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What caused the First World War? Part II – The July Crisis

[This is the text of a talk I gave on 20 March to the 6/20 Club in London. See also Part I and Part III.]

So, what caused this catastrophe? If any of you are unfamiliar with the story it might be an idea to get out your smart phones out and pull up a map of Europe in 1914. When you do so you will notice that although western Europe is much the same as it is today, central Europe is completely different. There are far fewer borders and a country called Austria-Hungary occupies a large part of it.

As most of you will know on 28 June 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir presumptive to the Austrian throne was assassinated in Sarajevo the capital of Bosnia which he was visiting while inspecting army manoeuvres. Bosnia at the time was a recently-acquired part of the Austrian Empire having been formally incorporated in 1908. Although the Austrians didn’t know this at the time – though they certainly suspected it – Gavrilo Princip, the assassin, and his accomplices had been armed and trained by Serbia’s rogue intelligence service. I say “rogue” because the official Serbian government seems to have had little control over the service run by one Colonel Apis. Apis, as it happens, was executed by the Serbian government in exile in Greece in 1917 and there’s a definite suspicion that old scores were being settled.

Oddly enough, the Austrians weren’t that bothered by the assassination of Franz Ferdinand the man. Apart from his family no one seems to have liked him much. His funeral was distinctly low key although there was a rather touching display by about a 100 nobles who broke ranks to follow the coffin on its way to the station. More importantly, Franz Ferdinand was one of the few doves in a sea of hawks. Most of the Austrian hierarchy wanted war with Serbia. Franz Conrad von Hötzendorf, the Chief of Staff had advocated war with Serbia over 20 times. Franz Ferdinand did not want war with Serbia. He felt that Slav nationalism was something that had to be accepted and the only way of doing this was to give Slavs a similar status to that Hungary had obtained in 1867. So his death changed the balance of power in Vienna. Much as the hierarchy were not bothered by the assassination of Franz Ferdinand the man, they were bothered by the assassination of Franz Ferdinand the symbol – the symbol of Austria’s monarchy and Empire, that is. The Serbs wanted to unite all the South Slavs: that is Slovenes, Croatians, Bosnians, Montenegrins and Macedonians in one state. However, most of these peoples lived in Austria. Now, if the South Slavs left there was no reason to think that the Czechs, Poles, Ruthenes or Romanians who were also part of the Austrian Empire would want to stay. Therefore, it was clear that Serbia’s ambitions posed an existential threat to Austria (correctly as it turned out). The solution? crush Serbia. And now the Austrians had a pretext.

Unfortunately (for the Austrians), Serbia had an ally: Russia. Russia regarded itself as the protector of the Slavs and Serbia in particular. But Austria also had an ally: Germany. Germany had spent the previous 20 years antagonising Britain, France and Russia and so was glad to have any ally at all. The fact that Austrians spoke German at a time when racial ideas were gaining ground was also a factor. But Russia itself had an ally: France. This was something of a marriage of convenience given that France was a democratic republic and Russia was an autocracy. But allies they were. All this meant that if Austria went to war with Serbia, Germany could find herself at war with France and both Austria and Germany could find themselves at war with Russia.

This alarmed the Germans. The greatest fear of the high command was having to fight a war on two fronts. To them it seemed that the only hope lay in defeating one of their enemies before the other could act. Thus, they decided that in the event of war they would concentrate their efforts on France aiming to knock it out in 6 weeks before the Russians could mobilise their forces and hence bring them to bear. To do this they would march the bulk of their armies through Belgium. This became known as the Schlieffen Plan.

So, the Austrians despatched a delegation to Berlin. Would Germany back up Austria in the event of war with Serbia? They asked. “Yes they would” came the answer. Under all circumstances. This became known as the “Blank Cheque”. As Hew Strachan points out the remarkable thing about the “Blank Cheque” was that it was truly blank. The Germans would back the Austrians up no matter what. And so armed with this “Blank Cheque” the Austrians then proceeded to do… very little. Well, that’s not quite true. The Austrian ambassador to Serbia invited the Russian ambassador to Serbia for a chat, during which the Russian, a man who rejoiced in that most Russian of names, Hartwig – had a heart attack and dropped dead. You can just imagine the conspiracy theories.

In late July there was a major summit between the Russian and French governments in St Petersburg. What did they discuss? Who knows? both sides managed to “lose” their records of the talks. What was significant was that within hours of the French President, Poincaré, boarding his battleship and heading home the Austrians issued their ultimatum to Serbia.

At the time it was issued almost everyone agreed that the ultimatum was unacceptable – in that no self-respecting sovereign state could accept it. Oddly enough, in his book, the Sleepwalkers, Christopher Clark argues that by today’s standards the ultimatum was far from being unreasonable. The main sticking point was the demand that Austrian officials be part of the investigation team. Which to me seems not unreasonable. I would be far more likely to baulk on the clause demanding that the publication of anti-Austrian remarks be banned but this was accepted without reservation. But this is now and that was then. Although Serbia appeared to accept most of the ultimatum – to the extent that Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany thought it had averted war – it was not enough for the Austrians who declared war on 28 July. Indeed there is a strong suspicion that the ultimatum was deliberately written in order to be rejected. Certainly, there was no attempt by the Austrians to use the Serb reply as the basis for negotiations.

At this point the Russians, under Tsar Nicholas II, mobilised their army. This was a bit of a muddle involving a partial mobilisation followed by a full mobilisation, followed by a partial mobilisation, followed by a full mobilisation. What precisely they intended is far from clear. Some say, they knew perfectly well that it meant war. But in 1912 Austria-Hungary had mobilized its army against Russia – at great cost it might be added – without a war breaking out.

Whatever, the case may have been, Russia’s mobilisation endangered Germany’s plans. It was also a bit of a surprise. In 1904 Russia went to war against Japan and not only lost but was humiliated – losing not one but two fleets. In the internal ructions that followed the Tsar had to allow the creation of a parliament or Duma. Although he was able to claw back a lot of his power the war had left the Russian military in a parlous state. This meant when the Austrians formally annexed Bosnia in 1908, Russia has little choice but to accept it. [The whole incident is a bit weird. The Austrians had been in charge of Bosnia since the 1870s and so why formal Austrian rule was so controversial is a bit of a mystery. But it was. Apparently, in order to get this accepted, the Austrians agreed that the straits of Constantinople should be free to Russian warships. They then ratted on the deal but Russia, still recovering from the Russo-Japanese War was in no position to respond.]

Germany’s plans you will remember, depended on there being a delay between the outbreak of war and Russia being able to act effectively. Germany was now facing the threat of there being no such delay. It is not quite true to say that Germany had no Plan B but she had no doubt (correctly in my mind) that war with Russia would mean war with France. It was now or never. Germany put the Schlieffen Plan into practice and declared war on Russia and France.

So, why was France involved? Alsace-Lorraine. When France lost the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 many Germans sought territorial gain. Otto von Bismarck, Chancellor at the time, was not among them but for once he lost the argument and the two provinces were annexed to the newly-born German Empire. This infuriated the French who determined to get them back. At the time there was little the French could do about it. Germany was in alliance with Austria and Russia. Britain was still in its period of “splendid isolation”. Any war would involve France pitting its forces against a significantly stronger opponent.

And then Germany did something of mind-boggling stupidity. It dropped the alliance with Russia. Why they did this? who knows? but the French saw the opportunity and were in there like a flash. Any qualms about the suitability of an alliance between a democratic republic and an absolute monarchy were quickly forgotten about. What mattered was the return of the lost provinces.

The now-activated Schlieffen Plan called for a rapid advance through neutral Belgium. That’s neutral as in: all countries including Germany accepted that Belgium would not be attacked. Germany’s invasion of Belgium incensed the British although I seem to remember reading that had Germany only invaded the South East corner of Belgium the British probably wouldn’t have been that bothered.

But Britain had other reasons to go to war with Germany. Since 1900 Germany had been building up her navy. Britain, the pre-eminent naval power, dependent on sea-borne trade for its livelihood was not surprisingly deeply disturbed by this development. So, given this uneasiness and the pretext, Britain declared war on Germany. The First World War had begun.

German_soldiers_in_a_railroad_car_on_the_way_to_the_front_during_early_World_War_I,_taken_in_1914._Taken_from_greatwar.nl_site

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57 comments to What caused the First World War? Part II – The July Crisis

  • I have nothing important to add at this time. I look forward to the comments.

  • Regional

    The Germans should have mindful of the axiom ‘Do you know who you’re picking?’ and
    You can’t fight rapid wars of movement on foot.

  • bob sykes

    Does anyone seriously think that today’s leaders are any smarter than those guys? Does Libya look like the product of geniuses? Or the Middle East? Or Ukraine? We are lucky that Russia is so weak.

  • Paul Marks

    Yes – Colonel Apis was also behind the change of dynasty in Serbia itself.

    The coup of 1903 – real “Prisoner of Zenda” stuff – accept that the nasty people won. The chink of light which enabled the attacked to find the King and Queen in the hidden compartment (and brutally murder them) – and the relief force that arrived too late….

    The old monarchy had been pro Austrian – the new one was nominally pro Russian (although more Pan Slav than pro Romanov).

    Serbia and the Hapsburgs would eventually go to war.

    But why did a Balkan War become a world war?

    Germany.

    Since the tragic death of the Emperor Frederick in 1888 (cancer – he was only Emperor for a few months), Germany had been in the hands of a deeply unstable person.

    Willy II was also in line with the extreme statist expansionism fashionable in German academia – Frederick had been an opponent of it.

    Dreams of European (indeed world) conquest had become the norm in German academic circles by this time – as the old liberalism was crushed by what Ludwig Von Mises called the Socialists of the Chair (the professors) – Germany being the “most educated nation in the world” was actually a bad thing – as what was taught was insane.

    As for the actual events – Patrick C. correctly states that Germany “declared war on France” in 1914, but he forgets to mention the text of the Declaration of War.

    It was a pack of lies – which has the French bombing Bavaria (and so on).

    The French President of France correctly replies that with this document Germany had done a lot more than declare war upon France – Germany had declared war on “the universal principles of reason and justice” themselves.

    The President of France was a philosopher – and he knew that the German academic elite (and the Keiser himself) denied that the universal principles of reason and justice even existed.

    They were historicists (relativists) and not just in their view of economics – in their view of ethics as well.

    The First World War was, at heart, an ideological war – it was not just Second World War that was so.

    The German academic elite’s rejection of the old principles was at the heart of it – this is how their desire to dominate Europe (and the world) was justified.

    None of this was invented by a corporal who emigrated from Austria – it was dominant among the highest academic and political circles in Germany in 1914.

    They jumped on a Balkan war as an excuse to do what they desired to do.

    They would have never have left northern France had they won the war – and they would not have left Britain alone either.

    This is what those people who think we could have avoided war in 1914 fail to understand.

    Tragically conflict with Germany was inevitable, at some point, from the moment the Emperor Frederick died in 1888.

    It was an ideological conflict – although, ironically, the same collectivist ideology that had infested German academia was making massive inroads into British and American academia also (Richard Ely and all that).

  • Paul Marks

    Indeed it could be argued that the first military action of the First World War was in 1888.

    Willy ordered armed soldiers to surround the palace on the death of the Emperor Frederick – the Emperor might have been engaged in treasonable correspondence (the Emperor a traitor?) and a dangerous enemy agent was present in the palace

    The dangerous enemy agent was the mother of Willy – a daughter of Queen Victoria.

    The same Queen Victoria whom Willy actually loved – his grandmother who died in his arms in 1901.

    Willy was a man at war with himself – at heart he was not a bad man, but he did not have a strong enough mind to reject the ideas that were starting to saturate elite circles in Germany.

    It was these ideas (a rejection of universal moral law and insane lust for unlimited power) that made the efforts of people such as Lord Landsdown to maintain friendship with Germany impossible.

    How could Germany really be friends with anyone? After all it was the objective of policy (taught by those impressive professors) to conquer everyone.

    The ideas of philosophers such as Fichte (long before Karl Marx) had, at first, been rejected by most Germans who had even heard of them – but over the course of the 19th century the ideas became dominant.

    There were still good Germans – for example people who did not regard religion as a “philosophical concept” and belief in the individual soul as a delusion of the common herd (and there were good atheists also), but they no longer made policy.

    The Declaration of War against France in 1914 showed this – just as much as the Declaration of War against France in 1939.

    The same lies, and the same limitless lust for power.

    The difference was that in 1939 Germany was led by a man who was NOT at war with himself – who had no basically good nature at war with the ideas that he had been taught.

    This Austin Chamberlain (the half brother of Neville) worked out on his visit to Germany in the 1930s.

    None of the ideas were new (not even the vicious anti Semitism and the denial of individual moral responsibility, free will, – these can be found as far back as Martin Luther), but Germany was now led by a movement that took these ideas to their logical conclusions.

    A regime that regarded even the Imperial Germany of 1914 as pathetically half hearted and still (in some ways) clinging to “absurd” moral ideas that its universities ridiculed.

  • Jacob

    Of course, Paul is correct. The matter is very simple.
    WW1 started because of German aggression. They started the war, not France, not Russia, not Austria. They started the war because they sought world domination. They were romantic, nationalist, racist, primitive nuts. It goes without saying that the War would have been avoided, if it weren’t for the eagerness of the Germans to start it.

    “It was now or never. Germany put the Schlieffen Plan into practice and declared war on Russia and France.” Wrong.

    There was nothing inevitable about the Schlieffen plan, it’s just that the German Generals were eager to go to the attack, they embarked on it enthusiastically, they overrode the weak Kaiser who had second thoughts about the war. That the Germans were a bunch of primitive, murderous crazies became clear in WW2, but they haven’t got that way just in the 20 years between the wars as some have argued. They have always been like that. The “high civilization” was a very thin veneer.

    “the German academic elite (and the Keiser himself) denied that the universal principles of reason and justice even existed.”
    It was not only them, of course, it was the great mass of the German volk…

  • Regional

    Paul Marks,
    Read up on the ‘gymnasiums’ during the Napoleonic occupation of the Rhineland and the origins of Teutonic mysticism in opposing Roman expansion. The massacre of the Roman Legions in the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest provides some insights.

  • Jacob,

    I would not call the Germans “primitive”. You need to be at an advanced state of intellectual development to hold ideas so dangerous as theirs.

    Don’t imagine that the German war fever is an aberration to be cured with the cool balm of modern reason. It was modern (Enlightenment) reason that gave birth to it. Logical analysis is highly sensitive to its initial premises.

  • Alsadius

    Jacob: Worth noting, most other nations were equally insanely aggressive. Look at the French war plan – it was hardly defensive.

  • Jacob

    Well,the French did not start this war.
    They, of course, acted as insanely 100 years earlier – the Napoleonic wars. Even then, I don’t think the French were as murderous as the German.

    I am aware that 100 years ago (1914) the world was different from what it is now, in many respects. Still, it is pretty clear that WW1 was caused by German aggression.

  • Jacob

    Mastiff:
    “I would not call the Germans “primitive”.”

    Maybe “barbarian” is a better word….

  • Vinegar Joe

    It seems to me virtually everyone in Europe (including Britain) wanted war. What’s funny is that no one seemed to have learned anything from the American Civil War, the Russo-Japanese War or any of the various unpleasant colonial adventures where machine guns and artillery were used. It’s as if modern weapons were only effective against wogs of various stripes. Whether they were Teutonic supermen or plucky Brits, they were going to be immune to barbed wire, machine guns, heavy artillery and trench foot.

    The people wanted a war and they got it. And “No”……the boys weren’t home for Christmas.

  • Paul Marks

    Frontal attacks against prepared enemy defences are indeed a very hard thing to pull off Vinegar Joe.

    It can be done – but it is very difficult, even without facing machine guns and barbed wire.

    Battle of New Orleans 1815 springs to mind.

    It needs commanders who live and breath (and dream about) infantry tactics.

    Not high commanders who are not particularly interested in infantry tactics.

    Alternatively one can besiege the enemy – treating the Central Powers as a vast fortress to be starved out (of raw materials – not just food).

    But to do that one has to link up the siege – a disorganised siege is not a siege at all.

    Linking up with the Russians was a vital part of any siege plan.

    However, first the Royal Navy failed to force its way to Constantinople on its own – and then…

    No apologies for mentioning (yet again) the utter and complete failure of the British army commanders at Sulva Bay in 1915.

    I have been attacking Douglas Haig for many decades – of course I have, when I was young people who served under him were still alive and I talked to them in my youth (most days in the summer in fact) – and read the works of actual combat soldiers and commanders.

    However, I say without hesitation, that had Douglas Haig been in command at Sulva Bay in 1915 he would have carried the day.

    You arrive with about 20 thousand men – against a few hundred Turkish militia.

    Douglas Haig, in spite of his many and terrible faults, would not just have SAT THERE, and waited for the Turks to rush in thousands of troops and build defences, before launching an attack.

    Colonel Barker was correct – it was the worst missed opportunity in British military history.

  • Jacob

    “The people wanted a war and they got it. ” Wrong.

    The German Generals wanted the war, they thought they were as capable as their predecessors in 1870 – but they were not, they were just a bunch of ignorant idiots.
    The “people’s” will was irrelevant, nobody asked them.
    That some “people” got caught in the patriotic war frenzy is meaningless. It was the Generals and Leaders who should have understood what they were doing, but didn’t. And’ as I said, it was the Germans who started the war. Once they did, there was no way for Britain and France (the attacked parties) to stay out.

  • Mr Ed

    I saw, by chance in the cinema, the Sainsbury’s Christmas advert, set in WW1 trenches on the Western Front (or Eastern but not so far Eastern Front) from a British pov).

    Two soldiers meet: The German says “Mein Name ist Otto” at 1′ 55″. In the brief pause, I very nearly heckled ‘So fuck off out of Belgium then!“, and if they all had, further unpleasantness could have been averted.

  • Paul,
    I vaguely recall seeing a recruitment poster from WWI aimed at German students. It was full of stuff about the muses falling silent and all that. It was an absolute rejection of reason.

    Also, if you get round to it read JK Jerome’s “Three Men on the Bummel”. It is a fascinating portrayal of Edwardian Germany.

  • JohnW

    In “Philosophy: Who Needs It,” Rand shows how, in order to deal with concrete, real-life problems, an individual needs some implicit or explicit view of the world, of man’s place in it, and of what goals and values he ought to pursue. The abstract premises an individual holds may be true and consistent, reached by conscientious thought — and the purpose of the science of philosophy is to teach one how to achieve this — or his premises may be a heap of clashing ideas unwittingly absorbed from the culture around him. But either way, she argues, the power of philosophy is inescapable. It is something everyone should be concerned with.

    How to properly approach and study philosophy is then discussed in “Philosophic Detection” – here are few excerpts from the most influential British and German thinkers of the period:

    Classical liberalism v collectivism-

    Richard Cobden in 1835: “The middle and industrious classes of England can have no interest apart from the preservation of peace. The honours, the fame, the emoluments of war belong not to them; the battle-plain is the harvest-field of the aristocracy, watered with the blood of the people.”

    Also John Stuart Mill: “It is commerce which is rapidly rendering war obsolete, by strengthening and multiplying the personal interests which are in natural opposition to it” (1909). Again Mill: “Finally, commerce first taught nations to see with good will the wealth and prosperity of one another. Before, the patriot, unless sufficiently advanced in culture to feel the world his country, wished all countries weak, poor, and ill-governed, but his own: he now sees in their wealth and progress a direct source of wealth and progress to his own country. It is commerce which is rapidly rendering war obsolete, by strengthening and multiplying the personal interests which are in natural opposition to it. And it may be said without exaggeration that the great extent and rapid increase of international trade, in being the principal guarantee of the peace of the world, is the great permanent security for the uninterrupted progress of the ideas, the institutions, and the character of the human race” (1909, Book III, Chapter XVII, Section 14).

    Richard Cobden -commerce is “the grand panacea, which, like a beneficent medical discovery, will serve to inoculate with the healthy and saving taste for civilization all the nations of the world” (Cobden 1903, p. 36).
    Norman Angell, speaking to the Institute of Bankers in London on January 17, 1912, on “The Influence of Banking on International Relations”: “commercial interdependence, which is the special mark of banking as it is the mark of no other profession or trade in quite the same degree — the fact that the interest and solvency of one is bound up with the interest and solvency of many; that there must be confidence in the due fulfillment of mutual obligation, or whole sections of the edifice crumble, is surely doing a great deal to demonstrate that morality after all is not founded upon self-sacrifice, but upon enlightened self-interest, a clearer and more complete understanding of all the ties that bind us the one to the other. And such clearer understanding is bound to improve, not merely the relationship of one group to another, but the relationship of all men to all other men, to create a consciousness which must make for more efficient human co-operation, a better human society” (quoted in Keegan 1999, pp. 11-12). [116]

    Collectivism v classical liberalism:

    Immanuel Kant (1724-1804): “War itself, if it is carried on with order and with a sacred respect for the rights of citizens, has something sublime in it, and makes the disposition of the people who carry it on thus only the more sublime, the more numerous are the dangers to which they are exposed and in respect of which they behave with courage. On the other hand, a long peace generally brings about a predominant commercial spirit and, along with it, low selfishness, cowardice, and effeminacy, and debases the indispensable means for bringing it to a still higher stage.” “Speculative Beginning of Human History” [1786].

    G. W. F. Hegel (1770-1831) on World-Historical Individuals, those whom the march of history has selected to advance its ends: “A World-historical individual is not so unwise as to indulge a variety of wishes to divide his regards. He is devoted to the One Aim, regardless of all else. It is even possible that such men may treat other great, even sacred interests, inconsiderately; conduct which is indeed obnoxious to moral reprehension. But so mighty a form must trample down many an innocent flower—crush to pieces many an object in its path.” [Hegel, The Philosophy of History. Translated by J. Sibree (Prometheus, 1991), p. 32.

    Leopold von Ranke (1795-1886), professor of history at Berlin and the most influential German historian of the nineteenth century. Ranke was deeply religious and a strong believer in the divine mission of the German monarchical state. “[P]ositive religion, which resists the vague flight into liberalism, accords with my beliefs.” “I know nothing since the psalms where the idea of a religious monarchy has been expressed more powerfully and more nobly. It has great passages of historical truth.” As historian A. J. P. Taylor put it, speaking of Ranke and his followers, “they regarded the state, whoever conducted it, as part of the divine order of things; and they felt it their duty to acquiesce in that divine order. They never opposed; they rarely protested.” Ranke, quoted in A. J. P. Taylor, “Ranke: The Dedicated Historian.” The Course of German History, A Survey of the Development of Germany since 1815 (Hamish Hamilton, 1945), p. 265.

    Heinrich Heine (1797-1856, German poet and essayist): “Not only Alsace-Lorraine but all France and all Europe as well as the whole world will belong to us.”[Heine, quoted in Darwin P. Kingsley, “Woodrow Wilson and the Doctrine of Sovereignty,” Addresses of the Empire Club of Canada. Delivered October 17, 1918.

    Max Stirner (1806-1856), a Young Hegelian philosopher. While at university at Berlin, he was inspired by Hegel’s lectures and was a member of “The Free,” a discussion group that included Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, and Ludwig Feuerbach as members. “What does right matter to me? I have no need of it … . I have the right to do what I have the power to do.”
    Stirner, quoted in Kingsley 1918.

    Franz Felix Kuhn (1812-1881), philologist and folklorist: “Must culture build its cathedrals upon hills of corpses, seas of tears, and the death rattle of the vanquished? Yes, it must.” Kuhn, quoted in Kingsley 1918.
    Otto von Bismarck (1815-1898), in a now-famous 1862 speech: “The great questions of our time will not be settled by resolutions and by majority votes—that was the mistake of 1848 and 1849—but by blood and iron.”
    Frederick III (1831-1888), German emperor and eighth king of Prussia: “All written Constitutions are scraps of paper.”[209]

    Otto von Gottberg (1831-1913), writing in the newspaper Jungdeutschland-Post in January 1913: “War is the most august and sacred of human activities.” “Let us laugh with all our lungs at the old women in trousers who are afraid of war, and therefore complain that it is cruel and hideous. No! War is beautiful.”[210]

    Heinrich von Treitschke (1834-1896), an influential professor of history at Humboldt University in Berlin from 1874 to 1896 and member of the Reichstag from 1871, was a rabid nationalist and saw war as Germany’s destiny which, guided by a benevolent God, would purge the nation of its sins and make it possible for Germany’s superiority to shine forth.
    Otto Liebmann (1840-1912), philosopher at the newly-created University of Strassburg after the Franco-Prussian war. Strassburg was intended as a “fortress of the German spirit against France.” From the records of the Reichstag debates over the founding of the University of Strasburg:
    “The German universities, resting on the foundation of freedom, are so peculiarly German an institution that no other nation, not even one racially akin, has risen to this institution, and it is for just this reason that a German university is one of the mightiest of all means of again reconciling with the motherland German racial comrades who have long been separated from her … You may believe, meine Herren, that Bonn university has done as much to defend the German Rhineland as have the German fortresses on the Rhein. (Hear hear! On the left).”[211]

    Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900): “I welcome all signs that a more manly, a warlike, age is about to begin, an age which, above all, will give honor to valor once again. For this age shall prepare the way for one yet higher, and it shall gather the strength which this higher age will need one day—this age which is to carry heroism into the pursuit of knowledge and wage wars for the sake of thoughts and their consequences.”[212]

    Nietzsche: “War essential. It is vain rhapsodizing and sentimentality to continue to expect much (even more, to expect a very great deal) from mankind, once it has learned not to wage war. For the time being, we know of no other means to imbue exhausted peoples. as strongly and surely as every great war does, with that raw energy of the battleground, that deep impersonal hatred, that murderous cold-bloodedness with a good conscience, that communal, organized ardor in destroying the enemy, that proud indifference to great losses, to one’s own existence and to that of one’s friends, that muted, earthquakelike convulsion of the soul.”[213]

    Max Lehmann (1845–1929), pastor, political historian, professor at Marburg, Leipzig, and Göttingen, and member of the Prussian Academy: “Germany is the centre of God’s plans for the World.”[214]

    Friedrich von Bernhardi (1849-1930), general, military historian, author of Germany and the Next War (1911): “Might is the supreme right,” and war is a “divine business,” “an indispensable factor of civilization,” and “a biological necessity of the first order.” And contrasting the French emphasis on rights of liberty and equality, Bernhardi writes of the German philosophy of duty:
    “While the French people in savage revolt against spiritual and secular despotism had broken their chains and proclaimed their rights, another quite different revolution was working in Prussia—the revolution of duty. The assertion of the rights of the individual leads ultimately to individual irresponsibility and to a repudiation of the State. Immanuel Kant, the founder of critical philosophy, taught, in opposition to this view, the gospel of moral duty, and Scharnhorst grasped the idea of universal military service. By calling upon each individual to sacrifice property and life for the good of the community, he gave the clearest expression to the idea of the State, and created a sound basis on which the claim to individual rights might rest at the same time Stein laid the foundations of self-employed-government in Prussia.”[215]

    Houston Stewart Chamberlain (1855-1927), English-born German author and propagandist: “He who does not believe in the Divine Mission of Germany had better go hang himself, and rather today than tomorrow.”[216]
    Wilhelm II (1859-1941), third German emperor and ninth king of Prussia: “Woe and death to all who shall oppose my will. Woe and death to those who do not believe in my mission.”[217]

    Otto Richard Tannenberg, author of Greater Germany, the Work of the Twentieth Century, writing in 1911: “War must leave nothing to the vanquished but their eyes to weep with.”[218]

    Ernst Troeltsch (1865-1923), theologian and Neo-Kantian professor of philosophy at Heidelberg: Struggle is a test of a culture’s vital forces, in which “the fullness of contending national spirits … unfold their highest spiritual powers.”[219]

    Max Scheler (1874-1928), philosopher at the universities of Jena, Munich, and Cologne, writing on the German ideology: “It would set faith against skepticism, metaphysics against science, the organic whole against atomism, life against mechanism, heroism against calculation, true community against commercialized society, a hierarchically ordered people against the mass leveled down by egalitarianism.”[220]

    Thomas Mann (1875-1955), novelist and essayist, echoing the desire to eliminate the old world of bourgeois hypocrisy, thought the war would end that “horrible world, which now no longer is, or no longer will be, after the great storm passed by. Did it not crawl with spiritual vermin as with worms?”[221]

    Mann, writing during the war of his pre-war days: “We knew it, this world of peace. We suffered from this horrible world more acutely than anyone else. It stank of the ferments of decomposition. The artist was so sick of this world that he praised God for this purge and this tremendous hope.”[222]

    Georg Heym (1887-1912), German Expressionist poet, on the eve of World War I:
    “Everything is always the same, so boring, boring, boring. Nothing ever happens, absolutely nothing. … If someone would only begin a war, it need not be a just one.”[223]

    In his diary of 1911: “Most of all I would like to be a lieutenant of the cuirassiers. But the day after I want to be a terrorist.” Later that year: “without my Jacobin hat I cannot envisage myself. Now I hope that there will at least be a war.”[224]

    Ernst Jünger (1895-1998), author of Storm of Steel, after returning from World War I, in which he had been wounded three times, on how defeated Germany was by the war:
    We are “a new generation, a race that has been hardened and inwardly transformed by all the darting flames and sledgehammer blows of the greatest war in history.”[225]

    In war, “the true human being makes up in a drunken orgy for everything that he has been neglecting. Then his passions, too long damned up by society and its laws, become once more dominant and holy and the ultimate reason.” And again: “This war is not ended, but the chord that heralds new power. It is the anvil on which the world will be hammered into new boundaries and new communities. New forms will be filled with blood, and might will be hammered into them with a hard fist. War is a great school, and the new man will be of our cut.”[226]

    Describing the warrior’s entry into battle: “Now the task is to gather oneself. Yes, perhaps it is a pity. Perhaps as well we are sacrificing ourselves for something inessential. But no on can rob us of our value. Essential is not what we are fighting for, but how we fight. Onward toward the goal, until we triumph or are left behind. The warriors’ spirit, the exposure of oneself to risk, even for the tiniest idea, weighs more heavily in the scale than all the brooding about good and evil.”[227]

    Oswald Spengler (1880-1936), author of The Decline of the West: “We must go right through to the end in our misfortune; we need a chastisement compared to which the four years of war are nothing. … A dictatorship, resembling that of Napoleon, will be regarded universally as a salvation. But then blood must flow, the more the better.”[228]

    Otto Braun, age 19, volunteer who died in World War I, in a letter to his parents: “My inmost yearning, my purest, though most secret flame, my deepest faith and my highest hope—they are still the same as ever, and they all bear one name: the State. One day to build the state like a temple, rising up pure and strong, resting in its own weight, severe and sublime, but also serene like the gods and with bright halls glistening in the dancing brilliance of the sun—this, at bottom, is the end and goal of my aspirations.”[229]

    Some commentators on Germany in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries:
    R. Kevin Hill, American historian of philosophy: “associations between Kantian duty and military experience became increasingly common in late nineteenth-century Germany, especially after the Schiller and Fichte centennials.”[230]

    Friedrich Meinecke (1862-1954), German historian, writing in 1950: “The German power-state idea, whose history began with Hegel, was to find in Hitler its worst and most fatal application and extension.”[231]

    American historian William Manchester on nineteenth-century Germany: “the poetic genius of the youth of Germany was saturated with militaristic ideals, and death in battle was prized as a sacred duty on behalf of Fatherland, home, and family.”[232]

    Ernst Gläser (1902-1963), German novelist expressing the prevailing spirit of 1914: “At last life had regained an ideal significance. The great virtues of humanity … fidelity, patriotism, readiness to die for an ideal … were triumphing over the trading and shopkeeping spirit … This was the providential lightning flash that would clear the air [and make way for] a new world directed by a race of noble souls who would root out all signs of degeneracy and lead humanity back to the deserted peaks of the eternal ideals … The war would cleanse mankind from all its impurities.”[233]

  • Jacob

    JohnW,
    Thank you for this short, comprehensive and fascinating collection of philosophical thought.

    I think this clarifies the matter totally: the German people, especially their spiritual and actual leaders, adored war – so they started one. The exact pretext or ostensible rationale ( the Schlieffen plan) do not present the real cause of the war(s).

    A question: are there no English philosophers who expressed highly sentimental, mystic and collectivist thoughts like the Germans?
    You can surely find these thoughts among French philosophers.

  • Paul Marks

    Very good comments.

    I would add that what the philosophical elite meant by “religion” in Germany had very little to do with what the ordinary person think the word means.

    Nothing to do with individual survival after death and nothing to do with individual responsibility (a real individual choice between good and evil) either.

    The “Commentator” on Aristotle (Alexander of Aphrodisias) argued (long before Ayn Rand) that the soul was mortal and died with the body.

    However, that is a long way from saying the “soul” (the “I” the capacity to choose – agency, the agent) does not exist.

    To deny individual moral responsibility (the capacity to choose between good and evil), to promise “freedom” from shame and guilt, by declaring that agency (actual freedom) does not exist, is a truly radical position.

    But it was not a new one in the German lands – see the writings of Martin Luther.

  • Paul Marks

    Jacob – there are people born in England who reject the ways of “fat hobbits – with their chocolate and safety razors” (German propaganda mocked the presence of chocolate and safety razors in British trenches) and our “absurd” notions of “right and wrong”.

    However, such folk as Houston Stewart Chamberlain declared themselves not British (although born and raised here), but spiritually German.

    And after the Emperor who Houston Stewart Chamberlain (and others) had so misled had fallen?

    Not a problem – H.S.C. soon found a new Leader to anoint – yes Mr Hitler (the Jesus to his John the Baptist – at least in some anti matter universe).

    By the way as the great contrasting between commercial and statist societies.

    Herbert Spencer.

    The comments above have covered almost everything – but I was expecting people to raise this “political philosopher of the nation of shop keepers”.

  • Nick (Self-Sovereignty) Gray

    The Kaiser’s belligerence and Britain-envy (I want a bigger navy than Britain!!!) caused the Great War, and this was caused by his deformed left arm, which was caused by his doctor when he was being delivered- therefore, a Doctor caused the whole war.
    Doctors have a lot to answer for!

  • The spirit of the Wellington House is back to life on this comment thread. Proof by quotation, straight from Propaganda 101. I have little doubt that one can come up with a selection of militaristic quotes from prominent Britons and pro-trade, pacifistic excerpts from no less prominent Germans. It’s telling that Schopenhauer is not even mentioned. Rand’s placing Heine alongside apologists of the State is foul play: the poet quickly became skeptical of rising German state-nationalism, and his claim that Alsace was more German than French merely reflected the ethnic (if not the political) reality of the 19th century. Nietzsche was likewise contemptuous of the Prussian military state.

    This is not to deny that pseudo-romantic militarism and inexplicable state-worship shaped the worldview of too many Germans both before and after WWI. Still there must be better ways to show it than Randian gimmickry.

    “To deny individual moral responsibility (the capacity to choose between good and evil), to promise “freedom” from shame and guilt, by declaring that agency (actual freedom) does not exist, is a truly radical position.”

    This is how an opponent would describe Calvinism, if asked to sum it up in three lines. This is the doctrine of Cromwell, of the English Puritans, of the Church of Scotland, of the Dutch Reformed Church, and of countless American churches. It’s a radical interpretation of grace that links Tertullian and Augustine to Manifest Destiny.

  • JohnW

    @Jacob
    Hobbes is probably the worst but you have bear in mind that writing controversial thoughts in his day could get you flogged and disemboweled which is one reason for holding free thinkers like Milton, Locke, Lilburne etc., in high regard.

    But the real turning point is Kant because he created a revolution that, in a fundamental sense, separated thought from reality. The British Empiricists took our thoughts, however mistaken or ill-conceived, to be products of our experience of reality. Kant, on the other hand, said reality is something which our structures of thought create.

    This is not an insignificant difference.

    Kant himself called it a “Copernican” revolution – a revolution in the nature of thought itself.

    Since Kant, practically every major philosopher has accepted some aspect of Kant’s philosophy.

    Not until Ayn Rand has anyone been able answer him.

    So now the battle is on.

    Who will win that battle? – my money is on Ayn Rand.

  • my money is on Ayn Rand.

    My money is on Karl Popper as his conjectural epistemology actually works 😉

  • JohnW

    Perry, “All men are mortal.” Falsify that! 😉

  • Jacob

    I have great respect for Hobbes. He wrote “Leviathan” in 1651, not 1951, or 1851. We see even now how some countries could benefit a lot from a strong, autocratic central government (a leviathan). Examples: Syria, Libya, Iraq, Yemen, Egypt. Without a strong government chaos and perpetual warfare reign, i.e. catastrophe. Compare also Iran under the Shah vs. Iran under the ayatollahs.
    Hobbes also advocated individual rights, and adherence to moral principles, and avoided the mystic, romantic amoral and murderous ideas like those quoted above.

    I have also respect for Kant. In his day (1780) you could not speak out against religion. When he said that reality is something which our structures of thought create – maybe he meant religion – in which case he would be right. Religion was considered to be “reality” in those days.

    Another remark: speaking about “battle of ideas” – funny how much actual battles influence ideas. The thorough beating the Germans suffered at the end of WW2, including the carpet bombing of their cities in 1944-45 had a huge transformational influence on German ideas, and it seems they abandoned their romantic, mystic, amoral and militaristic views and embraced pacifism.

  • Mr Ed

    We see even now how some countries could benefit a lot from a strong, autocratic central government (a leviathan). Examples: Syria, Libya, Iraq, Yemen, Egypt.

    Syra: Been there, Assad senior. Hama 1982.
    Libya: Gadaffi.
    Iraq: Saddam all.
    Yemen: Been there, commies in one bit, religious zealots in the other.
    Egypt: Nasser, that went well.

  • Jacob

    Syria – for example – 300,000 dead, 5-8 million refugees (out of population of 22 million) – all in the last 4 years. It was better under Assad senior. Nobody’s perfect, but you don’t get to choose between an ideal govmnt and catastrophe – it’s a bad one or an enormously bigger catastrophe.
    Egypt under Mubarak for example – tolerable – he was just corrupt, but not a mass murderer… and the economy functioned sort of…

  • Mr Ed

    It was better under Assad senior. Nobody’s perfect, but you don’t get to choose between an ideal govmnt and catastrophe – it’s a bad one or an enormously bigger catastrophe.

    Well it may be that Assad senior simply kept the lid on things so that his savagery was not totally blatant, but look at Syrian intervention in Lebanon, and the plan to bomb an El Al airliner by a Syrian agent getting his pregnant Irish girlfriend to take a bomb on board at Heathrow. As England’s Lord Chief Justice put it:

    Put briefly, this was about as foul and as horrible a crime as could possibly be imagined. It is no thanks to this applicant that his plot did not succeed in destroying 360 or 370 lives in the effort to promote one side of a political dispute by terrorism.

    Under Assad senior, in one town, Hama in 1982, reports vary of between 10,000 and 40,000 dead, following a smaller massacre in 1981. Assad senior put down a revolt of the Muslim Brotherhood. There were also the disastrous hostility towards Israel. The Syrian regime of today is a continuation of the Ba’athist regime of Assad senior. Senior simply didn’t need to waste ammo on opponents, it is a continuum. The great imponderable is what would have happened had Syria taken the path of Lebanon with the factions vying for power.

    They don’t need a strongman, so much as a belief in liberty, property and tolerance, and insofar as elements in the country will not accept those, they need to keep those elements powerless, whatever the cost may be.

  • Perry, “All men are mortal.” Falsify that!

    The only thing I agree with Rand on at the lower level is “existence exists”… understanding what existence is actually like beyond the bald fact it exists is conjectural however. My theory is that all men are indeed mortal, but it is just a theory. Like many theories of that nature, it is a really good theory and I will quite surprised (pleasantly) if it gets falsified this side of the singularity, but… it is still a theory. I will ask St. Germain next time I run into him at a cocktail party what he thinks 😉

    After all, I might be a dreaming hyper intelligent moon spider and the whole world is an illusion, and nothing it real beyond the ‘existing’ bit. My theory is I am not in fact a moon spider, but it is just a (pretty good) theory.

  • It was better under Assad senior. Nobody’s perfect, but you don’t get to choose between an ideal govmnt and catastrophe

    Well then one could say the same about the Nazis. If we had just said “oh dear, how sad, never mind” and then stuck to our own businesses and perhaps even let pro-German rulers such as Oswald Mosely take over, then maybe a good chunk of WW2 could have been avoided (at least the Western bit). After all, nobody’s perfect, but you don’t get to choose between an ideal govmnt and catastrophe. Shame about the Jews, I rather liked ’em, but that’s the way it goes, eh?

  • […] [This is the text of a talk I gave on 20 March to the 6/20 Club in London. Part II is here.] […]

  • Jacob

    When a country is torn between rival tribes and religions and can’t manage to lead some peaceful co-existence – then it degenerates into perpetual, barbaric warfare. We wish they were nice, peaceful, liberal and happy, but they aren’t. In such cases – a Leviathan – a forceful despot might keep the lid put, might force some mode of co-existence, might stop the perpetual warfare and install some mode of normal existence.
    It’s easy to enumerate Assad’s crimes, failures, barbarous acts, etc. They are all true.
    But the situation in Syria now is a disaster of such enormous proportions, that, probably, for the Syrian people, the time under Assad’s despotism was a better time than now. ( It is an open question whether the weak, chaotic situation in Syria now is better for it’s neighbors – Lebanon, Israel and Iraq, than Assad’s regime).

    We can imagine a peaceful and liberal regime in Syria that could have been better than Assad’s regime, but we cannot implement it. The current civil war, with no end in sight, is what reigns in Syria, and nobody knows how to put an end to this catastrophe. I, personally, think that some sort of “enlightened” despot would be the best one can hope for them, though, this too, is difficult to implement.

  • I, personally, think that some sort of “enlightened” despot would be the best one can hope for them, though, this too, is difficult to implement.

    Strangely every single Kurd I know thinks the current nightmare is better than the previous status quo. But then they were actually living under the Ba’athists, so it must look a bit different from their perspective.

  • […] part 2, we actually get to some of the proximate causes that triggered the […]

  • But the situation in Syria now is a disaster of such enormous proportions, that, probably, for the Syrian people, the time under Assad’s despotism was a better time than now.

    The situation in Syria is a direct result of Assad’s rule. It came about when, during the Arab Spring, Syrians pissed off at Assad’s incompetent absolute rule protested. During these protests, Syrian secret police arrested a group of teenagers and proceeded to torture them over the course of a few days. When they were released and showed everyone their wounds, massive protests kicked off and Syrians took up arms against their government for the first time. This was pretty much the start of the civil war.

    To say Syria was better off under Assad than now is like saying Iraq was better off under Saddam than during the Iran-Iraq war.

  • Jacob

    “every single Kurd I know thinks the current nightmare is better than the previous status quo”
    How big is your sample? How many Kurds do you know?.
    The Kurds, especially in Iraq, seem to manage to have a peaceful province, more or less. I’m not sure, though, that other tribes (suni, shia) are equally content with kurdish rule.

    Maybe you’re not aware of the catastrophe in Syria. Have a look here for instance.
    https://www.google.co.il/search?q=syria+photos&espv=2&biw=1920&bih=955&tbm=isch&imgil=L75cinKFQHtAyM%253A%253B7OGkjw6J4P2nGM%253Bhttp%25253A%25252F%25252Fwww.latitudenews.com%25252Fstory%25252Fas-syria-dissolves-into-conflict-barbs-fly%25252F&source=iu&pf=m&fir=L75cinKFQHtAyM%253A%252C7OGkjw6J4P2nGM%252C_&usg=__-6pUkN2o6KzEnYgRaZo604OajQM%3D&ved=0CCoQyjc&ei=AY0uVdiNENHraK_OgcAB#imgrc=L75cinKFQHtAyM%253A%3B7OGkjw6J4P2nGM%3Bhttp%253A%252F%252Flatitudenews.wpengine.netdna-cdn.com%252Fwp-content%252Fuploads%252F2012%252F08%252Fsyria.jpg%3Bhttp%253A%252F%252Fwww.latitudenews.com%252Fstory%252Fas-syria-dissolves-into-conflict-barbs-fly%252F%3B3183%3B2346

    Tim, your account of the revolt in Syria is a little naive. The revolt was planned, orchestrated, armed and financed by Saudi Arabia and the gulf states (probably Turkey too).
    Of course, Assad is a cruel despot, of course people (not belonging to his tribe) would hate him. And – look what they got now.

  • Jacob

    “To say Syria was better off under Assad than now is like saying Iraq was better off under Saddam than during the Iran-Iraq war.”

    I’ll tell a true story: during the American invasion of Iraq in 2003 (which I supported and still do) I happened to talk with an “Iraqi” Jew (who had emigrated to Israel in the early 1950ies from Iraq), he told me: “Saddam is good for Iraq”. The same Saddam who had fired missiles at Israel in 1991. I was shocked, I thought this man (my acquaintance) was nuts. Over time it occurred to me that maybe he knew Iraq better than me.

  • Jacob

    Another interesting question is: which regime was better for the Iran people – the Shah’s “despotic” rule (he was toppled in 1978) or the current regime of the mad ayatollahs? And I don’t mean which was better for America, Israel or Saudia – but which is better for the Iranians.

  • JohnW

    @Alex K.
    I will confine my comments to the point in question.

    If one were to compile a list of the most fanatically anti-reason, anti-egoism anti-life and anti-happiness philosophers since the Renaissance, almost every one of them would be German.
    To quote Harry Binswanger – “This is not to say that German culture produced evil philosophers. Just the reverse: Germany’s evil philosophers produced an evil culture. Men act on their ideas, and ideas originate somewhere. Fundamental ideas, ideas about morality, knowledge, reality, are originated by philosophers. The vast majority of people simply absorb gradually the ideas available to them in their culture. Thus, most people get their life-shaping ideas, indirectly, from the philosophers of their culture (with a time-lag for these ideas to seep down into the educational establishment, the media, the arts, etc.).”

    As for Schopenhauer – his anti-happiness, anti-reason, anti-egoism and anti-individualistic philosophy simply proves my point!

  • The revolt was planned, orchestrated, armed and financed by Saudi Arabia and the gulf states (probably Turkey too).

    Why are accusations of naivety always followed by allusions to conspiracy theories?

  • I’ll tell a true story: during the American invasion of Iraq in 2003 (which I supported and still do) I happened to talk with an “Iraqi” Jew (who had emigrated to Israel in the early 1950ies from Iraq), he told me…

    One guy. Weren’t you asking Perry how many Kurds he spoke to in the comment above?

  • Over time it occurred to me that maybe he knew Iraq better than me.

    I know a married couple who currently live just outside Kirkuk (who at one point had the Daesh 1 km from their home). He is a Muslim Kurd, she is a Christian Kurd but both support the secular Gorran movement. They think the overthrow of Saddam Hussain was one of the greatest moments in Kurdish history thus far. The bloke is no longer in the Peshmerga after loosing part of a foot to an IED. I also know a Kurd in Erbil who is originally from Rojava and is of the view the only good Baathist is a dead one, and I know a Kurd from Lebanon originally who is also in Erbil now, but have not heard from him for months as he is in Peshmerga. And I know a Kurdish couple who live in Berlin, so yes, not a scientific sample of opinion. I also read the English language versions of various Kurdish media outlet (such as Rudaw etc.).

    All I can say is all the people I know view the overthrow of Ba’athism in Iraq and Syria has the precursor to an independent Kurdistan, which is something they are willing to bleed for.

  • Mr Ed

    Over time it occurred to me that maybe he knew Iraq better than me.

    Re your acquaintance’s observation, a phrase comes to me sometimes when I see a gruesome couple or pairing, be they neighbours, the Blairs, Clintons, or rulers of grim places: ‘Water finds its own level.‘.

  • Mr Ed

    Another interesting question is: which regime was better for the Iran people – the Shah’s “despotic” rule (he was toppled in 1978) or the current regime of the mad ayatollahs?

    Well for those too young or not born at the time, the Shah, not that he wasn’t crap.

    For those who overthrew the Shah, who cares? They got what they agitated for, good and hard, to paraphrase Mencken, cf my previous phrase.

  • Snorri Godhi

    The debate on the main topic has presumably shifted to Part ii, so i feel free to go off topic. These remarks from JohnW:

    Since Kant, practically every major philosopher has accepted some aspect of Kant’s philosophy.
    Not until Ayn Rand has anyone been able answer him.

    prompted me to reread David Ramsay Steele’s excellent essay: Ayn Rand and the Curse of Kant. Highly recommended.

    From that essay, it transpires that JohnW is almost exactly wrong: Since Kant, every major philosopher has rebutted the main conclusions of Kant’s philosophy, while Rand has simply proclaimed that Kant was wrong, while ignoring the questions that he raised. To be fair, she was not the first to ignore the questions that Kant raised; but probably the first to do so while proclaiming that Kant was wrong.

    For me, the strongest argument against Kant is the problematic nature of synthetic a priori statements — but objectivists cannot use this argument, because they do not admit that analytic and synthetic statements are different!

  • JohnW

    In reverse order – Objectivists do admit that analytic and synthetic statements are different they just do not accept the basis of the analytic-synthetic dichotomy.

    Ayn Rand does answer Kant and Kant was wrong not only in his prescriptions but in his assumptions; see for example Leonard Peikoff’s Analytic-Synthetic Dichotomy in ITOE.

    As for David Ramsey Steele – he is as incapable of understanding why Objectivists reject the analytic-synthetic dichotomy as he is incapable of understanding why some libertarians might object to being murdered in cold-blood by terrorists with the vocal support of “other” alleged libertarians.

    I have too much respect for my own intellect and integrity to offer a line-by-line refutation of the “highly recommended” and “excellent” essay “Ayn Rand and the Curse of Kant” but the irony of Steele – who created the schism in British libertarianism – pontificating on the alleged “intolerance” and alleged “errors” of Objectivism is surely a topic beyond satire.

    @Jacob
    Has Germany learnt from her past?
    I quote from Leonard Peikoff’s Ominous Parallels “As an example of why the cause of Nazism should be understood (but is not), I would like to mention a recent television interview with Helmut Schmidt, Chancellor of West Germany. Asked to name his favorite philosopher, he answered — in a changed tone of voice, a stiff, solemn, deaf and-blind, heel-clicking tone — “Marcus Aurelius. He taught that we must do our duty above all.” If he is typical of his country (and I believe he is), Germany has learned nothing.”

  • Snorri Godhi

    John: without addressing DRS’s essay line by line, you could have addressed his contention that most major philosophers after Kant, while dealing with the issues that Kant raised, came to radically different conclusions. (NB: i am NOT talking about politics here but about more basic areas of philosophy.)
    Note also DRS’s contention that Kant’s philosophy was pretty much irrelevant to Russell and Moore.

    I myself have little interest in the conclusions that Fichte, Hegel, Marx, Schopenhauer, and Nietzsche came to, and don’t much care how close they are to Kant’s. I am told by people who care, however, that they are substantially different. I am more interested in the logical positivists, and even more in Popper, Kuhn, and Lakatos. Of theses, Popper was perhaps most (directly) influenced by the questions that Kant raised, but he did come to radically different conclusions, at least about epistemology.

    If Rand did articulate a rebuttal to Kant, that means that she, too, must have addressed the issues that Kant raised. The main reason i believe she didn’t, is not that DRS does not say that she did: that of course means nothing. The main reason is that i have read the first few chapters of Stephen Hicks’ Explaining Postmodernism. Unlike Rand and Peikoff, Hicks has an academic job, which doesn’t mean he is smarter, but it does mean that he cannot avoid dealing with the issues that Kant raised. Yet he fails to do so, substantively, in the book. (Tomorrow i might be able to quote the closest that he comes to it.)

    WRT the analytic-synthetic dichotomy: of course nobody today accepts it as presented by Kant, because Kant framed it in terms of subject-predicate logic, and we have made progress since then. I understand, however, that objectivists refuse to accept that logic has made progress after Aristotle.

    Of David Ramsay Steele i know nothing beyond what i found in wikipedia. I have read a few other essays that he wrote, but they were less philosophical, except Alice in Wonderland, which i am sure you would dislike even more.

  • Patrick Crozier

    I don’t know what an analytic, synthetic or a priori statement is. Would anyone care to enlighten me?

  • Mr Ed

    Patrick, a priori statements are demonstrably true before you have experimental knowledge. E.g. Pythagorus and his x2 + y2 = z2, is true for all right angled triangles by definition and as such knowledge that we don’t need to measure to test.

    Austrian economics is a priori in good measure, working on assumptions regarding utility, and marginal utility theory, most urgent wants, pricing etc.

    The rest is just poseurs prattling in the main, I sometimes think.

  • Snorri Godhi

    For the record, i beg to differ from Mr Ed.
    Though this is a matter of definition.

    ANALYTIC statements, by MY definition, are statements which are true by virtue of logic alone, before any empirical knowledge.
    Synthetic statements are, obviously, all statements which are not analytic.

    A priori statements can be
    * Statements which are valid a priori (independently of empirical evidence), in which case they are analytic — though Kant seemed to think otherwise, not sure why.
    * Statements which we formulate without firm empirical evidence, ie hypotheses.

    There are lots of subtleties which i won’t go into.

  • JohnW

    Objectivists do not refuse to accept that logic has made progress after Aristotle [they all take Bacon, Mill and many others, as making welcome advances in inductive logic, for example] and Rand certainly had no objection to “synthetic a priori concepts” as she explained in ITOE with reference to irrational numbers and the mathematics of computation.

    What Objectivists do object to is the rejection of axiomatic concepts by means of epistemology – an error as old as Zeno’s claim that infinity and motion somehow disprove identity and condemn us to a world of illusions.

    As for Hicks, he can hardly be blamed for omitting a description of Objectivist epistemology and metaphyics from his book on Post Modernism – Objectivism, after all, is not the subject of his book!

    However, Peikoff and Ridpath and Kelley do address both Kant and his influence. Take for example Kant’s claim that the human mind controls, creates and dictates the shape of the phenomenal world. Do individuals create the world then? No, Kant does believe in “objective” knowledge because…the Categories are universal and outside the scope of subjective experience!

    “Objective” then comes to mean “collective,” a universal, inexorable subjectivism, which is exactly what Pragmatists claim when they say their theories work for the “society as a whole.”
    The primacy of consciousness [consciousness as the metaphysical primary] becomes the norm – hence proletarian consciousness v bourgeois consciousness etc., etc..

    Rand, naturally, rejects this whole view of consciousness [which comes from Galileo, via Descartes and Hume] in favour the old Socratic view that consciousness is metaphysically passive. According to her, the notion that we “create” the contents of our mind is like saying we “create” the contents of our stomach – we do not.
    Yes we can process our food and we can, in a sense, regard our perceptions as processed but the food itself, like the perceptual realm, is a given.

    I think part of the common error concerning realism is due to the third person perspective – we observe someone else looking at a tree – and we see an image of an inverted tree on their retinas and we conclude that they see what we see – an image on their retinas.

    But that is not what they “see” – they have nothing to “see” their retinas with – what they see is reality and they see it directly.

    For more see David Kelley: “The Evidence of the Senses” or the long quote from OPAR here.

    Bear in mind however, that this is only a small part of Objectivism – it does not make much sense if you take percepts to be essentially the same as concepts which is what Hume does because he can’t abstract – to form abstractions he would need something that he signally lacks – a proper theory of concepts.

    But this is taking us too far outside the topic of this post.

  • Snorri Godhi

    We might as well keep hijacking this thread.
    First of all, a correction: i wrote that analytic sentences are valid by virtue of logic alone. I should have said: by logic and definitions alone.
    EG “all unmarried men are unmarried” is valid by logic alone but “all bachelors are unmarried” also requires the definition of “bachelor” to be proven valid.

    WRT logic, in the context it should be clear that what i meant was that we have gone beyond syllogism as the only form of deductive inference. As it happens, we have also gone way beyond Bacon and Mill, redefining induction so as to escape Hume’s problem. (That is an oversimplification but never mind.) But i suppose that Rand, like Mill, also failed to address Hume’s problem of induction (which btw has nothing to do with taking “percepts to be essentially the same as concepts”).

    WRT Hicks, i have not been able to find the paragraph that i wanted to quote. I did not expect an exposition of Objectivism from Hicks, and got none. What i did get was a long rant against Kant, backed by no substantive arguments. That is why i inferred that there are no substantive arguments against Kant in Objectivism: surely, if there were, Hicks would have presented them!

    Speaking of postmodernism, the 4th and 5th paragraphs of your (JohnW’s) latest comment look very postmodern to me: a lot of jargon combined with dubious inferences, eg “Objective” then comes to mean “collective,” a universal, inexorable subjectivism.

    The 6th paragraph, instead, is very interesting. Right away there is an attack on Galileo which seems to confirm DRS’s claim that Objectivism rejects all of modern science. That is, if what you find wrong with Galileo is the method he actually used. If instead you find wrong the method that he claimed to use, then i’d be very interested to know where exactly Galileo introduced this “view of consciousness”. This request is actually the main reason why i am keeping up this debate. (No references to Objectivist lit, please: only to Galileo’s work.)

    To conclude:

    According to [Rand], the notion that we “create” the contents of our mind is like saying we “create” the contents of our stomach – we do not.
    Yes we can process our food and we can, in a sense, regard our perceptions as processed but the food itself, like the perceptual realm, is a given.

    I fail to see any difference between this view and Kant’s view, as Kant has been interpreted by a variety of people, including but not limited to Popper and the author of my high school philosophy textbook. (And also Hicks, when he is exposing rather than criticizing or ranting.) Are you telling me that Popper’s interpretation of Kant is actually closer to Rand than to Kant?

  • JohnW

    But i suppose that Rand, like Mill, also failed to address Hume’s problem of induction (which btw has nothing to do with taking “percepts to be essentially the same as concepts”).

    Yes it has – the problem with Hume’s “problem” is that it is not a problem.

    All Hume needed to do was simply abstract from particulars and form a concept – but he can’t do that because he cannot abstract, see ITOE.

    All this is blindingly obvious to anyone with the faintest familiarity with Objectivism.

    The 6th paragraph, instead, is very interesting. Right away there is an attack on Galileo which seems to confirm DRS’s claim that Objectivism rejects all of modern science. That is, if what you find wrong with Galileo is the method he actually used. If instead you find wrong the method that he claimed to use, then i’d be very interested to know where exactly Galileo introduced this “view of consciousness”. This request is actually the main reason why i am keeping up this debate. (No references to Objectivist lit, please: only to Galileo’s work.)

    Objectivists do not reject modern science nor Galileo’s method – what they object to is his mistaken assumption. Again, all of this is perfectly obvious and thoroughly non-controversial, see A.C. Crombie, The Primary Properties and Secondary Qualities in Galileo Galilei’s Natural Philosophy – “I think, therefore, that these tastes, odours, colours, etc., so far as their objective existence is concerned, are nothing but mere names for something which resides exclusively in our sensitive body, so that if the perceiving creatures were removed, all of these quantities would be annihilated and abolished from existence.” Galileo Galilei, The Assayer, 1623.

    The assumption behind this, is picked up by Descartes and Locke and appears in Hume [Treatise on Human Nature] thus:

    “The fundamental principle of that philosophy is the opinion concerning colours, sounds, tastes, smells, heat and cold; which it asserts to be nothing but impressions in the mind, deriv’d from the operation of external objects, and without any resemblance to the qualities of the objects. Upon examination, I find only one of the reasons commonly produc’d for this opinion to be satisfactory,viz. that deriv’d from the variations of those impressions, even while the external object, to all appearance, continues the same…This principle being once admitted, all the other doctrines of that philosophy seem to follow by an easy consequence. For upon the removal of sounds, colours, heat, cold, and other sensible qualities, from the rank of continu’d independent existences we are reduc’d merelyto what are called primary qualities as the only real ones, of which we have any adequate notion.”

    This once again, is picked up by Kant who naturally goes the whole hog and dispenses with reality entirely. The fundamental error here, is the mistaken assumption that consciousness must be diaphanous in order to be non-constitutive. [For a step-by-step analysis of this error, see David Kelley, “The Evidence of the Senses.”]

    I should probably also mention that a non-diaphanous and non-constitutative view of consciousness is not exclusive to Ayn Rand – c.f. Karl Duncker, “Phenomenology and Epistemology,” John Searle, J. J. Gibson, Socrates and others.

    As for Popper – his motive and intent is closer to Ayn Rand but his substance is closer to Kant, see for example, Nick Dykes on Popper, but again that is a matter far outside the subject of this post.

  • Mr Ed

    I should have said: by logic and definitions alone.
    EG “all unmarried men are unmarried” is valid by logic alone but “all bachelors are unmarried” also requires the definition of “bachelor” to be proven valid.

    There is no requirement to prove the definition of bachelor valid. It is evident. To go further with that example is unnecessary, pompous even.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Surprised to find more replies.
    Cannot reply to Mr Ed because i don’t know what it means to “prove a definition valid” … and neither does he.

    As for JohnW: i did not expect to convince an Objectivist of anything, but it has been helpful for me to put some ideas into focus, and i have sadly found support for my suspicion that Objectivists only read Objectivist literature: instead of reading Hume and Kant, they read the Objectivist versions of Hume and Kant; or, if and when going to the sources, they do so to find support for the preconceived notions that they got from the Objectivist literature.
    In the case of Kant, they can certainly be excused for not going to the source, but they could at least read some other interpretation of Kant before trying to convince the rest of us that Kant was insane. If Rand says that Kant said X, and “Kant for Dummies” says that Kant said Y, and X is obviously unreasonable while Y is at least apparently reasonable (AND is not something that somebody else said before Kant) then i’ll believe “Kant for Dummies”, at least until i read Kant’s own work, or find a more authoritative but also reasonable interpretation. (Just googled and Kant for Dummies is available on the web, if anybody is interested.)
    I don’t discuss Hume further because i don’t expect that i’ll continue this dispute.

    WRT Galileo: that quote did not sound to me like an original idea. With the help of Google it was easy to find it in Democritus:

    By convention sweet is sweet, bitter is bitter, hot is hot, cold is cold, color is color; but in truth there are only atoms and the void.

    (transl. Durant 1939)
    http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Democritus

  • Mr Ed

    Snorri, I was perhaps reminded of Betrand Russell and his ruminations on sets of all things and whether that set includes itself. My point is that you don’t need to prove what a bachelor is as it is what it is. How do you prove what a proof is? It is just nonsense from philosophers who have nothing to say except strings of words.