The belief gaining greater acceptance after the turn of the twentieth century
is that people are driven by a combination of feelings and rational thought. During the period encapsulated by the world wars people often allowed rational thought to be subverted by irrational
s were created for protection; the economy was in peril
; millions dead; larger bombs and bigger guns created thanks to scientific advancements; the ever present red threat; the persecution of the Jews, all the result of one major feeling, fear. Enlightenment values were to be forsaken as an escape from fear. Fear fostered by the first world war is the one, major shaping force in western civilization
following the conclusion of the war; a root from which all other shaping forces stem.
The causes of the first world war and its aftermath are at the root of the fear experienced by the masses of Europe following the turn of the century. The enhancement of science and technology is tied into all the other causes of WWI
. Science and technology experienced unprecedented growth which fostered the development of more destructive weapons making WWI immensely devastating. WWI left people afraid of eminent destruction and the possible collapse of western civilization. People also fear what they do not understand and the rapid rate of technological development left the vast majority
afraid. People were left wondering how scientific enhancement, a principle extolled by the Enlightenment
, could be so great if it was used to exterminate a whole generation of men. This fear, this anxiety sets the stage for the dominate force of totalitarianism
Totalitarianism becomes a prominent
movement in Europe after the conclusion of the first world war due to immense fear and strong nationalism. The extreme nationalism
was a result of art and philosophical movements that extolled the culture of the nation and the fear that unless the nation is unified they will lose those things for which they have labored. This extolling of the nation often led to discrimination and persecution of the minorities such as the Jews
in Nazi Germany
. The settlements at Versailles
left many countries in Europe feeling as though they had not been treated fairly; this indignation was used successfully by the fascist leaders, especially in Nazi Germany to usurp the power of the standing governments. Fascism in Italy and Germany was driven by this extreme nationalism and the nation's fear of the other major totalitarian power, Communist Russia
forms a bulwark
against the perceived communist threat; the threat of agricultural collectivization which left millions of Russians to suffer and the threat of an army, millions strong. The Bolsheviks share similarities with Napoleon: they are organized and consolidate the remains of the revolution while using fear to take power and the fear of their new government to maintain power. The Enlightenment values, even though never strong in Russia, were forsaken when the intelligentsia was sent into exile. Totalitarian governments are contradictory to the Enlightenment tradition with the people giving up their rights to free speech, free press, and even free thought. The totalitarian leaders also knew how to harness the power of fear to gain political power of their own. The great power attained by the totalitarian governments and the belligerency of their leaders led to the second world war which resulted in millions more dead.
World War II
was the result of once again entanglled alliances, powerful burgeoning
totalitarian regimes who were readied for war, and a lack of world cooperation in controlling the defeated powers after WWI; all of which relate back to the ever present European fear. Leading up to the outbreak of WWII European leaders attempted to avert war due to a fear of war. The European powers gave Nazi Germany a lot of latitude by allowing them to build an army, a navy which could threaten the great British navy, and finally giving them large sums of strategic territory
. Those that thought they had peace should have seen the Non Aggression Pact
signed by Russia and Germany as a huge, waving red flag that their tactics were counter productive. With Europeans unable to work together militarily and the United States reverting to isolationist tendencies, it made the world set for a single nation to roll over the European continent. Germany was just one country, but within the two years following the out break of war in 1939
it had brought all of continental Europe to its knees and was pushing towards the British coast. People's fear ran so deep that it allowed them to make many concessions to avert war that ultimately led to one nation starting a war and committing genocide resulting in millions dead.
The period incorporating the two world wars was marked by fear. People were afraid that their property would be seized, afraid of the government they had democratically elected
, people were afraid of simply not having enough to eat. This cloud of fear that was over Europe led people to subvert rational, Enlightenment values to participate in irrational nationalistic movements. The great powers joined alliances dividing Europe in two, one side pitted against the other; each individual country afraid they would be threatened. The artists moved away from realism
and moved towards irrational attempts to explain the universe
. Rationality was denounced; the intellectuals cast away. Europe saw the savagery of one world war only to end up engaged in another, shaking the foundation of western civilization. People questioned the goodness of man and the advancement of mans society as men used the new advances as a means of killing one another. The value of life came into question with millions being unnecessarily slaughtered in savage trench warfare. People were afraid western civilization was ending, eroded
too far by the destructive nature
of man. All of these worries stem from basic fears that all men posses; fears all men during this period felt the effects of.
Notes: This was originally a paper I wrote for a Western Civ course from notes and information contained in Western Civilization: A Brief History, By Perry