Saturday, July 04, 2009


The age of chivalry is gone. -- That of sophisters, economists, and calculators, has succeeded; and the glory of Europe is extinguished forever. Never, never more, shall we behold a generous loyalty to rank and sex, that proud submission, that dignified obedience, that subordination of the heart, which kept alive, even in servitude itself, the spirit of an exalted freedom. The unbought grace of life, achieved defensive nations, the nurse of the manly sentiment and heroic enterprise is gone! It is gone, that sensibility of principle, that chastity of honor, which felt a stain like a wound, which inspired courage while it mitigated ferocity, which ennobled whatever it touched, and under which vice itself lost half its evil, by losing all its grossness. . . ."

Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France, 1790.

"I must say it's pretty dreary living in the American Age - unless you're an American of course."

John Osborne, Look Back in Anger, Act One. 1956

Yes, notwithstanding the debacles, economic and military, we still live in the 'American Age,' at least for awhile yet. Perhaps to be succeeded, in fifty years time to a 'Chinese Age', God forbid....Regardless, one may well ask, how or why
the 'European Age', has passed away and or disappeared. In the mots of the immortal Burke, 'extinguished forever'. Where I disagree with Burke, is in positing that the crucible was in the cataclysm of the Great War, rather than say 1789. The French Revolution, merely introduced into the blood stream of European politics a dangerous mixture of nationalism and egalitarianism. It did not per se, prevent Europe from dominating the nascent world order in the hundred years between the battle of Waterloo, and, August 1914. It was the inability of the Kaiserreich to achieve a 'blitz victory' in September 1914 (in the words of the German historian Fritz Fischer), that had the ultimate end-result of beginning the decline of the European world order. As it was put at the time by Kurt Reizler, the aide-de-camp of then German Imperial Chancellor, Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg:

"People today do not have a single idea that corresponds to the greatness of the age. But, it would be the ruin of Europe if on this occasion it would not find a possible form of permanence and community."

With the failure of the German army at the battle of the Marne, a plausible and long-lasting European world order, was most likely no longer possible. Assuming as I do that the Entente was not in a position to impose one itself, regardless of whether it had won the war in 1915 or 1916. Of course with the accursed February and October Revolutions in Russia, this rather slim possibility was no longer on the cards in any case. Instead, we had the mangled and botched Anglo-American victory of November 1918. A victory which by its very nature, more of exhaustion rather than permanence could not find a plausible equilibrium. The evenments of l'entre deux guerre, being of course histoire. And, that is the reason why we live in the 'declining' American Age. And, (some of us) celebrate this rather egregious and facile holiday. Enjoy it while it lasts.


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