The ruling class ignores at its peril two important anniversaries coming up
June 24th marks the 700th anniversary of the Scots’ defeat of the English at the Battle of Bannockburn, an event that drove the English army out of Scotland and firmly established Robert the Bruce as king. Although the war for Scottish independence wasn't over for another 14 years, this overwhelming victory of inferior Scottish forces is generally viewed as the event that secured Scotland's independence for the next 400 years. An outnumbered, ragtag band of patriots prevailing over a large, well-equipped national army has long been the favored narrative of insurrectionists of all ilks.
June 28th marks the 100 anniversary of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir presumptive to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which was the trigger that began World War I. That war may be one of the least understood events in modern history. That is a shame, as it is also a war that shaped the 20th century and is still shaping events today. The current unstable boundaries of nations such as Iraq and Syria date from the postwar treaties. So do the anti-Christian sentiments of the European intelligentsia. Some of these sentiments may be due to the way Europe's established state religions often vigorously supported their nations’ war efforts, but Marxist disdain for religion was already on the rise. In many cases these forces were compounded by the shame of young intellectuals of the day at having enthusiastically responded to the nationalistic huzzahs at the beginning of hostilities in 1914. To this day, it has been fashionable for the western intelligentsia to pose as being against authority, even as they tighten their own fingers ever more firmly around the reins of power at society's key institutions.
In 1914, the political class across most of Europe was far from first rate. In many cases their eyes were fixed upon the spoils from foreign empires, even as they ignored growing rumblings of discontent from the working and middle classes in their own nations and elsewhere. The autocrats in Russia and the Ottoman Empire were tenaciously clinging to outmoded economic and political structures. Germany was headed by a thin-skinned, headstrong, grandiose narcissist who delighted in one-upmanship against his cousins on the thrones of Britain and Russia. French politicians played one neighbor off the other with the all the innocence of the proverbial cat found next to the empty canary cage. There had been a revolution in Portugal in 1910 that deposed the monarchy and quickly devolved into a dictatorship that imposed limitations of religious freedom. There was also a revolution in Mexico the same year that was even more tyrannical and which was socialist in outlook. If the political class then in power saw these events as harbingers of the future, most did not act upon it wisely.
Politicians everywhere were certain they could keep the dogs of war on a short leash, events running on their own strict timetables, and even, among so-called progressives, that they could change human nature itself. Europe's generals ignored examples dating from the end of America's Civil War that tactics better suited to the smooth bore muskets and cavalry charges used in Europe's last continent wide conflagration a century earlier would no longer work and that armies would quickly devolve to brutal trench warfare under modern artillery and machine guns. The short, decisive war quickly became an endless meat grinder.
We may currently have the worst political class since 1914. Recent elections in this country and in Europe show that many politicians are badly bout of touch with ordinary citizens. Thin-skinned, grandiose narcissists are certainly not in short supply among world leaders. Neither are those who operate under the illusion they will have control over the events they set in motion. It's enough to make me hope that Karl Marx got one single idea in his toxic political-economic brew correct
History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce.
Unfortunately, farce can still be deadly.