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Savage Century

Savage Century: Back to Barbarism

Thérèse Delpech
TRANSLATED BY GEORGE HOLOCH
Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 232
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt6wpjvc
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  • Book Info
    Savage Century
    Book Description:

    At the dawn of the twentieth century, observers heralded a new era of social progress, seemingly limitless technological advances, and world peace. But within only a few years, the world was perched on the brink of war, revolution, and human misery on an unprecedented scale. Is it possible that today, in the early twenty-first century, we are on the verge of similar, tumultuous times? Blending a detailed knowledge of international security affairs with history, philosophy, psychology, and literature, Thérèse Delpech vividly reminds us of the signs and warnings that were missed as the "civilized" world failed to prevent both world wars, the Holocaust, Soviet death camps, and Cambodian killing fields that made the twentieth century so deadly. Drawing a parallel between 1905 and 2005, Delpech warns that it could happen again in this current era of increasing international violence and global lawlessness. She looks ahead to imagine various scenarios and regions that could become flashpoints in the future. Winner of the 2005 Prix Femina de l'essai. Praise for the original French edition, L'Ensauvagement "One doesn't know what to admire most in this book: the precision of information, the scope of reference, the originality of the approach…" -Le Nouvel Observateur "From Iranian nuclear ambitions to the Taiwan question, Delpech reviews all the situations which might lead mankind to succumb to the perennial temptation of savagery -a passionate and lucid book." -L'argus de la presse "L'ensauvagement transcends its surface content, articulating great hope that our reason and will might take hold and overcome unreason." -Politique étrangère "Combining introspection and prediction, geopolitics and philosophy, Thérèse Delpech has issued a warning cry." -Politique Internationale

    eISBN: 978-0-87003-276-9
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-VI)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. VII-VIII)
  3. Preface to the Paperback Edition
    (pp. IX-XII)
  4. Prologue
    (pp. XIII-XXIV)

    The acceleration of history that we now sense so vividly began a little more than two centuries ago. Since then, humanity seems to have been launched on a wild epic journey whose trajectory is ever more obscure. Tolstoy, with characteristic Russian skill in the depiction of historical tragedy, is the writer who has presented the most gripping picture of that journey. Describing Napoleon’s campaigns sixty years after the fact, he does not display any of the romanticism with which other Russians like to speak of the Emperor. Of the fantastic cavalcade through Europe that has fascinated so many great minds,...

  5. Part One: The Telescope

    • CHAPTER 1 Political Responsibility
      (pp. 3-16)

      Schopenhauer, who wrote extensively about relations between politics and ethics, proposed an experiment for politicians in which they imagine themselves a few decades into the future looking back through a telescope to judge their present actions. Theretrospectivevision, he thought, should allow them to evaluate the long-term consequences of their acts and to recognize that political activity should be conducted not only for the benefit of the current generation—a demand that is already too great for many—but for coming generations.¹ To do justice to future generations, you have to be able to identify with them, not merely...

    • CHAPTER 2 The Pleasure Principle
      (pp. 17-26)

      And does the same hold true of the twenty-first century? Worry and anxiety have rarely been as visible, perhaps illustrating Freud’s conviction thatneurosishad replaced evil in the contemporary world. Writers bear witness to the unease, as do the consumption of tranquilizers and the consultation of psychiatrists in Western countries. Yet the peaceful life of Europeans seems to have been endowed with a grant of perpetuity. The disturbances of the twentieth century, most of which touched Europe deeply, have receded in the minds of the young into the distant past, so that they no longer have any existential meaning,...

    • CHAPTER 3 Ensavagement
      (pp. 27-34)

      The most significant regression of the twentieth century was savage indifference to human beings. Four years in the trenches of the Great War produced men who were “weary, broken, burnt out, rootless, and without hope.”¹ In some cases, soldiers revealed their dehumanization in frightening ways, as in Erich Maria Remarque’s account of a German fighter who is so afraid of leaving his trench that he “crouches back against the wall, and shows his teeth like a dog”² when instructed to join an assault. The Second World War subsequently permitted the transgression of all the barriers painstakingly constructed by centuries of...

    • CHAPTER 4 The Corruption of Principles
      (pp. 35-46)

      We may well wonder where the intellectual confusion of the twentieth century could have come from. Then we reread certain passages from great European intellectuals, and we ask another question: How could they have written such absurdities? After a while, the two questions end up being linked. Corruption of governments always begins, now as in the time of Montesquieu, by the corruption of their principles, but the corruption of principles must be transmitted by elites in order to attain any kind of legitimacy.¹ For this, there is nothing like a historical lie. Lying about history was one of the major...

  6. Part Two: 1905

    • CHAPTER 5 Portents
      (pp. 49-62)

      The year 1905 was one of the most dramatic of the early twentieth century. It saw a wildly varied series of events that was to transform world affairs. By 1905, it was already difficult to remain satisfied with dreams of the Belle Époque. Everywhere, from Europe to Asia to the Americas, in Russia and in China, one could sense the approach of what would later be called the century of wars and revolutions. It was the year of the first defeat of a Western nation by an Asian power in a modern war. That, along with the first Russian Revolution,...

    • CHAPTER 6 The Birth of Modernity
      (pp. 63-68)

      Isaiah Berlin claims that chronological milestones rarely coincide with turning points in the history of ideas. That may be untrue of 1905. Intellectual and artistic life experienced profound transformations, as though the twelve months of that year were destined to play a very specific role in the history of human consciousness. In science and art, 1905 is known for three events. In physics, the publication in Switzerland of Albert Einstein’s paper presenting the theory of special relativity and of three other papers by him would spark a revolution comparable to Newton’s three centuries earlier. In the history of painting, the...

    • CHAPTER 7 An Unforeseeable Actor
      (pp. 69-72)

      What might a perceptive observer in 1905 have seen in the future? Perhaps he would have anticipated the collapse of the Russian Empire, the rise of Japanese militarism, an absurd war between France and Germany touched off by nationalist passions, the realization of Tocqueville’s prediction about the role of the United States in world affairs.¹ He might also have foreseen trench warfare and the inability to fight a decisive battle because of the balance between the opposing forces. He might have dreaded the carnage produced by modern weapons and the way terrible wars would end up being inevitable to resolve...

    • CHAPTER 8 Against the Grain
      (pp. 73-76)

      If one had to define the twentieth century with a single word,Herzelend,the German for “sick at heart,” would be the most accurate. It designates a form of melancholy and a debilitation of the emotional side of human nature. Twentieth-century man finds a natural companion in the most universal of tragic heroes, Prince Hamlet, whose paralysis of will he shares. The century’s tragedies all arrived without having been willed, just as Hamlet neverwilledthe death of anyone, except for Claudius. The detour down which the human species began to travel early in the last century resembles a storm...

  7. Part Three: The World in 2025

    • CHAPTER 9 Foresight and Memory
      (pp. 79-82)

      Among the ancients, one of the most valued skills was the ability to cast some light on the future, particularly when important decisions were to be made. But that skill depended on the ability to remember. The past was the source of light, and man’s relationship to temporality was characterized by a constant contemplation of the past, the great font of wisdom. In that state of fullness, the past was an open book and the ancestors provided protection. When Christianity triumphed and endowed time with direction and meaning, the world adopted a different system of representation: while facing the darkness...

    • CHAPTER 10 Three Bets for the Future
      (pp. 83-92)

      It would be a mistake to claim that nothing enables us to imagine the future: we usually go in the direction our thinking takes us. Martin Rees, professor of cosmology and astrophysics at Cambridge, believes he expresses the thoughts of his contemporaries in a book titledOur Final Hour.¹ The ideas he expounds are based on known facts. He claims that the future is seriously threatened by the development of new technologies that are inadequately controlled or may be used for terrorist purposes. He specifically emphasizes the risks posed by biotechnology, a booming sector of science, and the new capacity...

    • CHAPTER 11 Open Questions
      (pp. 93-108)

      The fear that technological developments could escape from human control goes back to the early nineteenth century. With dependence on technology constantly growing, however, and with the number of technologies increasing at a pace no one can keep up with, the twenty-first century is particularly vulnerable. From this point of view, the century began in 1986 with the explosion of reactor number 4 at Chernobyl. Moscow’s first concern was to attribute the accident to human error and to protect Russian reactor technology, in line with the Soviet tradition that gave machines primacy over men. But the flaws in RBMK reactors,...

  8. Part Four: Back in 2005

    • CHAPTER 12 The Scene in 2005
      (pp. 111-120)

      The centennial of the omen-filled year of 1905 offered an opportunity to step outside immediate circumstances to identify some major tendencies at work in the course of events. The period that for fifteen years has lazily been designatedpost–Cold War,for lack of a better term, is now over, and a name will one day have to be found for its successor. Because the date of birth of the new period has been set at September 11, 2001, one of its principal components could well be a spectacular return of violence, now that it is within the power not...

    • CHAPTER 13 Russia as It Is
      (pp. 121-132)

      Since the fall of the USSR, the Western powers have based their policies toward Moscow on individuals rather than counting on institutional reforms or the development of civil society. Western leaders have sacrificed the principles on which their foreign relations depend for supposed “stability” on their eastern border guaranteed by the holder of the Russian Federation presidency, whoever he might be. As long as they got along well with Boris or Vladimir, they saw no reason to worry. We can now observe the results of that policy. Western influence on Russia is nonexistent. Russia’s capacity to exportinstabilityto the...

    • CHAPTER 14 The Two Chinas
      (pp. 133-144)

      Foreign policy deals with many peripheral subjects, but it sometimes seems to lack a center. Here is one:Taiwan is the Alsace-Lorraine of the twenty-first century.Beijing has often used this parallel, especially when trying to charm French interlocutors. One of the great strengths of the Chinese, in fact, is the very clever way in which they pay court to the elites of countries in their sights, particularly to diplomats. Instead of touching a displaced national sentimentalism in France, however, China’s parallel of Taiwan with Alsace-Lorraine should frighten us. Better than anyone, the French can imagine the blind fury that...

    • CHAPTER 15 North Korean Blackmail
      (pp. 145-152)

      The problem with totalitarian regimes is that they have a habit of lasting a long time. Before collapsing, they can cause unimaginable suffering in their own countries as well as the rest of the world. And when they assume a form as surprising as the regime of the Dear Leader Kim Jong Il in North Korea, all predictions are futile. One can only point out the degree to which since 1992 the position of the world with regard to Pyongyang has been aberrant. Political elites have failed utterly, allowing a small ruined country that torments its people to continue blackmailing...

    • CHAPTER 16 The Choice of the Peoples
      (pp. 153-158)

      The order of the twentieth century was often unjust and oppressive, and in a large part of the world it was based on excessive power of the state. In the name of realpolitik, thisordersubjected many of the peoples of Europe, Asia, Africa, and South America to regimes that violated all the founding principles of democratic societies. Stability was the key word in Cold War diplomacy; countries waiting for help behind the iron curtain met with indifference. The West preferred injustice to disorder. We Europeans had to wait until 1989 to learn that Prague was a one-hour flight from...

    • CHAPTER 17 The Unity of the Western Camp
      (pp. 159-166)

      Valéry’s hopes turned to the New World in 1938, at a moment when it seemed possible that European culture might vanish in the “fury of war,” along with European cities, universities, and museums. The thought that the New World, as Valéry still called it, could bring “the unhappy Europeans” back to life with a new existence on the other side of the ocean was consoling, but the poet did not know how great the debt of Europeans to America would be. Countless exiles would owe their lives to taking refuge across the Atlantic, and America’s entry into the war would...

    • CHAPTER 18 Rethinking Nuclear Weapons
      (pp. 167-174)

      In the nuclear realm, the pessimism of a few cool observers in the 1950s did more for peace than all the arguments about the gradual advance of liberal ideas in the world. The fear of total destruction, and that alone, made leaders think long and hard and gave deterrence a major role in the prevention of a new world conflict after the Second World War. But the very success of the enterprise,¹ manifest at the end of the Cold War, somehow undermined its principal gain: since a nuclear exchange hadnottaken place, the notion of survival lost a good...

  9. EPILOGUE: The Human Soul Torn to Pieces
    (pp. 175-182)

    What is most peculiar about our age is the conviction that evil is installed at the core of history and our frenetic rejection of that conviction. Twenty-first-century man bears a strange resemblance to primitive man seeking to drive evil outside the known world and transform it into a taboo. For us as for him, evil brings misfortune, and we want it out of our sight. But the world no longer has any borders beyond which we might cast it. The experience of evil has such force in contemporary consciousness, and the disorder of minds and things is so evident, that...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 183-200)
  11. Index
    (pp. 201-210)
  12. About the Author
    (pp. 211-211)
  13. Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
    (pp. 212-212)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 213-213)