The Single Bullet That Killed 16 Million

Ed Hudgins's picture
Submitted by Ed Hudgins on Fri, 2014-06-27 19:27

The Single Bullet That Killed 16 Million
By Edward Hudgins

June 27, 2014 – A century ago, on June 28, 1914, Serbian nationalist Gavrilo Princip shot and killed Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the emperorship of Austria-Hungary, along with his wife, on their visit to Sarajevo.

In retaliation, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia. Serbia’s ally Russia declared war on Austria-Hungary. Austria-Hungary’s ally Germany declared war both on Russia and Russia’s ally France. France’s ally Britain declared war on Germany and Austria-Hungary. By the time it was all over, Italy, the Ottoman Empire, Japan, and the USA were notably involved.

World War I led to 16 million military and civilian deaths, plus nearly 20 million wounded. And the misery and horror of that war resulted in another casualty: confidence in the Enlightenment enterprise and human progress.

Enlightenment Europe

In the late seventeenth century Isaac Newton’s discovery of the laws of universal gravitation dramatically demonstrated the power of the human mind. Understanding of the world and the universe—what we call modern science—became a central Enlightenment goal.

At the same time, the struggle for Parliamentary supremacy in England led John Locke to pen his powerful treatise on individual liberty. Creating governments limited to protecting life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness also became a central Enlightenment goal, which culminated in the creation of United States.

Enlightenment values were not limited to Britain or America. They were universal and created a European-wide culture of individualism, freedom, and reason.

Collectivist anti-Enlightenment

But Enlightenment thinkers and activists not only had to fight entrenched oligarchs and rigid religious dogma. Starting with Jean-Jacques Rousseau, a school of thought—if thought it could be called—arose that opposed individualism with the good of “society,” or the group, and rejected reason in favor of emotion and instinct.

The French Revolution starting in 1789 saw Enlightenment ideas losing ground to reactionary and collectivist forces. The result was the Terror and the guillotine, dictatorship and a new monarchy, and the carnage of the Napoleonic wars--the first great modern global conflict, which ended in 1815 at Waterloo.

In the century that followed Europe suffered only short regional conflicts, most relating to the unification of Italy and of Germany. The Industrial Revolution was creating prosperity. Governments were granting citizens rights to political participation and were recognizing their civil liberties. By the early twentieth century, continued progress seemed inevitable.

Pernicious nationalism

But the pernicious collectivist ideology combined with a major European cultural defect: nationalism. This form of collectivism meant more than just an appreciation for the aesthetic achievements—art, music, literature—of the individuals in one’s ethnic group. It meant putting one’s group or one’s country, right or wrong, ahead of universal values and principles. Kill for King or Kaiser!

There’s an irony in the fact that poor Franz Ferdinand wanted to recreate Austria-Hungary as a federation in which the minority groups—that were always either dominated by Viennese elites or at one another’s throats—would have autonomy similar to that enjoyed by the American states. If only Princip had waited a while.

Unfortunately, the volatile combination of nationalism, an interlocking treaty system, and the Britain-Germany imperial rivalry only required a spark like the Sarajevo assassination to set off a global conflagration.

Collectivism vs. collectivism

After World War I, individualism and “selfishness” got much of the blame for the conflict. And science was no longer associated only with progress. It had created machine guns, tanks, and poison gas, and made possible a fearful slaughter.

Idealists created the League of Nations to prevent such wars in the future. But they tried to cure the problem of nationalism with more nationalism, simply accentuating the problem. Indeed, Hitler used the principle of self-determination of peoples as an excuse to unify all Germans into one Reich by force. His form of collectivism also entailed enslaving and wiping out “inferior” races.

The catastrophe of World War II was followed by a Cold War, which saw the Soviet Union asserting another form of collectivism, pitting one economic “class” against another. Western Europe opposed the brutal Soviet kill-the-rich socialism with a kinder, gentler, loot-the-rich democratic socialism. The Soviet Union with its communist empire collapsed in 1991, and Western European democratic socialism is going through a similar disintegration in slow motion.

Still recovering from the Great War

Today, Enlightenment values are making a comeback. The communications and information revolutions, and the application of new technologies in medicine, transportation, and other fields, again demonstrate the power of the human mind and the benefits it confers.

Furthermore, many of the new entrepreneurs understand that it is they as individual visionaries who are transforming the world. And while their achievements benefit everyone, they strive because they love their work and they love to achieve. They pursue happiness. They hold Enlightenment values—though in many cases their politics still need to catch up.

The world is still digging out from the consequences of that single bullet a century ago, which led to the deaths of millions. Putting our country and the world back on the path to liberty and prosperity will require a recommitment to the Enlightenment values that created all the best in the modern world.
Hudgins is director of advocacy and a senior scholar at The Atlas Society.

For further information:

*Edward Hudgins, “D-Day and Enlightenment Values.” June 6, 2014.

*Marsha Enright, “Education for a New Enlightenment.” Winter 2010.

*David Mayer, “Completing the American Revolution.” Spring, 2009.

*David Kelley, “The Fourth Revolution.” Spring 2009.

Thank you for that good

J Cuttance's picture

Thank you for that good dollop on the history of thought and thoughtlessness, Mr Hudgins.
I've often wondered about how socialism, which somehow received a boost from WWI, manages to keep its image up.
One answer came this morning when I tried to post a comment on Mike Williams' piece in the Herald which refers gushingly to Sidney and Beatrice Webb...
the comment being...
"The Webbs were socialism's greatest apologists when it was at its most murderous."
When the uniforms come to our doors the new Orwell-speak might be, "We're here to moderate you."

Yes, yes

Lindsay Perigo's picture

Intrinsicism makes one impatient. It's as bad for one as running. Eye

Downrights Dangerous Alrights

tvr's picture

Lindsay, you wrote:

"And as Terry has observed with intrinsicist alarm…"

Intrinsicist?? I invite you to tackle what I wrote on the other thread after your "Authenticist ruminations" post there and show me plainly where and how I am being intrinsicist. From what I have understood of what you wrote there you are making rights subjective. If that is the case (and I suspect it is not, that we are likely just having a disagreement over semantics), "Apostate" indeed!


Lindsay Perigo's picture

Beware the Romneyfication of Objectivism. Romney capitulated to "airhead, dumbed-down America every day." We know he knew better from private moments captured on tape and then made public. Alas, he repudiated those moments. He kept on saying Americans were "disappointed," not "disgusted" by Obama. He kept on refusing to call Obamarx a socialist. He deliberately failed to confront Obamullah over Benghazi, on which matter he could have dealt a knock-out blow, in the third debate. He was captive to that peculiarly postmodern form of sub-life known as "marketers."

He lost.

Don't you think there might be lessons in this?

ARI has become Romneyfied. Yaron Brook is Romney with a speech impediment. Is that the way you want to go? Letting your spark go out, spark by irreplaceable spark?

Your stellar op-eds, apart from those containing weasel-words about "Islamism," indicate otherwise. They are far KASSer than anything emanating from ARI. Please don't falter now!

More tomorrow. Right now I'm intoxicated. Brahms Piano Concerto #1. I'm emotional from it. Emotion. What gets me out of bed every day. Reason in the service thereof. Authenticism. Much, much more to come. And as Terry has observed with intrinsicist alarm, it's dangerous! It's a very passionate, positive, possible vision!! It answers Ayn Rand's question, "Will we ever have life on the level?" with a "Yes!!!!!!!!!!!!" But it acknowledges we probably need a global cataclysm first. The chickens of headbangers, sacrifists and serial game-players not on the level, must be allowed to come home to their lethal roost.

A passionate, positive, possible vision

Ed Hudgins's picture

Linz – You must be getting to me. When I wrote that Rousseau collectivists “rejected reason in favor of emotion and instinct” I had a flash of Objectivists like you pointing out that it’s not either reason or emotion but a rational integration of the two.

I don’t know that we differ on the need for both. But I’m always aware of who my audience is and what, specifically, my aim is when communicating with them With those who share many of our values, motivating them to storm the barricades might be a goal that requires stirring up righteous anger. With many who share some but not all of our values, religious folks, for example, I might want to cool their irrational anger at secularists so I can show them that we’re all screwed if the country continues to elect more Obamas.

I think “Total passion for the total height” well states the ideal of integrating reason and emotion. And to avoid the error of over-modesty, I’ll say that a complement I hear most often in response to my speeches is that I present a passionate, positive vision of what the world can be and should be.

I certainly recognize how bad things are; I face the reality of airhead, dumbed-down America every day. But accentuating the positive and the possible I find is essential to motivating folks to fight for freedom and reason.

Excellent, Ed

Lindsay Perigo's picture

An arrestingly well-crafted piece; a tantalising thumb-nail sketch of how we got to where we are. I say this even though I agree with Terry that there are no grounds for the gratuitous optimism that appears at its conclusion.

More and more it seems to me that our problems arise from the fact that our side of the divide has tacitly accepted the reason/emotion dichotomy even while explicitly repudiating it. I have made this point often enough in the past. Babs Branden excoriated me for "rage." Now, both ARI and TAS take great pains to remove emotion from their polemics. The Left have no such inhibitions. It's a bit like anti-racism: passionately valuing is our territory, and we should reclaim it. Yet how many passionate (by which I don't mean hysterical) Objectivists can one name? Flamboyance is shunned; dullness rules.

Instructive, since you mention Rousseau, to remind ourselves what he said on this matter:

It is reason which breeds pride and reflection which fortifies it; reason which turns man inward into himself; reason which separates him from everything which troubles or affects him. It is philosophy which isolates a man, and prompts him to say in secret at the sight of another suffering: 'Perish if you will; I am safe.' No longer can anything but dangers to society in general disturb the tranquil sleep of the philosopher or drag him from his bed. A fellow-man may with impunity be murdered under his window, for the philosopher has only to put his hands over his ears and argue a little with himself to prevent nature, which rebels inside him, from making him identify himself with the victim of the murder. The savage man entirely lacks this admirable talent, and for want of wisdom and reason he always responds recklessly to the first promptings of human feeling.

Reasonists must reclaim emotion from such pretenders. Reason is the tool by which we achieve our optimal emotional gratification (not to mention our survival). That's the whole point of reason. Reason for its own sake is a jerk-off. Unfortunately, Objectivism is rife with reason-for-its-own-sake anal-retentives who give Rousseau succour. If we are to resurrect the Enlightenment, the reason/emotion dichotomy must be resoundingly repudiated, not embraced, by the purportedly pro-Enlightenment camp.


tvr's picture

Great summary of what lead us into this mess. I disagree though with your assessment of the state of the mess.

Note that your concluding statement in the final section contradicts your opening one. How can the world be off "the path to liberty and prosperity" if "Today, Enlightenment values are making a comeback."? Where is there evidence that universities, governments, the scientific community and business has adopted even in some small part a newfound respect for Reason, Individualism and Liberty, i.e., the three main Enlightenment values? Other than for those who are familiar with Ayn Rand's work (and who don't reject its fundamentals), who exactly is leading this alleged comeback? Sure, thanks mostly to the internet revolution there are some Hank Reardens out there from whose ingenuity and entrepreneurialism the general population is greatly benefitting at present, but without enough John Galts, what will be their fate be 20 years from now? How many of the "new entrepreneurs [who] understand that it is they as individual visionaries who are transforming the world" are cognizant of and demonstrably standing up for their rights and those of their fellow man?

I'd welcome you providing the hard evidence of the good news I seem to be missing...


Many twists and turns

Ed Hudgins's picture

Between the late 1600s and World War I there were many political and ideological twists and turns that I might have treated in a longer essay. Conservatives like Burke supported traditional institutions but many, Burke notably, favored limited government and rule of law. From Rousseau grew various collectivist movements, including democratic socialism, communism, and fascism. And after World War I classical liberalism, along with many aspects of the Enlightenment culture, went into eclipse. That's why we need to bring back those principles!

From Three Western Philosophies to Two

Kyrel Zantonavitch's picture

My reading of history indicates that there were three broad, general philosophies in the world in 1914. One was conservatism, which meant preservation of the intellectual and cultural status quo, while also looking to go back to the era of social control by monarchies and bishops, while also (contradictorily) favoring a generally smaller gov't, as in the past. Another philosophy was progressivism, which meant largely socialism, but also democracy, equality of races and genders, sexual liberation in gov't rules and private lives, and a bit more. A rapidly-declining, but still existing, third philosophy was liberalism, which basically meant epistemology of reason, ethics of individualism, politics of freedom, and aesthetics of neoclassicism, having some solid intellectual and cultural overlap with both conservatism and progressivism. After WW I, however, the philosophy and culture of liberalism died out, and became strictly the province of cranks, weirdos, and anachronistic irrelevancies.

I wonder if Ed Hudgins, or anyone else, can confirm or deny this interpretation of history? Smiling I tell a similar story here:

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