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Unfortunately, I can’t resist pointing out minicon stupidities, and the latest example of this problem came to my attention in a recent syndicated column by Rich Lowry. In what is intended to be a discourse on American exceptionalism, Lowry goes through the anti-democratic evils of continental countries and then gets to England, which is awarded a clean bill of health. England previewed our “liberal democracy,” practiced “benign colonialism,” and was in many ways a “jumping off” point to our “exceptional nation.” “It was a bulwark against the dictatorships of the Continent, from Napoleon, to the Kaiser, to Hitler.”

Let me point out some of what is wrong with such hyperbole. The English bear many of the same “black marks” that Lowry ascribes to continental countries, and as the descendant of Irish peasants, Lowry might recall at least some of England’s many misdeeds. English rule abroad was not always “benign colonialism,” and in the Boer War, which the Salisbury government launched against the Afrikaners to grab their land, the English practiced naked aggression and engaged in atrocities against their fellow Northern European Protestants, as opposed to such customary English victims as Highland Scots, Irish Catholics, and the inhabitants of Chinese coastal cities.

It is also ridiculous to see all English entanglement in wars against continental powers as driven by a democratic struggle against dictatorship. As an insular empire protected by a large navy, the English had an interest in keeping hegemonic powers from emerging on the continent and pursued this interest with whatever allies they could find. What the English typically practiced was Realpolitik, which meant siding with some undemocratic, feudal regimes against other more powerful states. During the Napoleonic wars the English allied themselves with a reactionary Russia against a much more progressive France, which abolished serfdom and proclaimed religious liberty wherever its armies went. English Tories feared the rise of Germany from the time of its unification not because they viewed it as a “dictatorship” but because it was becoming a continental powerhouse. Later, in order to defeat its rival, England pulled the U.S. into the First World War, thereby setting the stage for playing second fiddle to England’s American cousins.

ORDER IT NOW

The silliest statement in Lowry’s botched history lesson is the reference to the Kaiser’s “dictatorship.” Would the esteemed editor of National Review explain what that description means? Germany on the eve of the Great War had more intellectual and academic freedom than it does now as a custodial antifascist regime. German citizens in 1910 paid by far lower taxes than the subjects of the current Western democracies. Imperial Germany was a state under law (Rechtsstaat) and it was harder to divest German property-holders of their possessions than is presently the situation in the United States. Germany was also a federal government, in which a patchwork of duchies, free cities, and kingdoms continued to exercise some degree of sovereignty. Despite Wilhelm’s less than able handling of international relations (which was almost in the same bombastic category as that of George W. Bush), he did not run Germany as a “dictator.” By the way, German workers by the early 20th century were more literate and better fed than their English counterparts.

Let me note that I am not an Anglophobe of any kind. In fact I have profound admiration for a great deal of British history and politics, and I’ve a particular affection for the Hanoverians, under whose prudent rule England emerged as a great imperial and industrial power. In high school I would offend my history teachers by asserting that the American revolutionaries had little to complain about in the way the British government treated them. They were taxed minimally and for the most part left alone. Needless to say, if I were an Irishman (like Lowry’s ancestors) I would have felt differently. My beef here is with the anachronistic equation of everything English with “democratic,” together with an expected revulsion for evil continental countries, and particularly those speaking German. Although such a combination may satisfy neocon prejudices, it typically results in grossly distorting the European past.

(Republished from The American Conservative by permission of author or representative)
 
• Category: History • Tags: Germany, World War I 
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  1. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    It is fair to point out that England’s historical wars against Spain France, and Germany were fought against powers that were trying to dominate the whole of Europe. Of course national self interest was a motivating force. We were not , in those days, entirely stupid in our foreign policies. Yet England never tried for continental hegemony, only for a balance. Was this in the overall interest of Europe?

    By the way I often read that England “dragged” America in to World War 1 and even World War 11 and I wish someone would explain how the trick was done. It would be worth knowing.

  2. Will says:

    A great critique by Prof. Gottfried.

  3. Henry says:

    If you were historicalkly literate, you would know the Boers declared war on England, not vice versa. As for allying against “Progressive” France in the Napoleonic wars, what was progressive about the rein of terror and the Genocide in the Vendee – the most comnplete genocide the world has known, with a few costumes made of human skin from its victims still in existence? If Germany under the Kaiser had no ambitions of world domination, why did it build an enormous navy which it certainly did not need for home defence?:Like most paleocons, Paul Gottfried is a dope who re-writes history to suit a pre-conceived ideology.

  4. Burrhus says:

    “Grossly distorting the European past” is a major weapon in the arsenal of those engaged in undermining the nations and cultures of Western Civilization. They have even criminalized all dissent on one historical issue while creating powerful social taboos against open discourse on many others.

    One does not ask one’s enemy to lay down his weapon, one demands that he do so. If that demand is not met, then one compels him to, intellectually and pacifically if possible, but in any case…one compels him to.

    It is time for the people of the endangered Western nations to demand that our enemies put down the weapon of historical distortion. And if that demand is not met, we must compel them to do so.

    The alternative is the death of the West and that is not an acceptable alternative.

  5. My mother from county Mayo in Ireland, described for me how the British responded to Irish nationalists by sending in the brutal “Black and Tans,” These gentlemen were convicted criminals (rapists, thieves etc.) who were offered their freedom in exchange for policing the Irish. For 300 years an appartheid like system was imposed on the Catholic Church and Irish population. Ireland continued to export tons of food into England in the 1840’s as millions of Irish starved in the great Irish famines. In all, half of Eries 8 million people either died or emmigrated.
    As for WWI, hatred for Germany was instigated by yellow jounalism around incidents like the sinking of the “oceanliner” Lusitania. Recent books have disclosed that the ship was a converted war ship of the Royal Navy, secretly carrying WAR MUNITIONS. A cynical President Wilson was aware of all this but never warned the American passengers who he sacrificed.

  6. HateHacks says:

    Henry, talk about historical illiteracy! There were two Anglo-Boer wars, in the first of which the Boers gained their independence from Britain, and the second of which was initiated in response to a British ultimatum backed by a concentration of troops on the Boer Republics’ borders. Go look it up, and you’ll see what nonsense your claim is that the Boers “declared war” on the British. (I need hardly mention the fact that nothing the Boers did justified the documented British atrocities against Boer civilian populations in that war.)
    M.J. Harrington, there are a wealth of historical narratives clearly setting forth the active promotion by Britain of US intervention in BOTH world wars of the 20th Century, Thomas Fleming’s works on the subject being richly sourced and invaluable. Go read some real history, people, and thanks for the lesson, Prof. Gottfried!

  7. Jim Evans says:

    Lowery promotes the shibboleth of British foreign policy, historically, always being benign.

    It’s more complicated than that, as other commenters have well noted.

    Another name for today’s Globalists is the Anglo-American Establishment.

    And, what this Anglo-American Establishment wants to achieve via transnational power and control institutions is antithetical to American Sovereignty.

    American owes a great deal to the customs & traditions of the English Common Law — this has been good.

    But in many other respects… it’s no wonder America engaged in a Revolution and seperation from the English Crown.

    Remember this…

    England is a mixed bag…

  8. Rich “starbursts” Lowry. What a hack.

  9. Lawdog says:

    I don’t know whether poor Lowry believes what he writes or not. Hell, I don’t even know if he writes his own stuff! I do know that National Review circa 2011 is intellectually subpar, and its collective sense of history increasingly cartoonish as such writers as had real minds and knowledge either leave or die. Same with Commentary.

    Henry: Anyone who thinks the attack on the Vendee was the “most comnplete genocide the world has known” either doesn’t know or doesn’t believe the Old Testament (just for starters).

  10. Prof Gottfried, many of your critiques of Mr. Lowry are right on the mark. However, having read the original Lowry column, I do not think it was a worthy target; in fact, the original column reads like a composition written by an eighth-grader.

    Given the lack of analysis, obvious biases, and childish premise, Lowry could just as easily have been written on “why the Yankees are the best baseball team ever.” Lowry’s “history lesson” is actually nothing more than a shallow rallying cry for the Neocon “Amen Chorus” at National Review.

    The problem is taking a lightweight such as Lowry seriously. You use the terms “stupidities,” “ridiculous” and “silliest” in your critique. These words are enough; getting bogged down in questioning the specific examples advocated by Lowry just lend his childish composition more credence than it deserves.

  11. I’m shocked that Lowery hasn’t penned a similiar piece about our greatest ally Israel! BTW the French Revolution was something I’d like to see repeated in Iran soon, so that they won’t force our hand and we can avoid havving to invade them before they attack us!

  12. Chris Moore says: • Website

    Casting Europe as “uniquely evil” serves the same Big Government-justifying purpose for neocons as it does for Leftists, only instead of Marxism “saving the world” from “evil Europeans,” the war profiteering military industrial complex and bankster profiteering Keynesian Fed racket are the beneficiaries, using the “threat” as a rationale to divert resources to themselves — all at the expense of average American taxpayers (not to mention the millions around the world in these murderous grifters’ bomb sights).

    It also comes at the expense of America’s ties to traditional Christian and European history.

    You see, to succeed in their swindle, cultists must isolate their marks as much as possible while simultaneously propagating a false consciousness in their psychology.

    But at least it’s nice to know that neocons are as much a threat to Western Civilization as are cultural Marxists and Leftists.

  13. Jim Evans says:

    After having read Lowry’s piece, it does seem Gottfried took off on a bit of a tangentical aspect of the column.

    Perhaps, Gottfried didn’t want to directly take on the major premise of the opinion piece: American Exceptionalism.

    In that regard, he may have been wise… it’s a hard sell to directly challenge the idea of American Exceptionalism.

    The American Constitutional Framework and the freedom & liberty it protected and fostered is exceptional among the history of nation-states.

    Being the biggest and/or the baddest nation-state on the block is not exceptional — all have fallen and been replaced at one time or another by some other nation-state.

    And, perhaps, that is the key to reigning in the endless wars and domestic police state mentality: American Excetionalism does not depend on America dominating the world.

    American Exceptionalism, rather, depends on an enduring Constitutional Republic, where the rule of law and freedom and prosperity go hand-in-hand.

    It is our freedom & liberty from oppressive government that allowed creativity and initiative to flurish and, in turn, propel American prosperity.

    The status of Empire is what threatens American Exceptionalism.

    So, those that promote the idea of American Empire (as integral to American Exceptionalism, as does Lowry), in actuality, threaten the very idea they say they hold most dear.

    Those that promote empire status threaten American Exceptionalism!

    Now that is an idea which can challenge those of Lowry’s ilk.

  14. Truly a nadir has been reached in scholarship when Kaiser Wilhelm II’s Germany is described as a “dictatorship”. Obviously someone is trying to justify U.S. entry into the war on the allied side.

    Austin Bramwell needs to explain how this man became lucky enough (or connected enough) to become the editor of NR.

  15. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Ben Six, Samuel Lenser. Samuel Lenser said: Paul Gottfried has coined a new term for the neocon lapdog: the minicon. (In this instance, Rich Lowry.) http://bit.ly/dMsZuu #neologisms […]

  16. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    Conservative bloggers + wikipedia = cringeworthy and grandiose blather

  17. Kevin says:

    I’m curious if Lowry has even read Pericles’ funeral oration. EVERY nation at the apex of the power pyramid will prattle on about how exceptional they are. When Queen Victoria celebrated her diamond jubilee Great Britain governed 450 million people and 25% of the world’s territory. Didn’t last.

  18. I’ve no idea how the Boers could be blamed for a war that the British foreign office had been planning since the Jameson Raid in 1893 and since the discovery of vast diamond wealth in the Dutch Republic. No one is claiming that the British were alone responsible for getting the US entangled in World War One. What I should have said is that the British dragged us in with considerable help from Anglophile patricians like Walter Hines Page, Elihu Root,and New England Republicans. The writings of Walter Karp are particularly useful in demonstrating the connection between Anglophile interventionists in the US and the British government from 1914 onward. I should also call attention to my article on American patrician interventionists in the forthcoming issue of Historically Speaking.

  19. nitpicker says:

    @Burrhus, instead of complaining about Europeans “criminalized all dissent on one historical issue” and the “endangered Western nations,” why don’t you just say you’re a Nazi who hates differently-colored people and be honest about it?

  20. Bill says:

    No one doubts that the US is exceptional in its power and influence. Plenty of people doubt that it’s exceptional in its virtue and wisdom.

  21. Burrhus says:

    “nitpicker, on January 4th, 2011 at 2:00 pm Said:

    @Burrhus, instead of complaining about Europeans “criminalized all dissent on one historical issue” and the “endangered Western nations,” why don’t you just say you’re a Nazi who hates differently-colored people and be honest about it?”

    1) Whether or not one accepts the standard Holocaust narrative as true, no one with even a shred of intellectual integrity can believe that it is proper that people should be put in jail for questioning that narrative as is the case today in many Western countries.

    2) I hate no one, not even those who have harmed me. Consider my username and its implications.

    3) I did not expect to see on this website the type of incivility that you have injected. This is not a cyberpunk messageboard. I hope that you will refrain from further behavior of this sort.

  22. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    While Imperial Germany may not have been a dictatorship per se, there certainly were authoritarian aspects to it, and it certainly wasn’t entirely a free-thinkers utopia . There were millions of German immigrants to the USA prior to WWI, and many of those people were religious and political dissenters.

    While Lowry may be guilty of “minicon stupidities” that barely deserve being responded to, they *should* be responded to – lack of response is one reason these stupidities can get tracion and become “common knowledge” .

  23. Bill says:

    “The American Constitutional Framework and the freedom & liberty it protected and fostered is exceptional among the history of nation-states.”

    Slavery, Jim Crow, segregation into the 1960s of a kind unknown outside aparheid South Africa. The genocide of Native Americans and the unending confiscation of their land. The Philippine War of Independence, where a million Philippinos died trying to throw off US imperialism, and where the US employed waterboarding. The McCarthyite witchhunts. Vietnam, including Me Lai and the carpetbombing of Cambodia. And now the war crime against Iraq, with its attendant rape, torture, mass murder and the continuing imprisonments without trial at Gitmo.

    Americans love to tell each other how wonderful they are, meaning that complacency persists through the centuries — unchanged from the days when a group of slave-owners prated about all men being created equal.

    The great thing about “The American Constitutional Framework” is that you can pick and chose who benefits from it.

  24. Burrhus –

    Those who are criminalizing Holocaust revisionism are doing EXACTLY what you claim should be done – “compelling”, not asking, their enemies to put down their “arms” of historical distortion.

    After all, “One does not ask one’s enemy to lay down his weapon, one demands that he do so. If that demand is not met, then one compels him to, intellectually and pacifically if possible, but in any case…one compels him to.”

  25. Bill,

    Well No True American would do any of those things … so there!

  26. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    HateHacks,

    I am well aware of the British promotion of the Allied cause in the US during both world wars.That was normal propoganda of the sort one would expect. It was not “dragging” America in.

    In my view Britain made a profound and tragic mistake in getting into a second war in 1939. Prime Minister Baldwin’s cynical view that Britain ought to have promoted a war between the Nazis and the Bolsheviks seems sound to me, if cold blooded. Who dragged Britain into war? Of course that is another story.

  27. athEIst says:

    why did it build an enormous navy which it certainly did not need for home defence?

    Probably to be able to disable a blockade such as the one that defeated Germany and CONTINUED until the Treaty of Versailles was signed

  28. Burrhus says:

    “libarbarian, on January 4th, 2011 at 5:22 pm Said:

    Burrhus –

    Those who are criminalizing Holocaust revisionism are doing EXACTLY what you claim should be done – “compelling”, not asking, their enemies to put down their “arms” of historical distortion. ”

    Who is more likely to be distorting history — those who criminalize their opponents’ position and preclude it from being heard, or those who call for open, honest debate with all positions free to be heard?

    Since you recognize that we who would have open discourse on all historical narratives are seen as enemies by those who criminalize questioning the Holocaust story, you must grant then that they are simultaneously our enemies.

    Which side are you on?

  29. Patrick says:

    Paul: Lowry was referring to ‘Britain’ not ‘England’. You conflate England and Britain throughout your article. You should be able to tell the difference between the two, but you clearly can’t.

  30. During the first personal meeting between FDR and Churchill at Placenta bay in 1941 a defeat Germany first strategy was agreed upon.
    The US declared war on Japan on Dec. 8. On Dec 11 Germany and Italy declared war on the United States. The US declared war in response to the German and Italian declarations. Popular public opinion weeks after Pearl Harbor perferred war against Japan only. In late December 1941 Churchill traveled to Washington to afirm the Germany first strategy. It was apparent that when FDR agreed to Operation Torch a second front in 1942 was out of the question. Eisenhower wanted a second front in 1942. Dieppe pretty well demonstrated the fallacy of that possibility. George C. Marshall was angered over the British demand that the Italian mainland should be invaded after a sucessful conclusion to Operation “Husky”. Hitting the “soft underbelly” would postpone landings in France to the spring of 1944. Marshall threatened to shift the American war effort to Japan because of the postponement. It was one of the few times that Marshall and Douglas MacArthur were in strategic agreement.

  31. In 1930 the United States Navy had two war plans: War Plan Orange which planned for a war in the Pacific against the Japanese Navy and War Plan White for a war in the Atlantic against the British Navy. Each plan was mutually exculsive. The US (and Germany) dreaded the idea of a two front war.
    In 1938 FDR offered American help to Neville Chamberlin to help aleviate the Munich Crisis. Chamberlain turned down the offer with a rude and preemptive response to FDRs generous offer. Chamberlain disliked Russia and was contemptuous of the United States. His private letters to his two sisters are full of cutting remarks about Americans in general. Between 1937 and the autumn of 1939 American British relations were less than stellar. Chamberlain was rude to FDR and latter on when he asked FDR to loan the british some Norden bomb sites to the RAF during the phoney war FDR responded with a cold refusal. King George VI visited the US in August 1939 to try to improve relations. Two weeks after the visit Germany invaded Poland. FDR’s appointment of Joseph P Kennedy as ambassador to Great Britian didn’t help the situation either since Kennedy was a known pro anti British defeatist. FDR circumvented Chamberlain by getting into direct communications with The First Lord of The Admiralty Winston Churchill who was known to be one of the few British politicians friendly to the US. After Churchill became prime minister he asked FDR to recall of Kennedy who was replaced by John Winant.
    The two countries that decided the Second World War were th two couniries that Camberlain tried to keep out of European affairs in the late 1930s. Both Russia and America were surprised into the Second World War. The only reason the Russians “won” the second world war was because they had more room to run away in and they had more people still alive than Germans after the meat grinder of the Eastern Front chewed them all up. By the late 1930s the Russians were desensitized to the idea of death en masse after the collectivzation of the farms and the purge trials. Stalin did a good job of turning the average Russian citizen into automaton robots.
    Germany and America were the only two combatants that fought a two front war. Eighty five percent of the German war effort was concentrated on the Russian front and ninety percent of the American war effort was concentrated in the European theater of Operations. Iroically the Japanese helped the Russians to hurl the Germans from the gates of Moscow. The Russian spy Richard Sorge attached to the German embassy in Tokyo confirmed to Stalin that the Japanese were going to attack the Americans not the Russians. This allowed Stalin to transfer Siberian troops from the far east to bolster the flank attacks against the Wehrmacht in front of Moscow. Since Stalin was already receiving Lend Lease supplys from America even though we were not at war yet it was hypocritic that he didn’t warn us about Pearl Harbor.
    It is also ironic that Hitler declared war against the United States three days after Pearl Harbor. The Tripartite axis signed by Germany Japan and Italy was aimed at the United States . The pact stipulated that each member would respond if the US attacked them, not the other way around. The tripartite axis was the only treaty that Hitler ever abided by and wasn’t required to honor under the circumstances anyway.
    Had the Germans waited six more months the US would have been too heavily involved in the Guadicanal campaign to be abe to reverse the primary theater of operations back to Europe.
    The German successes during” Operation drumbeat” revealed how poorly the US was prepared for a two front naval war.
    It also was ironic that the Poland was the catalyst for two major upheavals in the 20th century. The second world war and the cold war.

  32. Bill says:

    “Germany and America were the only two combatants that fought a two front war.”

    Yes, obviously British and Commonwearlth forces didn’t fight the Japanese.

    >Sigh<

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