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Taki vs. Fukuyama: It Could Have Been a German Century
Wall Street Journal | 12/31/99 | Francis Fukuyama

Posted on 03/26/2002 11:02:46 PM PST by paleokon

It Could Have Been the German Century

by Francis Fukuyama

My nominee for man of the century is considerably less well known than Time's choice, Albert Einstein, even though his actions arguably left a much greater imprint on the century. He is Alexander von Kluck, the hapless general commanding the German First Army as it swung around the French right while dashing toward Paris in September 1914. The French line miraculously held, and von Kluck lost the first battle of the Marne. The German drive was stalemated, and the two sides then settled down for four horrible years of trench warfare in a conflict that came to be knwon as World War I.

It is worthwhile thinking through what might have happened had the Germans won in early September. They most likely would have swept on to Paris by the end of the month, forcing a capitulation by the French government (as happened in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71, and again in May 1940). A quick German victory would have left unimpaired the cultural self-confidence of 19th-century European civilization. The 8.5 million casualties of World War I would not have spawned a radical revolutionary movement in Russia called Bolshevism. With no German humiliation there would have been no occasion for rabble-rousing on the part of an unemployed painter named Adolf Hitler, and therefore no National Socialism.

No World War II

As they say of Ginsu knives, there's more: no Russian Revolution and Nazism means there would have been no World War II, no Holocaust, no Cold War and no Chinese or Vietnamese revolutions. Decolonization and the emergence of the Third World might have taken place much later absent the exhaustion of hte British Empire after two world wars and the rise of radical revolutionary movement in Eurasia. And the U.S., which came of age as a great power due to the world wars, may have remained the isolationist paradise fondly remembered by Patrick Buchanan.

A quick German victory over France would not necessarily have made the 20th century more peaceful. The U.S. might still have allied with Briatin and Russia to expel the Germans from France as they did in June 1944. On the other hand, it is perfectly plausible to imagine the German Empire, supreme on the continent but lacking Hitler's maniacal ambition, settling in for a protracted struggle with the British Empire over colonies. The monumental revolutions and wars of the first half of our century might have been replaced by a century of relative peace and economic progress in what would have been the German, rather than the American, Century.

This kind of counterfactual history quickly becomes so speculative as to be meaningless. I have spun out htis alternative scenario for the 20th century simply to make a point about historical contingency: The great events that shape our time often spring from very small causes that one could esaily imagine having happened differently, like the battle lost by von Kluck.

According to Alexis de Tocqueville, democratic peoples dislike the idea that single individuals or relatively small events can shape large ones, wanting rather to believe in the power of large, impersonal historical forces. But history frquently plunges off in oblique and oftne disastrous directions as a result of actions by individuals who are often not great but, like von Kluck, mediocre.

If history can indeed be altered in such big ways by little events, what does this tell us about the possibility of historical progress? De Tocqueville asserted in the 19th century that democracy and the idea of human equality had been steadioly gaining ground over the previous seven centuries, and that American democracy would eventually become a model for the entire world. As the 20th century closes, de Tocqueville would seem to be right on target. While there were, according to Freedom House, only a handful of true democracies in 1900, today some 40% of the world's population live in polities that can reasonably be labeled democratic. Is this, like von Kluck's defeat, just an accident of time and place? Will this democratic moment pass in the next century or next millennium, as the result of an unexpected defeat in an obscrube battle yet to come?

The answer, in my view, is no. Even the terrible detour taken by world history in the wake of von Kluck's defeat accelerated the pace of the democratic advances that occurrred later in the century. World War I brought about the collapse of the German, Austro-Hungarian and Turkish empires. While tremendously destabilizing, this laid the ground for national self-determination, which we today regard as a key democratic right. The war and its aftermath brought to power working class parties in Britain, France and other countries, laying the basis for expanded political participation and the modern welfare state. Military competition brought about innumerable technological innovations, from aircraft and radar to computers, integrated circuits and the Internet. All of these advances improved living standards and increased possiblities for communication, education and association, all of which are critical to modern democracy.

A German century may have been peaceful and prosperous, but in the social sphere it also would have been stratified, corporatist and ultimately based on racial and ethnic hierarchy -- a world made safe for South Africa. While there doubtless would have been gradual advances in human liberty and equality, the explosive upheavals of the actual 20th century greatly accelerated the pace of change. The Holocaust put paid to concepts like social Darwinism and eugenics that were widely held by respectable people in the West up through the 1930's. In the U.S., the service of African-Americans and the entry of women into the industrial work force in World War II laid the groundwork for advances by both groups in later decades.

Advancing Democracy

None of this is meant, of course, to justify the terrible events of the century now passing. But it does demonstrate the truth of de Tocqueville's assertion that even the actions of democracy's enemies seem in the long run to advance the cause of democracy. It also supports Immanuel Kant's view that man's "asocial sociability" -- his propensity for war and violence -- is the crucible of human progress.

So it turns out that the main consequence of the long chain of events occasioned by Gen. von Kluck's defeat, important as those events were for the millions of individuals affected by them, was to affect mostly the timing of the march toward democracy and free markets and not the final objective. This would seem to be evidence for what Hegel called the "cunning of History," or what others would label the hand of God in human affairs.

Mr. Fukuyama is a professor of public policy at George Mason University and author, most recently, of "The Great Disruption: Human Nature and the Reconstitution of the Social Order" (Free Press, 1999).

TOPICS: Constitution/Conservatism
KEYWORDS: fukuyama; neoconservatives; paleoconservatives; taki; worldwari
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Compare Fukuyama's article with this one by Taki, on the same subject. Fukuyama is a neoconservative, Taki something of a paleo. Which do you think is right?
1 posted on 03/26/2002 11:02:46 PM PST by paleokon
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To: paleokon
I disagree with both, in the sense that the 20th century would have been just as bloody, in some other way. I'm not sure that communism wouldn't have erupted in Russia any way. I'm more sympathetic with Taki. Fukuyama is way off base to claim the 20th century would have been dominated by Germany had they conquered France. U.S. and U.K. would be unaffected.

The likeliest event would have been the Brit's still fighting Germany to a standstill in France until the U.S. forces hit like a ton of bricks. In other words, had the Germans won at the Somne, WW I would then be more like WW II, although maybe without a Dunkirk.

2 posted on 03/27/2002 7:33:29 AM PST by Forgiven_Sinner
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To: paleokon
All these arguments pining for a German victory in 1914 assume that a victorious Germany would have used its victory wisely. In fact, it would have been a victory for the very worst in Germany. A swaggering, militaristic Germany would have been the insufferable bully of Europe, leading to decades of warfare before it collapsed as Napoleon's empire did.
3 posted on 03/27/2002 12:24:36 PM PST by Tokhtamish
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To: Tokhtamish
A swaggering, militaristic Germany would have been the insufferable bully of Europe, leading to decades of warfare before it collapsed as Napoleon's empire did.

Maybe, but better than the defeat which yielded Nazism, yes?

4 posted on 03/27/2002 3:22:19 PM PST by Decentralize
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To: Askel5; A.J.Armitage; x; sheltonmac; diotima
5 posted on 03/27/2002 3:23:38 PM PST by Decentralize
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To: Decentralize
Maybe, but better than the defeat which yielded Nazism, yes?


6 posted on 03/27/2002 4:28:40 PM PST by A.J.Armitage
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To: paleokon
If Germany had crushed France, an atmosphere similar to that of Weimar Germany would have spread in France. The loss of Alsace and Lorraine in 1871 had already brought France a distance along the road to tyranny and revenge-war. It's likely that further exactions by Germany would have been harsh and excessive, which would have provoked French bitterness, anger and hostility. A humiliated France would seek allies to get its own back.

Also, the nationalities question in the East would not have been solved. Would the Hapsburg, Ottoman and Romanov empires have collapsed or unravelled by themselves? Would they have turned repressive with the support of Germany or other outside powers? Would the subject peoples have risen and sought outside assistance for their revolts?

It's probably true that what would have happened had Germany won -- especially after a short war -- would have been much more benign than what actually did happen. It would have to have been better, given all that the war set into motion. But in 1914 or 1918 one couldn't forsee what would happen a generation later. Indeed, in 1914 one couldn't even forsee what would happen before the year was out. Even today we can't say what would have happened by the year 2002 had Germany won the First World War. And people at the time would have had to rely on what they did in fact know at the time.

This discussion reminds me a bit of the Civil War threads. In both cases, people blame the war leaders for things that actually took place later. This is much more understandable in the case of WWI, since the war did set into motion the Russian Revolution, Fascism, Hitler, Stalin, WWII, the Shoah, and the Cold War. The First World War was a great tragedy which made the Second possible.

The other contributing factor, though, was that the post-WWI generation of leaders did not take the steps necessary to move beyond hatred, as the post-WWII leaders did. A firm committment to German-French reconciliation throughout the post-WWI period could have done wonders. And though I hate to admit it, it's possible that a drive towards European Union and free-trade might have prevented what was to come.

Given the arrogance of Wilhelmine Germany, the bitterness of the French, and the instability caused by the nationalities question, it's unlikely that Europe would have taken steps towards long-term peace had Germany won, either. Anything would have been better than what did happen, but if Nazism, Stalinism and a genocidal war never happened, people would not realize how lucky they really were.

7 posted on 03/27/2002 7:54:25 PM PST by x
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To: x
What's missing here is that Austro-Hungarian collapse, WWI, the bolsheveki, socialism, were well on the way by 1914. I've got 1909 news articles predicting it all, which don't mean anything other than someone's clock was right at one point that day. Nevertheless, Europe was long screwed before then. The colonies were going haywire, the Kaiser was Out-of-Control, and the Russian Duma was worse.

Was the U.S. immune to it all? I say no. We might have gone the way of the national socialists had the progressives taken control in 1912.

The only thing that can be said here for Fukuyama, other than his admittance of the word, "Einstein," which is pretty brave for a man who once wrote that time itself was dead, is that he understands -- and I know this was the basis of his theory -- that self-government has won.

The question remains, in what form, exactly.

8 posted on 03/27/2002 8:09:46 PM PST by nicollo
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To: paleokon
Thanks for the interesting article. Taki is just reversing what happened and saying it would be better. Fukuyama looks a little more deeply, and asks the question about how the non-white world would be affected. Perhaps a German victory would have stifled "progressive" and revolutionary forces there. The other side, though, is that if France and Belgium were crushed and Britain defeated, their authority in the colonies would have been shaken and revolutionaries there would take encouragement from the defeat of the mother countries, though the hope of overthrowing the yoke might have been even less than it was in our history.
9 posted on 03/27/2002 8:18:58 PM PST by x
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To: nicollo
Good points, but Lenin's big selling point was peace. Without a prolonged war, change and revolution might have come to Russia, but I suspect it might have been a milder affair, more Kerensky than Lenin, bad enough perhaps, but open to change or reversal at the ballot box in a few years. How anyone could have kept Russia's empire together is another question, though. Like Austria and Turkey it was only a question of one sharp blow knocking over the whole house of cards.

Anyway, it's a facinating question because on the one hand, the basic dynamics -- German arrogance, French resentment, Austrian nervousness, the frustrations of the subject peoples -- wouldn't have changed. On the other hand, everything would have changed if Europe hadn't been poisoned by a long brutal war. Germany was going to bring much of the arrogance and brutality of imperialism and colonialism into the heart of Europe, but it wouldn't have been comparable to what happened after a war that cost 20 million lives.

This question is also similar to Civil War debates in another way. Living in our world, we can't imagine slavery or imperialism lasting down to our day (save perhaps on the farthest margins of the the inhabitable world). But had things been different they might have persisted even longer than they did. The Russian empire was dissolved only recently -- if then.

I can imagine Germans, Austrians and carefully selected members of other nations, subject nationalities and minority groups building a strong, united Mitteleuropa. But given everything we know about the period and the region, I suspect German arrogance and the resentment of the subject peoples would have made this impossible.

Maybe Germany sought first military, and then economic domination of Europe, because it knew that it didn't have the skills necessary for political predominance. It could conquer and it could buy, but in Central, as in Eastern Europe, no state or alliance could rule the competing nationalities in the way that a national government can rule over its own people and territory.

Bonus question: if war harms liberty and encourages statism, and there is no long war, but the more statist side wins, is that a victory for liberty or for statism?

10 posted on 03/27/2002 9:04:03 PM PST by x
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To: paleokon
11 posted on 03/28/2002 3:07:30 PM PST by Aurelius
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To: Forgiven_Sinner
The likeliest event would have been the Brit's still fighting Germany to a standstill in France until the U.S. forces hit like a ton of bricks. In other words, had the Germans won at the Somne, WW I would then be more like WW II, although maybe without a Dunkirk.

That is assuming that the US would participate in the war.

The US only joined the war in 1917. If Fukuyama is right there might not have been a war in 1917.

12 posted on 03/29/2002 7:17:28 AM PST by M. Janssen
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To: M. Janssen
That is assuming that the US would participate in the war.

The US only joined the war in 1917. If Fukuyama is right there might not have been a war in 1917.

Correct, I assume US would join the war, once France was going down and the British forces were fighting a rear guard action in France. I cannot imagine the US leaving Britain to be defeated by Germany, nor even France, for that matter.

This might mean the US entering in 1915 or 1916. Then the war would have a great effect upon the US elections of 1916. That was a 3 way race: Wilson for the democrats, on a peace/neutrality platform; Taft for the Republicans, and Roosevelt for the Bull Moose party, against Taft. Roosevelt may well have won had we been at war.

I agree with an earlier comment that Communism was well under way in Russia and a revolution would have occurred in any event; had the war ,ended sooner, perhaps the monarchy could have fought off the revolution.

The notion of national socialism taking over the US is ridiculous. We've had many socialistic leaning governments, from FDR, LBJ, Jimmy Carter, and Bill Clinton, and there is still great resistance to the federal government, even today. In 1914 there was even more resistance.

13 posted on 03/29/2002 7:30:47 PM PST by Forgiven_Sinner
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To: x; Forgiven_Sinner
x, Thanks for your thoughts, as always, and thoughtful as always.

I'm not so convinced WWI was inevitable from purely political causes in a geopolitical or cultural sense. I see it more the result of bad ideas as much as by bad politics. Sure the alignments dragged one into the other, and the German inferiority complex led the Kaiser into this stupid proof of superiority. But discontent fueled the period as much as anything else, and as far as I can tell discontent sparked the war, or made it inevitable. Europe of 1913 was fraught with stupidities.

In Berlin in 1910, the socialists held the plurality. In France, it was one extreme to the other, and labor and anarchists held the nation to the floor. Even in Britain the PM's windows were knocked by raging suffragists, which could only mean that those of even greater discontent had even great means and ends. Anarchists struck the UK, too, especially Latvians and other eastern euros.

I don't believe the US was immune to it. I see Forgiven_Sinner disagrees that national socialism might have taken in the U.S. I'd recommend another read of Roosevelt's "New Nationalism" speech: it was all about business by, of, and for the government. Think it through and apply the logical conclusions to his arguments. It would have gone waay beyond the New Deal, or what we have today.

He failed because there was a concerted effort against him, as Forgiven_Sinner points out. Correction, though: it was 1912, not 1916, that 3-way contest. The 1916 contest was all about staying out of the war, the promise upon which Wilson squeaked by.

x, speaking of "what ifs," what would have happened had the U.S. been serious about defending the White Russians?

As for your bonus question:

if war harms liberty and encourages statism, and there is no long war, but the more statist side wins, is that a victory for liberty or for statism?
You're just tryng to bring Abe Lincoln into it, aren't you? LOL!
14 posted on 03/29/2002 8:28:52 PM PST by nicollo
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Comment #16 Removed by Moderator

To: nicollo
Imaginary history fans might appreciate the two recent books, "What If" and "What If 2." Or maybe not, since the emphasis is on the technical "how things might have been different" in the short run, rather than in speculating on the long run consequences that would result. John Lukacs and others consider how Germany could have won the First World War or the Second. And they ask: what if the 1870-1 Franco-Prussian War and its aftermath had been different?

I don't think we'd have had any staying power in Russia during the revolution, but a Russian writer did speculate that if the Crimean peninsula south of Ukraine had been an island, a free Russian "Taiwan" could have developed under the protection of the British fleet.

As to the bonus question, I wasn't thinking so much of Lincoln, though it does fit and raise interesting possiblities.

Hayek and others who lived through both world wars attacked Germany, even the Germany of 1914, for being the statist and repressive power. Today, Taki, Paul Gottfried and others think a victory for Wilhelm's Germany would have been a victory for freedom.

Maybe, given all we know about what happened after imperial Germany didn't win ... but ideas of free speech, representative government, and above all free trade were closely tied to Britain. Had Germany won, managed trade of the sort that developed in the thirties would likely have become the rule. And this would have really agitated some who speculate on the question. It would also have been a victory for Hegel over John Stuart Mill, and for repression and vote manipulation over a more disinterested attitude of "fair play" for all.

I can admire these Rockwell types for asking interesting questions, but the answers simply seem to be, "whatever happened was wrong." The reasoning seems to be A) This side won a war, B) The powers of the state grew after the war and personal liberties shrank, C) Therefore if the other side won the war, the powers of the state would not have grown and individual liberties would not have been curtailed or reduced. The other alternatives are that things would have been much the same, or that more freedom would have been lost. As with the American Civil War, the Rockwellites don't see that the losing side may have had its own imperialism, militarism and statism.

In 1914 Germany was the rising power looking to change European affairs. They were more than willing to apply in Western Europe lessons learned and repressive tactics used in the colonies and in Eastern Europe. They favored extending and expanding the statist and managerial ideas that they had already developed and applied at home. The Germans of 1914 were not above using relativistic, might makes right arguments to justify their actions. England and France had also advanced along the same path, but nowhere near as far as Germany did. Under the influence of war they continued on that road, but once again, Germany went further.

Had there been no war, we probably wouldn't have seen the very ugliest side of statism, and anything that would have prevented the rise of Hitler and Stalin would have been a good thing. But that doesn't mean that every possible German victory would have been superior to every conceivable alternative.

In regard to TR: Without Lenin or Stalin, socialism wouldn't have been discredited as much as it was. And TR was ready to go some distance on a socialist road had he won. But under our system it takes some crisis or breakthrough for a President to overcome congressional opposition to his plans. In the long run, the war and all its consequences went a long way to making socialism less attractive. In the short run, though, Wilson, like other political leaders used the war to get more statist or socialistic measures through, some temporary, some more permanent.

17 posted on 03/30/2002 5:58:09 AM PST by x
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To: AdamWeisshaupt
I don't make the case that they were "highly repressive" by 20th century standards. There's much to be said for Gottfried's view. But if you look at their conduct in occupied Belgium and France it leaves a lot to be desired. There is a recent book on German conduct in Belgium which confirms that the stories weren't all war propaganda.

I won't say that Imperial Germany was worse in its conduct in its overseas colonies than Britain or France or Belgium or Holland, but they were newer and less seasoned at the imperial game. Germany's rapid ascent to power and their fear of their neighbors produced a regrettable degree of repression when they ruled over other peoples.

You might take a look at Hayek's "Road to Serfdom". Hayek examines all the German rhetoric against English and French ideas of individualism and for organization, management and proper subordination in 1914. There was talk of the German Revolution of 1914 overturning British and French liberal ideas. It's hard to think that this rhetoric wouldn't have had effects had Germany won the war.

Also of interest may be Bertrand Russell's "Freedom vs. Organization" and Fritz Fischer's books including "Germany's Aims in the First World War."

I'm no Teutonophobe, and I don't accept the Goldhagen thesis or any of the other views of Germans as somehow uniquely evil or perverse. But I think the evidence does suggest that Germany was different from how some present-day libertarians think of it. There was an aggressive side that people don't like to look at.

And the German reality of the times straddled present-day ideological presuppositions. In some ways Germany was more conservative than Britain or France. It was more authoritarian and less democratic. But the ideas of centralization, standardization, managerialism, statism and control were more firmly established in Imperial Germany than in France or Russia or even the United States and Britain.

Germany was a model for American "Progressives" of the early 20th century standardizing sort and for some British Fabians. A lot of those tendencies paleos deplore were advanced by admirers of Imperial Germany. For my own part, the way that Bismarck and Wilhelm I overthrew those German rulers who opposed them makes them dubious examples for legitimists and legalists.

If you think that a German victory would have spared us Hitler and Stalin, I have no argument, though it's also true that other developments might have had the same effect. If you think it would have spared us the policies promoted by Wilson or FDR, I would have to say that you would be wrong. A German victory would have been interpreted as proof that classical liberal ideas did not work.

Anyway, check out Hayek, a libertarian from a generation that was both better educated and more deeply scarred by history than our own, and see what you think.

19 posted on 03/30/2002 9:18:20 AM PST by x
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To: AdamWeisshaupt; nicollo
You make me think of a slogan. Oceania is at War with Eurasia. Oceania always has been at War with Eastasia.

Ah, 1984, the supremely effective anti-socialist, anti-communist novel. I, a child of the cold war, did not appreciate how anyone could seriously entertain communism. Having learned a little history, I appreciate the novel more.

There were many times when the Germans came close to forcing French capitulation. Russia and the Central Powers might have patched things up, and we would have seen a reprise of the Holy Alliance. The Holy Alliance, had it remained intact, would have had the power to dominate the world.

I don't doubt the Germans could have conquered the French in WW I--without the British or the US. I don't think they could have rolled the British Army out of France as easily as they did in WW II, and the more successful the Germans were, the more likely the US would be pulled in.

You take this blindly patriotic stance: the US is the most powerful nation, it has always been the most powerful, etc.

Actually, in WW I Britain was more powerful militarily than the US. Germany may have been the best on land and in the air. But I see the German forces being worn down by fighting Russia, UK, France, and the US, just as it happened in history.

The speculation of Russia and Germany uniting again in WW I isn't credible because of the blood ties between the Russian monarchy and the British. There is also the religious difference of Eastern Orthodox versus Lutheren and Catholicism of the central powers. These are powerful popular forces that prevent this alliance.

20 posted on 03/30/2002 1:51:49 PM PST by Forgiven_Sinner
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