Social Theories and World Conflict: 1919-1945
If the prevailing attitude in the West's classical age was denial, then in the interwar years it was shock. The world wars, the Holocaust, failure in the capitalist worldsystem, fascism, Hitler, Stalin--these were not supposed to be. It was not that the nineteenth century had been free of war, economic trouble, or political terror-- hardly. But in the popular imagination, these horrors were expected to loosen their hold as time went by. That was the promise of modern society. Progress! Everything was Progress.
The very foundations of modern culture in the European world, including North America, were inspiring because they were so simple: Man, freed from political tyranny, if he dare think for himself, will know the Truth. What is the Truth? Simply that Man, enlightened and free, will make the world better. Though these exact words were said by no one in particular, the idea they express was everywhere from the eighteenth century well into the twentieth. You can find it in Kant and the philosophes in France; in and behind the American Declaration of Independence, the French Declaration of the Rights of Man, and The Communist Manifesto; in Adam Smith and the political economists; in the framers of early American political consciousness--Tom Paine, Thomas Jefferson, and many others; among those, like Herbert Spencer, who applied Darwinian principles to modern society; and, of course, in the writings of all the classic social theorists. Everywhere.
This new culture also inspired the practical thinking of the masses. Some picked it up from intellectual and political leaders. Others just caught it from the air of the times. In fact, few of the dramatic political or economic events in the hundred years following 1776 would have been possible without a prior conversion to this new faith by great numbers of people. One does not need to be a historian of the nineteenth century to imagine what poor and working people, as well as the bourgeoisie, must have felt in those days. Who among those who stormed the Bastille on July 14, 1789, would dare to stand against the weight of traditional authority if he did not believe truth was on his side? Who among those who migrated in the 1830s from the agrarian countryside to new industrial centers in the north of England could possibly abandon family roots in the raising of sheep's wool for the cotton-weaving factory if they did not believe in a better life? Who in the United States of the 1860s would leave her roots in the East to join a frontiersman in the Indian territories if she did not somehow believe in Progress? Who among the millions of European immigrants to Chicago, to the plains of the Northwest Territories, and to the factories of the Northeast could