Friday, August 03, 2007


Ich Habe Es Nicht Gewollt

This month marks the 93rd anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War. The Great War, as some still call it, was one of unparalleled destruction and led to great changes in the political sphere in Europe as it was known. The borders of countries were re-drawn, monarchs were deposed, and republicanism was figuratively shoved down the throats of millions of citizens.

One of the great lies of the Great War was that it was conjured up by an aggressive Germany with its warmongering and blood-thirsty monarch Kaiser Wilhelm II. While a complex and thorough analysis of the causes of the war is not possible within this medium, suffice it to say that the European community had known for decades before 1914 that war was coming, some thinking it was inevitable; it was only a matter of where and when war would break out. Despite this mentality, the Kaiser was the only leader who sought to keep the peace after Serbia met Austria-Hungary's demands, and once war did break out was the only leader seriously committed to bringing about a peaceful solution.

There is a maxim: history is written by the victors. Great Britain and the United States won the First World War and thus got to write the history of the war. Certain inconvenient truths were left out of popular renderings of the war, especially about the Kaiser. And so I end with the caption of the beautiful painting of the Kaiser posted above: Ich habe es nicht gewollt--I did not want this.

12 comments:

Godfrey said...

The Great War was the final blow to the old order.

Once the war began the liberal democracies of the west were determined to smash the last vestiges of the old order no matter what the cost in blood. They foolishly and arrogantly thought they were creating a new world. Consequently the 20th century was the bloodiest in history.

Please give Blessed Emperor Karl Hapsburg some credit for his efforts. He sought peace.

I will refrain from commenting on the Kaiser. Suffice to say, we agree his guilt has been overstated.

Kind regards,

Nick said...

Blessed Karl I of Austria was not Emperor until 1916, long after the outbreak of the war. He was not in a position to prevent the war nor seek a peaceful resolution until long after the Kaiser's efforts proved unsuccessful. Karl may have wanted peace, but unlike his peace-loving German counterpart, he has not been smeared by history.

Godfrey said...

What biography on Kaiser Wilhelm II would you recommend?

Nick said...

"The Last Kaiser: The Life of Wilhelm II" by Giles MacDonogh is by far the best I've read, and is also probably the most accurate and even-handed portrayal of the Kaiser in existence (at least in English). Mr. MacDonogh told me in a private correspondence that one of the Kaiser's godsons thought the book the most accurate picture of a man he actually knew.

tl said...

"If the Allies at the peace table at Versailles had allowed a Hohenzollern, a Wittelsbach and a Habsburg to return to their thrones, there would have been no Hitler. A democratic basis of society might have been preserved by a crowned Weimar in contact with the victorious Allies.”
Winston Churchill, 26th April 1946.

Do any of you know of any (good) modern defenses of monarchy? Any from a contemporary academic or political analyst?

Nick said...

Alas, I do not. The closest that I've come to is "Democracy--The God That Failed: The Economics and Politics of Monarchy, Democracy, and Natural Order" by Prof. Hans-Hermann Hoppe. Hoppe approaches monarchy and democracy from a political and economic perspective (hence the title). He is not a monarchist (he is an anarcho-capatilist--basically an uber-Libertarian), but he does do a very good job at deconstructing the myth that democracy "is the best thing since sliced bread." He argues that while monarchy is a flawed form of government, it is better than democracy. While I did not agree with some of his views, I found the book to be a major page-turner.

tl said...

Interesting. Was the book originally in German (I am asking becuase of the prof's name)?

What does he use to judge monarchies? The monarchy of St Louis IX would have been much different than that of King Louis XIV.

I think the only modern writer that could be considered monarchist even in a pale sense is HW Crocker III, author of "Triumph" a history of the Catholic Church. And that book isn't academic at all. Too bad. It is a hilarious book.

Nick said...

I'm not sure which language the book was written in first. There is a German edition, but Prof. Hoppe is an economist at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, so there is a good chance it was written in English first. He approaches the efficacy of monarchy with economics. Again, I don't agree with his "Natural Order" views (uber-Libertarian), but he does a very good job at debunking democracy and gives monarchists some good ammunition in our intellectual fights.

Anonymous said...

Good stuff... and Otto Von Bismarck did say that if there was to be another war, it would almost certainly come out of some preposterous struggle in the Balkans. Interesting, how decades later Princip, a Serbian, assassinated Archduke Ferdinand to ignite the war.

Anonymous said...

There seems to be some error here. Serbia did not accede to Austria's demands as they effectively amounted to the incorporation of Serbia within the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Instead Austria invaded serbia, and after some brief success were given a bloody nose. The Serbians appealed to the Tsar for protection as a fellow Slavic nation.
While all of this was going on the Kaiser was on holiday. In fact he was quite unaware of the initial problems until told of Russian mobilisation is support of Serbia. This gave Germany some stark choices. Allow Russia a free pop at Austria while it was tied up with Serbia or honour his commitments to his fellow German monarch. He chose the latter and Europe descended into the abyss.
The removal of the Kaiser was not British policy at the time, it was American. Woodrow Wilson was fanatical in his desire to impose the American solution and would not be gainsaid. Since feelings in Britain and France were both running badly against the Germans, the American position was allowed to become policy.

Nick said...

I think you are forgetting the famous "Serbian Response" to Austria's demands and the Kaiser's quote on it: "It was a capitulation of the most humiliating sort. With it dissapears every reason for war."

Anonymous said...

While it is true that the war could have been caused by any one nation due to the tangled system of alliances, I feel it is only fair to point out the German, and indirectly, that of its Kaiser, mentality and psyche at the time. Germany was flush with its victorious unification efforts, and coupled with its growing economy, no doubt felt that they were well on their way towards becoming a major world power who could do anything they put their minds to. (Sounds familiar, doesn't it?) Also, the Kaiser was celebrating a personal consolidation of power by shoving away Bismarck, so both the country and its leader were perhaps a bit aggressive and, if nothing else overconfident. While I agree that the history as is is flawed, and that democracy is not "all that", one must consider these facts. This is what made Germany such a likely candidate for the match that lit the powder keg.