If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face—forever. –George Orwell
There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest. –Elie Wiesel
The principle aim of intellectual history is to show how ideas have developed over time, and how they both arise out of, and actively shape, that development. Ideas are not mere superstructure, as Karl Marx supposed; they influence people, often profoundly, and that too is a part of history. We saw earlier how the histories of Vico, Voltaire, Gibbon, and Condorcet arose out of the Enlightenment, and how they contributed to the ideology of the French Revolution. We also saw how that legacy generated new kinds of historical thought: Liberalism in Tocqueville and Conservatism in Burckhardt; Historicism in Ranke and Hegel; Romanticism in Michelet and Nietzsche, and Positivism in Marx. As our story moves into the twentieth century, we are again compelled to discuss a tremendous political and social upheaval, for the years 1914–1945 saw a series of disasters such as the world had never known, and that very nearly ended civilization in Europe.
The crisis began in 1914, with the First World War, which emerged out of circumstances too complex to be addressed even cursorily here. In the barest possible terms, the war was a consequence of German unification in 1871, which made Germany the strongest power, by far, in Europe. This imbalance tempted German leaders to aim at European hegemony, and compelled France and Russia to ally against it out of mutual fear. Austrian rivalry with Russia in the Balkans drove it to seek alliance with Germany, while Britain and the Ottoman Empire, both of which tried hard to remain neutral, were compelled to choose opposite sides in the early months of the war. The United States joined much later, and only reluctantly. As all the world knows, the war was touched off by, (in Otto von Bismarck’s memorable phrase) “some damn fool thing in the Balkans,” which, for reasons which can never quite be satisfactorily explained, compelled Germany to invade France a few months later.
Philosophy of History