LinkFest 2016-01-10

Jane Jacobs on Cities

Jerry Pournelle recommended reading Jane Jacobs, so I read The Death and Life of Great American Cities. It was an absolutely fascinating book. In retrospect, I'm not surprised that Jerry recommended it. The Death and Life of Great American Cities is a masterwork from the era of the Kennedy Enlightenment. It represents the best that post-WWII American liberalism had to offer, which was in fact pretty good. However, it also represented a certain amount of hubris, and an over-quantification of things that cannot necessarily be quantified. Jacobs saw something true and good about American cities, and then her disciples tried to enshrine that insight in zoning laws and the results were not uniformly pretty.

The increased risk of death at out of hospital birth isn’t small after all

This was a pretty interesting study in the New England Journal of Medicine. The headline for this study is: out-of-hospital birth more risky than in-hospital. That was intriguing, and after reading the study the best I can say is: maybe. The study used a nice data set from Oregon that allowed the authors to tease out a distinction between births that actually happened out of the hospital, compared with births that were intended to out of the hospital but ended up in the hospital. If you only look at births that happened outside hospitals, the overall risk of perinatal death [stillbirths plus deaths during or shortly after childbirth] is the same as in the hospital. However, if you include women who transfer sometime during labor from outside the hospital to inside, the risk goes up to something like double. This is a tricky study, because the patient populations are way different in these two cases. For one, only something like 4% of all births in Oregon aren't in the hospital, which is among the highest rate in the nation. Also, out-of-hospital births are among women older, whiter, and richer than average. Those things matter. I think the most important sentence in the study is this one from the results section: 

In post hoc analyses that assessed the risk of a composite neonatal outcome (fetal death, infant death, a 5-minute Apgar score of less than 4, or neonatal seizures) and the risk of cesarean delivery in subgroups defined according to parity, maternal age, maternal education, and maternal risk profile, we found a significant interaction of maternal age with the planned birth setting for the neonatal composite outcome (P=0.02 for interaction) and of parity and maternal education with planned birth location for the outcome of cesarean section (P<0.001 for interaction for both). 

There is a lot to parse here, but when I was trained in statistics, finding an interaction means you don't report on the main effect at all. What do I mean by this? I'll show you a picture from the article to illustrate:

Two of the risk factors really stand out from the rest. Maternal age [meaning 35+] and high-risk [meaning gestational diabetes and/or eclampsia]. Either of those things in isolation increases risk for childbirth. Both together are pretty bad news. I think the real story here is that women over 35 with high-risk pregnancies [diabetes, eclampsia] shouldn't deliver outside of a hospital, but I would have said that without reading this study. To really answer the question, the authors should have compared the risk in the same higher risk population from their in-hospital dataset. Unfortunately, they didn't. I know why the results got spun the way they did. In an era of social media, that is the best way to get attention. I read about this on Twitter [on my phone, no less]. Unfortunately, that carries some risk too.

Germany on the Brink

The New Year's Eve mass sexual assault/riot in Cologne looks really, really bad for Angela Merkel. 

Hillary's Emailgate goes Nuclear

John Schindler, current historian, former NSA, wonders about the real source of Sid Blumenthal's email to Hillary Clinton. 

The Long View: World War III

Vault Boy checking the size of a mushroom cloudIn the 1950s, there really wasn't any reason to be terrified of nuclear weapons. The Soviets had them, but they didn't have very many, and it took a long time for a bomber to fly across the Arctic Circle. The strategic planners and civil defense authorities of the day reacted accordingly. With that settled, they could turn to the far more interesting question of, what would happen if Soviet tanks came pouring through the Fulda Gap.

Dropshot was a plan for war written in 1949, drawing on all the practical experience gained during the Second World War. While it was written in 1949, it seems perfectly adapted to the actual President in 1957, Dwight D. Eisenhower. John recasts Eisenhower as a crafty Machiavellian political genius who was far better at playing the Great Game with the Soviets than Kennedy or Johnson. You would have wanted someone sober and experienced at the helm when World War III came.

As such, John decides to have some fun by killing off Eisenhower and having the American people elect Adlai Stevenson over Richard Nixon. When then Soviets do invade, there is a far more excitable Commander in Chief.

Dropshot imagines the worst. The Soviets take Central Europe, the Middle East, and parts of Japan. You can find its like commonly represented in popular fiction, from Kornbluth's Not this August to Red Dawn. However, unlike most of those stories, Dropshot manages to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, and it plans for the eventual NATO counter-attack and occupation of Soviet Russia.

The successful conclusion of World War III with an American victory would have meant that the End of History arrived thirty years earlier than it actually did. It also would have enshrined the command economy known as War Socialism into the American psyche. The Sixties would have been cancelled for the duration of the emergency.

Part of the fun of alternative history is trying to figure out what would be the same, and what would be different if some major event or decision went another way. John imagined that we would have ultimately ended up in a similar place once the command economies and sober publics of a post-WWIII era lost their strictures with time, but that the world would ultimately have been worse off for a having fought another war of global reach, even if it were the more limited kind of war Dropshot envisioned.

We might never have enjoyed all the electronic marvels that came out of Silicon Valley, side benefits of the race to build ICBMs. The post-WWII economic growth in America, Western Europe, and East Asia would likely have never happened either. Japan and Korea would still be largely agricultural economies, rather than the advanced technological powerhouses we see today. Growth and progress would still have happened eventually, but the societies that experienced them would be less able to benefit, because demographic transition and cultural change had already occurred decades earlier. The world we live in has some not so nice features, but it far from the worst imaginable world.

World War III in 1957

 

 


Part I


 

 

The year 1957 is not chosen at random. That is the year contemplated by "Dropshot," the U.S. plan for a third world war, which governed strategic thinking for the 1950s. Originally created in 1949, the plan was eventually released under the Freedom of Information Act. It was published, with commentary, in 1978 by Anthony Cave Brown in a book entitled "Dropshot." The war described by that book is the starting point for this article, though my discussion departs from it in many particulars. I would like to consider three topics:

(1) How could such a war could have started?

(2) What would the course of the war have been?

(3) What would postwar history have been like?

A preliminary matter that must be dealt with is the role of nuclear weapons. The writers of Dropshot in 1949 did not think that nuclear weapons would be decisive. Their use would have been optional except in retaliation. Though atomic bombs are devastating if you can transport them someplace where they can do damage, the only means then available was the bomber. This made delivery highly problematical, especially between continents. The writers did note that their assessment would be obsolete if these weapons could be married to rockets capable of flying between North America and Eurasia. As it happened, the era of the Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) did not really begin until the early 1960s. As late as the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, the Soviets were estimated to have only about 50 ICBMs, none in hardened silos. (The Pentagon expressed confidence to President Kennedy that the U.S. could destroy them before they could be launched. Kennedy was not enthusiastic about putting this confidence to the test).

Thus, while Dropshot did anticipate that the U.S. would be able to make successful nuclear strikes at a few Soviet industrial facilities, it judged that these would not be enough to determine the course of the war. Dropshot forecast that the Soviets would be able to drop no more than two atomic bombs on the United States, and that only if they were lucky. It now appears that those "duck and cover" instructional films that were shown in schools starting in the 1950s were less irrational than later opinion has assumed. If you were affected by one of these strikes at all, you were likely to be some distance from ground zero, where precautions against blast and fallout would make perfect sense. We should also note that the relative immunity to atomic attack enjoyed by the United States would not have applied to the European members of NATO. Even in Europe, however, Dropshot did not believe that atomic weapons would be decisive, or even necessarily used at all.

With these points settled, we may begin the discussion proper:

(1) How could such a war could have started? It could not have started by accident. The hair-trigger nuclear response procedures which characterized the later stages of the Cold War simply did not exist during the period in question. There was no need for them, since it would have taken hours for a nuclear-armed bomber to reach its target. Indeed, the leaders of the U.S. and the Soviet Union would have been less constrained than were the leaders of the major European powers in August 1914. The intricate mass mobilization plans devised by France and Germany in preparation for the First World War could not really be controlled once they were started. They were intimately tied to strategic plans of offense and defense which required major battles to occur within days of the start of mobilization. A war in 1957 between the United States and the Soviet Union would have started very differently. The mobilization of whole continents is necessarily a leisurely affair. The plans the newly mobilized armies would have been called on to execute would have been calculated in terms of months or years. Therefore, though accidental skirmishes between East and West might have occurred in Europe or the Mediterranean in the 1950s, an actual war would probably have to have been deliberate.

Since the Dropshot war is defensive, at least in its opening stages, we must imagine a situation in which the Soviets launch a general offensive to occupy Western Europe (and various other places, as we will see below.) This would have required a Soviet leadership that believed a decisive victory for communism was achievable by military means, and a U.S. leadership that was either threatening or indecisive or both. The first requirement would have been met by the survival of Stalin into a vigorous old age. Though Stalin died in 1953, he would have only 78 years old in 1957, hardly old enough to get a driver's license in Georgia. The Stalin whom Solzhenitsyn described in his novel, "The First Circle," planned to fight and win a decisive third world war. Let us then imagine the old tyrant succumbing to delusions of omnipotence because of his overwhelming victory in the Second World War, yet frightened by events he sees happening on the other side of the world.

There is a good argument to made that the United States took as little hurt from the Cold War as it did because the president during the 1950s was that logistics expert, Dwight David Eisenhower. Throughout his presidency, experts from the Pentagon would come to him with estimates of the terrifying strength of the Soviet Union and proposals for huge increases in conventional forces which would be necessary to counter it. Eisenhower, who had been a five star general, knew just how seriously to take assessments of this type. Using his own good judgment to gauge just what the Soviets could or would do, he starved the U.S. military during the 1950s to let give the consumer economy room to breath. It was a risk, but history shows that he was right to take it. (His successor, John Kennedy, lacking this self-assurance, tended to act on the assumption that the most pessimistic assessment was the correct one, which was part of the reason for the Vietnam War.) Eisenhower knew that the Soviets were a real threat, one that had to be contained. In this he was right: the attempts by revisionist historians to ascribe the Cold War to American paranoia are tendentious. He was also right in believing that containment, as distinguished from rollback, could be achieved by feint and threat. He could make threats effectively because he was a known quantity to the Soviet leadership. They knew he was a cautious commander, that he would not start a fight if he did not have to, that he was not easily deceived. Even when they lied to him, they lied within limits understood by both sides.

Let us picture an alternative president. Suppose that Eisenhower is out on the golf links in September of 1956, taking a short break from his not-very-grueling campaign for almost certain reelection, when he has a fatal heart attack. His running mate, Vice President Richard Nixon, was even then a man of ambiguous reputation. Nixon assumes the top spot on the Republican ticket, and he has few if any differences with his boss's sober military and foreign policies. However, people quickly form the impression that he is too young and too opportunistic to be president yet. They therefore turn, with a sigh of resignation, to the Democratic presidential contender, Adlai Stevenson. Stevenson, of course, had many gifts. He was intelligent, well-informed, and articulate to a degree rare among American politicians. Stevenson was a genuine intellectual. Unfortunately, he was also a windbag in the great tradition of William Jennings Bryan and a sentimental internationalist in the tradition of Woodrow Wilson. Sentiment and kindness are not the same thing, so foreign affairs conducted by sentimental statesmen are often envenomed to an unusual degree.

Stevenson's foreign policy is itself a good illustration. John Kenneth Galbraith, who helped write Stevenson's speeches in the early 1950s, has remarked that part of his job consisted of toning down the virtual declarations of war against the Soviet Union that Stevenson usually inserted in his first drafts. Doubtless some of this rhetoric was intended merely to counter the impression that the Democratic Party was soft on Communism. However, it cannot be denied that Stevenson felt the policy of Cold War containment was immoral because it did not go far enough. He did not favor an attack on the Soviet Union, but he did want it pressured from all directions with physical and moral force. This was what Ronald Reagan actually did in the 1980s, with considerable success. However, Reagan and his advisers knew that the Soviet Union had exhausted the growth capacity of a command economy, that the system was strong but brittle. In the 1950s, by contrast, the Soviet Union was growing and confident. Stevenson would not have been deterred by this well-known fact; he had the sort of mind that regarded mere practicality as rather tawdry. His idealism would have been costly. Even a symbolic threat to the Soviet Empire, as it then was, would have brought results quite different from those of thirty years later.

If the parties to the Cold War had wanted a military showdown, they would have had several perfectly suitable occasions in 1956, notably the Suez Crisis and the Hungarian Uprising. Had Stalin still been alive at that time, it is conceivable that he would have started to deal with the peoples of Eastern Europe as he had begun to deal with the peoples of the Soviet Union in the 1930s. Certainly some Eastern Europeans believed that Stalin was planning massive movements of populations and the vigorous purging of pre-World War II society. If this happened, an outraged Stevenson Administration might then have announced its intention to send a standby expeditionary force to Western Europe to support any future popular uprisings in Eastern Europe. Less suspicious rulers than Stalin would have been moved to preemptive action in such an event. He would not have been reassured by the interminable flow of moralistic rhetoric that President Stevenson could have been relived upon to produce. There would have been too much of it to read, much less analyze. Stalin could easily have decided that he could no longer wait for his creatures in Western Europe to take power through force or fraud. Hoping for a decisive victory before the U.S. expeditionary force could arrive, he sends his armies across the north German plain to take the ports on the English Channel.

(2) What would the course of the war have been? The Dropshot study is not a belligerent document. It seems to be one of those common bureaucratic plans which deliberately present a scenario so hair-raising that its intended readers will be dissuaded from ever trying it in real life. It does, of course, wildly overestimate anything the Soviet could or would do. In addition to the main thrust across northwestern Europe, it contemplates simultaneous Soviet offensives into the Middle East and Japan. (For reasons wholly obscure, it directs that Hokkaido, the northernmost and least populous of the main Japanese islands, be abandoned.) Its assessment of the early course of the war in Europe, however, was certainly realistic in 1949, and might still have held true in 1957. The gist of the forecast was two months of unrelieved disaster. While the planners hoped to stop the offensive somewhere in Germany, their sober assessment was that it would have been difficult even to hold Britain. Readers of Norman Schwartzkopf's memoir, "It Doesn't Take A Hero," will recall his description of the state of the U.S. Army in the 1950s. At least that part of it stationed in the United States was a hollow force of badly trained conscripts. Its equipment was ill-maintained and its senior officer corps consisted disproportionately of World War II veterans who would not otherwise have had jobs. This was the Army that was sent to fight in Vietnam, with what results we know. While doubtless the emergency of a world war would have quickly brought improvements, the opening phases of the war would have had to be fought with what the U.S. had on hand. What it had was not all that good.

In some ways, an actual world war fought in 1957 would have been fought under even worse conditions than those envisioned in 1949. When Dropshot was being developed, the fate of China was still in doubt. The maps that come with the plan show China with a Communist north and a Nationalist south. The study discusses the country mostly in terms of natural resources and as a bridge to French Indochina. In reality, by 1957 China was a united ally of the Soviet Union. It had a significant military, as proven by the Korean War. As we know now, Chairman Mao tended to needle the Soviet leadership for being too accommodating to the West. By some accounts, he even proposed an offensive war against the West to Nikita Khruschev, offering tens of millions of soldiers and even the union of China with the USSR. Of course, China had (and has) little striking power beyond its own borders, and the Soviet Union could not have come near to supplying the Chinese Red Army with the equipment for offensive capabilities. Still, the Sino-Soviet alliance in a World War would have been a formidable opponent. It is perfectly plausible that some Chinese armies would have fought not just around China's perimeter, but in France and Germany.

The worst case scenario for such a war is available, not in Dropshot, but in a 1955 novel by C.M. Kornbluth, entitled "Not This August." We hear about the war mostly in retrospect, since in the first few pages the president of the United States surrenders to the Communist alliance in a radio address. The bulk of the book is a description of the Soviet occupation, as it affects a single small town. The war lasted for three years, and it was not so different from the Dropshot war. Nuclear weapons were not a decisive factor. The Soviets take all of Europe and, using its resources and Chinese manpower, contrive to defeat the American fleet, make a landing in Central America and work their way north. The U.S. surrenders when the American front in Texas collapses.

It might seem a bit premature to surrender with the enemy only on the southern border, but the author paints a good picture of a society that has already been bled white. All available manpower and industrial capacity have been diverted to the war, and still it is not enough. Dropshot contemplates a comparable degree of mobilization. Thirty million people of both sexes would have been needed to win the war the plan laid out. It would not have been an economically invigorating war, as the Second World War was for the United States. Wars are only invigorating if the economy has a lot of unused potential which would go to waste if not used for military production. This was the case with the American economy in 1940, but not in 1957. Rather, it would have been like the Second World War was for Great Britain, with every warm body either in the service or doing something to support the war effort, and with civilian production at destitution levels. During and after the Second World War, a number of laws were passed giving the president standby authority to nationalize or otherwise commandeer most of the industrial plant of the U.S. in the event of a national emergency. Universal conscription was, in principle, already in place. In the course of the war against the Communist alliance, the U.S. would itself have become a command-economy state.

Part II of World War III in 1957



In actuality, or course, even if the Soviets got to Antwerp, they would be most unlikely to have arrived in Amarillo three years later. Rather than the immediate loss of Western Europe, we must imagine Central Europe becoming a debatable region. After absorbing the initial offensive, Dropshot calls for NATO to hold the line while the resources of the United States were mobilized. Realistically, this could have taken at least a year. During that time, it would have been extremely difficult to keep NATO together. One of the points which "Not This August" emphasizes as a factor in the defeat of the United States is the role of the Communist underground. The state of the evidence suggests that such a concern may be more than simple McCarthyite paranoia. The part played by Communists and communist sympathizers in the politics and culture of the U.S. in the 1930s and 1940s is still insufficiently appreciated. If I had to name a single book to support this point, I would suggest the last of Upton Sinclair's "Lanny Budd" novels, entitled "A World to Win." Published in 1946, it describes sympathetically the adventures of a wealthy American Communist as he moves about the world during and just before the war, helping to organize the fight against Fascism. The author, who made no secret of his own leftist sympathies, describes the pro-Soviet cells which exist everywhere in the U.S., in Hollywood and Washington and the arts. This, of course, was all edifying progressive fiction, but it seems to have been fictionalized rather than fantastic.

The pro-Soviet streak in America politics did real harm during the Molotov-Ribbentrop pack, when it actively impeded U.S. attempts to prepare for World War II. It continued to do harm throughout the Cold War era, up to and including the "Nuclear Freeze" movement of the 1980s, which nearly succeeded in depriving American negotiators of the bargaining power they needed to get the Soviets to reduce the number of nuclear weapons. While this force in American politics would have been as active as possible during a U.S.-Soviet war, they might not have counted for that much, considering the high degree of national unity there would have been. In any event, they would have worked through front groups as much as possible. This would not have been the case in Europe. The powerful Communist Parties in France and Italy were openly and proudly pro-Soviet, indeed pro-Stalin. They could and would have organized work stoppages and mutinies. The peace movements they would have supported would have been particularly persuasive with hostile and at least temporarily triumphant armies only a few hundred miles away. Even if they could not have forced their countries to surrender, they could have made all but the most perfunctory participation in the war impossible.

Still, these political difficulties would have been no more insurmountable than those that had to be overcome to win the Second World War. Assuming, therefore, that NATO holds together while it rearms and regroups, the second phase of the war could begin. Dropshot contemplated an offense that would ultimately result in the occupation of the Soviet Union. Again, however, it did nothing to suggest that anyone would enjoy trying this in real life. The plan considered the various ways that the Soviet Union might have been invaded, and finds all but one of them either impractical, like a drive north from the Middle East, or useless, like an invasion of the Soviet Far East. The only way to do it is the hard way, back eastward across the north German plain and into Poland. Securing the Balkans would be necessary simply to secure this endeavor.

Having defeated the Soviet armies in Eastern Europe, the rest of the war would have resembled the German campaign of 1941, but without Hitler's mental problems. I can summarize the final stage of the war no better than by quoting Dropshot itself:

"22. In the event of war with the USSR, we should endeavor by successful military and other operations to create conditions which would permit satisfactory accomplishment of U.S. objectives without a predetermined requirement for unconditional surrender. War aims supplemental to our peacetime aims should include:

"a. Eliminating Soviet Russian domination in areas outside the borders of any Russian state allowed to exist after the war.

"b. Destroying the structure of relationships by which the leaders of the All-Union Communist Party have been able to exert moral and disciplinary authority over individual citizens, or groups of citizens, in countries not under Communist control.

"c. Assuring that any regime or regimes which may exist on traditional Russian territory in the aftermath of a war:

(1) Do not have sufficient military power to wage a war.

(2) Impose nothing resembling the present Iron Curtain over contacts with the outside world.

"d. In addition, if any Bolshevik Regime is left in any part of the Soviet Union, ensuring that it does not control enough of the military-industrial potential of the Soviet Union to enable it to wage war on comparable terms with any other regime or regimes which may exist on traditional Russian territory.

"e. Seeking to create postwar conditions which will:

(1) Prevent the development of power relationships dangerous to the security of the United States and international peace.

(2) Be conducive to the development of an effective world organization based on the purposes and principles of the United Nations.

(3) Permit the earliest practicable discontinuance within the United States of wartime controls."

This passage is not without relevance to the state of the world in 1995. Let us imagine, however, that all this has been achieved, but the year is only 1960.

(3) What would postwar history have been like?

The burden of Arnold Toynbee's great multivolumed work, "A Study of History," is that our civilization has broken down and that it is now (during the 20th century) in a "time of troubles," like the Hellenistic period in the ancient West and the Era of Contending States in China. Such periods are characterized by "world wars." In the course of them, one great power delivers a "knockout blow" to its main rival, and sooner or later goes on to establish a universal state, like the Roman Empire. The war Dropshot envisioned would have been such a blow. Actually, Toynbee thought that a third world war would probably be started by the United States and won by the Russians, "because they have a more serious attitude toward life." Be that as it may, since we are working with the U.S. war plan, let us consider what the result of a Western victory would have been.

The world of 1960 after Dropshot would have been poorer than the real world of that time. Africa and the great arc of Eurasia around Russia would have collapsed into ethnic squabbling as the reach and attention of the great powers were withdrawn. On the whole, the non-communist countries of East Asia might have been invigorated, as they were by the Korean and Vietnam Wars. However, there would have been no comparable world demand for consumer goods for these countries to exploit. They could well have experienced a war boom, followed by prolonged depressions, as their home markets slowly recovered.

China, we assume, would have been part of the losing alliance. Dropshot did not devote a great deal of attention to it. If the plan had actually been implemented, it is unlikely that country would have been the scene of major U.S. operations. However, with China's attention diverted toward supporting the Soviet war effort, it is conceivable that the U.S. might have backed a Nationalist reinvasion of southern China. It is debatable whether this would have found wide support. The Communist regime did not begin to mismanage the country significantly until the Great Leap Forward of the late 1950s, a program which presumably would have been postponed in the event of a war. However, what with the stresses of a lost war and such resentment against the regime as had already been generated, it is possible that China would have fallen apart, much as it had during the warlord era of the 1920s, and as it may again in the later 1990s when Deng Xiao Peng dies.

The biggest differences between a post-Dropshot world and the actual world of 1960 would have been in Russia, Europe and the United States. Russia and Eastern Europe in the late 1950s were still recovering from the effects of World War II, and the last thing they needed was another war. In some ways, perhaps, the Dropshot war would been less damaging than the Second World War, since it was supposed to be faster and would not have been directed against civilians. The plan called for a war of tanks, fought for the most part on the plains of northern Europe. It would still have been a catastrophe, but one that would not have returned the region to 1945 levels.

Russia in 1960 might have been better able to make the transition to a market economy than it was in the 1990s, for the simple reason there was a substantial portion of the population who were already adults during the last period when free enterprise had been allowed to operate, during Lenin's "New Economic Policy" of the 1920s. It might, for instance, have been fairly simple to recreate peasant agriculture. On the other hand, Russian industry in the 1950s was even more strictly military than it was in the final stages of the Soviet Union in the 1980s. Since the military occupation of Russia in 1960 would have been largely concerned with closing down the country's military potential, this would have meant closing down all but a small fraction of the country's industry. The country would have become, at least for a while, a country of peasants and priests. This prospect might warm the heart of Alexander Solzhenitsyn, but the reality might not have been sustainable.

In Western Europe, the 1950s boom would gave been cancelled. Even assuming the Dropshot war did less damage than the Second World War, still it would have been the third major war in the region in fifty years. Maybe that would have been too much. People can only be expected to rebuild so many times before they begin to despair about the future. It is hard to imagine the normal market mechanisms of savings and investment operating at all in such environment. What fool would invest money in a society that seemed to explode every 20 years? Who would even want to keep money? People would try to turn their savings into tangible assets as quickly as possible. The cloud of despondency would ultimately lift, of course, but would be greatly impeded by the factor we will consider below.

Even in America, collectivism would have triumphed. As several historians have pointed out, what we call socialism is simply the institutionalization in peacetime of the command economy measures devised by Britain and Germany to fight the First World War. These institutions would have been greatly strengthened throughout the West, but especially in the United States, by the experience of two world wars so close in occurrence. We should remember that enlightened opinion in the U.S. of the 1950s was that command economies really were superior in most was to market economies. It was universally assumed that pro-market policies could never cure underdevelopment in the Third World. Certainly the literature of the era is filled with ominous observations that the Soviet Economy was growing much faster than the U.S. economy during the same period. If the highly regimented American economy envisioned by Dropshot had actually succeeded in winning the Third World War, this attitude might have become a fixed assumption of American culture, as it did in so many other countries during the same period. Private enterprise would doubtless have continued to constitute a major share of economic activity, but it would have been so tightly regimented as to be virtually a creature of the state. And there would have been no example, anywhere on Earth, of an important country that did things differently.

The '60s, as we knew them, would also have been cancelled. Partly, of course, this would have been because the country would have been broke. Everyone would have had a job with a fixed salary, of course, but there would have been little money for cars or highways or private houses. America would have remained a country of immense, densely populated cities, most of which would have consisted of public housing. The biggest difference would have been the psychology of the younger generation. The young adults of the 1950s, who had been children during the Second World War, could not have conceived of allowing themselves the indiscipline and disrespect shown by the young adults of the actual 1960s. The "Silent Generation" of the 1950s knew from their earliest experiences that the world was a dangerous place and the only way to get through it was by cooperation and conformity. If Dropshot had occurred, their children, the babyboom children, would have been even more constrained in childhood and correspondingly more well-behaved in young adulthood. Doubtless there would still have been something of an increase in the percentage of the young in higher education in the 1960s, but the campuses would have been a sea of crewcuts and neat bobs, white shirts and sensible shoes. The popular music would not have been memorable.

The world after Dropshot would have had certain advantages, of course. Total world expenditures on the military would probably have been much smaller than was actually the case. The nuclear arms race would never have occurred. Indeed, the more alarming types of nuclear missile, those with multiple warheads, would never have been invented. It would have been a world much less cynical than the one which actually occurred. The three world wars would have provided a sense of closure which modern history has not yet achieved. This time, finally, all the great evils of the century would have been defeated. It would be unlikely to have resulted in Toynbee's universal state, at least not during the 20th century. The American people would probably have been as sick of the Adlai Stevenson Democrats after the Third World War as they were of the Roosevelt Democrats after the Second World War. The country would have kicked the victors out of office and sought to turn inward. America would not have been enthusiastic about further adventures for a long time to come.

The exhausted world I have described would doubtless have revived in a few decades. Nations would have broken out of the cultural constraints that the experience of universal conscription tend to impose on a generation. People would slowly realize that their highly regulated economies were not really keeping them safe but were really keeping them poor. There would be an episode of restructuring as technologies developed for the military were finally converted to consumer use, and old subsidized industries were allowed to die. All in all, the world of 1995 after Dropshot might have been similar to the one we see today. Still, it would have been reached at immensely greater cost, both economic and spiritual. We are not living in the best of all possible worlds, but it could easily have been worse.

 


Copyright © 1996 by John J. Reilly


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The Long View: The Prophet of Decline

Spengler with hairOswald Spengler remains of interest in the early twenty-first century because he managed to eerily predict some features of the world today. He didn't get everything right, for example his prediction that the United States would not survive the stress of the Great Depression, but he did manage to foresee both the Cold War and its resolution.

While the Decline of the West is Spengler's best known work, John here looks at the possibility that Spengler's unexpected death prevented him from elaborating on his theory of history [and probably also prevented the Nazis from eventually needing to deal with his anti-Hitler snark]

Arnold Toynbee would later publish a tremendous tome, in twelve volumes, expanding this kind of historical analysis from Spengler's seven civilizations to twenty-six.  While these men were rough contemporaries, the tone of their respective works are very different. The circumstances of their lives could not be more different either. Which makes the parallels between them so much more interesting.

Toynbee became something like the court philosopy of the Kennedy Enlightenment, thanks to Henry Luce. His works were more friendly to the role of religion in society, and more upbeat in general than Spengler's. However, in the end, even cranky old Spengler started talking less about decline [Untergang] and more about perfection [Vollendung]. In science, it is common for multiple researchers to independently converge on the same idea at about the same time. It looks very much like something similar was operating here.

Prophet of Decline:
Spengler on World History and Politics
by John Farrenkopf
Louisiana University Press, 2001
$24.96, 304 pages
ISBN 0-8071-2727-2

The first volume of Oswald Spengler's great comparative study of history, "The Decline of the West," was published in 1918, just as his native Germany lost the First World War. Spengler (1880-1936) has been with us ever since, though often only in caricature. Sometimes his name stands for little more than the sentiment of "historical pessimism," or for the proposition that "history repeats itself." After the Cold War, discussions about the "clash of civilizations" and hegemonic diplomacy raised issues that Spengler had first broached 80 years before. The time has come for Spengler's work to be critically reintroduced to a 21st century audience.

John Farrenkopf, an independent scholar who has labored in the Spengler Archive in Munich, here provides a guide to the current state of Spengler studies, particularly in Germany, as well as provocative conclusions based on his own archival work. "Prophet of Decline" answers many common questions about Spengler's politics. The most interesting part of the book, however, is the thesis that Spengler expanded his ideas after "The Decline of the West" into what is really a second, largely unpublished theory of history. The book even has a picture of the notoriously shiny-pated Spengler with hair. Revisionism can go too far.

Since the last quarter of the 19th century, many people have suggested that the modern era of the West bore significant similarities to the Hellenistic era and the late Roman Republic, a period running roughly from the death of Alexander the Great (330 B.C.) to the assassination of Julius Caesar (44 B.C.) Spengler elaborated this idea in two ways. First, he attempted to work out the analogy systematically. Other writers had noted parallels in the exacerbation of Great Power rivalries. Spengler went beyond that, arguing for parallels in the exhaustion of artistic styles, the domination of both periods by a few great cities, and even claiming that science and mathematics approached final formulations in similar ways in antiquity and modernity. Far more originally, he tried to identify similar patterns of development in seven other "High Cultures." Thus, not just the Greco-Roman World, but Egypt, ancient China, India and other societies had also experienced "modern eras" of two or three centuries. Each had also had its own peculiar "age of faith" (the pyramids, in Spengler's terminology, were "contemporary" with the Gothic cathedrals of Europe) and its cultural climax in a "Baroque."

Despite the many specific examples the "Decline" employs, the logic of the work is not empirical but metaphysical. It accepts Nietzsche's rejection of Kant's historical optimism, but embraces the limits set by traditional German idealism on the power of pure reason. The story of the High Cultures, in fact, is the tale of societies that seek to transcend the power of human understanding and fail. One may not like this kind of reasoning, but the fact remains that Spengler was the first philosopher of world history to really try to write about the world, rather than just dismiss the other great civilizations as a mere prologue to Western history.

Farrenkopf gives us a summary of the enormous critical reaction to "The Decline of the West." The critiques often said that Spengler's analogies were factually wrong, or claimed that Spengler's analogies were so obvious as not to need saying; a few critics said both in the same review. What really exasperated his critics from the first, however, was the fact that Spengler's "morphology" of the history of High Cultures had obvious implications for the future of the West. If the analogy from other "modernities" held, then, probably around the end of the 21st century, the West should collapse into a universal empire, with a culture that would ultimately become as stiff and curatorial as Egypt's during the New Kingdom. In the meanwhile, money and democracy would increasingly hollow out the traditional forms of society, until both collapsed in the face of mere power politics. Wars would reach a climax of technical sophistication and speed, even as nations disintegrated internally. This was a gospel of bad news, but Spengler used the worldwide notoriety of "The Decline of the West" to become its prophet. From the start, his success was mixed.

Spengler conceived the idea for "The Decline of the West" during the Agadir Crisis of 1911, when he realized that a general European war was inevitable. As he put it, the West was entering a period of two centuries of wars for world power, like that between the Battles of Cannae (216 B.C.) and Actium (31 B.C.). Because Germany appeared as a nation state late in Western history, just as Rome did in the Classical world, and because it was an economically dynamic power at the periphery of the ancient core of its wider culture, just as Rome had been relative to Greece, Spengler assumed that Germany would play a role in late Western history like that of Rome in late antiquity. That is, it would overcome the other Great Powers, establish hegemony over Europe, and go on to create an "imperium mundi," a universal empire that might, ephemerally, encompass the whole planet.

Spengler was a man of wide education, with a PhD in philosophy, though his day job had been teaching mathematics in a secondary school. He had quit some years before 1914 to pursue his literary interests, supported by a small but apparently adequate inheritance from his mother. Unfortunately, his property was largely in American stocks, the income from which became inaccessible during the First World War. He spent the war freezing in a Munich garret, working on the "Decline" and hoping his medical exemption from military service held up. Despite his threadbare circumstances, he took time out to compose a "memorial" for the Kaiser, explaining how best to navigate the difficult years that would follow a German victory. Examining this unfinished and happily unposted document, Farrenkopf reports that Spengler was then instrumentally friendly to democracy. Spengler suggested that support for the monarchy would be strengthened if the bourgeoisie and working classes were given real responsibility, which would have required a more democratic franchise than the class-weighted voting system of Prussia. It would also have required giving the Reichstag far more power than it had under Bismarck's constitution. Spengler came close to suggesting that the German government needed fewer monocle-wearing Junkers and more businessmen and labor leaders. Only thus could Germany achieve the degree of national cohesion necessary to carry out the foreign policy tasks that history had set for it.

The "Decline of the West" is not a political tract, or even a mirror of princes, but a densely philosophical work. Nonetheless, even Spengler's philosophical detachment was disturbed by the loss of the world war. Spengler accepted the "stab in the back" theory for the catastrophe: Germany was not defeated on the field, but betrayed by subversives and ideologues. He soured on democracy. In the years between the end of the war and the stabilization of the Weimar economy in 1924, he became involved in the plots among right-wing aristocratic circles to overthrow the fledgling government and establish an authoritarian regime. Farrenkopf relates that Spengler even spoke with army chief General Hans von Seeckt about becoming the minister of culture or education in such a government. (The general ultimately stayed loyal to the Weimar regime.) Spengler was peripherally involved with a prospective monarchist coup in Bavaria that was short-circuited by Hitler's own Beer Hall Putsch. Still, in those years Spengler did not spend all his time making a fool of himself, but elaborated a political philosophy that goes beyond the ideas he expressed in the "Decline."

The chief published presentation of this development is "Prussianism and Socialism" (1919), a short work in which Spengler tried to sketch a final philosophy of governance for the West. There were two options in competition for this role, he suggested. One was the "knightly" tradition, embodied in Prussia, of care for all and the will to plan for even the distant future. The other was the "Viking" tradition of the Anglo-American world. The Viking tradition could operate globally more easily than its competitor, but it was almost purely commercial. Its fate was therefore tied to that of financial capitalism, which Spengler believed to be an extreme and ephemeral characteristic of the modern era. What Germany needed to do, according to Spengler, was to rescue socialism from class warfare in general and Marxism in particular. The socialism of the future ("Ethical Socialism" was his term for it) would not be an economic theory, but a system of morality for the conduct of public affairs. To use a formula Spengler did not use, it would be the "chivalry" of the post-democratic elites of the coming centuries.

Farrenkopf makes some defense of Spengler's ideas about economics. The turn-of-the-millennium euphoria about a world of free-trade liberal capitalism (the "Viking" option) might not survive another systemic crisis, he reminds us. Additionally, one can say that Spengler's presentation of economic history as a branch of culture, subject to styles and "periods," is a refreshingly novel view of the subject. Even granting both points, I would suggest that Spengler's rather mercantilist preferences illustrate his limitations. Spengler spent his public career emphasizing the cultural unity of the West and the inevitability of the end of national sovereignty. Despite this, he seems never to have seen an international institution that he liked, either public ones like the League of Nations or private ones like the global banking houses. It is as if he imagined that the imperium mundi of which he dreamed would have no institutional predecessors.

Far more interesting than his politics, however, were the historical and philosophical concerns to which Spengler turned his attention after it became clear that the Weimar Republic would be around for a few more years.

Readers of "The Decline of the West" are often struck by the questions it does not answer. It does not explain how the group of "High Cultures" arose or what they have to do with each other. Quite the opposite: Spengler's method in his great book is perfect cultural relativism. Each High Culture is equivalent to all the rest. The peculiar ways of looking at the world that each culture develops is true for itself, but fundamentally incomprehensible for the people of the other cultures. While the High Cultures may borrow techniques from each other, they borrow nothing essential, and even what they borrow they put to uses peculiarly their own. (Spengler's best argument for this is mathematics, where he shows how the West put Classical geometry and Magian algebra to uses that were different in kind from those of the societies that invented them.) Historical meaning, in fact, occurs only within each High Culture; there is no truth for mankind as a whole.

In a scattering of unpublished notes, a few essays and one small book ("Man and Technics," 1931) Spengler modified much of this relativism, or at least created a larger context for it. He became deeply interested in the origin of civilized life. Cultures with civilizations (following an old tradition, Spengler reserved the term "Civilization" for the late phase of a High Culture) have existed for only a small fraction of the time that man has existed zoologically. Spengler at last pursued the possibility that all the High Cultures might be part of a larger story.

His researches persuaded him that man as we know him is quite young, on the order of 100,000 years. Spengler discerns four ages in the past, roughly the paleolithic (the bulk of human history), neolithic, precivilization (after the last ice age ended about 10,000 B.C.) and the time of the High Cultures, which began in the Near East about 3,000 B.C. This looks like a pattern of accelerated development, but Spengler goes farther even than that. Sounding more than a little like Arnold Toynbee, he says that the members of the class of High Cultures fall into generations, related by the widespread primitive societies from which they developed. The latter High Cultures are more powerful and profound than the earlier ones, with the West reaching a maximum. Indeed, he says that the final phase of the West opens a fifth and final age of the whole human story. By its end, the physical environment of the earth could be seriously disrupted. Human populations could fall back to the sparse numbers of precivilization. The species could even become extinct.

As Farrenkopf points out, what we see here is Spengler moving from qualified pessimism to full apocalyptic. In these fragments and short works, Spengler is reminiscent of Henry and Brooks Adams, or for that matter a negative image of Teilhard de Chardin. He sounds most of all like H.G. Wells in his last published work, "Mind at the End of Its Tether" (1945). Spengler never worked these new ideas into a coherent system, as he had hoped. (For one thing, he suffered a minor stroke in 1927, which made it difficult for him to concentrate on large projects.) He claimed repeatedly that he never changed his ideas about the pattern of historical development within each of the High Cultures. On the other hand, in his notes, he started to call them "End Cultures," so there was at least a change in emphasis.

In the "Decline," he had voiced an idea not uncommon around 1900, that Russia was a vital but still fundamentally primitive culture that would eventually supersede the West. While he never entirely took back the prediction that Russia wound someday add a ninth High Culture to his historical eight, in "Man and Technics" this becomes a "maybe." He calls the prospective Russian Culture a mere straggler. What clearly interests him far more is the dramatic vision of the High Cultures as a series of ever-greater failures, with the coming end of the West the greatest catastrophe of all.

This vision of ultimate doom, however, still left the question of how to manage the more immediate decline. As Farrenkopf points out, the destiny of the West as a High Culture is not purely pessimistic. As the era of Civilization advances, the West could be expected to produce a "final" version of science, of mathematics, of politics, of ethics, even a measure of universal peace in the imperium mundi. Spengler himself at one point suggested that he was really talking about the "Vollendung" of the West, its "fulfillment" or "perfection." ("The Perfection of the West"; now there's a title for you.) However, his advice about how to approach the terminal state was relentlessly anti-idealistic. The goal would not be achieved by nations and individuals cooperating to establish theoretically correct solutions, but through the unprincipled pursuit of national and individual self-interest.

The term for this attitude in the theory of international relations is "realism," and in fact Spengler's continuing currency rests on the relevance of his ideas to the anti-Wilsonian school of foreign policy. Indeed, one might call Spengler's theory of foreign affairs Social Darwinist, were it not for one thing: Spengler did not believe in Darwin. Part of Spengler's teaching certification required writing a thesis on evolutionary theory, so he was current with the biology of his day. He did not doubt that evolution had occurred, but he was inclined to doubt that it was a teleology of survival. Rather, it was an entelechy of creatures becoming more and more themselves. Thus, man could not make peace with nature by adapting his understanding to it. Man was what he was. As in the drama of the tragic character-flaw, man's story could only be the playing out of the consequences of his nature over time.

As Farrenkopf tells us, this is a far more fundamental objection to political realism than any posed by Wilsonian idealism. Realism and idealism presuppose there is a right answer; they differ only on how the world works. Spengler's apocalyptic realism, in contrast, suggests that, ultimately, there is no right answer. In the end, he counsels a historically informed Stoicism. This is not without practical merit, as we see in his last major work, "The Hour of Decision" (1933) and in his opposition to the Nazis.

Spengler's cranky anti-Nazism may have saved his ideas for serious consideration by future generations, but only barely. During the 1920s, Spengler had continued to hope for an authoritarian, perhaps monarchist successor to the Weimar Republic. He made clear his contempt for the Nazis' demagogy and mysticism. Spengler had complicated ideas about the relationship of the Jews to the West, but he did not think that the Jews were the cause of Germany's problems and he had little patience for anyone who claimed they were. Nonetheless, in the final crisis of the Republic, Spengler voted for Hitler twice, with the cryptic explanation that "one must support the Movement." If Spengler had shared the expectation on the Right that a government of old-line conservatives could restrain Hitler in office, he was quickly disappointed. In fact, he took the rather dangerous course of snubbing invitations from Propaganda Minister Goebbels himself, refusing to attend Nazi-sponsored events or to contribute his writings to Nazi publications. Still, his international reputation was such that he was able to publish "The Hour of Decision" in 1933, one of the few works critical of the regime that appeared during the Nazi period. Spengler's sudden death in 1936 may have saved him from arrest or exile.

Spengler being Spengler, "The Hour of Decision" was not a plea for parliamentary democracy and international understanding. Rather, he wanted to know why there were still all those marches and banners, even after the party had come to power. Did those people know what "government" meant? This book was not the occasion when Spengler made his famous anti-Hitler quip, "What Germany needs is a hero, not a heroic tenor," but the implication is there. Chiefly, though, he complained that Germany had no foreign policy and no military to speak of, this at a time that he characterized as the most fateful in all Western history. Clearly, Spengler said, a second world war was in the offing, one in which Germany faced not just a loss of status, but extinction.

Farrenkopf points out something that had escaped my notice, the extent to which "The Hour of Decision" anticipates the Cold War. Spengler understood the Bolshevik government of Russia to be alien to Russia. He thought it was destined to be overthrown, without much fuss, at no very distant date. However, he also suggested that, in the meantime, the anti-Western regime could use Bolshevism to organize the non-white world (a group among which he included the Russians themselves) against the West. At times, he seems to forget his nationalist realism and urge a united Western front against "Asia."

Spengler's advice here could have saved a world of trouble. He implicitly criticizes the Nazi regime again by advocating a purely defensive posture toward the East. We know from his letters and notes that he thought the idea of seeking "Lebensraum" in Russia was nonsense. In "The Hour of Decision," he emphasized that an invasion of Russia for purely strategic purposes was also unworkable; it would be simply a "thrust into empty space" that would not destroy Russia.

Quite aside from its relevance to the Cold War, Spengler's analysis does look a great deal like the "clash of civilizations" approach that gained favor among the foreign-policy realists of the 1990s. The chief point of difference is Spengler's assertion that old, fossilized civilizations could act only negatively. They could combat Western influence, but they could not become world powers. In contrast, the more recent realists seem to assume that anything is possible to any civilization, given the right circumstances. As Farrenkopf points out, it is still not completely clear who is right about this. Islam is a swamp, and India is a narrowly regional power. Even China could blow up from attempting to modernize. This is not to suggest that Spengler's prescience was ever better than uneven. "The Hour of Decision" contains the memorable prophecy that the United States could break up under stress of the economic collapse of the Great Depression. One successor state might well be a Bolshevik regime in the industrial Midwest, with its capital at Chicago. (Why Chicago? Was Spengler a fan of Bertolt Brecht?)

Regarding the United States, Farrenkopf notes that Spengler never treats it systematically. Sometimes, it is just a peripheral region of the English sphere, of no significance to the fate of the West. Sometimes, particularly in his earlier work, the US is a contender for the possible founder of the imperium mundi. Farrenkopf goes so far as to suggest that the United States actually did create the Western imperium mundi in 1945, 150 years ahead of schedule. Farrenkopf tries to fit the anomaly into Spengler's system by invoking Spengler's late idea of historical "acceleration." This really doesn't work. The temporal quantum in the life of Spengler's High Cultures is the generation, a measure that changes little over time. In any case, there is really nothing to explain. If you must look for an analogy, the situation of Rome after the end of the Second Punic War was not so different from that of the United States after the Second World War. Anyone who wants to see this idea worked out intelligently should read Amaury de Riencort's "The Coming Caesars" (1957).

Probably, though, it is better not to look for a close analogy. Spengler's belief that all international systems collapse into universal states has merit. So do his ideas about cultural "completion." So, more tentatively, does his time scale. Beyond that, the logic of his system does not make many specific predictions. Indeed, if we take seriously Spengler's protestations about the uniqueness of historical phenomena, we are required to resist the temptation to predict the future from analogy (something that, according to Farrenkopf, Spengler himself belatedly appreciated). Spengler's model would be consistent with a wide range of futures, from a distended Hohenzollern Empire to Toynbee's ecumenical society.

Farrenkopf observes that, as time went on, Spengler became less and less concerned with the prospect of universal empire and more worried about German national survival. "The Hour of Decision" is chiefly concerned about staving off mere chaos, another post-Cold War theme that Spengler anticipated. The path to the future that seemed so clear to Spengler when he was freezing in his Munich garret became obscure when he was a respected authority. Perhaps what we have here is not a growth of pessimism, but of a sense of responsibility.


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The Long View: Tragedy and Hope

The Magistra likes to watch period dramas on Netflix. This is a work of the same genre, although Quigley probably didn't know he was writing one at the time. This book is a fossil from that brief and peaceful period in the 1960s before the big cultural upheavals in 1968, which in this case really means something more like the 1950s for most Americans, but more stylish.

That was the time when "liberal Catholic" meant something like Pope Francis, left-of-center politically, but wholly orthodox. It was also a high point of the self-confidence of the West as a whole, and American liberalism in particular. One of the enthusiams of this book is Operations Research, a formal science that emerged out the the Second World War. This is a discipline that does not bulk large in anyone's mind today, but it was the nanotech of its day, capable of solving any problem in principle. John notes that the belief in Operations Research methods was part of what made Robert McNamara think the war in Vietnam could be managed using metrics and scientific methodology. This famously did not go well, although I can think of at least one old OR man who might dispute that interpretation.

Quigley's book has achieved a kind of fame, at least amongst the conspiracy minded, due to his singling out of the Round Table groups founded by Cecil Rhodes. The most familiar of these groups today is the Council on Foreign Relations, but Rhodes also founded the Rhodes Scholarships with the same motivation as the Round Table groups; he wanted to build an international network of public-minded and public-spirited men across the English-speaking world.

The Round Table groups were really just a spontaneous outgrowth of the first period of internationalization, when international trade began to rapidly outpace international institutions, and some mechanism was needed to fill the gap. Industrious Victorians like Rhodes were only too happy to come up with something clever to do just that. As international institutions caught up, the influence of the Round Table groups declined, if for no other reason than they were no longer the only players in the game.

Anglophilia and conspiracy theories are not the main interest of this book, however. Quigley summed up everything he thought was best about the Western world thus:

"The Outlook of the West is that broad middle way about which the fads and foibles of the West oscillate. It is what is implied by what the West says it believes, not at one moment but over the long succession of moments that form the history of the West. From that succession of moments it is clear that the West believes in diversity rather than in uniformity, in pluralism, rather than in monism, or dualism, in inclusion rather than exclusion, in liberty rather than in authority, in truth rather than in power, in conversion rather than in annihilation, in the individual rather than in the organization, in reconciliation rather than in triumph, in heterogeneity rather than in homogeneity, in relativisms rather than in absolutes, and in approximations rather than in final answers. The West believes that man and the universe are both complex and that the apparently discordant parts of each can be put into a reasonably workable arrangement with a little good will, patience, and experimentation. In man the West sees body, emotions, and reason as all equally real and necessary, and is prepared to entertain discussion about their relative interrelationships but is not prepared to listen for long to any intolerant insistence that any one of these has a final answer." [Page 1227]

While at first glance this might seem to be merely to be a summary of the early 1960s liberal consensus, its roots go far deeper. Quigley himself considered this to be an interpretation of Aquinas. That is defensible, there really are ideas like this in Aquinas's thinking. It is also not the only possible interpretation of Aquinas. But it does represent a durable line of thought in the history of the West.

This line of thought may or may not be true, but it has been with us a long time.


Tragedy and Hope:
A History of the World in Our Time
by Carroll Quigley
First Published 1966
The Macmillan Company
(Reprint GSG & Associates)
1,348 Pages, US$35.00
ISBN 0-945001-10-X

 

For reasons that are only partly the author's fault, "Tragedy and Hope" has become one of the key texts of conspiracy theory. Famous for its exposition of the workings of the Anglophile American establishment during the first half of the twentieth century, the book is reputed to have "named names" to such a degree that the hidden masters of the world tried to suppress the unabridged edition. It did not diminish the book's reputation that Carroll Quigley (1910-1977), a historian with the Foreign Service School at Georgetown University, made a deep impression on US-president-to-be Bill Clinton during Clinton's undergraduate years at that university. We have Mr. Clinton's own word on this, so it must be true.

 

If the hidden masters did try to suppress the book when it first appeared, they seem to have lost interest by now; the only problem I had buying this enormous volume was carrying the 15 pounds of it home. "Tragedy and Hope" has no notes, no bibliography, and a very inadequate index. As with the Bible, its sheer size has done something to ensure that it would be more cited than read. For what it is intended to be, a history of the world from about 1895 to 1964, the book is a failure. As Quigley acknowledges, there are insuperable problems of perspective in writing about one's own time. On the other hand, the book's prejudices are fascinating. It was written at the point in the 1960s just before the American liberal consensus began to unravel. Perhaps as important for Quigley, that was also the brief interval after the Second Vatican Council when "liberal Catholic" did not mean someone who rejected all dogma and tradition. Beyond its value as a period piece, however, the book occasionally transcends its time. Its remarks about the future, presumably a future more distant than our present, are close to becoming conventional wisdom today.

 

Quigley's frame of reference is roughly that of Arnold Toynbee: the West, including Europe, the United States, Latin America, and Australasia, has entered an Age of Crisis. Other civilizations, when faced with analogous crises, solved them by entering an Age of Universal Empire. Universal Empires, however, are morbid: they are stultifying at best and eventually collapse in any case. Quigley's objection is not to international institutions, or even to world government. What the West must do, according to Quigley, is end its Age of Crisis without creating a Universal Empire through military conquest. The problem with the 20th century, down to the 1960s, has been repeated attempts by persons and groups to achieve universal power by force or manipulation.

 

This analysis sounds much more interesting than it is. Quigley's tale is pretty much a vindication of President Franklin Roosevelt's administration (1933-1945). By Quigley's account, the failure to adopt the policies of those years earlier in the 20th century led to the disasters of the Depression and the Second World War, while the need of the decades that followed was to expand and perfect the Progressive tradition they embodied. Much of the reputation of this book among conspiracy theorists rests on its account of the world financial system of the 1920s, when the Bank of England no longer had the power to regulate the system, as it had before the First World War. The gap was filled by private institutions acting in collusion with the heads of the central banks, generally without oversight from the world's major governments. A combination of bad luck and stupidity made the system collapse at the end of the decade, so that currencies became inexchangeable, trade froze, and force displaced commerce both domestically and internationally. It's not hard to make ordinary banking practices sound like the work of the devil, and in this book the devil's little helpers are Morgans, Rothschilds, and Barings.

 

One can take or leave Quigley's long, very long, expositions of economic theory. Many readers will be inclined to leave an argument that suggests the whole of history was preparation for the ultimate enlightenment contained in John Kenneth Galbraith's "The Affluent Society," which argued for Keynsian macroeconomics and a mildly redistributive social policy. (Quigley clearly alludes to that book, published in 1958, but does not cite it.) In any case, Quigley described speculative, international finance-capitalism as a feature of the past; he did not think it had any relevance to his own day.

 

What chiefly ensured Quigley's work a lasting place in the pantheon of paranoia, however, was his attempt to provide a social context for this activity. This paragraph appears at the end of a tirade against McCarthyism:

 

"This myth, like all fables, does in fact have a modicum of truth. There does exist, and has existed for a generation, an international Anglophile network which operates, to some extent, in the way the radical Right believes the Communists act. In fact, this network, which we may identify as the Round Table Groups, has no aversion to cooperating with the Communists, or any other groups, and frequently does so. I know of the operations of this network because I have studied it for twenty years and was permitted for two years, in the early 1960s, to examine its paper and secret records. I have no aversion to it or to most of its aims and have, for much of my life, been close to it and to many of its instruments. I have objected, both in the past and recently, to a few of its policies (notably to its belief that England was an Atlantic rather than a European Power and must be allied, or even federated, with the United States and must remain isolated from Europe), but in general my chief difference of opinion is that it wishes to remain unknown, and I believe its role in history is significant enough to be known." [Page 950]

 

"Anglophilia" sounds like a debilitating psychological ailment, with some reason. In its American manifestation, it suggests a preference for tweedy clothes, water sports that don't require surf, and nominal affiliation with the Anglican Communion. The syndrome has a copious literature, much of it concerned with prep schools, but here is all you need to know in this context. The ideology of Quigley's network can apparently be traced to 19th century Oxford, indeed specifically to All Souls College, back when John Ruskin was expounding a compound of Gothic Revival aesthetics, the glory of the British Empire, and the duty to uplift the downtrodden poor. These ideas seized the imagination of Cecil Rhodes during his years at Oxford. He hoped for a federation of the whole English-speaking world, and provided the money and impetus for institutions to link those countries. (Lord Alfred Milner provided the organizing talent.) The best known of these efforts are the Rhodes Scholarships for study at Oxford. (Bill Clinton is among the many well-know recipients.) They also included informal "Round Table Groups" in the Dominions and the US, which sponsored local Institutes of International Affairs. The US version is the Council on Foreign Relations.

 

While the people in these groups were very influential (that is why they were asked to join), Quigley makes clear that the Round Tables never had everything their own way, even in the administration of colonial Africa, where both Rhodes and Milner were especially interested. As with the finance capitalists, the Anglophile network was essentially a league of private persons trying to fill a gap in the international system. As public institutions were created to exercise the Round Tables' consultative and communications functions, the network itself became less important.

 

Quigley makes the increasing marginalization of the Anglophile network perfectly clear, and in fact he does not suggest that it was ever more than one factor among many at any point in the 20th century. Nonetheless, it is his failing as a historian to suggest that a causal nexus can be inferred whenever two actors in a historical event can be shown to have met. Consider this excerpt from a discussion of the history of Iran:

 

"By that time (summer, 1953) almost irresistible forces were building up against [Prime Minister] Mossadegh, since lack of Soviet interference give the West full freedom of action. The British, the AIOC, the world petroleum cartel, the American government, and the older Iranian elite led by the shah combined to crush Mossadegh. The chief effort came from the American supersecret intelligence agency (CIA) under the personal direction of its director, Allen W. Dulles, brother of the secretary of State. DulIes, as a former director of the Schroeder Bank in New York, was an old associate of Frank C Tiarks, a partner in the Schroeder Bank in London since 1902, and a director of the Bank of England in 1912-1945, as well as Lazard Brothers Bank, and the AIOC. It will be recalled that the Schroeder Bank in Cologne helped to arrange Hitler's accession to power as chancellor in January 1933." [Page 1059]

 

I don't quite know what this is supposed to mean; that pretty much the same people overthrew Prime Minister Mossadegh as brought us Hitler? I am reminded of nothing so much as Monty Python's parody of an Icelandic saga, about the deeds of "Hrothgar, son of Sigismund, brother of Grundir, mother of Fingal, who knew Hermann, the cousin of Bob." Maybe this is Quigley's idea of "thick" description. Certainly "Tragedy and Hope" is thick with it; it goes on for pages and pages.

 

"Tragedy and Hope" is a fossil, perfectly preserved, of the sophisticated liberalism of the Kennedy era. Quigley takes a partisan position in the debates about nuclear strategy that began in the 1950s. (He sat on several government commissions on scientific questions, including the one that recommended creating NASA. The book explains the physics of nuclear weapons in some detail; Quigley does not just name names, he names the weight of fissionable material necessary for a bomb.) Thus, he praises Oppenheimer and condemns Teller, deplores the cost-cutting strategy of "massive retaliation" embraced by the Eisenhower Administration and supports tactical nuclear devices suitable for conventional war. "Tragedy and Hope" has prose poems to "Operations Research," the application of quantitative analysis to military affairs, which he ranks with Keynsian economics as one of the pillars of modern civilization.

 

Though it is not entirely fair to criticize even a book such as this for failing to foresee the immediate future, still I cannot help but remark how many of these ideas were tested in the 1960s and found wanting. The number-crunching military philosophy that Quigley endorsed was essentially that of Robert McNamara's Pentagon; as much as anything else, it is what lost the Vietnam War for the United States. Quigley covers Vietnam up through the assassination of President Diem in 1963, but gives no greater prominence to the conflict there than to other Cold War trouble spots. This book is good evidence, if any more were needed, that even the Americans who knew most had not the tiniest idea what they were doing.

 

The problem with the Kennedy Enlightenment is not that elements of its conventional wisdom were wrong; that is true of all eras. The great flaw was its totalitarian streak. Quigley expresses this attitude perfectly:

 

"The chief problem of American political life for a long time has been how to make the two Congressional parties more national and more international. The argument that the two parties should represent opposed ideals and policies, one, perhaps of the Right, and the other of the Left, is a foolish idea acceptable only to doctrinaire and academic thinkers. Instead, the two parties should be almost identical so that the American people can 'throw the rascals out' at any election without leading to any profound or extensive shifts in policy. The policies that are vital and necessary for America are no longer subjects of significant disagreement, but are disputable only in terms of procedure, priority and method..." [Page 1248-1249]

 

Quigley was aware that there was a substantial number of persons in the nascent conservative movement who did not think that all issues had been settled yet, but he regards their opinions as not just erroneous but illegitimate. Quigley has fits of class analysis, so he tells us that the traditional middle class, considered as a cultural pattern rather than an economic group, was evaporating because of growing prosperity and feminization. (His description of contemporary students as promiscuous, unkempt and unpunctual suggests he had some inkling of just how annoying the Baby Boom generation was going to be.) The Right, however, was dominated by a parody, also destined to be ephemeral in Quigley's estimation, of the disappearing middle class. The Right was "petty bourgeois" (he actually uses the term), grasping, intolerant and careerist. They were ignorant, even the ones who tried to get into top colleges on the basis of good grades, since those grades were achieved by unimaginative drudgery rather than by any real engagement with the life of the mind. The Right even came from unfashionable places, principally the Southwest, where they made fortunes in dreadful extractive industries, like oil and mining. The Right, particularly as manifest in the Republican Party, is merely ignorant. It must be combated, but need not be listened to.

 

Let us think less harshly of Bill Clinton hereafter, if these were the opinions he heard from the Wise and the Good of his youth.

 

The infuriating thing is that Quigley knows better. He was well aware of the totalitarian trajectory of the respectable consensus of his day, and he was not pleased by it. Consider this paragraph:

 

"Because this is the tradition of the West, the West is liberal. Most historians see liberalism as a political outlook and practice founded in the nineteenth century. But nineteenth-century liberalism was simply a temporary organizational manifestation of what has always been the underlying Western outlook. That organizational manifestation is now largely dead, killed as much by twentieth-century liberals as by conservatives or reactionaries...The liberal of about 1880 was anticlerical, antimilitarist, and antistate because these were, to his immediate experience, authoritarian forces that sought to prevent the operation of the Western way. ...But by 1900 or so, these dislikes and likes became ends in themselves. The liberal was prepared to force people to associate with those they could not bear, in the name of freedom of assembly, or he was, in the name of freedom of speech, prepared to force people to listen. His anticlericalism became an effort to prevent people from getting religion, and his antimilitarism took the form of opposing funds for legitimate defense. Most amazing, his earlier opposition to the use of private economic power to restrict individual freedoms took the form of an effort to increase the authority of the state against private economic power and wealth in themselves. Thus the liberal of 1880 and the liberal of 1940 had reversed themselves on the role and power of the state..." [Page 1231]

 

Quigley strongly suspected that, whatever else may happen to the West, democracy was likely to be a decreasingly important feature. In part, this was for a reason that would gladden the hearts of defenders of the Second Amendment of the US Constitution: the disarming of the citizenry, at least in comparison to the military. Universal male suffrage was partly a side effect of the dominance in the 19th century of the rifle-armed mass infantry. Firearms were cheap and great equalizers; governments could use such armies only with a high level of consent from the citizens who composed them. In the 20th century, however, the new weapons were beyond the means of private parties or groups, and they could be operated only by trained experts. In a way, the world came back to the era knights and castles, when the bulk of the population figured in politics chiefly as silent taxpayers.

 

Quigley did recognize that the trends of the 20th century up to his day might not go on forever, and at this point the book becomes positively disconcerting. He saw no end to the standoff between the US and the Soviet Union, except to the extent that their economic and political systems might be expected to converge in an age increasingly dominated by experts. ("Convergence": now that's a buzzword that brings back memories.) On the other hand, he did think that the lesser countries of each block would be able to operate more independently from the US and the USSR, and even to relax internally. He makes remarks about the possibility of balkanization and decentralization that might almost have been made by Robert Kaplan and Thomas Friedman, who are perhaps best known for their recent writing about chaos and disintegration in the world after the Cold War. Like other people writing 40 years later, Quigley also suggests that, simultaneous with increasing disorder and complexity, new international institutions would also flourish, so that the nations of his day would lose authority to entities both greater and smaller than themselves.

 

"Tragedy and Hope" suggests that the future may look something like the Holy Roman Empire of the late medieval period. [Page 1287] In principle, the empire was a federal hierarchy of authorities, but the principle was scarcely visible in the tangle of republics, kingdoms, and bishoprics that composed it. The Imperial Diet was as multichambered as a conch-shell, while the executive functioned only on those rare occasions when the emperor, an elected official, managed to persuade the potentates of the empire that what he wanted to do was in their interest. Actually, Quigley did not have far to seek for this model. The early European Economic Community of his day already was starting to look like just such a horse designed by a committee. Its evolution into the European Union has not lessened the resemblance. Quigley seemed to expect a parallel evolution of institutions universally, through the UN system, for which a united Europe would stand as a model. He is not perfectly clear on this point, however. As is so often the case when people talk about transcending national sovereignty, it is not clear whether they are talking about the evolution of the West, or of the world, or of both.

 

To broach a final topic, one of the things that struck me about "Tragedy and Hope" was Quigley's lack of interest in intellectual history, except for science. His treatments of ideology tend to be cursory, misleading or wrong. Lack of interest is his privilege, of course, but to write a 1,300-page book about the first half of the twentieth century without liking ideology is like owning a candy store and not liking chocolate. The only point when the matter seems to fully engage his interest is when he is speculating about the ideology that might help the West to emerge from its Age of Crisis. What the West needs to do, he says, is to hold fast to its special intellectual virtues, which he summaries like this:

 

"The Outlook of the West is that broad middle way about which the fads and foibles of the West oscillate. It is what is implied by what the West says it believes, not at one moment but over the long succession of moments that form the history of the West. From that succession of moments it is clear that the West believes in diversity rather than in uniformity, in pluralism, rather than in monism, or dualism, in inclusion rather than exclusion, in liberty rather than in authority, in truth rather than in power, in conversion rather than in annihilation, in the individual rather than in the organization, in reconciliation rather than in triumph, in heterogeneity rather than in homogeneity, in relativisms rather than in absolutes, and in approximations rather than in final answers. The West believes that man and the universe are both complex and that the apparently discordant parts of each can be put into a reasonably workable arrangement with a little good will, patience, and experimentation. In man the West sees body, emotions, and reason as all equally real and necessary, and is prepared to entertain discussion about their relative interrelationships but is not prepared to listen for long to any intolerant insistence that any one of these has a final answer." [Page 1227]

 

At first glance, this might seem to be just another instance of the Kennedy Enlightenment assuming that its own parochial ideas are all the ideas there are. Certainly this laundry list looks more than a little like John Dewey's pragmatism. Pragmatism has its virtues, but is hardly the thread that runs through all Western history. However, that is not where the summary comes from. On close examination, Quigley's "Way of the West" has more content than is characteristic of pragmatism, which is a philosophy about procedure. What we have here, as Quigley tells us himself, is a take on the philosophy of Thomas Aquinas.

 

Aquinas has been credited and blamed for many things. In the 20th century, he had been called "the father of science" and "the first Whig." There really are features of his ideas that are friendly to empirical science and to limited government with the consent of the government. On the other hand, if you need a detailed account of the physiology of demons, he is your man. A "liberal" Thomas is not the only possible Thomas, but such an interpretation would have appealed to a Catholic scholar like Quigley in the immediate aftermath of the Second Vatican Council, where the ideas of John Cardinal Newman on the development of doctrine seemed to carry all before them.

 

There is an obvious pattern in Quigley's ideas about the future. Consider the specifics: the end of mass warfare and mass democracy, the disintegration of the nation state into both a universal polity and local patriotisms, and a global intellectual synthesis that is willing to entertain any idea that is not contrary to faith and morals. (Aquinas was rather more honest about that last part than was Quigley.) What we have here is a vision of the High Middle Ages with International Style architecture. This vision may or may not reflect the future, but it certainly has a long history. Let us let Oswald Spengler have the last word; I suspect this is where the citation-shy Quigley got the idea in the first place:

 

"But neither in the creations of this piety nor in the form of the Roman Imperium is there anything primary and spontaneous. Nothing is built up, no idea unfolds itself - it is only as if a mist cleared off the land and revealed the old forms, uncertainly at first, but presently with increasing distinctness. The material of the Second Religiousness is simply that of the first, genuine, young religiousness - only otherwise experienced and expressed. It starts with Rationalism's fading out in helplessness, then the forms of the Springtime become visible, and finally the whole world of the primitive religion, which had receded before the grand forms of the early faith, returns to the foreground, powerful in the guise of the popular syncretism that is to be found in every Culture at this phase."

 

The Decline of the West, Volume II, page 311


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