The Year of Covid 19: Political Religion and the Culture Wars. Part 2.4. The EU’s legacy: 1789-1914: Science, Nature, Necessity.

This is the fifth essay in the series on my blog dealing with cultural wars. The first four  cover an introduction, which will be rewritten, and will include an account of the crucial and decisive battle during the constitutional convention of 2002-2004 during which the militant secularists of the EU project succeeded in ruling out any mention in the constitutional text to Europe’s near two millenia of Christian experience. The following chapters follow on from that: the second article takes the story back to a thousand years before Christ to the time of Abraham and Moses when Jahweh first reveals himself to mankind; followed by the Greek tradition, also a culture of books, where the Gods intervene blindly in  human affairs, which are also plagued by the workings of Nature; to the Roman inheritance, and the memory of a united Europe-the counterpart at the time to a Chinese world empire; and its conversion to Christianity in AD 312. The recognizable legacy from Christianity is already vast. The third chapter covers the thirteen hundred years from Constantine to the fall of Constantinople in 1453 to the Turkish armies and the  discovery of the Americas in 1492. By the end of the fifteenth century, European culture is penetrated through and through with Christian traditions, if not always by Christian practice. These two linked dates led to a rapid expansion of Europe’s mental world as the discovery of other parts of the world and of other cultures and religions ate away at the inherited Euro-centric imagination; led also to the propagation of knowledge previously horded in Constantinople, thereby accelerating the intellectual movement referred by historians as the Renaissance; and helped spark  the Reformation, and the two centuries of religious wars which followed. Gradual recovery from the wars of religion took the form of a spreading acceptance of toleration, and a skepticism about  received wisdoms. In these years the roots of modern science were laid, and more critical ideas developed about politics, the alliance of throne and altar, and the importance of the concept of governance by consent. 

This fifth article opens with the French revolution, which is the first concerted effort to de-Christianize France and to create an alternative secular religion to Christianity in Europe. The reverberation of these momentous events echoed through the nineteenth century. By the end of the century the prime contender to the still prevalent Christian culture of Europe was scientific racialism, predicated on state-of the-art studies of biology.  Science and Nature were parents as it were to both the welfare and the warfare state. The outbreak of war in 1914 was the result.The picture on the front is the photo of Charles Darwin-in my view, the central personality of the century.

The French revolution is radical from the start.

From the moment that the monarchy convoked the Estates General of France, in May 1789 for the first time since 1614, its proceedings became radicalised by the struggle for control of public finances.[1]The three estates of French subjects, numbering 1,500 delegates from all over France, convened in May in the Grandes Salles des Menus Plaisirs in Versailles. The First Estate returned 303 deputies, representing 100,000 Catholic clergy. About 10% of French lands were owned directly by individual bishops and monasteries ; the land was tax free; plumb clerical jobs accrued to the aristocracy, and more than two-thirds of the clergy lived on less than 500 livres per year. The Second Estate elected 291 deputies, representing about 400,000 men and women, who owned about 25% of the land and collected seigneurial dues and rents from their tenants, paying low to no tax. This body was divided into the traditional aristocracy,  the noblesse d’épée, and the noblesse de robe, where rank derived from judicial or administrative posts; who dominated the regional parlements and were often intensely socially conservative.[2] The Third Estate, or the 25 million famers, bourgeois, or working poor were represented by 610 deputies, a half of whom were lawyers or local officials, nearly a third were businessmen, and fifty-one were wealthy land owners.[3] On  28, May 1789, the abbé Sieyes moved that the Third Estate, now sitting as the Communes (in reference to the House of Commons) proceed with the definition of their own powers. By June 17, they declared themselves a National Assembly, not of the Estates, but of “the people”. The other Estates were invited to join, though it was made clear that business would proceed with or without them. Louis XVI sought to close proceedings, but on June 20, the Assembly met in a tennis court outside Versailles and swore not to disperse until a new constitution was agreed. They were joined by a majority of the First Estate and 47 members of the Second, and Louis backed down, then dithered.

In the face of rumours that the King was going to deploy the Swiss Guard to close the Assembly, its members on July 12 went into permanent session. A mob gathered and on July 14, seized the royal fortress, the Bastille, executed the governor, and freed its seven prisoners. The King then made some conciliatory gestures, but the deputies argued about constitutional matters while law and order broke down in the countryside, prompting much of the nobility to flee abroad. Meanwhile, the deputies published the August Decrees which abolished the privileges of the aristocracy, and Church tithes,  On 26 August, 1789 the Declaration of the Rights and Man and of the Citizen was published; these rights were extended to Protestants and Jews. In September, the monarch was given a “suspensive  veto” , meaning he could only delay not block a law. On this basis, a new committee was convened to agree on a constitution. Other decrees included equality before the law, opening public office to all, freedom of worship, and cancellation of special privileges held by provinces and towns.  On 2 November,  the Assembly confiscated all church property, and then suspended  the thirteen regional parlements. Frustration built up during the debates, crowds assembled, marched on Versailles and brought back Louis and the royal family, the monarch having committed to the title as “King of the French”( not King of France”). 

For a while, it seemed that the revolution would settle for a constitutional monarchy. But radical demands surfaced for universal suffrage; also for labour unions and cheap bread, prompting the Assembly to pass La Loi Chapelier, suppressing trade guilds and  unions. Disquiet spread to the army, where officers left or went into emigration. This was the context in which the King made a further botched attempt, to leave the Tuileries Palace with his family in disguise, only to be recognized and brought ignominiously back. The Assembly now demanded oaths of loyalty to the regime, and began preparing for war, as  fears of spies and traitors proliferated. 

Religion and revolution.

 “Since the time of St Louis (1226-70), Michael Burleigh writes, French kings have been the “most Christian”, a term extended to France itself. Since the reign of Philip the Fair (1285-1314), France was known as “the eldest daughter of the Church” and the French as God’s chosen people. The Church and the French monarchy were linked in a hierarchy that reached down from God in his heavenly kingdom. Throne and altar were inseparable…The majority (of the clergy) were overworked and underpaid, and were respected by many philosophes for their work with the poor, with whom the latter rarely made any acquaintance. Clerical incomes derived from tithes and ancillary sums from land or surplice fees”.  [4]

Separation of Church and State  was achieved with one blow: The Declaration of the Rights of Man made no recognition of the special position of the Catholic Church. With all authority located henceforth within the nation, the Church now found itself open – and vulnerable – to further reform.  Initially, the National Assembly’s aim, as Diarmaid McCulloch writes, was to create a national church as in England. [5]As in 1530s England, church lands were sold to local purchasers, boosting the finances of the state.  On February 13, 1790 religious orders and monasteries were dissolved . With the abolition of tithes, the Civil Constitution of the Clergy of July 12 1790  made clergy employees of the state, established rates of pay and made provisions for elections of bishops. The pope was left with no powers of appointment. In January, the Assembly required all clergy to swear loyalty to the Civil Constitution, a measure which ensured that about 80% of clergy refused. A growing number fled abroad, as the French population split between those (few) who remained loyal to the Constitutional Church and those who remained loyal to refractory priests. As Gemma Betros writes: “Rather than confirming the allegiance of French clergy to a state-operated church, the oath had put before them a decision that, by forcing them to choose between the Constitutional Church and Rome, would cause a schism among French Catholics for the next decade and generate hostility towards the Revolution and its aims. »[6]

With hostility came ever greater violence. Popular resistance stiffened, particularly in La Vendée where the population rebelled and was subsequently crushed with the utmost brutality. As General Westermann, the general in charge of repression, stated, “Mercy is not a revolutionary sentiment”. Internationally, war broke out in April 1792 led by Louis’ brother in law, the Holy Roman Emperor. Following a surprise victory of the French armies’ over the Prussians at Valmy in September, the French First Republic was declared on September 22, 1792, a new calendar was introduced, and Citoyen Louis Capet was placed on trial. He was executed on January 17, 1793 on the grounds of “conspiracy against public liberty and general safety”. War followed in short order against Great Britain and the Dutch Republic., and with it came the rise to power of Robespierre, a new Constitution predicated on universal suffrage, the rise of a young general, Napoleon, to head the armies of Italy, and the institution of a reign of terror . According to archival records, from September 1793 to July 1794 some 16,600 people were executed on charges of counter-revolutionary activity; another 40,000 may have been summarily executed or died awaiting trial.[7]  Marie-Antoinette was executed in October 1793. 

As war, civil and international, spread, the Catholic Church fell under suspicion as a form of worship incompatible with the values of the Republic. « From here, Gemma Betros writes,  sprung a movement referred to as ‘dechristianisation’, which aimed to excise religion from French society. Constitutional priests were advised to abandon the priesthood and were encouraged – or in some cases forced – to marry. Any priest that continued to practise, whether constitutional or refractory, now faced arrest and deportation. In October 1793, public worship was forbidden and over the next few months all visible signs of Christianity were removed, a policy pursued with particular enthusiasm by revolutionary armies eager to seek revenge on the institution that harboured so many counter-revolutionaries. Church bells were pulled down and melted, ostensibly to help the war effort, crosses were taken from churches and cemeteries, and statues, relics and works of art were seized and sometimes destroyed. …. On 23 November 1793, churches were closed, to be converted into warehouses, manufacturing works or even stables. Streets and other public places bearing the names of saints were given new, often Republican themed names, and time itself was recast to further repudiate France’s Christian past. The Revolutionary calendar started with the advent of the French Republic (Year 1). The names of its months reflected the seasons and its ten-day week eliminated Sunday as a day of rest and worship. Although such measures were unevenly applied, and in many cases met with considerable local opposition, they reinforced the message that Christianity had no place in the Republic. »

The revolutionary government however began to reflect that while sweeping away the past might constitute progress, it was wise to put something in its place. The creation of the Republic had been accompanied by the introduction of ceremonies and festivals that aimed to make a religion of the Revolution itself, substituting Christian saints for revolutionary martyrs, venerating the tricolour cockade and the red liberty cap as sacred symbols, One such cult was the Cult of Reason, an avowedly atheistic belief , the goal of which was the perfection of mankind through the exercise of reason, and the victory of the Revolution. [8] Ceremonies were organized across France in churches transformed into temples of Reason. The largest ceremony was staged in Notre Dame in Paris, where an altar was installed to Liberty, impersonated by a female Goddess of Reason, surrounded by vicariously clad ladies. Robespierre thought the cult was ridiculous, and its backers soon parted with their heads on the guillotine. In early 1794, Robespierre imposed his own deistic Cult of the Supreme Being, which he envisaged as the new state religion. Like its predecessors, it attracted minimal interest. It was celebrated in Paris on June 8, 1794. Six weeks later on July 27 1794, Robespierre, alongside 19 colleagues, parted with his own head.

From Directorate to Napoleon.

The fall of Robespierre is termed the Thermidorian reaction, and led to a brief “White Terror” throughout France against Robespierre’s faction, the Jacobins.  Churches were reopened, refractory priests were released from jail, and both constitutional and refractory priests were permitted to practise on the condition that they promised to respect the laws of the Republic. Yet the Republic continued to view the Catholic Church with deep suspicion. A new Constitution was introduced and a new government, the Directorate, formed. It lasted four years from 1795-99, and its historian records that it governed largely by decree, by  “chronic violence, ambivalent forms of justice, and repeated recourse to heavy-handed repression.”[9]This meant that the Directors came to depend on ambitious army officers, and in due course on November 9, 1799, the Coup of 18 Brumaire, replaced the five Directors with three Consuls, including Napoleon Bonaparte. 

Napoleon viewed religion as a tool of statecraft. Religious orders were useful as they ran hospitals and schools, and the Church’s support might help to consolidate his rule. The  key, he saw, was to ensure that loyalty to  Church and state were no longer exclusive.  On 16 July 1801 France signed with Rome a document known as the Concordat, the product of eight months of gruelling negotiations. Catholicism was henceforth recognized only as ‘the religion of the vast majority of French citizens’, and the Church was to give up all claims to property lost during the Revolution. As under the Civil Constitution of 1790, all clergy were required to swear an oath of loyalty to the government, their salaries were to be paid by the state, and dioceses were again redrawn and aligned with administrative divisions. Appointments to bishoprics remained contested and the government insisted that it approve all instructions from Rome.

Napoleon’s ambitions were boundless. The next step was to be crowned Emperor. But as Dairmaid McCulloch points out, Napoleon realized that if he wished to conscript tradition to his cause, he had to come to terms with the  Christianity that lay  at the heart of tradition in western Europe. So he had the Pope come to Paris, where he, Napoleon, crowned himself Emperor on December 2, 1804, in Notre Dame. Two years later, the Austrian Emperor declared the thousand year Holy Roman Empire ended, and re-modelled himself in Napoleonic style as Emperor Francis 1st of Austria. Napoleon, at the apogee of his power,  then married  Marie Louise, the Archduchess of Austria-“I married a womb”, said Napoleon-and the European peace seemed cemented. But Napoleon was a warrior, not a manager of peace: he marched into Spain, occupied Rome, captured the Pope and war broke out anew, ending at Waterloo, the defeat of Napoleon and the re-installation of the Bourbons.  

The French revolution was the first attempt to secularize Europe. But the attempt had unanticipated consequences: in the longer run, it strengthened the papacy’s spiritual powers, reduced that of the national churches, forced religion in France into the private sphere or in France, Spain and Germany into an alliance with the novel ideas of nationalism, inspired a religious revival throughout the nineteenth century, and split Catholicism between those harking back to a golden age  where throne and altar reigned, and others urging compromise with the post-1815 world.  The least that could be said is that the drastic experiment in revolutionary de-christianisation did not turn out the way anticipated by those of its supporters participating in the Estates General of May 1789.

Edmond Burke’s warning. 

This had been foreseen by Edmund Burke, the Dublin born Whig member of parliament from 1766 to 1794. In his Reflections on the French Revolution, written in the early months of 1790,  Burke excoriated the Revolution for root-and-branch vandalism. As he said on February 9, 1790, in the Commons: The French, had since summer “completely pulled down to the ground, their monarchy; their church; their nobility; their law; their revenue; their army; their navy; their commerce; their arts; and their manufactures… There was a danger of an imitation of the excesses of an irrational, unprincipled, proscribing, confiscating, plundering, ferocious, bloody and tyrannical democracy… [In religion] the danger of their example is no longer from intolerance, but from Atheism; a foul, unnatural vice, foe to all the dignity and consolation of mankind; which seems in France, for a long time, to have been embodied into a faction, accredited, and almost avowed. »[10]

The occasion for his intervention was his reading of the Reverend Richard Price’s sermon of November 4, 1789, A Discourse on the Love of our Country , in which Dr Price- a nonconformist minister (non-conformists were the heirs to Cromwell)-compared  1789 to the Glorious Revolution of 1689, laying the foundations of the British constitutional monarchy, and later of the United States. Loyalty should be paid first and foremost not to the state but to universal rights, Price preached, in which Englishmen should see themselves “more as citizens of the world than as members of any particular community”. The principles of the Glorious Revolution, he added, included “the right to choose our own governors, to cashier them for misconduct, and to frame a government for ourselves”. 

Burke also appealed to the Glorious Revolution of 1689, but repudiated Price’ idea of abstract, metaphysical rights of humans above their particular traditions: “The Revolution was made to preserve our antient indisputable laws and liberties, and that antient constitution of government which is our only security for law and liberty … Our oldest reformation is that of Magna Carta. You will see that Sir Edward Coke,  that great oracle of our law, and indeed all the great men who follow him, to Blackstone,   are industrious to prove the pedigree of our liberties. They endeavour to prove that the ancient charter… were nothing more than a re-affirmance of the still more ancient standing law of the kingdom.… In the famous law … called the Petition of Right, the parliament says to the king, “Your subjects have inherited this freedom”, claiming their franchises not on abstract principles “as the rights of men”, but as the rights of Englishmen, and as a patrimony derived from their forefathers ».[11]

Prejudice, says Burke, is  “the general bank and capital of nations, and of ages” ; reason is nothing in comparison.  “Prejudice”, Burke says, “is of ready application in the emergency; it previously engages the mind in a steady course of wisdom and virtue, and does not leave the man hesitating in the moment of decision, sceptical, puzzled, and unresolved. Prejudice renders a man’s virtue his habit”. [12] Cast prejudice and custom aside, and the public arena becomes a struggle for power where victory goes to the ruthless. « In the weakness of one kind of authority, and in the fluctuation of all, the officers of an army will remain for some time mutinous and full of faction until some popular general, who understands the art of conciliating the soldiery, and who possesses the true spirit of command, shall draw the eyes of all men upon himself. Armies will obey him on his personal account. There is no other way of securing military obedience in this state of things. But the moment in which that event shall happen, the person who really commands the army is your master—the master (that is little) of your king, the master of your Assembly, the master of your whole republic. » The Coup de Brumaire came nine years later.

Burke remained irredeemably hostile to the French Revolution., and a fervent supporter of the 1689 British Constitution. Just before his death in 1797, he opposed the Pitt government’s negotiations for peace with France, writing of the French government in his Second Letter: “It is not France extending a foreign empire over other nations: it is a sect aiming at universal empire, and beginning with the conquest of France”.[13]  “Individuality is left out of their scheme of government. The State is all in all. Everything is referred to the production of force; afterwards, everything is trusted to the use of it. It is military in its principle, in its maxims, in its spirit, and in all its movements. The State has dominion and conquest for its sole objects—dominion over minds by proselytism, over bodies by arms”. [14] This is the  modern idea of the  State as an armed doctrine, an idea that matured into  the totalitarian states of the twentieth century.

The churches  in the nineteenth century.

The origin of the distinction in politics between left and right dates to the gathering of the Estates General in summer of 1789, when members of the National Assembly divided between supporters of the king to the president’s right and supporters of the revolution to his left. [15] The swings in politics between these extremes in the course of the nineteenth century may be traced through the history of the Panthéon, built before the Revolution on the Left Bank and dedicated originally to St Geneviève, the patron saint of Paris. In April 1791, the church was re-dedicated by the National Assembly, to the revolutionary cause.  The  inscription over the portico reads,  “To our great men the Fatherland does homage”. During his opening to the Church, Napoleon allowed the name of St Geneviève to be restored along with a golden cross upon the dome. The church was reopened in 1822 under the restored Bourbons. In 1830, after another revolution, St Geneviève was out again, along with candlesticks, confession boxes and altars. The cross on the dome was replaced by a flag. In 1851-2, Louis Napoléon reinstalled St Geneviève and rempved the inscription to “our great men..”. During the Commune of 1871, Communards sawed off the arms of the wooden cross and hung a red flag from the upright pole. Victor Hugo died on May 22 1885. St Geneviève went out again, and Victor Hugo was buried in the revived Panthèon. All  altars and confessional boxes disappeared. But the cross on the dome was retained, and remained to the present day- a sign of a partial reconciliation of left and right around “a certain idea of France”. 

Burke has traditionally been placed on the right, as sympathetic to the alliance of throne and altar, and hostile to the French Revolution. But the right is not where he would have been placed on the other great events of his lifetime. He was supportive of American demands in 1776, against the imposition of taxation without representation from Westminster on the colonies, in favour of Catholic emancipation, and very critical of the East India company’s policies in India. The source of his ideas, as Connor Cruise O’Brien writes, is Ireland, his family links to Catholicism, his scholarly apprenticeship in Trinity College, Dublin, and his membership of the Whig party at Westminster. The wisdom of 1689, and indeed of 1776, Burke maintained, was that both revolutions were waged in defense of traditional rights, whereas the French Revolution was conducted by abolitionists  who wished to wipe the slate of history clean and start the human story afresh. It was this root and branch theory oif progress that Burke abhorred.

In the course of the nineteenth century, Burke became the philosopher of  conservatism. But of a particular kind, and arguably better described as a mentality. Burkean conservatism suggests that society is an organism with a collective memory, handed down from one generation to another. Sound government, the mentality observes, backs its way into the future, by careful selection of options, not preserving what can no longer be justified, and opposing Big Leaps into the unknown, while all along holding high the banner of tradition, imbued with a  carefully selected set of prejudices and dispositions. It governs by consent fed by prejudice, but  seeks to create consent when opportunity provides. The great artist of this mentality was of course Benjamin Disraeli, the famous Conservative Prime Minister. To illustrate, he said of his opponent, that “William Gladstone has not a single redeeming defect.”; and he  wrote in his novel, Sybil or the Two Nations, that “To be conscious that you are ignorant of the facts is a great step to knowledge.”  Conservatism’s  practice is deeply pragmatic, hostile to big intellectual schemes, highly malleable, prepared to implement quite extensive reforms provided that the measures are introduced over time, and gently skeptical about humanity’s ability to create an earthly paradise.  

Over the coming century,  the extension of religious toleration was a Europe-wide phenomenon, though highly differentiated according to locality. In the United Kingdom,- the leading country of the time- laws excluding Catholics and Jews from participation in public life were repealed. One of the greatest triumph for reformers was the outlawing of the slave trade in 1807 throughout the British Empire. This was followed by British diplomacy having a phrase inserted into the 1815 Treaty of Vienna, ending the Napoleonic wars, that slavery was “repugnant to the principles of humanity and universal morality.” In 1833, the British parliament then legislated for the abolition of slavery in most of the British Empire(the exemption was India, so as not to offend Indian sensibilities). At home, religion underpinned politics, along with much church building, an extension of church memberships, and a major fall off in drunkenness and crime. The Liberal party came to represent  the non-conformist churches, while the Church of England was labelled as the Tory party at prayer. Missionary activity overseas was vigorous, but was confronted by one, major setback in India when in 1857, an uprising occurred against the East India Company’s rule, largely on a variety of secular grounds, but also because sepoys ( Indian soldiers in the Company’s employ) became convinced that the presence of missionaries indicated official intent to convert Hindus and Moslems to Christianity.[16] The concern was taken seriously by the Crown, which took control of India out of Company hands. In her proclamation, Queen Victoria stated that “’We disclaim alike our Right and Desire to impose Our Convictions on any of Our Subjects”. Tolerance in short went global.

On the continent, theological debate was opened to what became known as liberal revisionism: one of its original architects, Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768-1834), the Prussian author, illustrated the trend in a letter to his father: « Alas! dearest father, if you believe that without this faith no one can attain to salvation in the next world, nor to tranquility in this—and such, I know, is your belief—oh! then pray to God to grant it to me, for to me it is now lost. I cannot believe that he who called himself the Son of Man was the true, eternal God; I cannot believe that his death was a vicarious atonement ».[17] In France, Felicité de Lamennais (1782-1854), widely considered a forerunner of liberal and social Catholicism, was offered a cardinal’s hat for his arguments in favour of a restoration of the pre-1789 rights of the Catholic Church, but came around to favour an  enlarged suffrage, the separation of church and state, and liberty of conscience-for which he left the priesthood. Ignaz von Döllinger, befriended with Lamennais, initially adopted ultramontane positions to  reinforce papal primacy, but became disillusioned, and proved an outspoken opponent of the papal assertion of doctrinal infallibility at the  Vatican Council of 1870. 

That year proved a major turning point in European history: Prussia’s victory over France in 1870 marked the emergence of a new European hegemon, a united Germany; a vengeful France; a united Italy; a Papacy shorn of  the Papal States; and a marked fall off in support for the Catholic Church in France, previously closely aligned with Napoleon III’s regime.. The 1873 financial crash in the Berlin stock markets, directly linked to the financial compensation demanded of France by a victorious Prussia, marks the opening salvo in a vicious French and teutonic anti-semitism, . 

The fundamental flaw of the revolutionaries, in the mind of traditionalists, was the Jacobin rejection of the doctrine of original sin. As Rousseau wrote in the opening sentence of the Social Contract, “Man is born free, but everywhere he is in chains”. All that he has to do to become free again is for him to cast off his inherited chains. This process of discovery and revelation constitutes the heart of the progressive doctrine, analogous to a searcher with a torch light repealing the surrounding darkness. Owen Chadwick has written of the Anglo-Irish historians of the European intellect, William Lecky and J.B. Bury, -both very much in the Whig tradition of historiography-that they considered the progress of truth as consisting in the light of science invading dark chambers inhabited by mysticism, until at last no darkness should be left. [18] In this view, religion retreated from politics as society secularized. It secularized because growing numbers of migrants from countryside to cities lost touch with the church; because the authority of the Bible was undermined by scientific refutations; and because Enlightened thinking percolated from the aristocratic elites of the eighteenth century to the wider societies of Europe in the nineteenth century. 

The darker inheritance of European Christianity.

No author among the tens of thousand books published about the outbreak of war in Europe in 1914 maintains that it was anything but a hammer blow to the old world. That world is described in the Austrian author, Stefan Zweig’s famous memoir, Die Welt von Gestern, which he finished a day before his mutual suicide with his wife, in Brazil, in 1942. The world he depicted was stable, open, cosmopolitan, and cultured.  As Richard Evans writes this European culture was, “an overwhelmingly religious culture right up to the First World War”.[19] Yet the war damaged the concept of Christianity indelibly, writes Diarmaid MacCulloch: “by the end of the 1960s, the alliance between emperors and bishops which Constantine had first generated was a ghost: a fifteen-hundred-year-old adventure was at an end”. [20]

Is this true? I will argue that yes war damaged Christianity, but the paradox is that it was waged in the name of so-called progressive ideas. There can be no doubt that the spread of agnostic and atheist ideas ate away at the Christian inheritance. Protestant communities, for instance,  proved vulnerable to the disquieting discoveries of German-centred biblical studies, the claims of biological “science”, and the spread of secular literature and newspapers.  In Catholic countries, notably Germany and Italy, liberal nationalists were often harshly anti-clerical, and tended to embrace “modern” ideas with a passion. In the introduction to his best selling book, Germany and the Next War, published in 1912, Theodor von Bernhardi wrote that “ war is not merely a necessary element of life , but an indispensable factor of culture, in which a true civilized nation finds the highest expression of strength and vitality”. [21] “I long, said the pan-German enthusiast, Heinrich Class, for the holy, redeeming war”. Such statements about war as a midwife of progress were widely shared among Europe’s chattering classes at the time. But they were not made in the name of Christianity. When in August 1914, war broke out, the Pope proposed immediate peace negotiations, and nobody listened. 

The ultramontane Church of the nineteenth century did not follow a Burkean path of subtle accommodation to the modern world: it resisted. Its longer term orientation was much closer to the teaching of the arch-polemicist, Joseph de Maistre.[22] De Maistre (1753-1821), a Savoyard philosopher, lawyer and diplomat, argued that the rationalist rejection of Christianity was directly responsible for the disaster of the French Revolution, and the bloodshed and war which followed. [23] Its philosophers posited men as rational, dwelling in a peaceful nature, listening to the wind in the reeds and observing the peaceful grazing of cows. In fact, man was neither rational nor was nature peaceful. Men loved war, death, self-immolation, and sacrifice: “He kills to obtain food and he kills to clothe himself. He kills to adorn himself, and he kills in order to attack, and he kills in order to defend himself. He kills to instruct himself and he kills to amuse himself. He kills to kill.” And he does so because he lives in a nature  where power and might reign, where “there are insects of prey, reptiles of prey, birds of prey, fishes of prey, quadrupeds of prey. There is no instant of time where one creature is not being devoured by another”.

If man lives as the most bloodthirsty of animals, how can he live in a civilized society? de Maistre asks. His answer is that man must live in a world where the Pope’s word goes unchallenged; from which the “sect” is excluded-the Jacobins, the liberals, the socialists, the scientists, the Protestants, the Jansenists, the perfectabilists, the Jews, the Freemasons, the atheists, the freethinkers, all in short who made the French Revolution; and he will be kept honest and obedient because he will be terrified by the prospect of execution at the hand of the Executioner. “Remove this mysterious agent from the world, and in an instant order yields to chaos: thrones fall, society disappears”. This is what Louis XVI did, de Maistre is saying; and though he disapproves of the Revolution, he admires Robespierre and Napoleon, men of authority, of power, and ruthless in its use. We are not listening here to a conservative, writes Isaiah Berlin, or even to a Catholic, but to a proto-Fascist. [24]Violence among men can only be crushed by a state prepared to apply extreme violence always and everywhere. That is de Matre’s message. It is the same as Hobbes’ Leviathan. But de Maitre is for papal absolutism; Hobbes is for the most powerful Leviathan. 

The papacy was regularly pulled rightwards, to use the left-right analogy from the French Revolution. But there remained a gulf between the Catholic Church and what later became the fascist movement. The fascist movement sought, as had Robespierre and Napoleon, to appropriate Church ceremonv for its own secular purposes.  “If you lie big enough, Goebbels famously stated, and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it”. Militant secularists, of course, argue that the papacy is a past master at lying. Even assuming that to be the case for the sake of argument, its message is peace; fascism or national socialism advocates war. It was an error, the popes taught, to hold that human reason contradicted Christian faith; rather the one derived from the other. Civil marriage, religious toleration, the  natural sciences, nationalism, socialism, communism, liberalism, the idea of separation of church and state-these all formed part of the Catholic Church’s syllabus of current errors. In 1870, in the first ecumenical Council since 1563, the Pope declared papal infallibility when speaking ex catedra; in Rerum Novarum, published in 1891, the Pope restated the Church’s commitment to social justice for the poor, and decried the abuses of un-restrictcd free enterprise.  

Rerum Novarum provided a signal for Catholics to become engaged in politics to work for the better good. But in both Germany and in France, the ralliement of Catholics to the national states brought its own complications. The  Centre party, took the brunt of Bismarck’s visceral attacks on the Catholic Church, until the “satan in a helmet”- Pius XI’s reference to the fiercely conservative Chancellor- switched his hostility to the Social Democrats. Henceforth, Germany’s Catholics would become allies of the status quo, with the Social Democrats smeared as the subversives. In  the case of France, ralliement to the Republic was much more problematic. Catholic France had been deeply alienated by the de-christianization campaigns of the Revolution. The Catholic cause remained tied to the memory of the monarchy; to the ideal of France as having a divine vocation; to the interests of the bourgeoisie and yet also to those of workers; and to a vigorous anti-semitism, which covered as a vehicle for an attack on the evils of capitalism. The occasion for an outbreak of vicious antisemitism came in the Dreyfus affair in France, when in the 1890s the country split between supporters of Captain Dreyfus on the left, and the anti-Dreyfusards on the right.

The broader Catholic Church was also attuned to the same themes. In its number of December 2, 1897, the Osservatore Romano-the mouthpiece of the Vatican- wrote about  the Captain’s arrest and trial that it is “hardly surprising if we again find the Jew in the front ranks or if we find that the betrayal of one’s country has been Jewishly conspired and Jewishly executed. The Jews, the article said, were the deicide people, before introducing a more modern tone. “ ”The Jew possesses the largest share of all wealth, movable and immovable. …The credit of states is in the hands of a few Jews. One finds Jews in the ministries, the civil service, the armies, the navies, the universities and in control of the Press”. What is missing from this article is the racial anti-semitism, which came into vogue at the time, with talk of the Jewish “race”, as being unassimilable to the French nation-race. The affair was finally settled when it became clear that the allegations against Dreyfus were a complete fabrication, and the real traitor was a Major Esterhazy, whose identity the military high command suppressed in order to avoid scandal. The lie was made cynically, at the expense of an innocent patriot, and failed completely in its objective. Scandal there most definitely was and in 1906, the Radical party repealed Napoleon’s Concordat, and passed legislation separating Church and State in France. The scars from this conflict have not yet been healed, and have carried over into the European Union.

The public clamour in France surrounding the Dreyfus affair was bathed in a sense of impending apocalypse, the components of which included much talk about terminal national decline, the German threat, or subversion from within. Republicans suspected the patriotism of the anti-Dreyfusards; the anti-Dreyfusards suspected the hands of France’s internal enemies- Protestants, Freemasons and Jews. In the longer span of European history, there was abundant precedent for such outbreaks. Millenarianism had been a recurrent theme of medieval Europe, well recorded in the books of Norman Cohn. In The Pursuit of the MilleniumEurope’s Inner Demons, and his Warrant for Genocide. Cohn records the role played in history by collective fantasies, and the urge common to all is the subject of all three books, -the medieval world from the Crusades to the theocratic King John of Leiden; the great witch-hunts of sixteenth and seventeenth century Europe, and the myth of the Jewish world conspiracy-“to purify the world through the annihilation of some category of human beings imagined as agents of corruption and incarnations of evil”. [25] Though agents of the Church practiced this heresy in the past, the Catholic Church roundly condemns millenarianism, particularly the “intrinsically perverse” form of secular millenarianism-the promise to create paradise on earth. What made the twentieth century so devastatingly brutal was that these radical dystopias moved to the heart of Europe’s politics, as part of the Enlightenment project, and precipitated the continent into its world wars. 

The politics of nature..

In his 1932 book, first published in German, The Philosophy of the Enlightenment, Ernst Cassirer wrote that “ The basic idea underlying all the tendencies of Enlightenment was the conviction that human understanding is capable, by its own power and without recourse to supernatural assistance, of comprehending the system  of the world and that this new way of understanding the world will lead it to a new way of mastering it”. [26]  Exactly when the seminal years which ushered in the modern world began remains a matter of controversy; some say the 1540s, with the publication of Copernicus’On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres“, which remained a matter of controversy for both Catholic and Protestant theologians into the seventeenth century. others argue the century from 1650 to 1750; or in the case of Jonathan Israel, during the lifetime of Baruch Spinoza (632-1677) (A Revolution of the Mind: Radical Enlightenment and the Origins of Modern Democracy, Princeton University Press, 2010).

The crucial feature of the Enlightenment, I maintain, is that inherited knowledge succumbed to observation and discovery in one field after another. This process began as early as the fifteenth century. Christopher Columbus, for instance, is believed to have used a 1491 map by Henricus Marcellus which depicts Europe at the edge of the map , with only water beyond; Martin  Waldseemüller’s map of 1507 extends further to the west and includes lands called “America”. Only 16 years had passed between the making of the two maps, but the world- as Greg Miller points out- had changed forever. [27]  Similarly, Copernicus’ book On The Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres, published in 1543, placed the sun at the centre of the universe, replacing the Ptolemaic vision of the world as placed  at the centre of the universe. Descartes in his 1637 Discourse on Method went as far as to propose that human reason had the power to analyze all propositions without any reliance on external authority. No idea, Pierre Bayle, the French philosopher argued, should escape critical examination. Still, nearly all the great minds of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries- from Copernicus to Bacon, Newton and Locke-believed in the existence of a recognizably Christian God. John Locke, in The Reasonableness of Christianity,(1695) stated what many of them believed, that  reason applied to nature could lead to an understanding of God. Newton was convinced that the universe was constituted in such a rigorously mathematical way that it was clear that there was a design behind creation. The universe was not there by happenchance.

There was however no clear agreement on what “nature” was. Without God ordering the moral universe, philosophers conceived of a state of nature as a fiction to account for how civil society emerged in early times. In a state of nature, they posited a world where there was no law or government, and men lived alone or in small groups. Some philosophers conceived of men as inhabited by sufficient reason to ensure each others’ life, liberty and property; Thomas Hobbes by contrast considered men as engines of untiring egoism, who struggled day and night to advance their own interests at the expense of anyone else but themselves. Life in such a state of nature was, he assured his readers, “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short”. In Hobbes narrative, men in this condition surrendered their freedom to sack and pillage in exchange for the security derived from living under a Leviathan. The Leviathan should rule with iron fist. The state of nature thus became the field of international relations where there was no international law, other than the preferences of the powerful and no Leviathan sufficiently powerful and ruthless to cow lesser Leviathans into submission.

In the eighteenth century, philosophers bridged this gap between reasonable men, inhabited by natural virtue, and greedy men, practicing vice  for a living, with the ingenious argument that the pursuit of private vice could yield public benefit- in other words that greed was a valuable public virtue. Bernard Mandeville’s Fable of the Bees, or Private Vices, Publick Virtues, first published in 1705, has a hive of busy bees decide to live by honesty and virtue, and thereby impoverish themselves. The idea appears anew in Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations, where in Book IV, Chapter Two, paragraph IX, Smith writes of an entrepreneur that, “ by pursuing his own interest he frequently promotes that of the society more effectually than when he really intends to promote it.”  The idea was easily transposable as moral teaching to the practice of sex: the master practitioner here was the Marquis de Sade . Two  of his most famous pornographic and masochistic books, published in the late 1790s, are entitled “Justine,or Good Conduct Well Chastised”,  and “Juliette: or Vice Amply Rewarded”.  Juliette is raised in a convent, and at age thirteen is seduced by a woman who explains that religion and morality are fictions. The moral of the book is that the only aim in life is “ to enjoy oneself at no matter whose expense.” One of the characters she meets in her adventures is Minski, a giant Russian, who rapes and tortures young children, before killing, then eating them. Camille Paglia’s comment seems apt: “Simply follow nature, Rousseau declares. Sade, laughing grimly, agrees.” [28]

The full argument for atheistic materialism is laid out in Baron d’Holbach’s Systeme de la Nature, published in 1770. The author is avowedly atheist. Christianity, he states, is an impediment to the moral advancement of humanity.

“But if by Nature be understood , he writes in Volume I, “ …a whole , of which the numerous parts are endowed with various properties, which oblige them to act according to these properties….then, I say, there is no necessity to have recourse to supernatural powers, to account for the formation of things, and these extraordinary appearances which are the result of motion”. The foundation of morality is not to be found in Scriptures, but in the pursuit of happiness. “It would be useless and it would be perhaps unjust, to demand that a man should be virtuous, if he could not be so without rendering himself miserable . Whenever he thinks vice renders him happy, he must necessarily love vice”. Of course there may be a price to pay, but  “what interest will be find in occupying himself with the happiness of his fellow-creatures? What advantage will he find in restraining the fury of his passions? ” d’Holbach indicates that pursuing a vice might be foolish, where “ his whole conduct will become nothing more than a chain of errors, a tissue of mistakes, a series of depraved actions”.And he advises in Chapter 15, entitled “Of Man’s true Interest, or of the Ideas he forms to himself of Happiness- Man cannot be happy without Virtue”.  The key to the happiness of whoever aspires to pleasure, riches and power is to remember that he lives in society and should not pursue his own happiness exclusively; d’Holbach’s world is civilized when inhabited by rich egotists, with a concern for the happiness of others. In short, it would be a good thing if the world were inhabited by people like d’Holbach. 

The book was endorsed by d’Holbach’s friend, Denis Diderot, chief editor of L’Encylopédie, described by Henri Michelet-France’s foremost historian of the French Revolution- as “the true Prometheus”,  [29]who laboured to produce the ideas that the Revolution sought to implement. Another Prometheus who placed a mighty axe to the tree of Christianity was Charles Darwin (1809-1882). Darwin brought out his book in 1859. Its full title is On the  Origins of the Species by means of natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races. Its ethics is not based, as was Newton’s on the view that the world was made by design- “there seems to me , Darwin writes to Asa Gray, America’s leading botanist- too much misery in the world”. [30] Nor is  On the Origins  concerned with human happiness, as is d’Holbach. Its ethics are  ultra-modern: it is based solely on biology. Its thesis is that living beings evolve by a process of natural selection. “It is far more satisfactory, he writes, to look at such instincts as the young cuckoo ejecting its foster brothers- ants making slaves-the larvae of ichneumonidae feeding within the live bodies of caterpillars-not as specially endowed or created instincts, but as small consequences of one general law, leading to the advancement of all organic beings, namely, multiply, vary, let the strongest live and the weakest die”.[31]

In his book, published in 1870, and entitled The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex, Darwin is even more explicit about the primacy of biology in human affairs. In  Descent, he analyses the evolution of mankind over millenia, including the development of religion, culture, morality and civilization. A tribe  with members endowed with a spirit of patriotism, and ready to sacrifice for the common good, “would be victorious over most other tribes; and this would be natural selection.”[32]One of the dangers confronting the civilized nations, ie the Christian world, is that they look after the weak and infirm. The danger, he asserts is “the degeneration” of the race. [33] Another danger is that feckless people like the Irish breed like rabbits, while disciplined people like the Scots have small families. In a short time, the feckless outbreed the disciplined. And then there is the biological evidence (of the time) that species within the human race, such as “the Negro and the European”  have diverged to such an extent that would be clearly seen as distinct. He went on to predict that , following the logic of natural selection, the more advanced races would exterminate the savage races, and in his writings he showed little appreciation of the equality of all men, described in the Judeo-Christian tradition as made all in the image of God, hence equally worthy before the eyes of other men. 

Thomas Huxley, known as Darwin’s Bulldog for his activism in promotion of Darwin’s ideas, called On the Origins  “a veritable Whitworth gun in the army of liberalism”.The book  definitely had a major impact on the Protestant world, whose ideas of Christianity were rooted in  the Bible, deemed a a holy text, inspired by the Word of God, and a literal source of truth. Darwin’s  was an alternative account to the Genesis story of mankind’s divine creation: mankind, Darwin says, emerged from the slime and is not divinely created.   Rather, evidence suggests that man evolved in a biological process of selection of the fittest lasting over a geological span of time, not the biblical time calculated by Newton as starting around BC 4,300. Darwin was well aware that his thesis delivered a hammer blow to the biblical story- the prime source of European morals, ethics, laws and politics. In his jaunty way, Walter Bagehot, editor of the liberal weekly The Economist, wrote happily in Physics and Politics that the concept of natural selection favoured innovation, so that political forms grew into perfection through conflicts-international integration by war as it were. Darwin was less assured. Darwin’s biographers record that he was very much aware of the impact of his research in dismantling the moral teaching of the biblical story, but he also regularly swayed back-as the quote from Descent illustrates above- to the harsh realities of his arguments. The conclusion is that it is undeniable that Darwin fathered the amoral science of eugenics- described by John Maynard Keynes as “the most important, significant, and I would add, genuine branch of sociology which exists, namely eugenics”. [34]

Darwinism, and with it the science of eugenics, went viral – to use a modern phrase,- in the late nineteenth century. [35]The ideas were enthusiastically received in Scandinavia, Switzerland, Germany and the US. In France, Vacher de Lapouge, – a socialist, and fierce defender of atheistic materialism – considered the Jews were a curse, and wrote L’Aryan:  Son Role Sociale.  [36]  His largest following was in Germany, which had its own galaxy of prestigious clerics or university professors, who spread Darwinism far and wide. Karl Vogt, who sat on the left of the 1848 Frankfurt parliament, was an ardent atheist, considered Caucasians and Africans to be separate species, and taught an amoral doctrine of the will. Heinrich von Treitschke – historian, a member of the prestigious German professoriat,  and National Liberal member of the Reichstag – coined the phrase “ Die Juden sind unser Unglück”, and wrote that “In the unhappy clash between races, inspired by fierce mutual enmity, the blood-stained savagery of quick war of annihilation is more humane, less revolting, than the specious clemency of sloth which keeps the vanquished in a state of brute beasts.”[37] Ernst Haeckel, also a professor, embraced scientific racism and had humanity divided into ten races, with the Caucasians at the top and the Africans at the bottom. The primitives, he prophesied (falsely), were doomed to extinction ( in 2050, the EU 27 is likely to number 450, the UK 137 million, and Africa 2.5 billion). In similarly violent language, a Lutheran pastor Alfred Stöcker, delivered a sermon in Berlin in 1879- considered by some authors as the opening salvo in German anti-semitism[38]– in which he claimed that Jewish capital and the Jewish press were heading  to an unavoidable “final catastrophe” if they carried on as they were. 

Darwinism was firmly in the mould of evolutionary historiography. Over time, through the working of natural selection, the better endowed win out over lesser breeds. Progress as it were proceeds by extermination. This doctrine of course heads straight to war. Voices for war duly became noisier in the course of the 1890s. Heinrich-August Ziegler asserted in 1893 that “ war has constantly been of the greatest importance for the general progress of the human race, in that the physically weaker, the less intelligent, the morally inferior or morally degenerate people must clear out and make room for the stronger and better developed.”[39] Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz, launched the naval building programme which sparked a naval arms race between Germany and  Great Britain in the first decade of the new century. The arms race plateaued out in 1912, but Tirpitz then focused on developing Germany’s submarine capabilities with a view to challenging British controls of the high seas. Meanwhile, Kaiser Wilhelm II expounded his peculiar brew of ideas: the Germans, he said, were the salt of the earth, and the future belonged to them and the “masculine” Protestant-Christian Germanic races, compared to the degenerate Latin and Slavic peoples. [40] This did not prevent him from excoriating “the English” as Germany’s prime enemy. In a less exalted capacity, Henry Wickham Steed became The Times correspondant in Vienna. Great Britain and the Hapsburg realms had no outstanding differences, yet Wickham Steed used his position to broadcast his pro-nationalist, anti-Hapsburg and antisemitic views. In an editorial in The Times on 31 July 1914, Steed labelled efforts to stop the impending war as  “a dirty German-Jewish international financial attempt to bully us into advocating neutrality”.[41]The Chief of the Austrian General Staff, Field Marshall Franz Conrad von Hötzendorff  held a similar view: he was gung-ho for war, and was convinced that the struggle for existence was “the basic principle behind all the events on this earth.”[42] 

The Field Marshall was giving vent to an ideology of monism: God and Nature were identical; so was nation and race. All sorts of problems emerged when race and nation were not co-terminous, but one flowed over into the other. There were plenty of frontiers in pre-1914 Europe that still reflected the dynastic politics of monarchs, none more so than Austria-Hungary. The notion of race merged into that of nation, so that the war itself could be described as one between race-nations.The Hapsburg empire was composed of Germans, Magyars, Czechs, Poles, Ukrainians, Croats, Serbs, Slovaks, Slovenes and Italians; its religion included an 80% majority Latin Catholic, eastern Catholic(12%)Jewish (4.7%), eastern Orthodox (2.3) and Lutheran (1.9). To minds which wanted to fit nations into their own states, and races into nations, obviously the Hapsburg realm was an absurdity. “Shackled to a corpse” is the dismissive phrase of Germany’s relationship with Austria-Hungary attributed to General Erich von Ludendorff. In fact, Emperor Franz Josef conceived of his armed forces, composed of all the nationalities, as a union “which respects every national characteristic and solves all antagonisms”. The Emperor most definitely was not modern and Darwinian; Ludendoàrff most definitely was.

Social Darwinism was not only a powerful contribution to the modern warfare state, but also to nature worship. There is an obvious contradiction between an argument that prizes conflict and dominance of man over nature, and a doctrine that promotes communing with nature. But we are in the realm of ideology, not of logical consistency. Haeckel is the prominent Darwinist who calls attention to nature. Here lie the roots of the Wandervögel movement, initiated in 1896, as a protest against industrialization, through taking hikes in the woods, singing folk songs, and reviving old Teutonic values. One of its founders was Ludwig Klages, a virulent anti-semite , who wrote the 1913 essay “Man and Earth”: “Only within that (Christian)world  were the inventions accumulated; only within that world was that quantifying, “exact” scientific methodology brought to perfection; and finally, only within that world, that Christian world which is perpetually engaged in the most ruthless imperialism imaginable, could one find those men who have sought to conquer all of the non-Christian races, just as they have sought to conquer the whole of nature”. “Consequently, we are compelled to locate the proximate causes of world-historical “progress” in Christianity itself”.[43]The essay was re-printed by the German Greens in 1979-an opening salvo in the modern environmental movement. 

Darwin’s ideas circulated in the “Anglo-Saxon” world- a phrase used by social Darwinians to depict the culture rather than the territory of the English-speaking nations. Similar epithets were used for the “Teutons”, the “Slavs” and “the Latins”. It is worth noting that this Darwinian language does not lend itself well to a language of states, with jurisdictions bound by borders. Joseph Chamberlain, who split the Liberal Party and joined the Conservatives over Irish Home Rule, declared in 1895: “I believe in this race, the greatest governing race that the world has ever seen; in this Anglo-Saxon race, so proud, tenacious, self-confident and determined, this race which neither climate nor change can degenerate, which will infallibly be the predominant force of future history and universal civilization”. [44] Chamberlain sought in 1903 to make an alliance with Germany, but the endeavour failed, and Great Britain entered into the Entente Cordiale with France. On August 3, 1914, the reason given by Sir Edward Grey in his speech on the decision to war was twofold: to defend the right of Belgium to self-government and to protect the balance of power, in other words to sustain the Westphalian state system. The United Kingdom did not go to war for racial reasons. 

By the early decade of the twentieth century, Germany not Britain was the model to follow for Progressives. The country had industrialized fast within forty years; its universities were the envy of the civilized world; its welfare provisions were an international benchmark.  Germany had been  the first government to impose government mandated insurance in Europe. Bismarck’s 1883 Insurance law- the Krankenversicherungsgesetz– was intended to scupper the Social Democrats. It definitely improved worker’s health, helped reduce immigration, and created a popular link to the German state that ended in the SPD voting for war funding in 1914. The UK followed suit in 1911, with a system in part derived from the German model;  and the National Socialists exported their system to France, the Netherlands and Belgium during World War II. Germany’s influence, relayed by the prestige of its universities, spread out to the United States, where eugenics entered in via the slipstream of Progressivism. Jim Crow was already on the books of the southern states, designed to keep the Blacks off the roll call. In 1907, Indiana state introduced compulsory sterilization; it remained on the books of some states into the 1970s, and in Oregon- a proud defender of Progressivism-as late as 1983. In 1916,Madison Grant, a friend of Teddy Roosevelt, published a best selling book, The Passing of the Great Race, in which he counselled against unlimited immigration. If we continue on the present course, he warned, White Americans of European origin will become extinct. After becoming Führer, Hitler wrote to Grant  to say that his book was his Bible. 

The Eugenics Society was founded in the UK in 1907, and its first chairman was Francis Galton, Darwin’s cousin. Keynes was its bursar. The Society came in the aftermath of the Boer War, during which concerns had been expressed about the quality of British manhood, the supposed decline of the British “race”, the danger incurred by interbreeding, and the threat of  lesser breeds-the poor- breeding faster than the higher breeds-aristocrats, the intelligentsia,the “middle class”. Sidney Webb argued in a Fabian Society pamphlet, that while most people ( ie the better sort) practice regulation of their families, “children are being born to the Irish, Roman Catholics, Polish, Russian and German Jews”.[45] These immigrant groups, he wrote, were “thriftless and irresponsible”, and if they continued to breed, the result would be “national deterioration”.  George Bernard Shaw, the socialist firebrand, in a speech in 1910, declared that “A part of eugenics politics would finally land us in an extensive use of the lethal chamber. A great many people would have to be put out of existence simply because it wastes other peoples’ time to look after them”. [46] There were however voices speaking for the rights of individuals against the state : Colonel Josiah Wedgewood, a Liberal party MP, in the parliamentary debate on the Feeble-Minded Persons (Control Bill)  warned against abandoning the fate of men and women being sent to prison because of their abnormality, and there  abandoning them to the tender mercies “of a body of specialists  whose absolute remedy for disease change every year and who invent new fungoid growths …which may be stamped out by science if only you give them a free hand”.[47]  Here is a prime example of the gap opening up between liberals concerned about individual freedoms, and progressives, intent on using the powers of the State to advance their projects. Eugenics, to use biblical language, also begat the welfare state.


Eugenics was a prime factor contributing to the outbreak of the war in August 1914. Ian Kershaw sees the war of 1914 breaking out as a result of four interlocking elements: “1. An explosion of ethnic-racist nationalism; 2. Bitter and irreconcilable demands for territorial revionism; 3. Acute class conflict…and 4. A protracted crisis of capitalism”. [48] Starting with the last, the nature of capitalism-involving permanent shifts in taste and changes in technology- may be considered as permanently in a crisis, so the key question would have to be in August 1914, whether there was any major contribution of capitalism to the outbreak iof war. What capitalism definitely did contribute was its ability to produce materiél for peace as for war, and in prolific abundance, which a few analysts most definitely pinpointed as ensuring that industrialized warfare would be murderous. The third cause-class conflict- was present, but it is difficult to pinpoint again how this contributed directly to the outbreak of war: Conrad von Hötzendorrf, for instance, was gung-ho for war, but the heir to the throne was anything but. Much closer to the cause of war was the crucial issue in Europe of state frontiers: they were often highly contested, especially so  in the Balkans, between France and Germany, and by nations without states of their own-notably Ireland and Poland. Paradoxically, it was the German military’s decision to invade Belgium- a country guaranteed by Treaty- that brought Great Britain into the war. Great Britain fought the war to maintain the existing inter-state system, which it saw as challenged by Germany’s bid for hegemony in Europe, and by Germany’s disrespect for internationally accepted frontiers. 

But there can be little doubt that the prime factor for the outbreak of war, however, was the  prevalence of Darwinian ideas about race, conflated with the concept of nation which took its modern colouring from the ideas of the French revolution. As Burke rightly identified, one of the drivers behind the French Revolution’s inherent extremism was its militant atheism, which inspired the early efforts of the revolutionaries to de-christianize France. Napoleon’s Concordat lasted from 1801 to 1906, when France’s militant secularists imposed a separation of Church and State following the Catholic Right’s support for the anti-Dreyfusards. The substitute religion was now La Grande Nation. Germany followed a different path, charted by social Darwinism’s ideas that biology rules; the strongest live and the weak die; the more advanced races would exterminate the savage races; the future would be conditioned by comparative demography, in other words by sex. This was exactly the calculation that the German High Command was making about the rapid demographic growth of pre-1914 Russia, and its very fast industrialization, financed by French loans. Germany, the deduction ran, had to strike first.

The science of eugenics thus begat the warfare and the welfare states, and-paradoxically- sowed the seeds for the environmentalist state. Paradoxically, because environmentalists rever a rural idyll, which if espoused, would ensure that whichever people adapted its prescriptions, would be liquidated by the industrially powerful. As it was, the First War showed within the first few months what industrial warfare looked like. To paraphrase Rousseau, the European belligerents threw off the civilized chains they had placed on themselves. Nature took over. No wonder, no-one listed to the Pope.

Before this series moves past 1914, and on to the modern era, when the Progressives return, again, and again, and again, to their determined efforts to install a new religion on Europe, there is one more subject from the period 1789 to 1914, to cover: the two interwoven ideals of utilitarianism and of nationalism. These two are the subject of the next essay.

[1] David Weir, “Tontines, Public Finance, and Revolution in France and England, 1688–1789”. The Journal of Economic History49 (1): 95–124.(p.96), 1989. 

[2] Simon Schama, Citizens, A Chronicle of The French Revolution, 1989 (2004 ed.). Penguin.pp.116-117. 

[3] William Doyle The Oxford History of the French Revolution (2002 ed.). Oxford University Press, 1990, pp.99-101.  

[4] In Earthly Powers: Religion and Politics in Europe from the French Revolution to the Great War, HarperCollins, 2005, pp. 223-28. 

[5] In A History of Christianity, Allen Lane, 2009, p. 807-808. 

[6] « The French Revolution and the Catholic Church”, History Today, Issue 68, December 2010. Available on the internet. 

[7] Hugh Gough, The Terror in the French Revolution (2010 ed.). Palgrave.,1998. p.78. 

[8] François Furet, Mona Ozouf,  (1989). A Critical Dictionary of the French Revolution. Translated by Arthur Goldhammer,. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1989. P.564. 

[9] Howard G Brown, Ending the French Revolution: Violence, Justice, and Repression from the Terror to Napoleon. University of Virginia Press. 2006, p.1.  

[10] J.C.D. Clark, ed, Reflections on the Revolution in France: A Critical Edition , Stanford University Press, pp.66-67.

[11] J.C.D. Clark, ed, Reflections on the Revolution in France: A Critical Edition , Stanford University Press, pp.181-3. 

[12] J.C.D. Clark, ed, Reflections on the Revolution in France: A Critical Edition , Stanford University Press, pp.251-252.

[13] Quoted in Jennifer Walsh, Edmond Burke and International Relations: The Commonwealth of Europe and the Crusade versus the French Revolution, St Martin’s Press, Palgrave, 1995.p. 113. And Ibid. p.157. 

[14]  « Letters on a Regicide peace”, Selected Works of Edmund Burke, Oxford University Press, 1874-1878. Vol. III. P. 182. 

[15] Nerberto Bobbio, Left and Right: the Significance of a Political Distinction, John Wiley, 2016. 

[16] Judith Brown, Modern India : The Origin of an Asian Democracy, 2nd ed. Oxford University Press, 1994, p. 86. 

[17] B.A. Gerrish, A Prince of the Church: Schleiermacher and the Beginnings of Modern Theology, Philadelphia, Fortress Press, 1984, p. 25. 

[18] Owen Chadwick, The Secularization of the European Mind in the 19th Century, Cambridge University Press, 1973, p.15. .

[19] Richard J. Evans, The Pursuit of Power: Europe 1815-1914. Penguins, 2017, p. 469. 

[20] Ibid; p.915.

[21] Theodor von Bernhardi, Germany and the Next War, Gutenberg E Porject, 2004. 

[22] Isaiah Berlin, « Two enemies of the Enlightenment: The Second Onslaught: Joseph de Maistres and Open Obscurantism”. The Isaiah Berlin Open Library. The Woodbridge Lectures, 25-8 October, 1965, The Harkness Theater, Columbia University.

[23] Graeme Garrard, « Joseph de Maistre’s Civilization and its Discontents” Journal of the History of Ideas, Vo. 57, No 3. Pp. 429-446. 

[24]“ Joseph de Maitre and the Origins of fascism”,  in Isaiah Berlin, The Crooked Timber of Humanity, London,  Fontana, 1992. Pp. 91-174. 

[25] Quoted by Richard Webster, The Secret of Bryn Estyn: the Making of a Modern Witch Hunt, Oxford, the Orwell Press, 2005, pp. xv-xvi.

[26] Quoted by Tim Blanning in The Pursuit of Glory: Europe 1648-1815. Penguins, 2007. P. 489. 

[27] Greg Miller, « A 500 500-year-old map used by Columbus reveals its secrets » National Geographic, October 8, 2018. 

[28] Camille.Paglia, Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Neferiti to Emily Dickinson, . NY: Vintage, 1990, p.235.  

[29] Quoted in David McClellan, Karl Marx: His Life and Thought, New York, Harper and Row, 1973, p.467. 

[30] Charles Darwin, The Correspondance of CXharles Darwin, , Vol. 8. Cambridge, 1993, p.224 Quoted in Tom Holland, Dominion: The Making of the Western Mind, London,  Little Brown, 2019, p.422. 

[31] Charles Darwin, On the Origin of the Species, London, 1859. Pp.243-4. Qouted in Holland. p.423. 

[32] The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex, Complete in One Volume , New York, D. Apopleton and Company, 1889, p. 132. 

[33] Ibid; p. 134. 

[34]“Population.” The John Maynard Keynes Papers, SS/1/1–37 Cambridge, UK: King’s College, p. 16.

[35] Richard Weikart, The Origins of Social Darwinism in Germany, 1859-1895. Journal of the History of Ideas, Vol.54, No.3, July 1993, pp.469-488. 

[36] Vacher de Lapouge, L’Aryan, Son Role Sociale, Paris, Albert Fontenoing, 1899. 1899, “

[37] Quoted in Mark Levene, Genocide in the Age of the Nation State, Vol 2: The Rise of the West and the Coming of Genocide, London, L.B. Taurus, 2005, p.34

[38] Richard Levy, Antisemitism: A Historical Encyclopedia of Prejudice and Persecution, ²525-526. 

[39] Cited by Weikert, Ibid. p.481.bbb

[40] Cited by John C.G. Röhl, Kaiser Wilhelm, A Concise Life, Cambridge University Press, 2014.p. 74.

[41] Cited in Niall Fergusson, The Pity of War, London, Basic Books, 1999. P.32, 135. 

[42] Cited in Kurt Peball, Conrad von Hötzendorff, Private Aufzeichnungen, Amalthea Verlag, Wien-München, 1977, p.146. 

[43] file:///Users/jonathanstory/Desktop/Man%20and%20Earth%20-%20Ludwig%20Klages.webarchive

[44] Qhoted in Richard Evans, The Pursuit of Power: Europe, 1815-1914. London, Random House, 1916,b p.684. 

[45] Sidney Webb, The Decline of the Birthrate, Fabian Tract 131. 1907. 

[46] « Amazing speech by G.B.S. Barefaced advocacy of free love. Socialist Hopes”, Daily Express, March 4, 1910. 

[47] See Mr Wedgewood, Feeble-MindedPersons (Control) Bill. House of Commons Debates. May 1912. Volume 38. Cc 1443-519 in file. 

[48] Ian Kershaw, To Hell and Back: Europe, 1914-1949, London, Penguin, 2016.b

About Jonathan Story, Professor Emeritus, INSEAD

Jonathan Story is Emeritus Professor of International Political Economy at INSEAD. Prior to joining INSEAD in 1974, he worked in Brussels and Washington, where he obtained his PhD from Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. He has held the Marusi Chair of Global Business at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and is currently Distinguished Visiting Professor at the Graduate Schoold of Business, Fordham University, New York. He is preparing a monograph on China’s impact on the world political economy, and another on a proposal for a contextual approach to business studies. He has a chapter forthcoming on the Euro crisis. His latest book is China UnCovered: What you need to know to do business in China, (FT/ Pearson’s, 2010) ( His previous books include “China: The Race to Market” (FT/Pearsons, 2003), The Frontiers of Fortune, (Pitman’s, 1999); and The Political Economy of Financial Integration in Europe : The Battle of the Systems,(MIT Press, 1998) on monetary union and financial markets in the EU, and co-authored with Ingo Walter of NYU. His books have been translated into French, Italian, German, Spanish, Chinese, Korean and Arabic. He is also a co-author in the Oxford Handbook on Business and Government(2010), and has contributed numerous chapters in books and articles in professional journals. He is a regular contributor to newspapers, and has been four times winner of the European Case Clearing House “Best Case of the Year” award. His latest cases detail hotel investments in Egypt and Argentina, as well as a women’s garment manufacturer in Sri Lanka and a Chinese auto parts producer. He teaches courses on international business and the global political economy. At the INSEAD campus, in Fontainebleau and Singapore, he has taught European and world politics, markets, and business in the MBA, and PhD programs. He has taught on INSEAD’s flagship Advanced Management Programme for the last three decades, as well as on other Executive Development and Company Specific courses. Jonathan Story works with governments, international organisations and multinational corporations. He is married with four children, and, now, thirteen grandchildren. Besides English, he is fluent in French, German, Spanish, Italian, reads Portuguese and is learning Russian. He has a bass voice, and gives concerts, including Afro-American spirituals, Russian folk, classical opera and oratorio.
This entry was posted in Atheistic materialism, Catholic Church, Charles Darwin, Christianity, culture wars, De Maistre, Declaration of Rights of Man, Edmund Burke, French Revolution, Millenarianism, Napoleon, Robespierre, Social Darwinism, The Enlightenment, Toleration, Treaty of Westphalia, Uncategorized, United Kingdom, World war and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to The Year of Covid 19: Political Religion and the Culture Wars. Part 2.4. The EU’s legacy: 1789-1914: Science, Nature, Necessity.

  1. Pingback: The Year of Covid 19: Political Religion and the Culture Wars. Part 2.5. The Utilitarians I: Elie Halévy and the Philosophical Radicals 1750-1867. | Writing about history, politics & economics

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