirous not to give or cause offence”.


(2)       The right of self-determination became the significant expression of nationalism for the next century and a half after 1800.  It was, in 1918, the chief of Wilsons’ fourteen points and the basic principle underpinning the Treaty of Versailles.  It was upon that principle that the Austro-Hungarian Empire was extinguished and the kleinstatten in the Balkans and Eastern Europe created.  Self-determination was proclaimed in the Atlantic Charter during the Second World War.  It was the same principle that led to the ending of Empire – peacefully in the case of Indian and Pakistan, but through war in Algeria and the Netherland East Indies.  Self-determination was the animating spirit in the creation of new nation-states in tribal societies where there had not previously been any ‘self’ to determine.  By 1960 colonialism was dead and the right of self-determination had become an axiomatic principle of international law.


(3)       In his ‘Ethics’* Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote:


“An outcome of the emancipation of reason was the discovery of the Rights of Man. They were found to lie in the innate title of every man to liberty, in the equality of all men before the law, and in the fraternal bond which links together all those who bear human features.  By an eternal right which is implicit in his nature, man broke free from all repressive coercion, from the chaperonage of church and state, and from social and economic oppression.  He claimed for himself the right to human dignity, to free cultural development, and to recognition of his achievements.  He saw in his neighbour either a brother or else an enemy of the rights of man.  Centralist and absolutist despotism, intellectual and social tyranny, class prejudice and class privilege, and the claims to power advanced by the church – all these were over-thrown by the shock of this assault.  German humanism and idealism ensued.  … In strange contrast to the ideas we have so far been considering, which are directed towards the whole of mankind, the French Revolution now becomes also the moment of birth of modern nationalism.  Whatever national consciousness existed earlier was essentially dynastic in character.  But the Revolution was the liberation of the people from the absolutism of L’etat c’est moi. The Revolutionary concept of the nation arose in opposition to an exaggerated dynastic absolutism.  The people deemed that they  had now come of age, that they were now capable of taking in hand the direction of their own internal and external history.  They asserted their right to freedom and development as a people, the right to a government which should rest on the will of the nation.  ‘The origin of all sovereignty lies in the nation’ (Declaration of the Rights of Man).  Nation was a revolutionary concept.  It sided with the people against the government, with becoming against being, and with the organic against the institutional.  It was thought from below in opposition to thought from above.  Consequently it is one of the most grotesque mistakes the historian can make, if Prussia of all countries is declared to be the birth place and the typical representative of nationalism.  No political unit has ever been more alien and indeed hostile to nationalism than was Prussia.  Prussia was a state, but not a nation.  Prussia stood for established government, being, institutional.  Certainly, it differed from Louis XIV in that it understood these things in the sense of Frederick the Great’s dictum: ‘I am the first servant of the State’.  Prussia viewed the German national cause with profound suspicion, a suspicion which repeatedly found expression in genuinely Prussian circles even in and after the time of the founding of the Wilhelmine Empire.  Prussia had a sound instinctive sense of the revolutionary implications of the notion of nation-hood and refused to accept them.  In nationalism Prussian-dom was combating the revolution of the Grande Nation and resisting its encroachment into Germany.”


(4)       The Church recognised that conscription was at the heart of the matter. Benedict XV (1914-1922) was guided by the need to be strictly neutral but explored all possibilities that might lead to peace.  He was able to persuade both sides to a truce on Christmas Day during the war years and he arranged through the Swiss for the exchange of prisoners and for the care of the wounded.  He also helped establish an organisation for providing for the families of deceased soldiers with information.  He protested against the deportation of French and Belgian workman to Germany and against German reprisals on prisoners of war and against the bombardment of open towns.


            In his ‘Peace Proposals’ of 1917, Pope Benedict XV, advocated complete abolition of obligatory military service:


“The only practical and clearly attainable means (of disarmament) is the following:  there should be an agreement between all civilised nations, including non-belligerents, to abolish mutually and simultaneously, obligatory military service; an arbitration court should be set up to decide international disputes and as a sanction against any nation which attempted to re-establish conscription or which refused to submit its international differences to arbitration or to accept the court’s decision, a general boycott should be established.  To leave aside other arguments the recent examples of England and America prove that the voluntary system of military service can provide all the force necessary for the maintenance of public order, while not furnishing the enormous armies that modern warfare calls for.  And so, if by a common agreement conscription were abolished and the voluntary system introduced, we should, without any disturbance of public order, bring about disarmament almost automatically, with all the results therefrom accruing to the establishment of a lasting peace between the nations …”



List of Works Consulted


Bedau, Civil Disobedience, Theory and Practice, Pegasus, New York

Churchill Winston, The Second World War, Cassell.

Howard Michael, The Invention of Peace, Profile Books.

Keegan John The Second World War, Hutchison Australia

Keegan John, A History of Warfare, Pimblico.

Purnell’s History of the 20th Century

Russell Bertrand, Autobiography, George Allen & Unwin

Schlissel Lilian, Conscience in America, E.P. Dutton

Thomas Hugh, History of the World, Harper and Rowe

Toynbee Arnold, A Study of History, Oxford University Press.



*           Norman Davies, Europe, A History, Pimlico, p.568 (a summary of the Treaty of Westphalia appears at pp.565-566).


*           J. Keegan, A History of Warfare, Hutchison, p.388.  See also pp. 79 - 94.


*           A further comment by Professor J.K. Fairbank, The United States and China, p.50-51:-

            “The Chinese military tradition is of a different type from the European or the Japanese. Once an imperial regime has been instituted, civilian government has been esteemed over military.  It took a soldier to found a dynasty but he and his descendants invariably found it easier to rule as sages, through civilian officials.”


*           John Morely, Voltaire, Chapman and Hall, pp 295-296.


*           Gibbon wrote, ‘In war the European forces are exercised by temperate and undecisive contests.  The balance of power will continue to fluctuate, and the prosperity of our own neighbouring kingdoms may be alternatively exhalted or depressed; but these partial events cannot essentially injure our general state of happiness’.


*           Enlightenment reform was evident in the area of preventing war.  Most notable was that of the Abbé de Saint-Pierre who published a plan for world peace under the title ‘Project of Henry the Great to render peace perpetual, explained by the Abbé de Saint-Pierre’. The Abbé had attended the negotiations for the Treaty of Utrecht as secretary to the French delegate.  His elaborate scheme involved perpetual alliance of all the sovereigns to preserve peace.  It was impractical because it assumed a static political situation.


*           M. Howard, The Invention of Peace, Profile Books, p.31.


*           In fact Penn was one of the first thinkers to look at the problem of maintaining peace in a practical way.  He proposed the setting up of an ‘International Parliament’ ‘to establish rules of justice for sovereign princes to observe to one another’.  He even went further and urged that nations refusing to submit disputes to this body or to abide by its decisions should be compelled by the combined force of other, both to submit and to pay damages to any injured nation.


*           H.A.L. Fisher, Arnold, History of Europe, p.686.


*           The Seven Years War which Frederick fought brilliantly produced devastation.  ‘A sixth of the males capable of bearing arms had actually perished on the field of battle.  In some districts, no labourers, except women were seen in the fields at harvest-time.  In others, the traveller passed shuddering through a succession of silent villages, in which not a single inhabitant remained’.  Macaulay, Essays in History, Frederick the Great, T. Nelson & Sons, p.563.


*           A.F. Pollard, Factors in Modern History, Constable, p.77.


*           In recognizing the equality of states Vattel declared “that a small republic was no less a sovereign state than the most powerful kingdom, just as a dwarf was as much a man as a giant”, M. Shaw, Hodder and Stoughton, International Law,p.26.


*           Geoffrey Robertson, Crimes against Humanity, second edit.Penguin,p.151.


*           H.A.L. Fisher,  A History of Europe, Edward Arnold & Co., p.686.


*           National feeling is maintained by the recollection of past victories and defeats, most often victories: on the Paris Metro we are reminded of Austerlitz and Wagram, not Waterloo or Leipzig.


*           The Social Contract and Discourses, Everyman’s Library, p.24. ‘La Pacte Social Donne au Corps Politique un Pouvoir Absolu sur tous Membre; et c’est ce Meme Pouvoir qui, Dirige par une Volonte Generale porte le nom de Souverainete’.


*           A Study of History Vol V, Oxford, p.639.


*           For an excellent description of the  German Enlightenment see Age of Enlightenment, Great Ages of Man Series, Time-Life, pp.141-150.


*           Goethe turned sixty in 1807:  Conversations with Gothe, Johann Peter Eckermann, English translation John Oxenford, 1850.


*           Macaulay, Historical Essays, Frederick the Great, T. Nelson, p.490 at  491-492.


*           Norman Davies. op.cit. pp.648-649.


*           This may well understate Frederick’s ability, Kishlansky, Geary and O’Brien, The Unfinished Legacy, A Brief History of Western Civilization,pp.506-507. For a description of Frederick at Court see Macaulay,op.cit.p.490 at 520-521.


*           Age of Enlightenment, op.cit., p.142.


*           “A rebellious movement of young intellectuals against the Enlightenment’s prevailing mood of optimism.” Age of Enlightenment, op.cit., p.147.


*           Vocation of Man, 1800


*           It was important in a different sense of being historically important in  the French Revolution, its aftermath and to the future of nationalism.


*           Discourse on Political Economy, Everyman’s Library edition of The Social Contract and Discourses  and see the Introduction  by G.D.H. Cole and also A.D. Lindsay in Karl Marx’s Capital, Oxford University Press, Chapter V at p.109.

*           Logic, Sect. 163.

*           Philosophy of History, English translation, J Sibree, quoted JA. Spender, The Government of Mankind, Cassell and Company Limited, p.323.


*           With some justice Rousseau has been described as the father of both fascism and democracy. Here we are concerned only with the way it was used to harness nationalism to the dominance of the German state. But it is evident that Rousseau’s underlying philosophy and intention was democratic: “so that the moment the government usurps the sovereignty, the social compact is broken, and all private citizens recover by right their natural liberty and are forced, but not bound to obey.”, Social Contract, Social Contract and Discourses, Everyman’s Library, p. 71 What concerned Rousseau was whether the ‘general will’ could be represented by parliamentary assemblies: ‘ Sovereignty, for the same reason as makes it inalienable, cannot be represented; it lies in the general will, and will does not admit of any representation. Every law the people has not ratified in person is null and void..” The ambiguity about this and the practical difficulties in otherwise ascertaining the general will opened up The Social Contract to undemocratic interpretations.


*           In his ‘History of Western Philosophy’, Allen & Unwin, p.748, Bertrand Russell said:

“Both Fichte and Hegel were philosophic mouthpieces of Prussia and did much to prepare the way for the later identification of German patriotism with admiration for Prussia.  Their work, in this respect was carried on by the great German historians, particularly Mommsen and Treitschke.  Bismarck finally persuaded the German nation to accept unification under Prussia”.


*           In a note written in 1884 in ‘The Will to Power’’, Nietzche says, ‘I exult in the progressive militarisation of Europe and in its inner anarchy … the day of sneaking hypocrisy … is over.  The barbarian and wild beast in us is affirmed.  Precisely for this reason philosophy will get a move on.  One day Kant will be regarded as a scarecrow’.  (See no.127 in the Kaufmann edition, p78, and reworked by Daniel Bell, The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism, note p5.)  Nietzche was however opposed to nationalism.


*           Quoted, ibid, p.1045.


*           Quoted, ibid, p.1048.


*           Early in the century it appeared to be withering away.  By 1815 France had lost most of its colonial possessions; by 1825 Spain had lost her vast Latin American empire; England had lost 13 colonies in America and Portugal had lost Brazil.  Gladstone believed that the British Empire would cease to exist and, more surprisingly, Disraeli said, as late as 1852, that ‘these wretched colonies will be independent in a few years and are a millstone around our necks”.


*           See below.


*           Crankshaw, Bismarck, Papermac, p. 268


*           Anthony Smith, The Newspaper, An International History, pp. 146-147.


*           Anthony Smith, ibid, p.154.


*           Purnell’s History of the Twentieth Century, Purnell BBC Publishing, Vol.1, p.45.


*           H.G.Wells, op.cit., p.983.


*           J.W. Fulbright, ‘The Arrogance of Power’, Pelican, p.17


*           The Autobiography of Bertrand Russell, George Allen and Unwin Ltd, Vol 2, p.16.


*           Cassell, p.151.


*           K. Lorenz, On Agression, Metheun & Co Ltd. (1969), pp.161-163 and 245.


*           Quoted Schwarzenberger, Power Politics, Third Edit., Stevens, p.60.


*           H. Thomas, A History of the World, Harper & Row, p.449.


*           For interesting observations on the relationship of conscription to democracy and citizenship, see Keegan, A History of Warfare, Pimlico, pp.233-234.


*           H. Thomas, A History of the World, Harper Row, p.449.


*           H. Thomas, A History of the World, Harper Row, p.449


*           John Keegan, A History of Warfare, Pinlico, p.233.


*           Conscription in Australia, K.S. Inglis, Conscription in Peace and War 1911-1945, University of Queensland, p.22.


*           H. Thomas, op.cit., p.451.


*           Staniforth Smith, Australian campaigns in the Great War,Appendix,p.193.


*           For a comprehensive account of the terrible loss of life and casualties during the First World War see Keegan, op.cit. p361 and for a comparison with Borodino, Waterloo and the American Civil War see Keegan, op. cit. at p.360.


*           John Keegan, The Second World War, see pp 591-592; Purnells History of the Twentieth Century, Vol 5, p.2049.


*           See a fascinating description of the increasing significance of industrialization and logistics in warfare, John Keegan, A History of Warfare, Pimlico, pp.307-315.


*           H.Thomas, op.cit., pp. 451-454.


*           “Napoleon’s artillery at Waterloo, for example, numbered 246 guns which fired a hundred rounds each during the battle; in 1870 at Sedan, one of the most noted battles of the nineteenth century, the Prussian army fired 33,134 rounds; in the week before the opening battle of the Somme,1 July 1916,British artillery fired 1,00,000 rounds…”, Keegan, op.cit., p. 309.


*           In 1820 a military revolution broke out in Spain demanding the restoration of the 1812 Democratic Constitution.  The Tsar was horrified and issued a circular stating it was the duty for monarchs to denounce the 1812 Spanish Constitution and to send an allied army to repress the revolution by force.  This forced Castlereagh to declare his hand and he issued a lengthy Paper which became the foundation of British foreign policy during the nineteenth century.  The paper said that the alliance of the great powers ‘never was, however, intended as a union for the government of the world, or for the superintendence of the internal affairs of other States’. 


*           It should not be supposed that eighteenth century wars were always a matter of popular indifference.  Thus, for example, the national feeling Pitt evoked during the seven years war and the defeat of the French in India and in Canada.  England was however unusual in its parliamentary system of government.  It could not be imagined that in any other country within Europe there would have been the kind of support received by the ‘Great Commoner’.  See Macaulay’s Historical Essays, William Pitt, Earl of Chatham, T. Nelson & Sons, pp.214-216.


*           Alarmed by their cost this led Tsar Nicholas II, on 29th August 1898, to invite nations to what was to be the first Hague Conference.  The Russian invitation to governments stated the problem precisely: “The increasing expense of armaments was touching prosperity at its very source; the intellectual and physical powers of the peoples, labour and capital, were being turned aside from their natural functions and consumed unproductively, hundreds of millions were being spent on engines of destruction which, today considered as the highest triumph of science, were destined for the rubbish heap tomorrow, as a result of some new discovery.  The armaments of each power were increasing in size, but succeeded less and less in accomplishing their object, the preservation of peace; continuation of the race was leading inevitably to catastrophe.”


*           David Thompson Europe Since Napolean, 2nd edit, Longmans, p.31.


*           Konrad Lorenz, On Agression, Methuen & Co. Ltd., p.246.


*           See Barbara Tuchman, August 1914, Papermac, p.21.


*           The Law of Nations’ (1758).


*           Bonhoeffer, Ethics, Fontana.