Monday 29 June 2009

Why did Fascism never come to England?

So, what's the answer, why did Fascism not take root in England?

I think it important to consider that Britain had few, if any, of the deep-rooted structural problems that gave rise to Fascism on the Continent. It possessed an organic political culture with readily identifiable symbols and institutions, which served to unite the whole community behind a single defining idea. Even the deepest economic and social grievances were not enough to 'disengage' most people from the national community, particularly those on the political right, who may otherwise have been attracted by Mosleyism. The country had not been defeated in war, like Germany; it did not feel aggrieved by the outcome of war, like Italy. There was simply nothing upon which Fascism could get a purchase. Even anti-Semitism was a non-starter, and Mosley's growing obsession with the 'Jewish question' was about as far away from traditional English 'golf club' snobbery as it was possible to get.

Most people would have surely have been happy to accept Stanley Baldwin's assessment of Mosley that he was "a cad and a wrong 'un." Finally, any nation that could laugh at the absurdities of Roderick Spode and the Black Shorts was never, ever going to be seduced by the real thing. Heil Spode!

Sunday 28 June 2009

Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves

Here I am, mounting the scaffold, ready to put my head in the noose once again. Ah, but it is a far, far better thing I do than I have ever done…:-))

I found myself smiling when I read David Barrett’s report in today’s Sunday Telegraph on gypsy camps (Minister’s ‘bullying’ on gypsy camps). Why, you might ask, since these camps will cost the taxpayer £100 million pounds; yes, that’s right £100 million. It’s not really that funny that they are being forced by our wretched Labour government on people and communities that simply don’t want them, including the people of Earsham in Norfolk, who’ve had to put up with an illegal camp for some time, with all of the inconvenience this entails.

So, why is it funny? Well, just think of all that lovely money, just think of all of the contactors queuing up to get their hands on it, especially in times like these, so hard for the building industry in particular. But, you see, they don’t want the work! Indeed they are so reluctant that the Department for Communities and Local Government has issued guidelines saying that, where no bids are received, the gypsy project should be made part of a general building work, lumping in the good, the bad and the ugly. Kurt Calder of the National Federation of Builders says this is a clear attempt to force contractors into unpopular projects.

Seemingly one builder in northern England is refusing to bid on the unreasonable grounds that when he last worked on a gypsy camp he lost £30,000 in the theft of equipment and supplies. One simply has to laugh!

On an entirely unrelated point I’m a late convert to the Telegraph from the Times, our family paper by long tradition. I switched because of the tremendous job the paper has done in exposing the scandal of Parliamentary expenses, showing the true value of a free press in a democracy. And, no, I’m not an editorial plant!

Years of Our Lord

More snippets from the archives!

Have you ever thought about the dating system we use in the west? No, well, neither did I until I read a brief exegesis on the whole question. I suppose it should really come as no great surprise to learn that for centuries after the birth of Christ few people had any idea that they were living in the Christian era. Indeed the idea that the years should be counted from the Day of Annunciation only emerged in the sixth century, in the work of a Greek-speaking monk known as Dionysius Exiguus. The point in time he fixed for Day One Year One was 25 March, nine months before the commonly accepted birth of Christ on 25 December. All previous years were to be ‘Before Christ’, and all subsequent years Anni Domini, Years of our Lord.

But more centuries were to elapse before this notion was generally accepted. In England it first came when Venerable Bede accepted the chronology advanced by Dionysius in his History of the English Church and People, written in the early eighth century. Before this several dating systems had been in operation, the most common being the regnal year of a ruling king, pope or emperor.

A Taste for Violence

There is an interesting paper by Victor Neil in the August 2006 issue of The Journal Behavioural and Brain Sciences. The full title is Cruelty's Rewards: The gratification of Perpetrators and Spectators.

In essence it is an overview of cultural practices from the earliest times, focusing on the vicarious enjoyment of cruelty and pain. The capacity for cruelty, and the enjoyment of the suffering of others, is a constant if latent feature of the human psyche. Think of the spectators at the Roman arena; think of the pleasure derived from cinematic violence.

It is possible to extend this analysis to look at the problem of evil and sadism in more general terms. The monstrous, in other words, is not abstract or 'other', but an immediate, internalised danger. Humanity's baser impulses have been superficially channelled and controlled by personal socialisation and the super-arching structures of morality and law. These can, however, disintegrate, both at an individual and collective level. We know all to well from both contemporary politics, and from modern history, that cruelty and indifference, once released, can have devastating consequences.

Saturday 27 June 2009

Clausewitz on the Iraq War

What could the great Prussian strategist have to say about that particular fiasco? Well, consider the following passage from On War-

No one starts a war-or rather, no one in his senses should do so-without first being clear in his mind what he intends to achieve by that war and how he intends to conduct it.

You see, what is important here, what Clausewitz understood and American strategic planners did not, is not so much the specific design, the aims and objectives as these are conceived in advance of an attack, but what unintended consequences may arise. War is then not a 'continuation of policy by other means.' Rather it can, and does, produce entirely new lines of policy that turn the original objectives inside out. For Washington the unintended consequences of the war in Iraq have, quite simply, been endless.

So, what did the Bush administration not anticipate? For one thing they did not anticipate that America casualties would be greater after 'victory' than before. Above all, it did not anticipate being involved in a sectarian war of possibly indefinite duration. It was all so one dimensional: a deposed dictator, a grateful people a new democracy. In reality, the real consequences, the new departure in policy, has been a more unstable Middle East, an increased danger of terrorism, a growing threat to the civil liberties of the democratic nation, and a widespread distrust of the United States among the Islamic countries.

In response to a deteriorating strategic situation Donald Rumsfeld, the then US Secretary of Defense, said quite simply, in the crassest possible way, 'Stuff happens'. But you see, stuff should not happen if war is a rational pursuit of policy in the sense that Clausewitz conceived this. The advice that the great Prussian strategist would have given to Bush and Rumsfeld is to read the signs history for possible consequences, in an attempt to minimise the variables. But they did not read history; they did not read Clausewitz and they did not understand Iraq. The only certainty now is more chaos.

David Irving, a Tragedy in Two Acts

David Irving is a superb historian, meticulous and thorough in his use of and search for primary sources. He is, in a sense, a historian's historian, which only serves to make his offense all the greater.

You see, most Holocaust deniers and Hitler enthusiasts are either stupid or deluded or both. But Irving is not. I read a first edition of Hitler's War in which he does not deny the Holocaust, he simply says that it 'emerged' as a result of ad hoc action by local Gauleiters and the SS.

But anyone who knows anything at all about the Third Reich, and Irving, I do believe, knows more than most, would quickly conclude that nothing, nothing at all, no major initiative of this kind, could ever have happened without Hitler's knowledge and approval. The argument is simply unsustainable.

So, unsustainable as it is, it gave way to outright Holocaust denial. In his blindness, in his political bigotry, Irving committed a sin which for which no historian, no researcher, can be forgiven: he twisted, denied and distorted the facts. He knows the truth: he simply chose to turn away from it in a perverse act of double-think. He gave over his formidable talents to a worthless cause. A superb historian became a wretched human being, the chief victim of his own fraudulent bad-faith. It's tragic.

Gatsby, Race and Cultural Pessimism

In The Great Gatsby F Scott Fitzgerald makes an oblique reference, in the character of Tom Buchanan, to the theories of Lothrop Stoddard on the decline of the white race. There is a background, in the fashion of Oswald Spengler, to this kind of cultural pessimism.

There is also, it might be said, wider concerns of sexual anxiety, fears at one and the same time of miscegenation and inadequacy. I'm thinking specifically here of Henry Champley, one time foreign editor of Le Temps, and his wonderfully eccentric White Women, Coloured Men, his bizarre and salacious travel book, published in 1936.

In this he urges white women to beware of the dark races; for his travels in the USA and the Far East have convinced him that The coloured people have discovered the White woman as an idol worthy of being desired above all else. The problem for Mr. Champley is that the white woman has also discovered the coloured races! She is therefore urged to resist the tempations of racial mixing and promiscuity in favour of 'heroic humility', which, I assume, means being at the disposal of dear old Mr. Champley! :-))

Actually this whole cultural trend has a wider resonance than Stoddard's specifically American concerns. It's already evident before the First World War, in work like The Conflict of Colour, where Putnam Weale warns his fellow Britons against the perils of the Japanese alliance. In the mid-1920s, independently of the American school, the poet Leo Chiozza Money published The Peril of the White, saying that The whites of Europe and elsewhere are set upon race suicide and internecine war.

Is it surprising, then, that Fitzgerald allows the ridiculous Buchanan to voice such views? Always remember Nick's thought in Gatsby I was tempted to laugh whenever he opened his mouth. I dare say Tom and Mr Champley would have got on well, though. :-))

Not News: the Pilgrim Fathers Practiced Witchcraft!

Well, no, not exactly, but I caught your attention, did I not?

It is true, though, that evidence has been uncovered suggesting that some of the colonial communities may have openly practiced witchcraft, swapping spells with African slaves. This comes from a small feature in the February issue of the BBC History Magazine, entitled The Colonists who Practiced Magic with African Slaves (p.12). It reports some conclusions reached by archaeologists and anthropologists who have uncovered a ‘spirit bundle’ below the streets of Annapolis, Maryland.

They were working on a log-road four feet below the present street level when the diggers found a clay and sand bundle, containing a stone axe, three hundred pieces of led shot, 25 common pins and a dozen nails. Discovery of such bundles is not new, but the remarkable thing about this one is that it was placed in plain view. Dr Mark Leone, director of the Archaeology in the Annapolis project, says that this find is quite different from anything else hitherto seen in North America, providing the earliest evidence so far that African religion was being practiced.

The bundle dates to 1700. Dr Leone continues: “We’re particularly intrigued by the placement of this bundle in so visible a spot, because it suggests an unexpected level of public tolerance. All the previous caches of African spirit practices we’ve found in Annapolis were at least 50 years younger. These had been used in secret. But in the earlier generation, the Annapolis newspapers was filled with references to English magic and witchcraft, so both European and African spirit practices may have been more acceptable then.”

Dr Frederick Lamp, curator of African Art at Yale, thinks that the bundle may represent the image of Eshu Elegba, the god of chance and confusion.

Commenting also on the frequent reports on pagan and non-Christian beliefs in The Maryland Gazette published before 1750 Dr Leone says, “English witchcraft in this period existed openly in public and was tolerated. It’s intriguing to speculate how English and African spirit beliefs may have interacted and borrowed from each other.”

Friday 26 June 2009

Fascist Literati

Céline is the first to leap to mind, though his 'Fascism' was anything but systematic; more a collection of petty personal grievances of one kind or another. Castle to Castle is not his best novel, but it gives much insight into the character of his politics. Ernst Jünger is one of those deliciously ambigious figures, though if you really want to discover his views on Fascism his Notebooks are worth examination.

There are some other good examples that should be added to the list, including Pierre Drieu La Rochelle, Celine's countryman and fellow novelist, although he is now almost completely unknown in the English-speaking world. From the Anglo-Saxon world we have Percy Wyndham Lewis, painter and author who co-founded the Vorticist movement in poetry. More of a 'fellow traveller' than an outright Fascist, he was, a little like Celine, one of those individuals who has to swim against the tide. His 1937 novel, Revenge for Love, is highly critical of Communist activity on the Spanish Civil War, and dismissive of the political enthusiasims of left-wing English intellectuals.

But the greatest of all the 'Fascist' writers is surely Knut Hamsun, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1920. He later became a supporter of Vidkun Quisling, the Norwegian Nazi leader. After a war-time meeting with Josef Goebbels Hamsun sent him his Nobel Prize medal as a gift; and after Hitler's death in 1945 he wrote an obituary describing him as a "warrior for mankind." Even so, the work and the politics are two quite different things. Hunger, Pan, Victoria and Mysteries have a value well beyond the mundane.

Speaking of Drieu, I now have a copy of his 1931 novel, Le Feu Follet, translated into English as Will O' the Wisp. I'll record my impressions here in due course. I will say, though, that he is beginning to exercise a kind of spell over me. :-))

The BBC and the Gypsy; the Manipulation of News

I assume most people in the UK saw the BBC news reports from Northern Ireland about the attacks on ‘Romanians’ in Belfast. I have to say the whole thing made no sense to me. Did the people of Northern Ireland have a particular prejudice against Romanians? Why Romanians and not, say, Poles, who have a higher visible presence throughout the United Kingdom? Why were Romanians concentrated in such numbers in such a confined location? I suspected there was something more to the whole story: it simply made no sense to me as it stood. Now, I have to tread carefully; for you see the people in question were not Romanians at all: they were Roma, gypsies, if you prefer.

Yes, I reached that conclusion myself because, well, they looked like gypsies rather than people of mainstream Romanian ethnicity. But it was James Delingpole, the Daily Telegraph blogger who revealed the full facts, repeated in The Spectator (27 June)

It maddens me to discover that news is being 'managed' in this fashion, that ‘Auntie’ is deliberate treating us as like children. It's not a question of racism; it is a question of being allowed to form our own judgments and make up our own minds. In place of this we get the usual tired and pious platitudes from politicians and the press, the same platitudes trotted out over the electoral advance of the BNP: how ‘disgusting’ it all is, how ‘abominable’ people are; and so on and so on, yawn, yawn. There is no attempt whatsoever to uncover motives; there is no attempt to explore all the nuances of the story in a way that would make it comprehensible.

The story as it stood did no service to the people of Belfast; it did no service to the general community, to the rest of us; above all, it did no service to the Roma themselves. Prejudice does not take shape out of nothing: it arises from a long tail of tradition. Let me say this and let me say it openly: the Roma are not liked and they are not trusted, neither here nor in Eastern Europe. In Italy, for example, as Delingpole reports, almost 70% of the population wants the Roma expelled. Pure racism, is it?

We have to face these questions, and face them openly. It does no good at all to hide behind news management. Actually it’s more than news management, far more: it’s a deliberate attempt at the management of morals; Lord forbid that we should reach the wrong conclusion. The point is lots of people will reach the wrong conclusion if they are treated in this way. Prejudice is only defeated by reason and policy not by half-truths and lies. Facts, key facts, must not be withheld. For when they are it is easy to conclude that there genuinely is something to hide. If anything is more guaranteed to perpetuate suspicion and dislike it is truth by half-measure. By this process the Roma will never escape being thrown into the role of victims.

The BBC is now manipulating the news in various ways: the point is to make it understandable

Baskets and Bombs

This is a contribution I made some time ago to a discussion on Islamic terrorism.

For the sake of some balance, and in full expectation that the following argument is likely to elicit a venomous response, let me try to introduce some objectivity and perspective into this thread. Yes, a war of terrorism is indeed a terrible thing, one where we cannot discriminate between guilty and innocent, soldier and civilian, participant and bystander. It breeds fear and suspicion, turning every devout Muslim man and woman into 'the enemy'; which might, in fact, be said to be Bin Laden's most significant political achievement to date.

Yet has anyone paused to consider that it is Muslim people themselves who are the chief victims of terrorism, either of the state sponsored and official variety, or of the more home grown versions? Consider, moreover, the hypocrisy of past American policy on this whole matter, which encouraged and supported Bin Laden when the victims of terrorism were Russian soldiers in Afghanistan, and supported Saddam when the victims of poison gas attacks were Iranians. Yes, Bin Laden and his kind are monsters; but just who exactly, it is legitimate to ask, should be cast in the role of Dr. Frankenstein?

Now, let's look at the list of 'Muslim' outrages, devoid of context, explanation or political genealogy. What purpose does this serve other than to turn a whole faith community into the enemy, into the 'other', it might be said, a uniform object of fear, and a suitable case for treatment? Some of you may think there is good reason behind this; but what would you think of an argument that lumped together ETA, the IRA, FARC and the likes of Timothy McVeigh as examples of 'Christian terrorism'?

We preach time and again to the Islamic world about the values of democracy, as if this is some kind of universal panacea; yet when the Palestinian people vote for Hamas, somehow democracy is no longer the answer after all. But Hamas is a symptom, not the disease. Do we even begin to understand how desperately angry the Palestinian people are, locked up in the appalling ghetto of Gaza, under constant threat from a state which was itself partly built on terrorism, and continues to employ the tactic in a wholesale and indiscriminate fashion, against the innocent and guilty alike? Do we even want to know how much anger there is in the Islamic world against the West, against a hypocrisy that preaches human rights and justice in theory, but ignores gross breaches of these very ideals in practice?

Coming back to my original point, yes, terrorism is a terrible weapon, though it is still an open question as to who is the terrorist and who is the freedom fighter. But what, after all, is terrorism of the Bin Laden kind but a low-intensity war, a war of those without, it might be said, the big guns. I'm always mindful here of an exchange I saw in The Battle for Algiers, a documentary-style movie depicting the FLN's war of liberation against the French colonialists in the early 1960s.

During this struggle Arab women dressed up as French civilians and left basket bombs in bistros and the like, killing many civilians. Later one of the captured rebel leaders is asked by a reporter Isn't it cowardly to use your women's bakets to carry bombs that have killed so many innocent people? Reply is given thus: Is it less cowardly to drop your napalm on defenseless villages, killing thousands more? Give us your bombers, and you can have our women's baskets. Next time you see reports (if you see reports) on the continuing injuries and deaths caused by Israeli cluster bombs, used in the past attack on Lebanon, you may remember this. And next time you see a Muslim man with a beard, or a woman wearing a burqa, try to think a little more objectively.

Beans Lead to Hell!

I bet you didn’t know that! Well, they do, or at least they do according to Pythagoras, who wrote, “Eating beans is a crime equal to eating the heads of one’s parents.”

The bean-hating mathematician and philosopher was also a religious dissenter who established his own sectarian colony. Some of the notions put forward concerning diet were eccentric, to say the very least. Pythagoras believed in the transmigration of souls, which could pass from people to animals. So, animal sacrifice was out. Heated spices and herbs were altogether more suitable offering to the gods.

Yes, just as spices were the route to heaven beans took one in the opposite direction. Broad beans, were, so he said, the ladders for the souls migrating from the underworld. Beans grown in a closed pot resulted in a mass of obscene shapes, resembling sexual organs or aborted foetuses. I know it sounds just so funny but for Pythagoras and his followers diet was an important branch of ethics. Well, perhaps it is. :-))

Bosch and Ernst, Visions of the Grim

For me Max Ernst stands comparison with Hieronymus Bosch. It might be said that they speak to one another across the centuries. Both share the same gruesome vision, with paintings populated by monstrous bird-like figures and other demons. There are depths of imagination, and wells of fear, well beyond the reaches of psychoanalysis and other such rational constructs.

It's Time to Forgive Metternich

Don’t you agree? Oh, how could I possibly suggest such a thing, how is it possible to forgive the bête noir of late nineteenth century European Liberalism? Well, let me tell you how; let me take you back to the world of the old lost Habsburg Empire, the world that Metternich, in what was ultimately to be a hopeless endevour, tried to preserve.

In 1809, when Metternich was appointed foreign minister, the Empire, long a stable force in central Europe, was close to extinction. Napoleon was carrying ‘freedom’ across the Continent, which in practical terms meant new forms of tyranny, imperialism and political adventurism. Perhaps the old Europe, still burdened with the Gothic ruins of the Holy Roman Empire, really was obsolete; but was a new Europe to be shaped by an ego-manic, driven but the most ruthless forms of ambition ever seen in the world to date? Metternich used all of his energy to rescue Austria and, in the process, to rescue the Continent.

The Europe that emerged from the Congress of Vienna was a Europe free of the domination of a single power, but there was no return to the past: there was no true counter-revolution. More than that, the old-fashioned argument, and it is old-fashioned, hopelessly so, that this ‘new order’ was enforced by an oppressive state apparatus is quite wrong. The Carlsbad Decrees were more than a form of wishful thinking than a basis for practical policy. If one compares the police system with what was to come the following century, when the fires that Metternich tried to contain burned without restraint; even if one compares it with the police system of Napoleon, then it turns almost on the benign. As for the oppression of freedom, that much abused battle cry, consider Metternich’s own words, drawn from his Political Testament;

To me the word freedom has not the value of a starting-point, but of an actual goal to be striven for. The word order designates the starting-point. It is only on order that freedom can be based. Without order as a foundation the cry for freedom is nothing more than the endeavour of some party or other for an end it has in view. When actually carried out in practice, that cry for freedom will inevitably express itself in tyranny. At all times and in all situations I was a man of order, yet my endeavour was always for true and not for pretended liberty.

Was he wrong? We can now look back, from the heights of a new century, on the 'age of party', the 'age of ideology', an age when abstract ends governed and justified horrific means.

Metternich was at the centre of an international order, the first serious attempt at such a structure in history, which aimed to preserve peace through congresses and mutual cooperation. It failed in the end because there were too many divergent interests; it failed, perhaps, because England disengaged from Europe in much the same fashion as the United States disengaged from the world a century later. Yes, it failed but it created a prolonged period of relative peace and stability. The tides of ‘freedom’ washed again in 1848 only to be broken on the walls of power. Thereafter liberalism, nationalism and power were, bit by bit, to reach an 'accomodation', so different from everything that Metternich conceived. It was the beginning, if you like, of a new 'unholy alliance.'

But the old Austria survived, greatly modified, especially after the disastrous war with Bismarck’s Prussia, but it survived until the great tragedy that beset the Continent after the murder at Sarajevo. It survived, in its late senescence, to give shape to one of the most brilliant and creative periods in history: the world of the Vienna cafes, the intellectual forcing-house of the new century; the world of Klimt and Schiele, of Freud and Zweig, selections from a list too tiresome to chronicle in full.

It was also a world where a certain failed Artist, a failed human being, seethed and hated, hopelessly locked into the shadows, dreaming of freedom. It even survived, if in reduced form, until a new tide of ‘freedom’ and nationalism came with the Artist in 1938, silencing the old, this time for good.

Think of Metternich, think of Austria, and then think of what followed. A giant, a true giant, is only ever measured by those who fall into his shadow.

Thursday 25 June 2009

This is a Tale of a Succubus!

It’s difficult for me to say just how much I love the Goth, witchy band, Inkubus Sukkubus. I’ve been listening to them since I was in my teens. I’ve followed them around, attending every concert I can. Oh, the things I have done, the dances I have performed, the spells that have been cast, the energy expended. Oh, yes, this is a tale of a succubus!

Underneath the darkened sky
All along the crooked way
The same story once again
Of sorrow and of pain
One fool in a dream
One black-hearted queen
A tale of unrequited love
That's written in tears, written in blood
She smiles, he cries
He begs, but she denies
As tonight becomes tomorrow
All joy will turn to sorrow

This is a tale of a succubus
A tale of love, pain and lust
A cheated heart and the broken trust
And death, and death!

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust
Where there's love, there is lust
Where there's a boy to give his heart
There's a woman to tear it apart
Where there's giving, there's taking
There's faking, and there's breaking
Where there's trust deceit's right there
The dream becomes the nightmare!

This is a tale of a succubus
A tale of love, pain and lust
A cheated heart and the broken trust
And death, and death!

To despair she'll take him
A shadow she'll make him
Before him, the open grave
On his wrist, the razor blade
Young man, hang your head and cry
It's time to suffer, it’s time to die
Abandon you the dreams of youth
Abandon love, hope and truth!

This is a tale of a succubus
A tale of love, pain and lust
A cheated heart and the broken trust
And death, and death!

She will crush you, she'll excite you
She'll destroy you, she'll ignite you
She'll take you to a world of darkness
And death, and death!

On a night of dread and wonder
Hear her heartbeat turn to thunder
Now's the time for soul surrender
And death, and death!

The Legend of Joseph of Arimathea

I was thinking about Joseph of Arimathea, of whom almost nothing is known and yet much has been written.

Joseph simply appears in the Gospels as a wealthy man who allowed his own prepared tomb to be used for the burial of Jesus. There is really not much to go on, and the story itself may have been inserted in confirmation of prediction contained in the Book of Isaiah. But on such simple foundations an ice-cream castle has been erected, one in which Joseph has links with Britain, King Arthur and the Holy Grail.

The mythology begins with the apocrypha and un-canonical texts, works like the Acts of Pilate, The Gospel of Nicodemus and The Narrative of Joseph. There are also several fanciful references in the writings of the early church historians.

The first reference to Joseph in connection with Britain comes in the ninth century in The Life of Mary Magdalene, written by Rabanus Maurus, Archbishop of Mainz. The story was taken up by William of Malmesbury in The Chronicles of the English Kings, where Joseph and eleven companions are said to be responsible for the foundation of Glastonbury Abbey.

But it was Robert de Boron, a French poet who lived in the twelfth and early thirteenth centuries, who associated Joseph with the Grail for the first time in his Joseph d’Arimathe, amplifying on aspects of the Acts of Pilate.

In Boron’s account Joseph, imprisoned by the Jewish elders, is sustained during his captivity by the Grail. On his release he brings the sacred vessel with him on his journey to Britain. Legend then became truth and truth legend as the Grail cycle spun ever more elaborate threads. John of Glastonbury claims Joseph as an ancestor of King Arthur. For Elizabeth I his missionary work allowed her to assert that Christianity came to England before the Roman Church. So, the new Holy Grail was the foundation of an English National Church, with Joseph as it’s cup-bearer and prophet!

Brave New Futures

Strictly speaking, Brave New World and Nineteen Eighty-Four are not really comparable as novels, beyond the bare fact that they are both dystopian. Orwell and Huxley had quite different points of departure. For Orwell, the imagined future was built on a totalitarian present, with the examples of Fascism and, above all, Stalinism before his mind. It was a brutal vision, based on the manipulation of memory, constant warfare and the deliberate creation of shortages.

Huxley, in contrast, was less interested in the deleterious effects of contemporary ideologies, and much more in the soulless nature of mass consumerism, based on the creation and control of artificial desires. It is a vision of a future based on contrived happiness, without depth or real moral purpose, a one-dimensional future of the kind later explored in the theoretical work of Herbert Marcuse.

Of the two visions, Huxley's is far closer to our truth, the 'future' at this particular point in history. To judge them purely as works of literature I would say, in expressing a personal opinion, they are both of considerable value; but as a craftsman Huxley had a far better command of literary technique, a greater understanding of character and language than Orwell. Nineteen Eighty-Four at some points breaks down as a novel, especially in the long and undigested extracts from Emmanuel Goldstein's 'Book.' There is another dystopian novel which is often overlooked, though in some ways it is better than either Huxley or Orwell-We by the Russian writer Yevgeny Zamyatin, which combines elements of Brave New World and Nineteen Eighty-Four.

First Lady of the Third Reich

In many ways Magda Goebbels was the most intriguing woman who came to prominence during the Third Reich, with an odd amalgam of qualities; at once intimate and remote, knowable and unknown. One can find her at her most revealing in her correspondence with Ello Quandt, her one time sister-in-law and close friend. She certainly had knowledge of what was happening to the Jews because she continued be her husband’s most intimate confident. On one occasion she wrote to Ello, "It's terrible all the things he's telling me now. I simply can't bear it any more...You can't imagine the awful things he's tormenting me with...I'm not supposed to talk to anyone...He unloads everything on to me because it's getting too much for him." She later told Ello of the decision she and her husband had taken to kill themselves and all of their children. When the horrified Ello objected that she was guilty of no crime, Magda wrote back;

I was there, I believed in Hitler and Joseph Goebbels for long enough. I am part of the Third Reich that is now being destroyed. You don't understand my situation...what am I to do? If I stay alive, I will be arrested immediately and interrogated about Joseph. If I were to tell the truth, I would have to portray him as he was...I would have to describe what went on behind the scenes. Then any respectable person would turn from me in revulsion. Everyone would think that, since my husband was dead or in prison, I was now most terribly traducing the father of my six children. As far as the outside world is concerned I have lived by his side amidst brilliance and luxury, I have enjoyed all his power. As his wife I have stayed with him to the bitter end. No one would believe me if I said I had really stopped loving him, and...perhaps I still do love him, against my reason, in the face of all my experience with him. Regardless of what is behind me, Joseph is my husband, and I owe him loyalty, real loyalty...and comradeship beyond death. For that reason I could never say anything against him. After all this, after this plunge into the abyss, I could not do that!

When Ello asked about the children, Magda said that she would take them with her, 'because they are too beautiful and good for the world that's coming'. She also took comfort in notions of rebirth-"They won't die, none of us will die...we just go through an apparently dark portal into the next life."

Wednesday 24 June 2009

Tito the Dictator

The late Marshal Tito presided over a dictatorship just as brutal as any of the other Communist regimes of the day. If fact, if you examine that period of Yugoslav history just after Tito's split with the rest of the Soviet Bloc, then it is really difficult to conclude that what was at work was anything other than Stalinism without Stalin.

In 1949 the Communist leadership began the forced collectivisation of agriculture. Those who resisted were branded as 'kulaks', in echo of the mass Soviet collectivisation from 1928 onwards. Just as in Russia, agricultural production levels fell as a consequence of the huge disruption entailed, and the general decline in peasant productivity. The most significant resistance came in Bosnia in May 1950, where some Serbs and Croats joined in an uprising initiated by the Muslim farmers. Several hundred peasants were killed before the rising was suppressed.

The split with the Soviets also entailed a huge increase in the state security apparatus, which put the membership of the Yugoslav Communist Party under scrutiny, as well as the general population. In all some 16,000 alleged Soviet sympathisers were arrested, many of whom ended up in the concentration camp on Goli otok and elsewhere. Tito's terror was later brilliantly depicted in Emir Kusturica's damming film of 1987, Otac na službenom putu (Father's Away on a Business Trip). The dreadful conditions suffered by the prisoners even shocked Milovan Djilas, then a government minister, in a visit he made to Goli otok in 1951.

As the state of siege became less intense after the death of Stalin conditions began to improve somewhat throughout both the economy and society in general, with a move away from collectivisation and a new stress on workers self-management, which, in the end, served to distinguish Titoism from the forms of state-centralism practiced among the Comecon countries. To some extent this was an inevitable consequence of the forms of western aid upon which Tito became more reliant after 1948. But as the puppet-master and dictator, Tito was no less vigilant, and no less brutal, than any other in the Communist Bloc.

The Major and the Devil

Those of you who have visited Edinburgh, the Scottish capital, may have come across the story of the Wizard Weir, executed for witchcraft, incest and bestiality in 1670, during the reign of Charles II. Thomas Weir, a respectable figure in society, an officer in the city guard and a member of the Scottish Presbyterian Church, which followed a particularly strict Calvinist theology, took ill and started to confess to the most horrendous crimes. His 'confession' was initially held to be born of delirium, but when his sister, Janet, confirmed the accuracy of his words, both were put on trail and duly condemned. Weir was garroted and his corpse was then burned. Janet was hanged.

There is an interesting essay on the subject of Thomas Weir by the Scottish historian David Stevenson, entitled ''Major Weir: a Justified Sinner?'' (Scottish Studies, 16, 1972). The author links the case to the Presbyterian obsession with Predestination. Weir made a voluntary confession to his crimes and refused all attempts to persuade him to seek the pardon of God. Even on the gallows, when he was bid to say 'Lord be merciful to me', he responded as before: "Let me alone-I will not-I have lived like a beast and I will die like a beast." The theme of strict predestination, and the possible adverse moral implications of such theology, was later taken up by James Hogg in his novel The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner.

Weir’s house in the West Bow was pulled down last century, though the ghost is reputed still to haunt the area. He and his sister are seemingly allowed a sabbatical from hell, at the conclusion of which the Devil picks them up in a fiery coach. A chauffer ride to hell: what could be better?

Lenin's Century

I saw this man, yes, I did, or at least what purports to be him in the mausoleum in Red Square, though he looked more like something from Madame Tussaud rather than the remains of a real person, grotesquely preserved as a modern form of an Egyptian mummy. It was December 2005, Christmas Day of all days, and I was in Moscow for a few days with my boyfriend. I’m not sure that I really wanted to see this spectacle-my boyfriend was keener-but no trip to Moscow would be complete without it, I suppose. It made me feel a bit like a Medieval pilgrim off to see the head or hands or other earthly remains of some long-dead Saint. And I suppose that was the point of the whole thing, to induce a bogus sense of secular reverence; it was certainly Stalin’s point, the point of a one-time student in an Orthodox seminary. Ecce Hommo- a dead man and frozen ideas.

Before proceeding any further I will make a free confession: I despise Lenin: I despise his memory, I despise everything he stood for; I despise his murderous intolerance, I despise his writing and his whole thought-process. Above all, I despise him as the chief architect of the murder of the Romanovs, of the Tsar and the Tsaritsa; of the children; of Alexi, Olga, Maria, Tatiana and Anastasia. So, you are at liberty to dismiss all that follows as pure prejudice on my part.

So, yes, I despise him, but I cannot dismiss his historical significance: he was, in a sense, the creator of the twentieth century, thankfully drawing ever further into the past. The Bolshevik Coup of November 1917 ended any prospect of a continuing democratic revolution in Russia; it may have ended the prospects for democracy for all time in that country, at least as we understand it in the west. And the Coup was Lenin’s Coup; of that there can be no mistake. He was also the creator of Stalin, his most gifted acolyte. And as for his later ‘rejection’ of his ‘wonderful Georgian’ of all the things it was possible to say about Stalin to accuse him of rudeness most count as the most laughable political critique of all time!

And so the apostolic succession continued: Lenin begat Stalin, Stalin begat Mao, and Mao begat Pol Pot, a descent into ever decreasing and ever more homicidal circles. But there is more than that, far more. The right-wing reaction that swept across Europe in the 1920s and 1930s was occasioned both by a fear of Communism and a determination to learn from Communist practices. So Fascism and Nazism are, in a sense, the bastard children of Lenin and Leninism, just as Mussolini and Hitler are his illegitimate sons. Leninism, in its practical impact, was the first attempt in history at democide, arguably its most lasting, its only legacy.

There were not many people visiting on that Christmas Day. Gone are the long tails of yesterday. Gone, too, is Communism, killed off towards the end of Lenin’s Century. There are states that are still ruled by a Communist oligarchy, states like China and Vietnam, but the ideology is all but dead. There is, of course, the sclerotic Castroist regime in Cuba, tottering, like its creator, on the lips of death. And there is the termite society of North Korea, with a government that builds bombs while the people starve. It might serve as a kind of museum piece, a reminder of everything Lenin brought to the world.

What of the man, or the-alleged-remains of the man? There was a proposal not long after the collapse of the Soviet Union that he should at last be allowed a proper burial. I remember reading what one ordinary Russian said about this, that the soil of Holy Russia would not receive him, that he deserved to remain as he was, to be gawped at by the idle and the curious; to be gawped at by me. Amen to that!

Tuesday 23 June 2009

Syphilis, the Shepherd

A new and terrible disease appeared in Europe towards the close of the fifteenth century. It was 'distanced', much like AIDS-the 'Gay Plague'-when it first appeared in the 1980s.

For a long time it had no generally recognised name at all. The English called it the 'French disease'; the French called it the 'Neapolitan disease'; the Neapolitans called it the 'Spanish disease'; the Portuguese called it the 'Castilian disease'; and the Turks, not surprisingly, called it the 'Christian disease'!

Dr Ruy Diaz de Isla, the Spaniard who was among the first to treat it, called it 'the Serpent of Hispaniola', being the first to recognise that it had originated in the New World, brought back to Europe by the crew of the Nina. It first became endemic in 1494, during the invasion of Italy by Charles VIII of France. From there his mercenary army carried it to all parts of Europe. In 1495 the Maximilian I, the Holy Roman Emperor, issued a decree against 'the Evil Pox', taken to be God's punishment for blasphemy. Voltaire was later to write of Charles' Italian adventure, "France did not lose all she had won. She kept the pox." It was Girolamo Fracastoro, an Italian poet, who gave the ailment its abiding name, when he composed some verses about a shepherd struck down by the French disease. The shepherd's name was Syphilis!

I should add, for lovers of trivia, that treatment in the early days called for amputation of the perceived source of the problem. I won't dwell on this for fear of upseting the males among you. Suffice to say it would have been possible to build a mountain with them in the sixteenth century. :-))

Of Human Bondage: the Tragedy of George Gissing

In considering the case of writers who have entered into relationships with their social and intellectual inferiors the example of James Joyce and Nora Barnacle comes to mind. But that, at least, was positive for both, unlike the story of poor George Gissing, a talented, though now sadly neglected English writer, whose novel The Odd Women was considered by George Orwell to be one of the best in the English language. Poor Gissing had not one but two disastrous relationships!

In some ways his story resembles that of Maugham's Philip Cary, though his experience was far, far worse. When he was still a student he had the misfortune to fall in love with Nell Harrison, a woman he met in a Manchester brothel. In pursuit of his infatuation, he stole books and money from his fellow students to feed Nell's taste for booze as well as for her treatment for syphilis. He was finally caught and sentenced to a month's imprisonment with hard labour. This was the same kind of treadmill treatment that Oscar Wilde received at Reading Jail, which meant climbing the equivalent of 10,000 feet a day!

After his release, and a temporary exile in the United States, he returned to England and married Nell, syphilitic as she was. Of course it could not last. But even after they separated Gissing continued to send her money, supporting no less than fifteen members of her family at one point from his tiny income. Yet having rid himself of Nell he immediately picked up one Edith Underwood. No syphilis this time; Edith was just mad! Violent and unstable, she made life hell for George, as he did for her. After they separated she spent the last fifteen years of her life in a mental asylum.

With a life like this you may not be surprised to learn that much of Gissing's oeuvre is of a gloomy nature. He blamed himself for his own unhappiness, tracing it to "my own strongly excitable temperament, operated upon by the hideous experience of low life." Yet he produced some superb novels. To Orwell's recommendation I would add Born in Exile, The Nether World and, above all, New Grub Street, with an autobiographical theme to match that Of Human Bondage

Castle to Castle

Who was Céline? Why, Céline was Céline, a misanthrope and cultural pessimist, who found in Fascism a way of giving some degree of coherence to his thoughts. But he was far too eccentric, far too much of an individualist, ever to be constrained by an ideological straightjacket. You see, Céline does not discriminate in the forms of prejudice he displays: he hates everybody, regardless of race or creed! Castle to Castle (D'un château l'autre), his post-war account of Vichy in exile, in the sheer intensity of the prose, the machine-gun staccato of his delivery, the passion with which he carries his thoughts forward, displays for me the blackest of black humour and satanic irony, though I admit this may not have been the author's intention! Intentionally or not, he makes the absurd look absurd; and what better way of perceiving the dust of Vichy!

Seedy Silvio, Italy’s Second Rate Tiberius

My mind turned this morning for entirely unexplained reasons to Silvio Berlusconi, Italy’s worst son since, well, Il Duce! Sorry:that’s unfair; Mussolini at least had a sense of style!

Yes, I know now why Berlusconi, that seedy old Lothario, has intruded on my consciousness: it’s because I caught the tail-end of a story about girls-meaning prostitutes-who had been paid to attend one of his gruesome parties. I really do have to make some concessions to the perspicacity of Karl Marx; everything in history does indeed occur twice, the first time as tragedy and the second time as farce. On reflection I think I will amend that to suggest that many things in history occur twice, the first time as farce and the second time as even more farce. Seedy Silvio calls to mind the long-dead Emperor Tiberius. If you want to know the exact parallel I’m drawing read Seutonius, particularly his account of those lovely parties at the Imperial retreat on Capri.

Seedy Silvio has such a stranglehold on the Italian press that it’s doubtful if Italy has a free press at all, one of the essential props, arguably the essential prop, of a proper working democracy. But Italy came late to democracy and, I suspect, has never been entirely comfortable with the idea or the practice. After all, this is a country that no sooner had it cast off Fascism than it almost embraced Communism. Now it has another ‘benevolent dictator’, who, like his predecessor, would probably much rather send people ‘on holiday’ than murder them. I wonder if there are still places on Capri. :-))

Monday 22 June 2009

Being and Nothingness as Political Commentry

Envisage, if you can, Paris in 1943: a bleak place, one where the arena of personal freedom was growing more circumscribed by the day. In the streets, alongside the German occupiers, there were French Fascist auxiliaries of one kind or another, with links to Marcel Déat and others among the so-called Paris Collaborators. The previous year all French Jews had been required to wear the yellow star, not by order of the Germans, but on the initiative of Darquier de Pellepoix, Vichy's Commissioner for Jewish Affairs. Round-ups and deportations were now a regular occurrence. Through the city German propaganda, evoking final victory, was an ever-present feature of life in public places. Denunciations, anonymous letters and police raids wee a constant threat. France has been seized by a Judeo-Bolshevik phobia. The atmosphere is stifling.

So, for Sartre, and every other Frenchman, objective freedom has all but gone. It is against this background that Being and Nothingness, was published, a profoundly Cartesian work, one where subjective forms of freedom find their greatest defence.

There, in subjective consciousness, lies the origin of one's absolute freedom, one that is shaped in a state of permanent criticism. All labels are rejected-"How them shall I experience the objective limits of my being: Jew, Aryan, ugly, handsome, kind, a civil servant, untouchable, etc.-when will speech have informed me as to which of these are my limits?" It is from these labels that alienation and inauthenticity are created: "Here I am-Jew or Aryan, handsome or ugly, one armed etc. All this for the Other with no hope of apprehending this meaning which I have outside and still, more important, with no hope of changing a more general way the encounter with a prohibition in my path ('No Jews allowed here')...can only have meaning only on and through the foundations of my free choice. In fact according to the free possibilities which I choose, I can disobey the prohibition, pay no attention to it, or, on the contrary, confer upon it a coercive value which it can hold only because of the weight I attach to it."

Sartre's theory of freedom is expressed, for the most part, in highly abstract terms, but it still has to be read against a specific historical background. The call for freedom, and the parallel denunciation of all forms of bad-faith, was never more meaningful in Nazi France.

Why did the Germans allow this? Well, because they operated in some areas a fairly relaxed censorship policy, especially over such abstract works as Being and Nothingness. It also helped if the author expressed an anti-German message which the Germans themselves could not understand, as Sartre did in his play, No Exit, which concludes with his most famous quote "Hell is other People", or l'enfer, c'est les autres in French. By this time the French ad long ceased to refer to the occupiers as Boches-they were, quite simply, Les autres

The Roses of Elagabalus

Do you have an image in your head of a decadent Roman Emperor, perhaps drawn from Hollywood? Well, it's not all fiction, believe me. Let me introduce you to one who was arguably the most depraved of them all. :-))

Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, better known as Heliogabalus or Elagabalus, was a member of the Severan dynasty. Though his reign in the early third century comes before the onset of the decline he is probably the one figure who corresponds most to the popular image of a corrupt and hedonistic ruler of the ancient world.

While I could not possibly say that I admire him in the way that admire Marcus Aurelius, Diocletian and Julian he carries a certain fascination for me as a symbol of excess, excess in power. While Septimius Severus, his uncle, had attained power by ruthless ability, Elagabalus simply succeeded to it by no merit of his own, always a dangerous thing in the Roman world..

In some ways he was quite a tragic figure. He was only fourteen when he became emperor, and behaved thereafter like a spoiled adolescent with absolute power at his finger-tips. Coming from Emesa in the east of the Empire, and a former acolyte to El-Gabal or Heliogabalus, the Sun God, he brought the new cult to Rome. Unfortunately for him he also brought a high degree of eastern excess with him, outraging the puritanical Romans in the process, particular with regard to his sexual practices. He was finally assassinated by the Praetorian Guard in 222AD, in his eighteenth year, and his memory subsequently erased from the public record.

How much of what was subsequently written about him is true is almost impossible to say. But he was to become a hero long after his death, a kind of avatar for the decadent movement in the late nineteenth century.

Hitler, the Reader

Hitler’s Private Library by Timothy W Ryback

I had a quick trot through this book, which arrived in my college library last session. I already knew that Hitler was a reader, though of a very specific type. His favourite form of fiction was the western, particularly those written by Karl May, and the detective story, though he liked to keep these low-brow tastes a secret from the general public. A boilermaker unwise enough to tell his friends that the Führer had a taste for adventure stories ended up in Dachau.

Apparently his personal library once amounted to some sixteen or seventeen thousand books, not all detective stories and westerns. A good bit of what remains is stored in the Library of Congress and Brown University, although this amounts to only ten percent of the total. Timothy Ryback, the author of this survey, was clearly less interested in the books as such than in discovering traces of Hitler himself, in pencil strokes, exclamation marks and turned pages. He even manages to pinpoint exactly when a particular book was being read. While at the Wolf’s Lair, his headquarters in East Prussia, he was apparently reading Robert Graves' Claudius novels.

Anyway, on the author proceeds, following traces of the tyrant, in his grunts and snorts. He got particularly excited on discovering a crinkly little hair, which he assumes fell from the Führer’s moustache. Really? Well, maybe he’s just being coy! :))


I suppose movies like Spartacus and Gladiator- which I hated-have served to colour forever the popular impression of the men who fought in the arenas of ancient Rome. Gladiator at least gets one thing right; good fighters were the popular sporting heroes of the day. But the assumption that these men were thrown willy-nilly into the contest to sink or to swim is completely wrong. They were nurtured, and carefully nurtured, by prolonged and intensive training. Those who were unable to meet the standards set simply never made it to the arena. The assumption that they were all slaves is also erroneous. Many volunteered for a profession where the rewards, both in money and in popular adulation, were gratifying and welcome for men who would have lived and died in servitude and obscurity.

Eagles of Power

The eagle has long had noble associations, in history and in folklore. It can be found as a symbol of power and majesty in the cultures of Babylon and Persia. In Roman legend it was the 'storm-bird' of Jupiter, the carrier of his thunderbolts. Gaius Marius, a leading soldier and politician, made it the symbol of the Senate and People of Rome, ensuring that from this point forward the legions would carry eagle ensigns.

In Christian tradition the eagle is associated with St John the Evangelist, and appears on the lecterns of churches holding the Bible on its wings, thus repelling the serpent of falsehood. According to St Jerome, it was the emblem of the Ascension of Jesus.

In European royalty, the eagle was most often adopted as a badge by those claiming a universal authority over other kings and princes. Charlemagne wore an eagle-embossed cloak. Canute the Great was buried in one. This imperial pretence was later adopted by the Napoleons. In the Byzantine Empire the Palaeologue dynasty adopted a black double-headed eagle with spread wings, representing the Roman succession in both the east and the west. In this form it was later taken up by the Tsars of Moscovy, the Third Rome, and by the Holy Roman Emperors in general and the Habsburgs in particular.

Sunday 21 June 2009

Fascist Style

The chief advantage of the Fasci italiani di combattimento in 1919 was that it was tied to no philosophy and no ideology whatsoever; that it was, in other words, organised opportunism.

This, above all, was the Fascist style. It took the shape of a chameleon, able to change colours in accordance with the political climate. Unlike the socialists, the communists, the liberals and the conservatives the movement carried nothing, no system of beliefs or organisational structure, which would prevent its rapid mutations. Fascism, above all, was a mood, one of discontent, that could combine the arditi, who simple longed for action for the sake of action, and comic-opera revolutionaries like the Futurist Marinetti, who saw politics as an escape from cultural boredom.

This was transformismo politics, one that could, in theory have taken the movement to the left, if that is where the advantage lay. But in the end the advantage, the prospects for growth, advancement and power, were on the right, in the defense of Italy against Bolshevism. The appeal to the working-class, the direction of leftwards Fascism, had failed miserably in the elections of 1919. In the end Mussolini, in alliance with conservative rural Fascists like Roberto Farinacci, took advantage of the fear among the middle-class and the peasantry of a socialist revolution. It was Fascist anti-socialism that created a mass movement, and ensured thereafter that it would always be a philosophy of the right.

Sartre in 68

Jean Paul Sartre was in the middle of writing his treatise on Gustav Flaubert at the time, and generally more preoccupied with the events of 1848 than those of 1968! In the words of one of his best biographers "Fully absorbed by Restoration France, the riots of 1831, and the revolutions of 1848, Sartre was at once present and quiet absent from the events of 1968" (Sartre: a Life by Annie Cohen-Solal, 1985, p. 471)

There he was, coming in his most frightening form: the slightly worn-out fellow traveller and, worst of all, an old bourgeois humanist! "As for me, nearly two years after May 1968, he later explained, "I was still trying to work out what had happened. I could not quite work out what they wanted and what role old fogeys like me were expected to play." I can still hear the laughter of the Gods. :-))

Diktat-Versailles, the Failed Peace

The problem with the Versailles settlement of 1919-and by this I mean the whole of the post-war settlement-is not so much that it was unfair, but that it created an unstable peace; a peace based on the satisfaction of some national aspirations and the frustration of others.

It also, it has to be said, created tensions within the various successor nations that were simply not compatible with democracy. In place of the nationality problems in the old Austro-Hungarian Empire came the nationality problems in Czechoslovakia, Poland, Yugoslavia and Romania, in some ways even more severe that what went before. Most serious of all, it was a peace predicated on the continuing weakness of Germany and Russia, and that could not last forever.

To this mixture of instability there was the added problem of Soviet Russia, where the democratic revolution of February 1917 was effectively destroyed by the Bolshevik counter-revolution in October. And I make no apology here for using the term counter-revolution in this particular context. After the forced dismissal of the Constituent Assembly in January 1918, the only fully democratic body in Russian history to that date, Lenin said that this "means a complete and frank liquidation of the idea of democracy by the idea of dictatorship. It will serve as a good lesson.” It certainly did, in Italy in 1922 and Germany in 1933.

Was there a solution to the nationality problem? Yes, I suppose there was, as the Population exchange between Greece and Turkey demonstrated. But can you imagine that happening across Europe, in nation after nation, across multiple frontiers? Can you imagine the upheaval and misery caused? Now go fast forward to 1945.