Thursday, January 18, 2007

Not the "Long War" but on the importance of the now dimly recalled, First World War:

" Yet it [ WWI] damaged civilization, the rational and liberal civilization of the European Enlightenment, permanently for the worse and through damage done, world civilization also. Pre-war Europe, imperial though it was in its relations with most of the world beyond the continent, offered respect to the principles of constitutionalism, the rule of law and representative government. Post-war Europe rapidly relinquished confidence in such principles.They were altogether lost in Russia after 1917, in Italy after 1922, in Germany in 1933, in Spain after 1936, and only patchily observed at any time in the young states created or enlarged by the post-war settlement in Central and Southern Europe. Within fifteen years of the war's end, totalitarianism....was almost everywhere on the rise."

- John Keegan, The First World War

It is questionable, to my mind, if Europe has ever recovered from the Great War that broke her spirit, followed by the Second World War which broke her power.

The EU is itself, arguably, an attempt by European elites to refashion the common sense of identity and weaken the primary loyalties of their fellow citizens. If so, they have had but limited success in that regard beyond the circles of the governing and media classes; and that progress must be set against the countervailing rise of disturbing, ethnonationalists, like LePen, whose xenophobic ideas found few if any admirers in the immediate postwar decades (and whose followers would be of infintesimal size were it not for the EU and its bumbling immigration policies).

Here's an interesting question, at least to me. While a number of public figures have referred to the Long War/GWOT as " World War III or IV" or have drawn comparisons with WWII (Pearl Harbor, Appeasement, Axis etc.), perhaps the current struggle bears a better comparison with WWI ?

Not in the area of kinetics, certainly, but in the sense that this war, like the First World War is occurring at a time of an epochal shift in economics, power relations and modes of living. A war that if it does not represent a " clash of civilizations", at least is noteworthy for it's civilizational discontents and the anxieties they produce in the public mind.


At HNN, Lawrence Serewicz, a longtime fellow member of H-Diplo, describes the struggle in Periclean terms.
Exactly. If this is indeed a levelling war that destroys much of the old social compact and many of the existing oligarchies, then the aristocratic/totalitarian reaction/revolt (the Napoleonic wars and WW2) that rises out of the ensuing chaos is the next war.
I do not think that the 20th century wars are the appropriate analogy for what we are undergoing today. I believe that the desire to cast the current strategic situation we find ourselves in as a "Long War" or "World War xx" is simplistic and wrong. I am under the impression that many people who seek to cast the current situation as the "Long War" are unwilling to overcome their biases of how the world works, or should work. We have a very romanticized view the great wars of the 20th century (and of war in general) and I would argue that this romantic view of war (and the state as well) is misleading us in our analysis of the current strategic situation. I think that the great wars of the 20th century were between nation-states fighting for supremacy.

Today's conflicts seem to have less and less to do with nation-states and more to do with the resurgence of these "primal loyalties" so many are speaking of. I would argue that we are better off using the analogy of late imperial Rome (or maybe even the demise of the Islamic Caliphate, although my knowledge of this period is limited.) It seems to me that these two periods had more to do with the demise of one (universal?) political order in order to be replaced with something radically different and more local.

I agree with TDL. But I'd also state that the effect that the "Long War" has globally will likely be paramount in societies that entail Dr. Barnetts "Gap" and less so in "Core" civs.

Certainly the political unity of western states that congealed during the Cold War is, to some degree, unraveling. But there is a degree of growing unity among "Gap" states as "core" states seem to be growing apart philosophically and politically. The effects of the former, IMO, will greatly outweigh the effects of the latter.
I had a post on World War I and the GWOT, though the latter part was understated.

The current war we are in is like the Cold War to some degree. It is a long-term ideological struggle against a mortal enemy of our civilization. But that general statement aside, the GWOT or the Long War, or World War IV, is sui generis. We may learn more from studying conflicts with Islamic communities from a thousand years ago than from anything in more recent history, for example.
Hi everyone,

Great comments !

Historical analogies are always, even in best case scenarios, imperfect explanations.

I agree that WWI was a struggle of nation-states, existing as well as emergent. I also agree that mining the history of the Islamic world is a fruitful enterprise to help understand the current crisis.The World War IV rhetoric I have already weighed in against in earlier posts.

But there was also, at least among intellectuals of the period, a transnational awareness or a "meta " level appreciation that the great war might be the ruin of Western civilization -commentary that often preceded the guns of August. Aleksandr Blok, Zinaida Gippius, Brooks Adams, Oswald Spengler, to name a few, all held pessimistic apprehensions. It was that toward which I was groping in my post, perhaps not very effectively.

Here is a link to Murray on IQ and eduication I thought you wd be interested in.


As former campaign director of the UK anti-euro campaign, i agree with you re the EU!

I owe you an email and will send it but have been buried under Godel, Turing, brain, AI etc - which i will also send to u when finished hopefully within 2 weeks... I think a lot of the current "strategic" thinking re complex sysyems wd benefit from connection to the ideas from quantum mechanics /Godel/ Turing/ computability/ Gell Mann's complex adaptive ystems etc - and i am pathetically wrestling with it... Us in politics/military etc make many assumptions about the epistemological basis of complexity that wd benefit from clarity about those assumptions.

Further, much of the stuff on 4GW, robb's GGs etc is also deeply connected to this maths and physics. If you were going to construct your ideal new version of the older Moltke's General Staff now, u wd surely have a section for the Santa Fe Institute... ??

Dominic C
Hi Dominic,

Much thanks - I've read several books by Murray and look forward to reading the paper.

I.Q. ( or "g") has both "hard" and " plastic" aspects to it which is why it is both predictive as well as surprising. My guess, as a layman, is that the surprise element commes from dynamic biophysical changes due to brain modularity, so you can expect variance in performance, particularly when "g" is intersecting with skill-set based cognitive and neurocognitive performance (i.e. Einstein -great physicist, so-so violinist, Hobbes was an incompetent mathematical theorist, etc.)

Very much agree on the physics/complexity/network connection. I've stopped by santa fe or linked on occasion and read some Krebs, Bar-Yam and so on. If I had to do things over I'd have taken more hard sciences !

Look forward to your email and glad you worked to put some brakes on the EU behemoth.
The similar period to today is the latter half of the 19th Century, a period wherein market pressures destabilized the world by (1) facilitating the rise of new great powers (Germany, Japan) and by (2) facilitating the rise of a potent anti-market ideology (communism). Today is like yesterday in this regard -- the formative period -- which sets the stage for the great wars of the future. Boondocks.
I think your/Keegan's characterization of pre-WWI Europe is simplistic, rose-tinted, and designed to misrepresent what comes later.

There's nothing about 19c Europe which effectively presages or analogizes to the EU as currently constituted or intended, with the possible exception of the Napoleonic empire at its height.
Hi ahistoricality,

Well, being grouped with John Keegan is certainly an association I can live with. You wrote:

"There's nothing about 19c Europe which effectively presages or analogizes to the EU as currently constituted or intended, with the possible exception of the Napoleonic empire at its height."

I'll grant you the Continental System but the evolution of Germany from the Zollervein proposal to Bismarck's Reich is servicible mini-me precedent for the EU.
Until you walk among the gravesites near The Somme, Passchendalle, and see the ossuary at Verdun and literally feel the haunt that pervades that place, and I swear Verdun is haunted, you cannot and will not come to grips with the magnitude of the disaster that World War One was, nor appreciate how much Europe has gone through and endured for so long, to arrive at the EU.

Do not dandify the pre-war years nor the social class structure that was as fossilized as any trilobite by 1914.

Yes, everything was different, and Victorianism was truly dead, war was no longer chivalrous, and the disease of PTSD and true shell explosion concussion "shell-shock," or "Rattle-skull" type induced insanity was altogether too real. It was like a Stephen Crane story made horribly macabre.

What a horrible price to pay in order to grow as a continent.
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