Friday, March 26, 2010

Wandering towards War

Dwight Garner reviews Miranda Carter's George, Nicholas and Wilhelm: Three Royal Cousins and the Road to World War I. This is the second recent book to link the three monarchs; Catrine Clay's King, Kaiser, Tsar: Three Royal Cousins who Led the World to War (reviewed here) covered the same territory a few years ago. Garner's article reflects some misconceptions probably inherited from Carter's book: for example, while the Romanovs were indeed wealthy, the later Tsars generally did not allow their children to live in luxury and they were actually brought up in surprising simplicity. Alexander III himself, though his role required him to preside over grand ceremonial functions, personally preferred to dress in peasant clothes and eat peasant food. The upbringing of Victorian and Edwardian British royal children was similarly modest.

It is certainly true, sadly, that the family relationships of European royalty failed to prevent the outbreak of World War I. This often resulted in heartbreaking conflicts of interest for the royals themselves. For example, the German-born Empress Alexandra of Russia, though she never liked her cousin the Kaiser and her loyalties were firmly Russian, had to deal with the pain of her own brother the Grand Duke of Hesse serving in the opposing German army. But the downfall of monarchies has hardly prevented more foolish and destructive wars; indeed, it arguably paved the way for them. So the fact that dynastic relations did not prevent wars from being fought between countries whose monarchs were closely related to each other is not itself an argument against hereditary monarchy or the cosmopolitan genealogical web of European royalty, which at least in peacetime was not without its advantages. Direct political power had mostly passed out of the hands of European monarchs by 1914 anyway, and subsequent history shows that plebeian politicians are perfectly capable of dragging their countries to war on their own. Of course if one starts from the presumption that kings and courts were already "anachronistic and absurd" in the early 20th century, their actions and rituals are going to be hard to understand. The question of whether it might have been the modern ideas that made them seem so that were in error is never raised.

[Update on April 5: Another review, by Miranda Seymour, appears here, possibly even more steeped in anti-monarchist bias than the first one.]

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'd argue is a related topic:

I have just finished an article about what I called the testament of Reinhold Schneider. It starts, in order to introduce him as a person, with a short summary about his work in the christian-monarchist publicist opposition against the nationalsocialist regime 1933-45 in Germany and continues then as a recension of his book "Homecoming of the german spirit. On the image of Christ in the german philosophy of the 19th century", that he wrote and published in 1946 in order to summarize what he has recognized as the root cause for all this immeasurable misery of this time.

Please note, this article is not meant for debating historical issues. It is about implications for philosophy of history from the blurred image of Christ in the german philosophy of the 19th century.