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The Shadow: An Outtake from "Slouching Toward Utopia?: An Economic History of the Long Twentieth Century"

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15.5: The Shadow: Populist Nationalism and Social Darwinism

15.5.1: Max Weber as German Chauvinist

The coming of social and political equality—or at least pressures toward that end—in the North Atlantic had a consequence. People were no longer primarily identifying themselves as (western) Christians or Calvinists or nobles or farriers but as Englishmen, Frenchmen, Dutchmen, or Germans. This meant that they were definitely not Poles or Italians or Catalans(well, maybe they were still identifying themselves as Catalans), or even Auvernais. The drawing tight of the bonds of national identity meant the exclusion of those not identified with the ethno-nation from the ekumene—or worse: the rise of German nationality meant that Polish-speaking citizens of the traditional Hohenzollern lands, people whose ancestors had paid taxes and built roads for and died in the armies of the ruling dynasty of Prussia since the days of the Great Elector in the 1600s were now viewed as an alien excrescence in the body politic, human pus to be somehow treated to make the ethno-nation healthy...

...German academic Max Weber, for example, was a German liberal. He was a believer in one-man, one-vote rather than gerrymandered electorates and noble estates, a believer in responsible government by ministers responsible to elected legislatures rather than the whim of hereditary princes, a believer in progress and peace. Yet Max Weber was terrified of the threat to the German nation posed by barefoot hungry Poles. He said, completely seriously:

The German character of the East[ern provinces of Prussia]... should be protected... [by] the economic policy of the state…. Under the semblance of ‘peace’… German peasants and day-labourers… are getting the worst of it in the silent and dreary struggle of everyday economic existence... abandoning their homeland to a race... on a lower level... a dark future in which they will sink without trace.

To Weber, the real name for “peace” was “race war”--and there could be no true peace, not ever: “There can be no truce... the vulgar conception of political economy is that it consists in working out recipes for making the world happy…. We do not want to train up feelings of well-being in people…. Our successors will... hold us responsible... for the amount of elbow-room we conquer for them.” When you think that this is a pre-WWI establishment German liberal, it makes you want to cry. When you think that this is supposed to be the smartest and most learned pre-WWI German social scientist, it really makes you want to cry.

Start with the questions of morality, which in most people’s minds is the command to: “be excellent to one another!” Max Weber disagrees: for him, the moral thing to do is to be un-excellent to as many people as possible in order to gain as much elbow-room—as much lebensraum—as possible for future generations of Germans. To march hundreds of miles to kill people you have never met so that the children of other people you have never met but who speak your language can have more elbow-room—this is raising up the great and noble characteristics of human nature. And this is not just during times of declared war, for what the naïve call “peace” is simply the continuation of war by other means.

 

15.5.2: Nationalist Social Darwinism as Idiocy

This social Darwinist orientation is not only immoral but profoundly stupid.

It is simply insane as a matter of fact to claim substantial differences of any sort between human sub-populations. Homo Sapiens Sapiens appears to have emerged in a speciation event between 50 and 200 thousand years ago involving somewhere between 2,000 and 20,000 individuals, who thereafter interbred overwhelmingly with each other. We are all, in a selfish-gene sense, the equivalent of what third cousins would be among baboons, or any other two-sex animal with a healthy gene pool. A competent geneticist who happened to be a eugenicist would look at every single other person in the world and think: a valuable potential addition of variability to a human gene pool that has too little such.

And to claim differences in valuable genes between the German-speakers and the Polish-speakers living between the Elbe and the Vistula? Over the past two-thousand years, in the lands between the Elbe and the Vistula, the descendents of German-speakers began speaking Polish; Slavic-speakers moved in and their language evolved into Polish; Slavic-speakers moved in and their descendents began speaking German; German-speakers from further west moved in and their descendents kept speaking German; German-speakers from further west moved in and their descendents began speaking Polish; and everybody intermarried. “A Prussian?” said Konrad Adenauer, post-World War II West German Chancellor and a Rhinelander with a certain contempt for those of his fellow-countrymen from west of the Elbe, “that’s a Pole who has forgotten who his grandfather was.” The Poles and Germans whom Max Weber sees as engaged in a race war for domination on the Polish-German plain are, in all respects save the language that they are speaking at the moment, the same people.

We don’t even have the excuse of the Star Trek episode: “But I am white on the left and black on the right, and he is white on the right and black on the left!”

World War I did not change Weber's mind: “We have to be a world power, and in order to have a say in the future of the world we had to risk the war.... [It was our] responsibility before the bar of history...” And it was during the war that he said:

Future generations, our own descendants above all, will not hold the Danes, Swiss, Dutch, and Norwegians responsible if world power—and that means ultimately control over the nature of culture in the future—is divided without a battle between the regulations of Russian officials on the one hand and the conventions of Anglo-Saxon “society” on the other, with perhaps a dash of Latin “reason .”... Future generations will hold us responsible... and rightly so, for we are a nation of seventy and not seven millions.

 

15.5.3: Ethnic Cleansing in the Twentieth Century

One of the things that has characterized the entire twentieth century, on all six inhabited continents, has been nationalist ethnic cleansing.

Turkish governments decide that people identifying themselves as Armenians, Kurds, or Greeks need to be Turks, be gone, or be dead. Indonesian generals decide that people identifying themselves as Timorese need to stop doing so--or be gone. When you think of the benefits flowing from increased social equality and the rise of the ethno-nation state, remember to think of the costs as well as these imagined communities have provided many excuses to kill and destroy.

It may be that nationalist wars fought by citizens are inherently more difficult to stop and turn into peace than other kinds of wars. Mercenaries fight for pay. Plunderers fight for loot. Political and military leaders who see the war effort going pear-shaped can make peace, tell their mercenaries and plunderers that continuing the war would get them no more pay and no more loot but that they can keep what they have got. Gentlemen can look back on their service in a war—even an unsuccessful war—as an episode in which they won honor. Believers can think that they served their god.

But what can a citizen who is fought in an unsuccessful war look back on? They have sacrificed at the behest of their political and military leaders: what have they gained? Thus once the nationalist wars of the twentieth century were started, the leaders who had started them did not dare stop, as long as there was any chance of avoiding defeat at all.

 

15.5.4: Could These Demons Have Been Kept Leashed?

Suppose that the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the throne of the Habsburg Monarchy that ruled what by 1914 was called the Austro-Hungarian Empire and that incorporated all or part of what is now the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Ruthenia, Romania, Hungary, Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Slovenia, and Austria—suppose that Franz Ferdinand had not been assassinated, but had lived to ascend the throne as Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary in 1916—then World War I as we know it would not have happened. Would we then have seen the demons that were unleashed in 1914 and after controlled? Would the (relatively) peaceful world of 1870-1913 with growing and shared prosperity have kept politics softer?

Before World War I, Orthodox Easter Sunday in 1903 saw a pogrom in Kishinev: 50 Jews killed, about the same number of Jewish women raped, 1500 houses destroyed or damaged. It was seen as a big deal in the world journalism of the time.

After World War I, the Greco-Turkish War wound up with 50000 dead and 2 million people driven from their homes. It had about the same footprint in the world journalism of the time. It was a different, bloodier, world. Would this have been avoided.

After World War I, Acting-Brigadier General Reginald Dyer ordered his troops to massacre 1000 at Amritsar. There were no British soldier casualties. In spite of former British Prime Minister Asquith calling it “one of the worst outrages in the whole of our history” and Secretary of State for War Winston Churchill calling it “monstrous… absolutely foreign to the British way of doing things”. And he called it terrorism: “governments who have seized upon power by violence and by usurpation have often resorted to terrorism… but the august and venerable structure of the British Empire… does not need such aid”. And yet the House of Lords vogued to support Dyer. And in the House of Commons Churchill and companied were condemned as: “sitting in Oriental aloofness in Whitehall, a year after, and 6,000 miles away… pleased to measure the less or more of the severity applied by that gallant soldier…. If a gallant officer in the exercise of his discretion use a little more or less severity… he is broken on the wheel—no trial, no possibility of defending himself.”

It was a different world.

Political historians (and assassins) tend to answer that this shift would have been avoided, that things would have kept going as they were going, that the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and what followed switched world history onto different tracks. They tend to think that how events happen can be very important, and that determining and understanding the causal chains running from event to event are the purposes of history.

In their view human history is near-chaotic, at least at key times and places, and small changes can have very large long-run effects, just as the presence or absence of a hurricane can be determined by the flap of a butterfly’s wings a year before and three thousand miles away.

Economic and social historians have a very different presumption: if Franz Ferdinand had not been assassinated in the summer of 1914, he might have been assassinated somewhere else; if he had not been assassinated, the Austrian government would have found some other excuse for an attempt to chastise the Serbian government through what it had hoped would be a small, limited war. Key individuals, luck, and chaos may determine exactly how things happen, but for the most part what happens is the result of stronger, deeper currents of ideas and interests that cannot be diverted or transformed even by key events.

I follow my discipline. I see the demons as likely to have been unleashed, somehow, somewhere, in some form, and spread over the globe...


#ethniccleansing #fascism #genocide #highlighted slouching #2019-10-06

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