Europe between the Wars

Europe between the Wars

Europe between the Wars

Europe between the Wars

Synopsis

'Professor Kitchen is altogether a shrewd, clear, balanced and often witty guide.'
The Times Educational Supplement

Martin Kitchen's compelling account of Europe between the wars sets the twenty-year crisis within the context of the profound sense of cultural malaise shared by many philosophers and artists, the economic crises that plagued a Europe ruined by war and the social upheavals caused by widespread unemployment and grinding poverty amid a noticeable improvement of living standards.

Excerpt

In the foreword to his masterpiece The Magic Mountain (1924) Thomas Mann wrote that the novel took place in the ‘old days, in the world before the Great War at the beginning of which so much began that has not yet begun to cease to begin’. This was the great catastrophe, which contemporaries viewed with the horrified perplexity of primitive man faced with a volcanic eruption. It was an event as significant as the French Revolution, but it was also a cataclysm that defied explanation. The British/German novelist Ford Madox Ford bemoaned the fact that history once held all the answers, but now was totally incapable of tackling the problem of the war. Walter Benjamin’s angel of history looked back in horror at a brutal past as it was dragged backwards into the future. The Spanish philosopher Ortega y Gasset wrote that ‘history is being turned upside down and a new reality is being created’. The publicist and historian Oswald Spengler announced that ‘optimism is cowardice’. The Austrian writer Egon Friedell proclaimed that history did not exist, although that did not stop him writing numerous works on the subject. Sellar and Yeatman in 1066 and All That light-heartedly suggested that history was simply what one remembered. After 11 November 1918 there was a great deal to be remembered.

There was nothing new in this pessimism. It dated back to Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, to Burckhardt and Houston Stewart Chamberlain to name but a few, and the war seemed a cruel vindication of their gloom. In a world without meaning where, as Siegfried Kracauer argued, reality was a mere construction, the temptation to aestheticise violence was hard to resist. Ernst Jünger, Ernst von Salomon, Emilio Marinetti and Gabriele D’Annunzio saw violence as a transcendental quality that existed well beyond the realms of morality, history or rationality. This attitude was reflected in a militarisation of a society dominated by paramilitary groups such as the Freikorps, Fascists and Nazis, by Bolshevik thugs, nihilists and anarchists. It was a world fascinated by bandits and criminals, by outsiders and gratuitous acts of violence.

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