Over the last few days (this is 1914 we’re talking about just in case anyone was in any doubt) a large number of articles have appeared in the German press on the threat posed by Russia. And still they come:
There is, if anything, an increase to-day in the Press discussion of present and future and possible and probable Russo-German relations. The Berlin Bourse, which was troubled last week by the beginning of the campaign in the Cologne Gazette, was disturbed again to-day – chiefly by the spreading of the infection to the Radical and “pacific” Berliner Tageblatt. This journal published this morning an anonymous article by somebody who is described as distinguished and experienced in all branches of international politics, which, without indeed advocating war, advocates the adoption of a very firm policy towards Russia.
This is co-ordinated and there’s only one body that would be doing the co-ordination: the German government. They are preparing the population for war. The argument being used is precisely the argument being used in the corridors of power: the Russians are building up their forces and in a few years they will be too strong and it will be too late. In other words: it’s now or never.
The Times 10 March 1914 p5
It is not just the Russians the Germans are worried about. The Russians on their own would be fairly harmless (as indeed they proved to be) but they are in alliance with France. This leads to Germany’s worst nightmare: the prospect of a war on two fronts. This in turn leads to the development of the Schlieffen Plan with its aim to eliminate one of those fronts before the other one got going.
There is an alternative. Germany could return Alsace-Lorraine to France. At a stroke they would eliminate the one and only bone of contention in the Franco-German relationship and as a consequence break up the Franco-Russian alliance. But no.
There are good reasons why the German government isn’t so keen on such a move. By accepting self-determination in Alsace-Lorraine they would be accepting the principle of democracy. This is hardly the sort of thing that a monarchy can do. There would also be the element of losing face that weak regimes are very reluctant to do.
As I mentioned earlier the claim is that Germany must go to war soon or else it will be too late. The odd thing is that they were even wrong about this. The Russians were utterly incompetent in the First World War and there is no reason to think they would have fought much better even after their arms build up.
What is interesting is that even the Socialists appear to be unnerved by the Russian threat. This might explain why after the war broke out and despite the fact they had been left out of the loop, they were so willing to vote the government the funds to carry on the war.
To-day the Pan-German Press is advocating German claims of all sorts, especially in Asia Minor, “which is still to be had, but only if Germany does not shrink from the extreme test and is ready to risk war against Russia and France as well as England.”
This is fascinating. They have clearly made up their minds that if war means war with England then so be it. It is suicidal but that’s the point the German High Command has reached in 1914.
It was Fritz Fischer, writing in the 1950s who claimed that the outbreak of war in 1914 was no accident. He traced it back to what has become known as the War Council of December 1912. From there, Germany abandoned the naval arms race with Britain so that it could build up its army. Shortly afterwards it launched this campaign. Everything is ready. Now all they need is a pretext.
There is also the claim that the Russians are running riot in the Balkans:
The writer insists that “pretences” shall be dropped and that both Berlin and Vienna shall recognize that they have step by step been retreating before Russian pretensions with lamentable results.
This is absolute nonsense. The people who are winning are the Austrians. They have annexed Bosnia, created the state of Albania to deny the Serbs a port, faced the Russians down in the mobilisations of 1912 and made an ally of the Bulgarians – a country hitherto in the Russian sphere. Meanwhile, a German, Liman von Sanders, has more or less been put in charge of the Turkish army, completely putting the kibosh on (the admittedly somewhat far-fetched) Russian ambitions to control the Bosphorus.
Incidentally, it is one of the claims of Christopher Clark’s book The Sleepwalkers (p330) that the German government did not embark on a campaign to ready its people for war. This, he felt, showed that the so-called War Council was not quite as decisive as others have claimed. What this article (and others) show is that this claim is nonsense.
It is a routine complaint about modern life that “we” now have far too many gadgets for our own good, and maybe some of us do. (I just googled too many gadgets and got “about 150,000,000 results”.)
But then again, have a read of this, by blogger “6000″, who now lives in South Africa, about his last conversation with his beloved uncle Alan, who died yesterday in a hospital in the Isle of Man:
My brother had been over to see him on Saturday and while I wish that I could have been there too, I enjoyed a 20 minute conversation with him over Skype. My last memory of my Uncle Alan will be his disbelief at the technology in front of him as I showed him Cape Agulhas lighthouse and the turquoise Indian Ocean. He always loved anything to do with the sea. We even shared a joke or two. It might not have been the same as actually being there with him, but for me, it was a special moment – even more so now – and I hope that for him, it was a bit of escapism from his hospital bed.
The way to judge the value and impact of a new technology is not to look at the typical or average uses of it, but at its most meaningful and significant uses. Yes, modern toys are routinely used to exchange trivial chit-chat of no great significance. But so what? Where’s the harm in that? Even supposedly insignificant chat often means something very significant to those doing the chatting, even if some nosy eavesdropper with nothing better to do than moan about other people’s conversations might not be so diverted by it. I imagine that if you had been listening in on 6000 and his uncle last Saturday, you might not have been that amused. Like I say: so what?
And nor should “we” be badgered into looking only at the bad things that new technology can do, or help people to do. Yes, some of the newly enabled chit-chat is significant because it is malevolent. Modern toys are indeed used to do bad things, and to conspire to do other bad things. And airplanes incinerated cities. Cars have long been used to make getaways after bank robberies. Trains took innocent people to murder camps and soldiers to be slaughtered in wars. Sailing ships were used by pirates. Money gets stolen, and is then used to finance other crimes.
But are the facts in the above paragraph convincing arguments against the very existence of laptop computers, Skype, smartphones, airplanes, cars, trains, sailing ships or money? No. The good done by new technology when used by good people to do good things is by far its most significant consequence. Long may this continue to be true.
Last Thursday, exactly a week ago, there were two speaker meetings occurring in London, both of which I wanted to go to, both addressed by Samizdatistas.
I picked the one at Christian Michel’s home, addressed by Philip Chaston, who talked about various efforts by English science fiction writers to talk up apocalyptic threats to mankind, such as climate threats and invasion threats of various kinds, by writing stories about such things actually happening. It was a very good talk. But because of attending that talk, I missed the talk given by Paul Marks to Libertarian Home that same evening, about the influence of Germanic thought upon the English speaking world.
My journey through tube-strike-deranged London to Philip’s talk looked like being – and in fact was – easier than the journey to Paul’s talk might have been, but I do confess that the biggest reason I chose Philip’s talk was my guess that Paul’s would soon be viewable on video. That guess has now been proved right. The talk only lasted a little over twenty minutes, and I highly recommend it. For those allergic even to that much video, Simon Gibbs has also appended some admirably detailed notes on what Paul said.
The big thing I want to add to what Paul Marks said is to emphasise the extreme importance of the subject he chose to talk about. Because of how the Germanic version of state-worship eventually turned out in the twentieth century, the Anglo-Saxon world has ever since been understandably embarrassed by how huge had been Germany’s intellectual and political influence upon it. The entire episode is well on the way to being forgotten by all but a few libertarians, of the Paul Marks variety. Yet for several decades, the military prowess of Prussia and then of the greater Germany that was assembled around Prussia, seemed to many like a crushingly effective argument for statism and against liberty. Even Germany’s World War One war effort, eventually an utter failure, was still a mightily impressive effort while it lasted. Both those who admired Germany’s intellectual and political notions and those who hated them believed such things to be necessary for national success. To put it another way, even those who hated Germanic political culture also feared it, and regarded it as something that simply had to be copied, rather as there was a similarly misguided little spurt of enthusiasm in the West for the methods of the Sputnik-era version of the USSR. But the urge to copy Germany went on for far longer and was far more strongly felt and defended and argued for. Germanic thought became dug into Anglo-American academia, for example, and the consequent intellectual poison has yet to be purged.
While most others prefer to forgot this story, we libertarians have everything to gain from keeping the memory of all this very much alive. We should all pay attention to the tale Paul told last Thursday, and be passing it on to everyone we argue with about both the attractiveness and the effectiveness of the freedom idea, in contrast to the kinds of ideas that deranged nineteenth and twentieth century Germany, and which are still deranging the world because of Germany’s earlier example.
In all the years I have been reading old editions of the The Times I have never come across anyone advocating a European Union. Until the other day, that is.
The Times 31 January 1914 p6
Annoyingly they are not entirely wrong:
If armaments could be greatly reduced, the savings effected would provide an abundance of liquid money to the great advantage of the people. Funds for industrial and commercial purposes would become plentiful.
Unless you piss it up the wall on a welfare state, that is. And on some things they are really on the money:
The nations of Europe and European civilisation itself threaten to break down under the military burdens. The people are groaning and muttering. Dissatisfaction is spreading apace. The tension is rapidly approaching breaking point.
The solution is a familiar one:
It is obvious that, if we wish to abolish war and the ruinously expensive preparations for war, we must deal with the fundamental cause of war. We must, therefore, above all, endeavour to abolish the disunion existing among the Great Powers and replace it by harmony and by a firm and lasting union.
I couldn’t help notice that then as today they seem to be extremely well-funded. I wonder how much a page in the The Times of 1914 compares with four pages in The Independent of today?
If you want to know what the British – the educated British – thought of the Germans in 1914 here’s your answer:
The chief importance of the Zabern incidents, of the Strassburg trials, and of the exhibition of reactionary and particularist passion which has followed them in Prussia, is not in themselves. It lies in their significance as symptoms of the obstacles which still impede the moral unity of Germany. They reveal the persistence of not only of a profound division between the conquered provinces and Prussia, but of such a division between the whole legal and constitutional conceptions of South Germany and those that prevail amongst the Prussian aristocracy. These divisions are not new. They go back to the annexation of Alsace-Lorraine and to the establishment of modern States and the introduction of modern ideas by NAPOLEON in the south…
But the feudal nobility, and especially the nobility beyond the Elbe, have always set their faces against it and striven to shut their eyes to the change… Their devotion to the Throne and to the country, their lofty sense of public duty, their zeal, and their professional attainments are undoubted. But many of them inherit also the narrowness and the arrogance of a military caste.
Is it accurate? I think so, primarily because it explains the Zabern Incident so well.
Was it the cause of the war? It was certainly a cause. It wouldn’t be the first time that an unpopular regime that found itself cornered attempted to prop itself by starting a war. Milosevic’s Yugoslavia springs to mind as another example.
What it doesn’t explain is how such a divided nation was able to keep going for so long.
The Times 29 January 1914 p9
A feature of British reporting on American affairs is that even newspapers that sell themselves as right wing or too grand to take a side in US politics take their tone straight from the Democratic party. For instance, this Times report of the State of the Union address appears in the news section, not the opinion pages, yet in this paragraph
Offering a shopping list of practical plans to speed up growth and give people new ladders of opportunity into the middle class, he told members of Congress: “I’m eager to work with all of you”.
the writer, David Taylor, takes it for granted that President Obama’s plans are “practical” and indubitably will “give people new ladders of opportunity”. Was there not room for a little “intended to” anywhere in that line, Mr Taylor?
Again, this report from Peter Foster in the supposedly right wing Telegraph takes one look at Obama performing the standard politician’s trick of admitting to the fault of excessive reasonableness, and falls in love:
However, that optimism was tempered with a frank admission that America’s politics had become paralysed by the “rancorous argument over the proper size of the federal government”. The president wearily admitted that reversing the tides of decline “won’t happen right away, and we won’t agree on everything.”
We all understand where the problem lies: with the rancorous ones who argue about the proper size of government. If only they would stop doing that our weary hero could rest.
I am ready to be told in the comments that the Dems and the Repubs really are not that different. Allow me to agree in advance. It is just that the way that the Times and Telegraph maintain faithful station like Greyfriars Bobby long after their better paid friends in the Boston Globe and New York Times have noticed that the object of their devotion is politically dead is making a vein throb. Which reminds me, we were not always thus. As the great Malcom Tucker put put it during his visit to Washington (2 minutes 10 seconds into the clip):
“We burnt this tight-arsed city to the ground in 1814 and I’m all for doing it again.”
(Warning: occasional words in the compilation of scenes from In the Loop linked to above are not viciously obscene.)
I note with pride that two hundred years ago arguments about the proper size of the federal government were settled in a decisive yet still gentlemanly fashion. Wikipedia’s account of the burning of Washington says that “The British commander’s orders to burn only public buildings and strict discipline among the British troops are credited with preserving the city’s private buildings.” We even spared one of the more useful government buildings:
It is written that a loaded cannon was aimed at the Patent Office to destroy it. Thornton “put himself before the gun, and in a frenzy of excitement exclaimed: ‘Are you Englishmen or only Goths and Vandals? This is the Patent Office, a depository of the ingenuity of the American nation, in which the whole civilized world is interested. Would you destroy it? If so, fire away, and let the charge pass through my body.’ The effect is said to have been magical upon the soldiers, and to have saved the Patent Office from destruction.
Despite this lapse, Major General Robert Ross did burn to the ground the White House, both houses of Congress, the War Office, the State Department and the Treasury, although I gather someone has rebuilt them since.
What Patrick Crozier called the First World War War continues. Although the trenches have long been dug, the conflict can revert to being a war of manoeuvre with surprising speed, and sometimes evidence leaks out of mutiny among the troops of even the most committed belligerents.
From the BBC of all people: Lions and donkeys: 10 big myths about World War One debunked
Here are the ten myths debunked by the article:
1. It was the bloodiest war in history to that point
2. Most soldiers died
3. Men lived in the trenches for years on end
4. The upper class got off lightly
5. ‘Lions led by donkeys’
6. Gallipoli was fought by Australians and New Zealanders
7. Tactics on the Western Front remained unchanged despite repeated failure
8. No-one won
9. The Versailles Treaty was extremely harsh
10. Everyone hated it
I am surprised and heartened to see this article from this source, particularly because it is by Dan Snow, a popular programme maker. I am also glad to see these points made because they are true.
ADDED LATER: The outcome of the First World War War matters to the cause of liberty now. Discuss.
They thought it would start this way. Rogue government official, Michael Gove writing in the rogue newspaper, the Daily Mail, was responsible for the first blast – a carefully planned and executed assassination of the very symbol of Donkeydom: Blackadder. Arguing that a sitcom was perhaps not the best way to understand the First World War he struck a blow to the heart of all those who thought that the War could be summed up in a few lines of poetry.
The Donkeys realising that they could not allow such an outrage to stand launched a furious counterblast with Richard Evans, Tristram Hunt and Tony Robinson in the vanguard. Sadly, Tony ’s cunning plan turned out to be no more cunning than his alter ego’s Baldrick’s and just like the Austro-Hungarian Army’s initial attack on Belgrade was easily rebuffed.
Unfortunately, the Donkey attack on the apparently isolated and defenceless Gove touched off a series of ideological alliances as Revisionists such as Beevor, Johnson, Farage and Sheffield rushed to Gove’s defence. Like a thunderstorm on a clear day it had come out of nothing and within days had embroiled the whole of the political and historical world. For the leftie Sheffield it must have be particularly galling to find himself – as Russia did in 1914 – on the “wrong” side. He is not alone. Although yet to declare himself, Niall Ferguson is likely to side with the Donkeys. Only Dan Hannan stands aloof.
As we stand here facing intellectual armageddon it worth pausing to consider the opposing forces. For many years the Donkeys have been considered invincible following the spectacular victories of The Donkeys i.e Alan Clark’s original, Oh, what a lovely war and that crowning achievement: Blackadder itself. But Blackadder was a quarter of a century ago and in the meantime their opponents have been marshalling their forces. Building on the pioneering work of John Terraine, Revisionists such as Sheffield, the late Richard Holmes and the late Paddy Griffiths aided by the many amateur historians of the Western Front Association, have built up a credible case for the idea that Britain’s war was both necessary and fought about as well as it could have been.
Still they are up against formidable odds. And the formidablist is the mighty British Broadcasting Corporation. It seems that the BBC has been planning for the eventuality for many years. It is likely that they will attempt to score a knockout blow using paintings, poetry and appeals of emotion. So what if they have to trample over the rights of neutral facts in the process? They are likely to fail and when they do the chances are that we will be in for a protracted period of intellectual trench warfare.
Whatever happens it won’t be over by Christmas.
We all love those daft things that school children put on exam papers – How long is the menstrual cycle? Three feet; that sort of thing. So, here are some from a hundred years ago (when they didn’t have such things as menstrual cycles):
After twice committing suicide, Cowper lived till 1800 when he died a natural death.
Much butter is imported from Denmark, because Danish cows have greater enterprise and superior technical education to ours.
In the British Empire the sun always sets.
The courage of the Turks is explained by the fact that a man with more than one wife is more willing to face death than if he had only one.
Under what conditions will a body float in water? After it has been in the water three days.
Some of the others might turn out to be even funnier if I understood them.
In these enlightened days of state-controlled railways and fare control it is sometimes difficult to believe that there was a time when railways were monopolies red in tooth and claw and were more or less free to do what they wanted.
And here, from a hundred years ago, we have an egregious example of precisely the sort of monopoly abuse we have so often been warned of. It’s revision time for fares and you know what’s coming: they’re… er… reducing them:
The Times 3 December 1913 p5
Well, that’s as may be but the only reason they’re doing that is because they’re making the service… er… better:
In anticipation of the opening of the first section of the electrified suburban lines during the coming year…
As it happens the lines to which they refer weren’t electrified until 1916 – not that that is particularly important.
So, what’s going on? Well, as Brian Micklethwait likes to point out everything competes with everything else. Railways may not compete much with other railways but they sure as hell compete with buses, trams, cars, moving nearer work and finding a job nearer where one lives.
Even so, railwaymen often refer to the “sparks effect”. This is the phenomenon whereby a newly electrified line will see a significant increase in passengers. With that in mind you would have thought they could increase their fares. I can only imagine fares are being reduced because they are able to run more services.
By the way, not strictly relevant but I loved this from column 1 on the same page:
Mr J. D. Gilbert asked the chairman of the Highways Committee whether in view of the by-laws allowing passengers to stand in the tramcars, the committee had considered the advisability of issuing notices, similar to those in use in Manchester, asking ladies to have all hatpins protected.
Almost a decade ago now, the still much missed Findlay Dunachie did a posting here about the wicked sayings and doings of Communist academics and supporters and subverters in America, some of whom were then trying to expunge from the historical record their long catalogue of blunder and subterfuge and just plain evil. Earlier this year I encountered this posting again, and recycled its particularly eloquent opening sentences as a Samizdata quote of the day.
But this posting contained other things that were perhaps even more memorable than those opening sentences, namely two lists of the bad communists and communist sympathisers in question. List One: The Academics. List Two: The Spies. May they live in infamy.
I was reminded of those lists when I recently encountered another such list, this other list being a roll of honour rather than of dishonour. It appears towards the end of Deirdre McCloskey’s book Bourgeois Dignity, which was published in 2010. (The Anton Howes talk that I flagged up here recently is pretty much Anton Howes channelling this book.)
What is this book about? Well, one way to describe it would be for its author to list all the people whose ideas she approves of and is herself channelling.
So, that’s what she does, on page 400:
My theme in short is the true liberal one of the de la Court brothers, Richard Overton, John Lilburne, William Walwyn, Thomas Rainsborough, Richard Rumbold, Spinoza, Dudley North, Algernon Sidney, Locke, Voltaire, Hume, Turgot, Montesquieu, Adam Ferguson, Smith, Thomas Paine, Destutt de Tracy, Jefferson, Madame de Stael, Benjamin Constant, Wilhelm von Humboldt, Charles [not Auguste] Comte, Charles Dunoyer, Malthus, Ricardo, Harriet Martineau, Tocqueville, Giuseppe Mazzini, Frederic Bastiat, Mill, Henry Maine, Richard Cobden, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Cavour, Johan August Gripenstedt, Herbert Spencer, Lysander Spooner, Karl von Rotteck, Johan Rudolf Thorbecke, Carl Menger, Lord Acton, Josephine Butler, Knut Wicksell, Luigi Einaudi, H. L. Mencken, Johan Huizinga, Frank Knight, Ludwig von Mises, Willa Cather, Rose Wilder Lane, Walter Lippmann until the 1950s, Nora Zeale Hurston, Karl Popper, Isaiah Berlin, Michael Polanyi, Friedrich Hayek, Raymond Aron, Henry Hazlitt, Bertrand de Jouvenel, Ronald Coase, Milton, Rose, and son David Friedman, Murray Rothbard, James Buchanan, Ludwig Lachmann, Gordon Tullock, Thomas Sowell, Joan Kennedy Taylor, Roy A. Childs, Julian Simon, Israel Kirzner, Vernon Smith, Wendy McElroy, Norman Barry, Loren Lomasky, Tibor Machan, Anthony de Jasay, Douglas Den Uyl, Douglas Rasmussen, Deepak Lal, Chandran Kukathas, Ronald Hamowy, Tom Palmer, Don Lavoie, David Boaz, Richard Epstein, Tyler Cowen, David Schmidtz, Donald Boudreaux, Peter Boettke, and the young Robert Nozick. It is the obvious and simple system of natural liberty. It contradicts the aristocratic sneering by conservatives at innovations and at the bourgeoisie, or the clerical sneering by progressives at markets and at the bourgeoisie. The true-liberal claim is that unusual bourgeois dignity and personal liberty in northwestern Europe, and especially in Holland and then in Britain, made for unusual national wealth, by way of a revaluation of ordinary, bourgeois life.
Interesting, both for its inclusions and for its exclusions. Particular kudos to the very select few who need only be mentioned with one surname!
The most notable exclusion that commenters here may want to notice and opine about is Ayn Rand. Rand gets no mention either in the book’s index or in the list of works cited. My guess is that McCloskey’s attitude to Rand can be summarised as the claim that Rand contributed a minus quantity to our understanding of, to quote the title of McCloskey’s earlier book, The Bourgeois Virtues.
For me it is the inclusions in this list that are the most interesting. It makes me want to learn more, in particular, about the English men of the seventeenth century at the top of the list, and about all those Germanic sounding people, throughout, several of whose names are entirely new to me.
I’d be very interested to hear if anyone reading this list can honestly claim to have even heard of everyone on it. Paul Marks has, obviously, but … anyone else?
Happy Christmas to all who are reading this, and happy googling, of the who is he? sort, that this posting will, I hope, stimulate.
One of the intellectual highlights of my year has been hearing Anton Howes (whom I first noticed while noticing the Liberty League) expound the idea that the British industrial revolution was, at heart, an ideological event. The industrial revolution happened when it did and where it did because certain people in that place and at that time started thinking differently. To put it in Samizdata-speak, the metacontext changed. Particular people changed it, not just with the industrial stuff that they did, but with what they said and wrote.
I first heard Howes give this talk at my last Friday of the month meeting in July of this year. Happily, Simon Gibbs of Libertarian Home also heard Howes speak that night, and immediately signed him up to do a repeat performance, this time with a video camera running, for Libertarian Home at the Rose and Crown.
And the good news is that the video of this Howes talk at the Rose and Crown is now up and viewable at Libertarian Home. If spending half an hour watching a video does not suit, then you might prefer to read Simon’s extended summary of the talk. The same video is also up at YouTube.
I wrote a bit at my personal blog about that subsequent evening, and there is lots else I want to say about what Howes is saying. But one of the rules of blogging is not to let hard-to-write and consequently not-yet-actually-written pieces interrupt you putting up easier-to-write pieces that you actually can write and do write.
So: Anton Howes is a clever guy. Watch the video. And watch out for him and his work in the future.