Insufficiently Germanophobic

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Now that Taki has said it, perhaps it should be said again. The Western world could not have done worse, and might have done better, if the Central Powers had triumphed in World War One. The suspicion that I had really meant that when in some articles in the 1970s I had blamed both sides equally for the recklessness in 1914 leading into the Great War, produced a neocon hostility that has continued to grow.

Academics at Catholic University of America and their neocon confreres elsewhere, who had openly resented what they perceived as my insufficiently Germanophobic outlook, went after me in the late eighties. They browbeat the institution’s administration into turning down an appointment recommended on my behalf by the politics department. The issue at the time was not neoconservative anger over my views on Israel (which were not even known) but my criticism of German refugee historians who had read the Holocaust into the entire course of German history.

Allow me to explain what I think Taki and certainly I mean about World War One. Unlike Francis Fukuyama, we do not celebrate the war and its outcome as the turning point in the development of a global democratic society. I for one despise Fukuyama’s managerial imperialism, dressed up as free government, and believe it has nothing to do with the bourgeois liberal society that Fukuyama, his pals, and their historical icon, Woodrow Wilson, have helped to bury.

I also agree with English historian Niall Ferguson that the English, and particularly the First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill, did more to bring on the war than one is generally taught in the Anglo-American world. Churchill and other English military-political leaders in 1914 were long itching for a showdown with their German rival and were deploying the British fleet against Germany quite belligerently weeks before the war broke out.

Moreover, the English were in a position to stay out of the struggle without damaging their financial and naval power; while given its resources, wealth, and population, the United States would have emerged by the end of a European war as the strongest commercial and industrial nation, no matter which side won. The Anglo-American world would not have suffered by sitting out a continental war in 1914; and an Austro-German victory would have been something far less disastrous, contrary to what neocons and other Teutonophobes insist, than would have been a Nazi conquest of Europe in 1940. Needless to say, the second would not have been possible without the Allied victory and Allied peace achieved in 1918-19.

Taki is correct about the merits of the Austro-German world in 1914, which was highly civilized, politically far less centralized than the current version of "democracy," and in the case of the Austrian part of the Habsburg Empire, a model of bourgeois liberal economic policies. During the struggle, the German and Austrian empires allowed far more open criticism of the war than Wilson’s new democratic order. Those who protested the war in Germany sat unmolested in the Reichstag; in France and the US they were jailed and often the targets of government-incited violence.

No one is denying that there was a militaristic legacy in the German Empire and that the military, owing to the collapse of civilian government, had assumed too much control of the German state by 1916. On the other hand, it is not Wilhelmine Germany but the Third Reich that prefigured the global imperialist rhetoric that fills the editorial pages of the Weekly Standard, Wall Street Journal, and other supposed advocates of American constitutional government. Not even Kaiser Wilhelm, in his most self-indulgent fantasies about "Germany’s place in the sun," sounded quite as whacked-out as the "new American nationalists" who have now captured the American Right. One could only imagine how American global democrats would react if their megalomania and self-righteousness were expressed by someone in a Prussian uniform.

What is being argued is not that an Austro-German victory in 1914 would have been the most desirable historical course. Rather, it would have been preferable to what did happen in 1918, the destruction of the imperial governments of Germany and Austria, a vindictive Allied peace, and the subsequent unleashing of totalitarian governments in Europe. This is not even to speak of the parlous state of civil liberties and the eruption of managerial tyranny in Wilsonian America, a condition thoroughly described by Murray Rothbard, Arthur Ekirch, Ralph Raico, and Robert Higgs.

In comparison to these conditions produced by a prolonged, costly war in which Europe tore itself apart and a peace that was simply a prelude to new war, a relatively early German victory in a continental war, as Bertrand Russell in a moment of geopolitical lucidity grasped, would have been a blessing.

A postwar policy that neocons are always recommending, which is that the US should have stayed in Europe after the Treaty of Versailles to hold down the Germans, was both unworkable and genuinely stupid. It would have turned the American military into a permanent accessory of the European winners in 1918u2014and committed to maintaining a Carthaginian peace settlement by force that most Americans by the twenties had no desire to uphold.

It is hard to see how the US, by entangling itself in military alliances directed at the continued subjugation of the Central Powers, would have been contributing to peace anywhere. What President Coolidge and Secretary Dawes did, while not the best policy for a total non-interventionist, had much to be said for it, namely helping to finance the recovery of Europe, while enjoying a favorable balance of trade, by lending money to the winning and losing sides both.

If the Depression had not struck in 1929, European recovery would have continued; and while the Germans would have pursued revision of the treaty by means short of war, as they had been doing in the twenties, the Nazis would not have taken power. Note that what is being given is not the happiest outcome that the Anglo-American world could have achieved in the postwar years. That would have been possible if the Americans and Brits had stayed out of the continental war that broke out in 1914.

Paul Gottfried [send him mail] is professor of history at Elizabethtown College and author, most recently, of the highly recommended After Liberalism.

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