The evolution of entente propaganda against Germany during the First World War
- Pan-Germanism propaganda – a British perspective
- Pan-Germanism propaganda – the Austrian complication.
- Pan-Germanism and the state – the changing propaganda.
- Pan-Germanism propaganda – a French perspective.
- Social psychology, democracy and the German menace.
- Social psychology and war.
- Social psychology and propaganda.
War propaganda is a peculiar art. Aside from its purpose of demoralising the enemy through the dissemination of false and misleading information among its people and armed forces it has two domestic purposes. Firstly, it must be capable of convincing its own people that the effort in sustaining a war is worth the sacrifice; and secondly, it must serve to debilitate an alternative account of events that might serve an enemy’s purpose. Censorship is an important component in all of this but while it can impede its transmission it cannot prevent the emergence of a domestically generated questioning of the core purpose of the propaganda. That is why the propaganda must be credible in furnishing an explanation of the enemy’s behaviour on a number of levels. On a popular level Britain’s explanation of Germany’s behaviour was based on a rather crude depiction of it as emanating from a basic flaw in that nation’s culture and history which made it prone to the development of a militarism that rode roughshod over the rights of other nations. In contrast to this the British represented themselves as the bastion of civilised behaviour destined to stand up to and eventually defeat this evil juggernaut. However, alongside this there developed a more sophisticated explanation which emerged from a rather crude beginning in the aftermath of the Boer War into a cultivated tool in the hands of French propagandists in the aftermath of the first Moroccan crisis of 1906. We see this in the changes undergone by the Entente propaganda explanation of Pan-Germanism during the period up to the start of the First World War.
The concept of Pan-Germanism could be said to have originated with the writings of Friedrich List in the 1840s. He advocated a number of measures all designed to encourage the emergence of a sense of national feeling among the 39 German states and principalities then in existence. The measures included the development of a state-subsidised rail and shipping network across the region, the creation of a German navy, a protective tariff system to aid the nascent industrial economy and the inclusion of Holland within the German customs union (Zollverein) then in the process of evolving. When List shot himself in 1846 his writings were largely uninfluential and the project of a unified Germany remained incomplete until Bismarck’s final push for German unification in 1871. However, despite the fact that Bismarck’s achievement in 1871 was viewed as the end line for any practical German national ambitions – he had dismissed any idea of the new Germany accommodating Austria as being impractical. Nonetheless, the idea of a broader unity continued to have some support among the German-speaking peoples and this came to be known as the Pan-Germanic movement.
The idea of Pan-Germanism first began to assume an organisational character when the German colonist, Dr. Karl (or Carl) Peters became involved. Peters had lived in England between 1880 and 1883 and, while living in London, observed the relationship between the country and its colonies at first hand. His experience there convinced him that Germany, if it was to become a European power, had to learn from England and possess its own colonies in Africa. After returning to Germany in 1883 he helped establish the Society for German Colonisation. But Peters was also concerned about the German sense of identity and as a result he organised a General German Congress in Berlin in 1886. From this there emerged the German League under which umbrella various ‘national’ German organisations were amalgamated. However, because the League was held together mostly through Peters’ own personality when he left for Africa a couple of years later it began to fall apart through internal differences and was consequently dissolved. The cause of the League had not been helped by Bismarck’s antipathy towards Peters and his African ambitions and after Bismarck’s fall in 1890 efforts began to re-establish the German League. As a result the League was successfully reconstituted in 1891 but after a year in which it flourished it began to go downhill once again.
The development of anti-semitism within the organisation alienated many of the Jewish and socialist elements and its central Prussian-German message failed to find a resonance among the populations of Saxony and Bavaria. Consequently, from an initial membership of 21,000 it quickly fell to 5,000 and its second dissolution looked on the cards. The fortunes of the League were revived however by the efforts of the Reichstag Deputy for Leipzig, Professor Hasse, who after being elected its President immediately began to reorganise the entire management and organisational structure. Also, under his presidency, in 1894, the League began its own journal, the Alldeutsch Blatter (or Pan-German Music), under the editorship of Dr. Lehr. Between the two men the fortunes of the organisation were turned around and, again in 1894, its name was changed to the “Pan-German League.” By 1898 the membership was 15,179 and in 1903, 20,504. The League never attained the status of a mass organisation and any influence it had was through the nature of its membership which was dominated by academics. But neither was it a homogeneous organisation in terms of possessing a detailed plan of action and, although it included within its ranks elements which believed in a militant pursuit of a Greater Germany, its main component reflected a more pacific advocacy of a Customs Union with those countries bordering Germany or which had a significant German population. There were even some who continued to look to England as a partner in the proposed project. Once such expression was outlined in a book by Otto Doerfer entitled “Germany’s Mission as a World-Power” published in 1901. According to a review in the Manchester Guardian:
“This mission is, according to the author, to Germanise the whole of Europe with the assistance of England.” (Manchester Guardian, 24 November 1901, p.4).
Doerfer believed that there was no need for Germany to develop its sea power in competition with England but instead should concentrate on controlling the great river waterways of northern and central Europe – a task made all the more urgent as the Austrian Hapsburgs were not capable of, or indeed interested in, Germanising the Lower Danube.
“It is scarcely credible, but it is true, that so great a Power as Germany has but one river under its rule along the whole of its course – the Weser. The Rhine, the Danube, the Vistula, the Oder, are all more or less in foreign hands. The Hapsburgs are no longer strong enough to carry out their mission of Germanising the territories on the Lower Danube.” (ibid.).
England was seen as part of this mission as she “also belongs to the great German race, and has the same interests and adversaries as Germany.” And for this reason it was important that Germany undertook her mission through a close alliance with England.
This of course was very much a minority position. In the aftermath of British behaviour towards German mercantile ships during the Boer War, the prevalent position was one which viewed Britain as a potential opponent rather than a partner. Also, although certain elements of German Government policy overlapped with aspects of the Pan-German League agenda it had no direct influence on the Government. Nonetheless, from the point of view of Germany’s enemies the mere existence of the Pan-German League was sufficient for them to construct a mythology around it.
One of the first to undertake this task with any earnestness was the journalist Austin Harrison. Harrison was the son of the Positivist Frederic Harrison and became a journalist as a young man. His first job was with The Times as an assistant to George Saunders at the Berlin office of the paper in the 1890s and he went on to work in the Berlin office of Reuters. He subsequently held senior positions on the Observer and the Daily Mail before becoming the editor and then proprietor of the English Review. Harrison’s anti-German position began to manifest itself early in his career as a journalist and in 1904 he published his first book on Germany. This was published anonymously under the title The Pan-Germanic Doctrine, and it represents one of the earliest explorations of the Pan-Germanist movement. The book is a well-researched, albeit anti-German, investigation into the Pan-German League. Despite this, the fact that it was written prior to the Anglo-French entente means that it is free from the more overtly propaganda slants which typify accounts of Germany after that event and provides some interesting insights into the situation and predicament of Germany at that time. Although he goes on to use his sources in ways which exaggerate the Pan-German League and regularly conflates the policy of the League with that of the German Government he does interject this with a more honest, although somewhat begrudging, account of the relationship between the two.
“Pan-Germans are inconvenient to the German Government at this Juncture; they are mocked at, treated as illusionists, sciolists (superficially knowledgeable – ED), beer politicians, and dabblers in ‘metapolitics,’ to use a word of Stein’s. But the line that divides responsible politicians from rational Pan-Germans is often only proportional. The Pan-Germans anticipate, see Germany through a telescope. The Government uses opera-glasses, sees only the present, the actual, the tangibly possible. Some day the focus may be adjusted for both sights.” (The Pan-Germanic Doctrine: being a study of German political aims and aspirations, [by Austin Harrison]. Published by Harler & Brothers, London and New York, 1904, p.5).
“Of course, officially, the German Government has nothing whatever to do with it. The Pan-German party does not go to the polls as such; it has no fixed Parliamentary representation in Germany, and its members are members of various parties in the Reichstag. Confined to its own strict limits, it is a singularly small party, absurdly small for the noise it makes; and many Germans who are really Pan-Germans object to its nomenclature just as many Germans who vote for the social democracy resent being enrolled as socialists. On the other hand, there is no other definition for the new Imperialists following, the foremost representative of which is the German Emperor, who, in a rational sense, is almost the foremost exponent of Pan-Germanism. But let there be no misunderstanding. The two things must be kept separate. If the Colonial movement, the Navy agitations, the ‘Thrasonic’ verbiage of the host of the Colonial, Imperialist, National, Fleet, and economic professors are all closely associated with the Pan-German movement, it is only right to preface anything that may be said here, either about them or about Pan-Germanism, with the admonition that Pan-Germanism, as expounded by the League, and German forward policy are not one and the same thing. For this reason German politics will be avoided. The German Government will not be described as benevolently Pan-German.” (ibid, p.11 ).
However, Harrison envelopes his facts with opinion through the strategic use of inevitability, innuendo and implication which he scatters throughout the book. He thus ensures that it is opinion which leaves the lasting taste in the mind – even though he pays homage to the fact that the more toxic policies of the Pan-German League are not shared by the German Government we are left in no doubt that we are supposed to know that they are. And even if they are not shared at the present time they will be in the future. This is the perennial tool of the journalist-historian and by such means the ongoing policy of the German Government becomes indistinguishable from that of the Pan-German League.
This is not to say that certain aspects of the agenda of the Pan-German League were not shared by the German Government, but the Government always set the larger agenda and, because it was not ideologically driven in the same way as the League, it always adopted a politically expedient attitude towards the world in which it found itself.
Consequently, the most obvious point of departure between the League and the Government was in the realm of ideology. The core ideologically-based sentiment behind the League was the idea of the Deutschtum. Harrison says there is no English equivalent for the term but that it approximates to “Germanism,” or everything connected with Germany and things German and it embraces High and Low Germanic peoples in countries outside of Germany itself. The German Government consistently portrayed a sympathetic attitude towards what was called the Deutschtum – it would be surprising if any national government did not betray some sympathy towards its diaspora and culture. But, there was a world of difference between the position which the League allocated to the Deutschtum in terms of destiny and the position allocated to it by the Government.
While the Deutschtum was the core ideological sentiment behind the League the core economic one was the idea of the Zollverein, or Customs Union. The original Zollverein was the basis for the unification of the various German states which had been achieved, and, in the eyes of the League, it now became a means by which other neighbouring states could become part of the Greater Germany. The German Government did foresee some useful purpose in the expansion of the Zollverein but it viewed it purely in terms of the economic advantages it offered rather than as a tool for political advance. Although it acknowledged that any such expansion of the Zollverein might lead to the political alliance of a particular country or region with Germany it also recognised that this was not inevitable – the case of Luxembourg being often cited of an example where this did not happen (Luxembourg had joined the Zollverein in 1842 without any subsequent political implications).
Harrison invests a lot of effort in explaining the economic predicament of Germany at this time. However, he does this not from any sense of sympathy for Germany’s position but because it represents the area which showed most promise in providing his readers with a logical explanation of the German State’s inevitable drive for territorial expansion. Because he found it more difficult to equate the State’s relationship with the Deutschtum with the more aggressive ideological relationship held by the League, the economic argument provided a more convincing one. Harrison examines the relationships between Germany and its surrounding neighbours, Holland, Denmark, Sweden, Switzerland, and to a certain extent, Belgium, and concludes that the essential element in all of this is the economic one. In the process of outlining the arguments he provides some useful sources and insights from German sources which are critical to a real understanding of the German Government’s attitude and predicament at the time. In this sense, and leaving aside the expressions of Germanophobia, his book provides a valuable contribution to any understanding of the First World War.
However, a counterposing of Harrison’s 1904 book with one that was published within a couple of months of the start of the First World War in 1914 provides an even more valuable insight. The Kaiser’s War, which also includes an introduction by his father, Frederic Harrison, jettisons any pretence at objectivity and reason in spectacular fashion.
The preface to the book states that six of the chapters were originally published in the English Review which Austin Harrison was editing at this time. This means that they had been published in the immediate lead-in to the war. He seeks to disabuse the “Not a few people in this country”, who “are still harbouring the delusion that the war is the act of a small sect, called the Military Party, in Germany which, as a nation, was forced into hostilities in obedience to the Higher Command. Till the Kaiser declared war it is the fact that half our present Government, the majority of Liberals and vast numbers of Englishmen engrossed in games, party politics, and in their own private businesses, did more or less sincerely believe in the pacific attitude and policy of Germans, based largely on the great success achieved by learned and material Germany – a success which, in truth, has been the outstanding phenomenon of this century.” (p.2). Then, early on in the book, after explaining how all the achievements of German culture and science had seduced the British into a state of torpor, how British society had become intoxicated by German achievement into a presumption of civilised pacifism on its part he goes on to explain that this was “Part of the gigantic German bluff” concealing the “Jackboot of militarism.”
But also, the economic reasoning behind German motivation was also a deflection from the real impulses which dictated her actions. Harrison explains this, not by reference to the arguments he had himself advanced in his book of ten years earlier, but by reference to the publications of Norman Angell.
“To this must be added the Norman Angell theory. For some years past it has been noticed that diplomacy had lost its old-time status, that finance – capitalistic industry, enterprise, interest and industrialism – had assumed the position formerly held by diplomatists. So intricately and indissolubly connected had the network of Trade, Capitalism, Revenue, and Credit become internationally, that language, the Flag, Governments, statesmen, and policy seemed no longer to represent the power of nationality growing more and more democratic, material, cynical, and ‘civilized,’ as the result of the great facilities for travel, communication, and knowledge of other peoples opened up under the driving power of the new philosophy of economics, which, in all its aspects and interests, was selfish and material. This Mr. Norman Angell explained rightly enough.
“Where he went wrong was in his own illusion of the illusion.
“He saw only money, interest, materialism, credit – he forgot the will of man. He looked on the world with the vision of the bucket-shop. It never occurred to him to consider that as materialism breeds materialism and no rich man has ever yet been known to say that he was rich enough, so also has no people. He forgot Germany, the German Army, the Kaiser, the German intention. With the habitual one-sidedness of the theorist, he left out of his accounts the human side of man in his admiration for the machine – ideology; the truth which all history has shown again and again that the world is controlled and moved ultimately by ideas and not by matter.
“Side by side with the growth of industry, there has gone Militarism, the European heritage of Bismarck. This is where the broker philosophy of Mr. Norman Angell failed. He thought that wealth was stronger than man, that matter was greater than the spirit. And a great many people agreed with him. They, too, believed that Plutocracy was a bigger thing than mind. And, theoretically, the premise looked plausible, if only for the reason that war in Europe threatened to bring ruin to the very Captains of Industry who swayed its governance. Then, too, the European system of Alliances seemed to provide a sure guarantee of continued peace.
“The idea of war appeared incredible. Men never stopped to consider the psychology of capital, to reflect on the methods of capitalism as ruthless in their economic incidence as the murderous work of armies. On paper no Power seemed more dependent upon material prosperity, upon business and credit, than Germany with her Ba/fins and Banks, her world-penetrating ramifications of commercial interests, her inter-dependence upon the arteries of sea-borne trade and exports, under the personality of the Kaiser surrounded by the great Jewish creators of wealth whom he had publicly made his personal friends.” (The Kaiser’s War, by Austin Harrison with an introduction by Frederic Harrison. Published by George Allen & Unwin Ltd., London, November 1914, pp. 25-27).
In his book of ten years earlier Harrison had provided a somewhat objective account of how the economic requirements of Germany in terms of its need for access to the North Sea had created an incentive to develop closer relationships with Holland and Denmark. He also admitted that Germany had no intention of using force in order to establish that relationship and that these countries were already, of their own volition, moving towards such an arrangement, as it was also in their economic and political interests to do so. That exploration of German behaviour had, by 1914, become too rational and its repetition would only provide an opportunity for the diffusion of emotion rather than the propaganda needs of a country now at war with Germany and so it had to be discredited. Instead, Harrison once more offered up an explanation based on the ideology of the Pan-Germanic movement.
“In the sententious imagination of the Pan-German the idea of the German mission became such an obsession that he came to look on Europe as a great battlefield preserved by God for the display of German feats of arms as a kind of apotheosis in the cause of humanity. The German invasion was to be a Holy War, a Lutheran manifestation. A planetary hegemony – why not? Old Europe groaning under what it termed the burden of armaments was in need of a masculine broom, a final sweeping which would liberate and consolidate her. Only the German mind could hope to carry out so grandiose a scheme, only German might was fitted to do so. Pan-Germans expressed regret that Englishmen should be forced to lose their Empire, but after all they would be able to attend race meetings and play golf in the German State, which, they understood, were the main things Englishmen cared about. The point was that Englishmen could not play sea-dog in the manger indefinitely and so arbitrarily defeat history.
“All historians worthy of the name were Germans; it was unscientific of Englishmen to presume upon German good nature too long. A people which did not play their own Shakespeare was clearly unworthy to possess him. Moreover they didn’t, for Schlegel’s translations were better than the original. The worst of it was that not until the British Navy was defeated could German world-power come into its lawful rights and rescue what was worth preserving of old English culture. Still there was no cause for apprehension. It would soon be over on the ‘Great Day.’ Krupp would see to that. A decisive battle off Harwich, say; and Britain would fall. Once the Kaiser had hoisted his standard over the Tower of London the English woman would quickly fall in love with the Prussian Garde-du-Corps, and there would be an end to the Suffragette ‘nonsense.’ The English Army- and here the Pan-German invariably smiled – well, was it a serious proposition at any time? ‘Bobs’ might be a soldier, but no other Englishman would be – except for money. Against the trained soldiers of a national Army a couple of hundred thousand khaki mercenaries would avail little. The notion was preposterous. Englishmen must know then that the war when it came would not be a mere campaign to avenge a wrong; it would be a movement of racial expansion and conquest conducted to its logical end by the finest soldiers and by the most scientific brains that ever marched forth to battle in history.” (ibid, pp. 144-146).
And so it was that the German nation went to war not because it needed to protect itself against the strangulation tactics of its enemies but because of the existence of a national compulsion of “racial expansion and conquest conducted to its logical end by the finest soldiers and by the most scientific brains that ever marched forth to battle in history.” And so it was not only for the German State but for the German people themselves that, “War had become the truth and fate of the German people. No nation ever went into war with a clearer sense of its national responsibility. No ruler ever declared war with a fuller weight of support behind him, with fuller intention to destroy; with more calculated racial deliberation.” (ibid, pp. 41- 42).
Furthermore, the racial impulse that now energized the Pan-German march to war had its basis in pre-unification Germany.
The main expression of Pan-Germanism by the end or the 19th century, in spite of German Government policy, was one which sought the unification of Austria and Germany. However, unlike its German equivalent the Pan-German movement in Austria did engage directly in politics. In fact it began as a political party. On 18 December 1878, five years after being elected to the Austrian Parliament as a liberal, Georg Ritter von Schonerer announced in the Reichsrat that he believed that there was an important and growing wish among Austrian Germans for union with Germany and he went on to form the Pan-German Party in 1879. But one of the problems confronting Schonerer’s party was that Austria was a component in the Austro-Hungarian Empire which was, in essence. a political structure built on the basis of multi-national and multi-race participation and within this political structure the German element was very much a minority. While the Austrian Pan-Germanists sought unity with Germany this could not happen as long as they remained part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and hence their hostility towards the Empire. Consequently, Schonerer developed his Pan-German political philosophy along anti-semitic and anti-Slav lines. Initially, Schonerer’s movement, in seeking assistance from Germany, met with little success, as Bismarck did not want to have anything to do with it, and it was not until the mid-1890s that it received any assistance from its German sister movement. From that point it began to gain momentum. This is Austin Harrison’s account of its rise:
“But, repelled by Bismarck, who never coquetted with Pan-Germanism, Schonerer met with indifferent success until the year 1896, when, in co-operation with Professor Hasse, he sent two trusty henchman, Bley and Von Pfister-Schwanghusen, on a mission to establish Pan-German bases in Austria. These two gentlemen, after visiting a number of towns, were very successful, and Pan-German propaganda began to bear fruit. But it was not until after the promulgation of the Badeni language ordinances (which meant the introduction of Czech into the Government offices throughout all Bohemia, and laid down that no one was to occupy a Government post who had not passed an examination in Czech) that Schonerer and his party began to assume political importance. As the direct result of the language ordinances, the German Nationalists and Radicals immediately resorted to obstruction. What became a national agitation spread rapidly through all Austria and far into Germany. Meetings were held at Eger and Aussig, where treasonable language was used. The cornflower, the favourite flower of the Emperor William I, and symbolic of German nationality; was worn conspicuously as a cockade. In the ‘Reichsrat’ free fights took place, disturbances occurred in Vienna and elsewhere, and finally Badeni, who as a Pole had little experience of Western Austria, and no sympathy for Deutschtum, was obliged to resign. All this was grist to the Pan-German mill. It gave them the afflatus needed. Two years later Pan-Germans obtained another triumph in the fall of Thun, who, having expostulated against the expulsion of Austrian subjects from Prussia, which country he threatened with reprisals, had consequently incurred the serious displeasure of Berlin. Pan-German progress was further evidenced at the elections of 1901, which resulted in an increase in the extreme German Nationalist parties. In consequence the Schonerer group, who have become divided owing to personal differences between the party leaders, Schonerer and Wolf, and to the behaviour of the latter, now number twenty-one seats in the Reichsrat, and were able for the first time to procure the election of one of their party in the Austrian delegations, while the Socialists lost seats: thus showing that even among the working classes the German national agitation is gaining ground. In other words, the German struggle against the Slavs for supremacy on national grounds is growing more intense, which, of course, all accrues to the good of the Pan-German idea.”(Harrison, 1904, op cit, pp. 73-74).
Kasimir Felix Graf Badini was Minister-President of the Austrian component of the Austro-Hungarian Empire from 1895 until 1897. He believed that the Czechs constituted an increasingly important element in the Empire and that their national ambitions needed to be addressed in much the same was as those of the Hungarians had been decades earlier. He was dismissed as a result of the furore created by his attempt to ensure that all persons appointed to Government positions in Bohemia and Moravia should speak the Czech language. This made it incumbent on all civil servants in the province to speak both German and Czech – a demand that met with fierce resistance by the ethnic Germans who were stirred on by Schonerer’s party which, in concert with other German nationalist parties, obstructed the business of parliament. Riots took place in Vienna, Graz, Salzburg and in the German provinces forcing Emperor Franz Joseph to dismiss Badini. The agitation however stirred up other ethnic pressures and for several years the Reichsrat only met occasionally with the government ruling largely by emergency decree. As a consequence Badini’s language policy was repealed in 1899.
In the meantime, Schonerer had attempted to forward his Germanisation programme by taking on the Catholic Church in Austria. Badini’s language ordinance had been supported by the Catholic People’s Party in Bohemia and Moravia as well as by many Czech Catholic priests, and so Schonerer used the opportunity to adopt a more ambitious anti-Catholic policy. At the beginning of 1898 he announced: “Let us break the chains which tie us to a Church hostile to German ism,” and began a campaign which became known as the Los von Rom movement. This sought to encourage the deflection of German Austrians from the Catholic Church to Lutheranism or alternatively to a national Catholic church. Although the demand for a break from Rome was not uniquely a Pan-German movement it was Schonerer and his party which gave it impetus. The Los von Rom movement was also given significant support from the Protestant Evangelicals in Germany, notably the Gustav Adolf Union which specialised in Protestant missionary work in Catholic countries. This organisation paid for Protestant pastors to move to Austria as part of their proselytising mission. Many of these were specifically and provocatively sent to Bohemia. From January 1898 to March 1900 around 10,000 people converted from Catholicism to Protestantism and by the start of the First World War some 65,000 Austrians had converted as well as more than 20,000 who joined the Old Catholic Church.
However, the result of this was that the Pan-German movement in Austria came to be increasingly identified with anti-Catholicism and this in turn created a backlash – a fact acknowledged in in reports by William Edward Lavino, The Times correspondent in Vienna at the time.
“While the Pan-Germanic agitation continues to be carried out in Austria with unabated activity symptoms are not wanting of a firm determination to arrest its progress, or at all events to make a resolute stand against it and against the ’emancipation from Rome’ movement, which is closely associated with it. The leading Catholic organs again call attention to the fact that the latter is once more receiving subsidies from abroad. The Vaterland of Vienna and the Volksblatt of Linz announce that a collection from house to house in favour of the ‘Los van Rom’ propaganda in Austria has been permitted in the Grand Duchy of Saxe-Weimar. The Vaterland observes that it is the third of the German Federal States where money has been subscribed for the same purpose. The other two are presumably Saxony and Prussia, which on a previous occasion were designated by the Vaterland as contributing funds towards the propagation of Protestantism in this country
“It will be remembered that the whole agitation was started by the Austrian Pan-Germanic party, headed by Messrs. Schonerer and Woolff, for distinctly political purposes. It was described on a memorable occasion by the Heir to the Throne as equivalent to emancipation from Austria, the fact being that it forms an integral part of the programme of the Austrian Pan-Germanic party The Catholic Press is naturally indignant at the prominence given to it at the recent general assembly of the Evangelical Alliance at Breslau.
The publication of the resolution adopted by that assembly on Thursday last could scarcely fail to produce a profound sensation in Catholic circles here. It runs thus:-
“The fourteenth General Assembly of the Evangelical Alliance expresses its grateful satisfaction at the blessed progress of the evangelical movement in Austria and appeals to our evangelical population cheerfully to increase their spirit of sacrifice in order that all those engaged in the work may be encouraged with confident and steadfast devotion to persevere in its continuation. The Alliance sends the evangelical community in Austria, those appointed defenders and dispensers of the Gospel, hearty greeting and pious wishes that the work of their representatives at the General Synod shortly to be held may contribute to promote and fortify the Evangelical Church. “‘ (The Times, 15 October, 1901, p.3).
Lavino goes on to report a meeting in Vienna on 11 October 1901 at which Karl Lueger, the Mayor of Vienna, denounced the “Emancipation from Rome” movement as dangerous to the State in terms which also criticised the associated Pan-Germanic movement. And this is what Austin Harrison says of Lueger’s attitude towards the movement.
“This is what the jovial Catholic anti-Semitic Burgomaster of Vienna, Dr. Lueger, said about the movement, October, 1901. To talk as Pan-Germans did, of a Catholic clerical danger, he urged, was humbug. Those who do so under the guise of the ‘Los van Rom’ agitation ‘are committing high treason. ‘Personally, he was an Austrian, and would fight the traitors to his country to the last. The ‘Los van Rom’ movement was engineered solely to create chaos in Austria in order that Germany might be the better able to ‘digest such a morsel.’ In no other State in the world, he declared, would such a movement be tolerated. It was notorious that millions of marks were sent into Austria to support the movement, while innumerable German pastors scoured Austria to foment and direct the agitation. The whole business was nothing else than ‘organized high treason against the country ‘ The Pan-German leaders, he continued, boasted of their influence on the ministers, who were evidently afraid of them. The Christian Socialists (Lueger’s Catholic German party) must fight them as enemies of the State.” (Harrison, op. cit., p.76).
The irony of describing Lueger as anti-Semitic in this context was lost on Harrison (for a detailed account of Lueger’s significance to Austrian politics and his alleged anti-Semitism at this time see Karl Lueger and the Twilight of Imperial Vienna: the Life and Work of a Municipal Socialiser and Precursor of Christian Democracy, translated by Philip O’Connor, edited and introduced by Angela Clifford with a Preface by Mark Langhammer. Published by the Belfast Historical and Educational Society, Belfast, 2002).
Earlier in 1901 the Austrian elections resulted in an increase in the extreme German Nationalist parties as well as Schonerer’s party (the main seat of the anti-Semitic movement at this time). This increase was achieved despite a split between Schonerer and the other influential figure in the leadership of the movement, Karl Hermann Wolf. The Pan-Germans increased their representation in the Austrian Reichsrat from 5 to 21. Although their total number of seats only represented a very small proportion of the overall seats in Parliament nonetheless the increase appears to have stirred Lueger and his Christian Socialist party into a more vigorous opposition. Hence his speech in October of that year mentioned above. This represented the beginning of a fateful decline for the Austrian Pan-Germans. By 1904 when Harrison wrote his book on the Pan-Germanic movement he had concluded that “Pan-Germanism in Austria is fighting an almost desperate cause. It is not so much a Pan-German as a German fight, for in Austria the German element is largely reconciled to Federalism and to Slav rule.” (Harrison, op. cit., p.93). The decline of the Pan-Germanic movement in Austria was confirmed in the 1907 election. Prior to the election the franchise had been extended to all males over 24 years of age and given the fact that it introduced a significant number of working class voters to the vote the Pan-Germanists had high hopes of improving their position. However, the results showed that their representation was reduced to 12 followers of Wolf and 3 followers of Schonerer, From a total of 516 seats in the new Parliament the combined Pan-Germans held 15. Given the expanded nature of the electorate and the number of seats now available this represented the collapse in the influence of the Pan-German movement – a collapse that in no small extent was due to the efforts of Karl Lueger and his Christian Socialists.
Until the end of the Boer War the Pan-Germanic movement was generally portrayed in Britain for what it was – a movement mainly based in Germany and Austria which was separate and independent of the government of both states with an agenda not shared by either government. Then, at the end of the Boer War a significant change began to take place in the way in which it was depicted. One of the main architects of this change was William Edward Lavino and to get some idea as why this happened we need to know a little about him and his politics.
Having previously been the Vienna correspondent of the Daily Telegraph, between 1878 and the end of 1891, Lavino became the Vienna correspondent of The Times in January 1892 and remained there until he was appointed the Paris correspondent of the paper in 1903 – the year before the signing of the Anglo-French Entente. He was born in 1846 near Manchester, the son of a Dutch Protestant businessman who had become a British citizen. Lavino began his education in England but then studied engineering in Hanover before spending two years in Paris at the Ecole Superieure du Commerce. On finishing his studies he went into business in Antwerp before returning to Paris. During the siege of Paris in 1870 he was employed as an ambulance assistant. According to his DNB entry, explaining his future political development:
”..4s early as 1896 Lavina had written of the need for a rapprochement with France, and he is best known for his association with the Anglo-French entente cordiale of 1904. There seems little reason to accept uncritically the judgment of contemporaries that Lavina was of primary importance in sealing the rapprochement. However, inasmuch as good personal relations between British and French politicians were crucial corollaries of the entente. Lavino’s close contacts with Theophile Delcasse and Eugene Etienne, his dispatches and the avowedly diplomatic agenda which informed – if it did not propel – his journalism, must have influenced public and private rapprochements. Over the years he developed a strong belief in the deep-rootedness of German antipathy to Britain, its inexorable evolution into hostile action, and the concomitant need for the security of the equally innovative Anglo-Russian agreement to supplement the entente. This assessment of the European diplomatic situation was shared by Sir Donald Mackenzie Wallace, and Valentine Chiral at Printing House Square [headquarters of The Times – ED]. It formed an agenda that was given a great deal of publicity, and which was difficult for politicians to avoid. The influence of The Times on diplomacy before the First World War, if difficult to locate precisely, can never be ignored, and Lavina was one of its vital correspondents.”
The above list of anti-German Times correspondents in Vienna, Berlin and Paris, in the twenty years leading up to the First World War, should also include George Saunders, the virulently anti-German Berlin and then Paris correspondent of The Times (after the death of Lavino in 1908) until 1914 and Henry Wickham Steed who succeeded Lavino at Vienna in 1902. Steed continued the anti-German perspective of his predecessor and was later, with Seton-Watson, to be largely responsible for the implementation of the British Government’s policy of encouraging fragmentary nationalism among the peoples of the Austro-Hungarian Empire as a means of achieving its destabilisation.
But to return to Lavino in Vienna in 1902 and the change in the way the relationship of the Pan-Germanic movement to the German state is depicted. Lavino’s close relationship with the two leading figures in the French imperialist movement, Delcasse and Etienne, was not something which caused a change in viewpoint on his part – it was rather the expression of a pre-existing anti-German sentiment which even predates his period in Vienna. That this did not manifest itself openly was due to the fact that until the Boer War the perceived enemies of Britain’s powerbrokers were Russia and France rather than Germany. It was only after the Boer War that this perspective began to switch towards Germany. Thus we see this shift reflected in the way in which the territorially ambitious agenda of the Pan-Germanic movement changes from being something that was essentially a minority interest not shared by the German state to its depiction as a force with a sinister influence on that state. This is from an article by Lavino entitled “Pan-Germanism and the Boers”:
“We have heard from the very first that official Germany had nothing to do with it [Pan-German ism – ED] and even regarded it with anything but a favourable eye. There are people who believe that to be the case; but it would be a travesty of the truth to maintain that there is only one opinion on the subject. Of course, there is no tangible connexion between official Germany and the Pan-Germanic agitation, nor would any such connexion materially promote the ends which the Pan-Germans have in view. But the propaganda is nevertheless an increasing and already formidable danger for the world.” (The Times, 10 March 1902, p.4).
This is the kind of journalism which Lavino was best at – the kind that manages to convey an impression of insider knowledge that sustains a false premise. Unfortunately it was (and indeed remains) a highly successful “school’ of journalism. As has already been argued, the Pan-Germanic movement was never in a position where it directly influenced the policy of the German Government but this did not stop these British journalists from implying that it did. The Pan-German movement had to be made to play the role of puppet-master in order to instil some sinister motivation behind the German Government’s every action.
Then by September 1906 we see another shift which further enhances the position of the Pan-Germanic movement vis-a-vis the German state. Something that was originally viewed as a movement whose agenda was not shared by either the Austrian or German state and a movement which had strong Protestant evangelical associations, and then became a movement which exerted a sinister influence on the German Government, until by 1906 the Pan-Germanic agenda had now become, in the eyes of Lavino (by this time Paris correspondent of The Times), conflated with the policy of the German Government. But not only that. By the time of the Entente Cordiale the whole thing had somehow become entwined in a Catholic plot. This is from an article entitled “Pan-Germanism and its Roman Catholic Allies”:
“Some of the French newspapers in commenting upon the election of a German as General of the Jesuits seem to me to deal with this unquestionably important event rather too much as if the consequences were likely to affect France alone. This is distinctly not the case. The German Emperor, in making an ally of the Vatican and a collaborator of the Order of Jesus, has presumably more far-reaching political ends in view than the ruin of France. According to the Pan-Germanic programme, millions of Catholic subjects are destined to pass under the sway of the Hohenzollerns, and the whole foreign policy of the German Empire under its present Sovereign is a mixture of Pan-Germanism and Pan-Hohenzollernism. It is impossible to conceive its development and eventual realization without the help of that section of the Roman Catholic clergy whose revived political activity has of late years worked marvels in different parts of the Continent ….
Be that as it may, if Germany really entertains the well-known plans of absorption attributed to her in Holland and Belgium, the Ultramontanes in those countries also cannot fail to give her valuable assistance, to say nothing of the Near East, the United States, and South America. In South America the Jesuits were the vanguard of civilization itself, and, be it said to their credit, they thus served admirably the cause of humanity. Their position there today is still powerful, and if they choose to serve as the vanguard of Pan-Germanism, it is quite possible that there may yet be plenty of opportunity for the application of the Munroe doctrine.
It will thus be seen that the danger to be anticipated from the activity of the German Kaiser and his priestly allies is by no means confined to France. It ought to be a matter for grave reflection in many other countries, for it would be difficult to imagine a more powerful instrument for political, and indeed economic, expansion …. ” ( The Times, 12 September 1906).
Of course by now, the full vent of Lavino’s anti-German feelings could be given a free rein as it coincided with the main drivers of British Government policy at this time – the Liberal Imperialists. The pure propaganda basis of this position is evidenced by the transmutation of the movement from being depicted as something which was closely associated with the Protestant evangelical movement into something that is closely associated with a Catholic plot – all within a period of four years! Although it could be argued that the manifestation of the Pan-German movement in its Austrian context was anti-Catholic and in its German context was pro-Catholic because of the different political landscape they found themselves in but that in itself was a complete turnabout from the nature allocated to it four years earlier. In any case it is difficult to square this with the homogenous, purposeful and determined movement that British journalists were eager to sell to the British public. Nor does it explain the way in which the image of the movement was projected by these journalists over time. The most obvious conclusion emerges when we see that Lavino’s Germanphobe reporting of the Pan-German Movement reflected the changing British attitude towards Germany under the influence of the British war party until it finally matured in the eyes of British propaganda as a full-blown agency of the German Government.
One of the earliest exponents of the French propaganda perspective on Pan-Germanism was Yves Guyot. Guyot was an avid economic Free Trader and a great admirer of Britain. His greatest anxiety in the period leading up to the signing of the 1904 Entente was the level of anti-British sentiment in France. In 1900 he wrote a pro-British pamphlet on the Boer War in which he expresses his fears as to where French pro-Boer sentiment might lead. Regarding the pro-Boer elements in French politics he says.
“The Transvaal question unites them in a ‘nationalist’ policy, which, if they were to go beyond words, would result in a war with England and might complete, by a naval Sedan, the disaster of 1870.” (Boer Politics, by Yves Guyot. Translated from the French. Published by John Murray, London, 1900. p.2).
At the same time he felt he knew who were responsible for the prevalence of this sentiment. On 1 February 1900, the Revue des Deux Mandes published an article by Abraham Kuyper, a Dutch politician and journalist (he was also Prime Minister of Holland from 1901 to 1905) expressing a pro-Boer position. Commenting on this Guyot claimed:
“The Revue des Deux Mandes, in which Dr. Kuyper’s article is published (February 1st), has become an organ of [Pope] Leo XIII. Those free-thinkers, protestants, and Jews in France who take part in the Anglophobe movement, are thus naively furthering the aims of the Vatican and the Jesuits, whose endeavour has ever been to stir up Europe against England – England that shall never be forgiven for the liberalism of her institutions, for the independence of her thinkers, and for her politics, to which they attribute, not without reason, the downfall of the temporal power.” (ibid., Chapter One, entitled Disregard of Facts and Subordination to the Vatican, p.2).
As a confirmed Free Trader since the 1870s Guyot was also opposed to socialism and trade unionism – positions which contributed to his hostility towards Germany as he believed that the German state had succumbed to elements of Socialism (see his book The Tyranny of Socialism, Edited with an introduction by J.H. Levy. Published by Swan Sonnenschein & Co., New York, 1894, pp. 248-249).
The first public expression of his explanation of Pan-Germanism was an article entitled “Pan-Germanism, Holland and Belgium “which was published in the September 1906 number of the Nineteenth Century and After. Guyot was forced to expand on his argument by Karl Blind a German political refugee who replied to Guyot in the North American Review. Blind had been involved in the 1848 Revolution and was exiled from Germany, France and Belgium before moving to Britain in 1852. Although he never became a naturalised citizen he remained in Britain for the rest of his life where his home in Hampstead became a centre for European political refugees. He knew Mazzini, Marx, and Garibaldi and worked with Louis Blanc on the Morning Advertiser in the 1850s. Blind was an advocate of German democracy and a propagandist on the part of the revolutionary cause in Germany and other European countries as well as supporting Egyptian independence and the Transvaal Boers. In May 1866 his stepson Ferdinand Cohen Blind attempted to assassinate Bismarck on Unter den Linden and later committed suicide in prison. All in all, Blind had no reason to be sympathetic to Germany and yet he could not understand the basis of Guyot’s anti-Germanism and he sought to show that the idea of Germany initiating a war against Britain was illogical in his view.
“Compared with the English fleet, that of Germany is still enormously overmatched. England has a four-times larger navy. Her crews are about 130,000 men. Those of Germany, 32,000. Yet the Civil Lord of the English Admiralty, Mr. Arthur Lee, did not scruple to say before his constituents that, some day, a certain fleet in the North Sea might be smashed before the Power owning it had any notice of a proclamation of war. That piratical minded man was not removed from office, not even censured by his superiors. What if a similar threat had been held out by a member of the German Ministry of Marine against either England or France? The French fleet, too, is larger than that of Germany. Has any one ever heard of a suggestion made in England that France should be called upon to restrict her naval armaments? Yet France and England have been at war for ever so many centuries. Nay, there has been danger of war again between them about the Fashoda question. And France, with an army equal in numbers to the German one, is quite close to England, while Germany is very far. And Germany and England have never crossed swords; France and England ever so often.” (An unexpected French war-cry against Germany, by Karl Blind. Published in The North American Review, Vol. 183, No. 603, Nov. 16, 1906, p.1028).
Guyot replied to Blind’s response with his own article in The North American Review (German Designs on Holland and Belgium, Vol. 184, No. 606, January 4, 1907) where he expanded on his theme. The issue with Germany, according to Guyot, was that she would be driven by forces over which she had no control to seek territorial expansion to the west. The combination of geography and economics made this inevitable and just as inevitably Germany would be compelled to invade Holland and Belgium as a means of seeking the most efficient sea outlets for the transportation of her imports and exports. This would be the case irrespective of any political will to the contrary on the part of Germany. Guyot admitted that the German Government had undertaken significant measures and investment to facilitate alternative sea outlets for German goods. Canal construction and the modernisation of German ports at Hamburg and Bremen as well as the use of tariffs had been designed to encourage the use of German ports over Rotterdam and Antwerp but all were doomed to failure. As far as Guyot was concerned the economics of the situation were inescapable. Thus, did Guyot remove the argument from the realms of political or military debate into the realms of economic determinism. It was no longer necessary to see any relevance in the political preference on the part of the German State for or against the Pan-Germanic agenda as the logic of Germany’s geographical and economic circumstances were inevitably driving her towards a fulfilment of that agenda. By Guyot’s clever intellectual device the German State’s behaviour could be logically appended to the Pan-Germanic vision without necessarily showing any political association between the two.
But the logic of his version of the inevitability of the fulfilment of the Pan-Germanic agenda was dependent upon an acknowledgement of the central issue of access of German trade to its markets. From a propaganda point of view while this may have had a function before the war it became counter-productive as soon as the war started. Then, it became necessary to see a malignant German political will in operation rather than anything that conceded the possibility of economic forces operating outside a political will. So, in 1916, ten years after his article in the North American Review, Guyot jettisoned the position he previously advocated in favour of a cruder propaganda. In a book of 360 pages, The Causes and Consequences of the War Guyot not only failed to repeat the position expounded in his 1907 article but to account for it in any way. Instead we get the explanation that “The real origin of the present war is the absence in Germany of equilibrium between productive civilization and militarist civilization” (The Causes and Consequences of the War, by Yves Guyot, translated by F. Appleby Holt. Published by Hutchinson & Co., London, , p.108), and an argument that the war was a conflict between a productive and a militarist civilisation which will end with the triumph of the former over the latter (see ibid p.203). This explanation of German behaviour sat more comfortably with the then current Entente propaganda.
However, between Guyot’s position in January 1907 and his altered position in 1916, his original premise was developed further by an American academic, Roland G. Usher, professor of history at Washington University. In 1913 he provided an explanation of the forces constraining German trade in the context of the Pan-Germanic movement.
“The population [of Germany] has increased so rapidly that it is already difficult for efficient, well-trained men to secure any employment. Not only is the superficial area of the country suitable for cultivation practically exhausted, but intensive scientific agriculture is speedily limiting the possibilities of the employment of more hands on the same acres of the further increase of the produce. Industry has grown at a stupendous rate, and the output from German factories is enormously in excess of the needs of even the growing population. Her exports per capita are $24 a year, as against England’s $40, and France’s $25, and she has not their exclusive colonial markets. Unless some outlet can be found for the surplus population, and a new and extensive market discovered for this enormous surplus production, prosperity will be inevitably succeeded by bankruptcy. There will be more hands than there is work for, more mouths than there is food, and Germany must either get rid of the surplus mouths and hands or swell the surplus product by employing them at home, which cannot be done without entailing national ruin. Expansion is, therefore, the only alternative, for the German considers equivalent to ruin the reduction of the pressure of population by emigration, and the avoidance of overproduction by the proportionate reduction of output. For Germany to be thus forced to remain static in population and in wealth, while her neighbours continue to expand, England in her colonies, France in Morocco, Russia in Siberia and Turkestan, means that the date of her annihilation will be fixed by the rate of their growth. And such action on her part would compel her in fact to be an accessory to her own destruction, for her emigrants must strengthen her rivals both in the field and in the factory. To ask a German, therefore, whether the expansion of Germany is desirable, is merely to ask him whether he believes it desirable from any point of view for the German nation to survive.
“Already the boundaries of Germany in Europe have been pushed to their furthest extent; more territory can be added only at the expense of other nations, either of her powerful rivals, France and Russia, or her weaker neighbours, Belgium, Holland, Denmark, and Sweden. Nor would the accession of such territory solve the difficulty. All European nations are already experiencing to some degree the necessity of an outlet for their surplus population and manufactures. A war for expansion in Europe would be without purpose and could only be detrimental to all. Germany must find some territory suitable for development by her own people which is not already choked with men and women. She is seeking the counterpart of the fertile plains of western Canada, or the rich valleys of northern Africa, where her people may build a new Germany whose existence will strengthen her and not her rivals. But such a promised land, tenanted only by native races, is not to be found. Every really available spot is held by England, France, or Russia. Germany can, therefore, obtain colonies suitable for her purposes only at the expense of these last. This is what is meant by the oft-reiterated statements that England, France, and Russia are by their very existence inimical to Germany’s welfare, that, if she is to escape ruin, she must fight them. The alternative to colonies is access to some new market for her products, so vast in extent and so unlimited in its capacity of continued absorption, that her surplus of population can be provided with work at home, and thus prosperity and the increase of the national strength indefinitely insured. The total annual imports into her own colonies she knows to be well under ten million dollars; the exports from England to the English colonies alone she knows to total several hundred millions of dollars. Such a market she is determined to have, cost what it may.
“One other fact marks England as the greatest obstacle in the path of her legitimate growth. The English Channel is the only available safe passageway for her mercantile fleets. The voyage round the British Isles is long and during the winter months positively dangerous even for steamships. Natural conditions, therefore, by compelling Germany to use the Channel, force her to expose her commerce to the assaults of the English fleet so long as the latter controls the Channel. Even if she should acquire colonies and a great market, she cannot really possess them until she acquires a highroad to them safe from the attacks of her enemies. Short of conquering England and France, she can never free her commerce from actual danger; without a great fleet in the North Sea, strong enough to terrify England into inaction, she cannot even be assured of the continuance of her present freedom of passage. (Pan-Germanism, by Roland G. Usher, associate professor of history at Washington University , St. Louis. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company, New York, February 1913, pp.5-9).
This is an interesting hypothetical development of Guyot’s position of 1907 and insofar as it is predicated upon German trade being constrained by the combined efforts of Britain, France and Russia it contains a core of truth. By 1913 Germany had long shown herself to be the most dynamic economy in the world and it was her commercial success that caused her to be viewed by these countries as an adversary. But there was nothing inevitable about this situation leading to war. Usher says “that England, France, and Russia are by their very existence inimical to Germany’s welfare, that, if she is to escape ruin, she must fight them “and, “Short of conquering England and France, she can never free her commerce from actual danger”. What Usher does not deal with is the obvious question of why this situation should inevitably lead to war particularly if the two major adversaries at this time, Britain and France were advocates of free trade? Karl Blind in his controversy with Guyot in 1906-07 drew attention to a similar dichotomy when he commented on the fact that the premise originally posited by Guyot was rather strange coming as it did from such a keen advocate of the doctrine of free trade. But of course, free trade is never an absolute. It was an economic doctrine which was advocated only in situations where its furtherance suited British economic interests. In 1913 Britain’s economic interests were such that it could not switch to protectionism as a means of sustaining its industrial and commercial hegemony (not least because its financial sector was dependent upon the free flow of international capital). In any case, tariff protection was a slow and unreliable process which could not be guaranteed to take German economic efficiency out of the equation in a timely enough fashion to benefit the British economy in the long run. In that situation a political decision was made to over-ride short-term economic interests and embark on an irreversible road to war in order to guarantee a long-term economic advantage.
The interests of Germany, on the other hand, were best served by free access to the world’s markets – something that Britain, France and Russia were determined to deprive her of. There was nothing in Germany’s circumstances that indicate its interests would be harmed by a continuance of the status quo. Its manufacture and commerce would continue to benefit from more of the same, and it had nothing to gain by any radical upsetting of the global apple-cart.
But by 1905 Germany began to realise that Britain and France were intent on imposing constraints on her access to markets and then in 1907 they were joined by Russia. Still Germany did not react with any hostile intent and sought to avoid a confrontation by seeking an alternative overland route through the development of the Baghdad railway.
“Her fleet, therefore, seems to her merely the guarantee of her present position, and it will continue to be a guarantee only as long as its size makes it formidable. Merely to retain what she now has, Germany is condemned to increase her navy at any pace the English see fit to set. Something more will be absolutely essential if the dire consequences of an economic crisis are not to impoverish her and pave the way for her ultimate destruction at the hands of her hereditary enemies, France and Russia.
“To secure a share of the world’s trade in some fashion which will not expose her to the attacks of the English fleet, and which will create an empire less vulnerable in every way than she believes the British Empire to be, an overland route to the East must be found. The Germans consider perfectly feasible the construction of a great confederation of states including Germany, Austria, Hungary, the Balkan States, and Turkey, which could control a great band of territory stretching southeast from the North Sea to the Persian Gulf. A railway from Constantinople to Baghdad would effectually tie the great trunk lines, leading from the Rhine and Danube valleys, to Constantinople and the Persian Gulf, and so establish a shorter route to India than that via Suez. Egypt, Syria, Arabia, Persia, India herself, the mother of nations, would fall into German hands and be held safe from conquest by this magnificent overland route to the East. Pan-Germanism is, therefore, in the first place, a defensive movement of self-preservation, for escaping the pressure of France and Russia, both bent on her destruction. It is, in the second place, an offensive movement directed against England, its object, the conquest of the English possessions in the Mediterranean and in Asia. She expects thus to obtain an outlet for her surplus population and manufactures and to create an empire as little vulnerable politically, economically, or strategically as any the world has yet seen.” (ibid., pp.10-11 ).
The first chapter of Usher’s book is entitled “The Causes of German Aggression”, and in writing the book the author was attempting to explain to the American people the danger that Germany is presumed to pose to the peace of Europe. But because he was aware that the overwhelming sentiment in the United States was in favour of neutrality in the forthcoming European war Professor Usher was compelled to provide an explanation of German culpability in that war in a way which avoided the more obvious propaganda positions. As a consequence of this his account of Germany’s predicament provided an element of truth. However, because the argument is based on German aggression being caused by obstacles placed in the way of any peaceful alternative by British, French and Russian actions, Usher created a double-edged sword. The problem with Usher’s account is that it betrays an element of conscious strategy on the part of the Entente with regards to its relationship with Germany – a strategy with an unqualified malign intent and for that reason the logic inherent in it ceased to be a useful propaganda tool outside of a neutral United States. For that same reason we hear no more of it after America joined the war in April 1917. Subsequent to the start of the war in 1914 there emerged a less sophisticated version of Pan-Germanism which separated out the original element of economic determinism. Because that aspect of the argument could be countered with one which advocated an economic accommodation with Germany as a means of avoiding the pre-determined outcome of war, the continued use of the Pan-Germanic impulse as a propaganda device required this to be jettisoned. However, the process of divesting it of its economic rationality required an alternative motivational explanation with its own rationality. This then was the contextual setting that provided the background for an alternative which was capable of presenting German behaviour in terms of an irrational, racially based, pathological impulse – a propaganda scenario which neatly fitted into the newly emerging “science” of Social Psychology.
The English imperial adventure possessed a strong motivational impulse because of the place that the English believed they occupied in the universal order. Since it was first laid down in the sixteenth century and gained momentum through the seventeenth century before being confirmed through industrialisation in the early nineteenth century, the English were a special people destined to lead the world into the new Garden of Eden. Then, in the middle of the nineteenth century came Darwin’s Origin of Species which offered the prospect of a scientific confirmation of what until then had been a theologically based argument of superiority. From then on any social doctrine that claimed to be scientifically based would have to pay homage to Darwin, in particular the idea of a social progression from a lower order to a higher order. By the end of the nineteenth century the prevalent social Darwinist explanation of social behaviour was joined by the arrival of the psychoanalytical approach to individual behaviour and it wasn’t long before attempts were made to combine social Darwinism with the psychoanalytical approach in order to explain how societies work. This development, known as social psychology, was a godsend when it came to explaining social or political phenomena from a perspective which claimed an alternative reality. The all-pervading survival instinct combined with psychologically hidden primaeval impulses could produce a scientifically convincing “explanation” for any behaviour in situations where an otherwise rational approach might lead to unwelcome conclusions. Thus there emerged the beginning of the golden age of propaganda. Intellectual investigations into things like social manipulation, suggestibility and involuntary impulses became the fashion of the age.
The main problem which the social psychologists had to overcome was that of proving the existence of a social equivalent of the individual subconscious. The answer was invariably one which revolved around the social instincts of man. But, as these social instincts had produced and operated within definite and distinct societies social psychology, had to allocate a central role to issues of national and racial characteristics. Furthermore, this had to be done in the prevailing context of the operation of the social Darwinist doctrine of the survival of the fittest. Britain had been to the fore in these types of studies since the end of the nineteenth century and when war came in 1914 it provided the opportunity for a blossoming of the doctrine of social psychology. The war presented the opportunity to ensure that such thinking was given a central place in the intellectual life of the nation – the means by which the enemy could be understood in terms which reinforced the superiority of the British mode of existence within the scientific language of the era.
Alongside social psychology the Pan-Germanic model of German aggression was a crude attempt to facilitate an understanding of the enemy in ways which, by relying on concepts like “drive,” “compulsion,” and “impulse,” removed the wider political world from the prospect of a rational understanding. But the social psychology behind this development was very basic in the sense that it carried with it a dangerous element of reason. What was required was an explanation of the enemy which, under the camouflage of scientific language, could reduce the intrusion of reason into the equation as much as possible. Unfortunately, in the years before the war, social psychology had cut its teeth in the domestic setting of British society and much of its early development had a very different target in its sights.
The period before the First World War was one in which the primary political concern was not the coming war. Although a significant element of the chattering classes remained concerned at the prospect of war, the extent of the planning for it remained known only to a small number of people. For the majority of people, although it was the subject of periodic panics, it remained a secondary consideration. What preoccupied the British political class and intelligentsia before the 1912 Irish Home Rule bill threatened to fragment British civic society, was the impact the coming democracy would have on how society would be governed. The growing power and self-confidence of the Labour and trade union movement convinced many that the advent of a popular democracy could not be put off for long. This generated two distinct responses from within the establishment. On the political front, the progressive Liberals emerged with the objective of taking the working class movement in hand in order to safely educate it in the ways of governmental politics. On the sociological front the emergence of social psychology provided a reassuring pseudo-scientific doctrine by which society could be safely understood not in terms of individuals making free choices but in terms of individuals being subject to inherited drives and compulsions which obviated the concept of democracy itself. There were of course, attempts to combine the progressive Liberal approach with that of social psychology (the Fabian Graham Wallas provided the best known) but the main impulse of social psychology at this time was something that applied itself to the problems of social organisation within British society and in particular the potential impact of the arrival of the “herd” to positions of control.
“Democracy is a theory of choice which assumes, first, that people will choose whatever helps themselves or those for whom they care and, second, that they recognize approximately, what this is. The social psychologist tried to refute democratic theory by repudiating choice and its rational context. They substituted instinctual motivation, a deterministic ‘gregarious’ or ‘herd’ instinct, compelling all individuals to think and act in conformity to crowd opinion.” (New Elitism: Social Psychology in Prewar England, by R.N. Soffer. Published in Journal of British Studies, Vol. 8, No. 2, May 1969, p.117).
Once social psychology had generated the conceptual tools to construct a “scientific’ argument about the difficulties of squaring democracy with man’s innate nature it was then only a matter of accommodating these same tools to an “explanation” of the German people and society in terms which confirmed them as essentially militarist and aggressive in manner.
The clearest example of this is provided by a book published in February 1916 entitled “Instincts of the Herd in Peace and War” by Wilfred Butten Lewis Trotter, one of the pioneers of social psychology in Britain. The book was highly influential and went through two further reprints during the war and ten reprints by the start of 1930. According to his DNB entry, the book was published, “perhaps, according to Julian Taylor (Annals of the Royal College of Surgeons, 4, 1949), at the suggestion of a member of the government as a contribution to national morale in wartime.” And this makes complete sense given the propaganda needs of the British Government at that time.
The book was published in two sections. The first section consists of an essay originally published in two parts in the Sociological Review in 1908 and 1909 under the titles “Herd Instinct and its Bearing on the Psychology of Civilized Man”, and “Sociological Applications of the Psychology of Herd Instinct. “To this original essay the 1916 book added a larger section entitled “Speculation upon the Human Mind in 1915”. The first part of the book, consisting of the original 1908-1909 essay, presents a general foray into his basic theses on the herd instinct and the second section was an expansion of the essay written in 1915 to apply its tenets to the war then in progress.
The first section consisting of some 65 pages does not mention Germany once. This is not surprising as it was this section which formed the original 1908-09 essay. Instead, what we get is an outline of what it is that Trotter believes is instinctive in man which makes democracy problematic. Trotter’s account of the herd instinct was not new. This had already been developed by Karl Pearson. What Trotter did however was to expound the idea that gregariousness in man was in fact an instinct. But this instinct had implications for democracy. Trotter postulated that an essential ingredient of gregariousness was suggestibility but a suggestibility that gains its legitimacy through the herd and not necessarily through reason.
“Man is not, therefore, suggestible by fits and starts, not merely in panics and in mobs, under hypnosis, and so forth, but always, everywhere, and under any circumstances. The capricious way in which man reacts to different suggestions has been attributed to variations in his suggestibility. This in the opinion of the present writer is an incorrect interpretation of the facts which are more satisfactorily explained by regarding the variations as due to the differing extent to which suggestions are identified with the voice of the herd. Man’s resistiveness to certain suggestions, and especially to experience, as is seen so well in his attitude to the new, becomes therefore but another evidence of his suggestibility, since the new has always to encounter the opposition of herd tradition.” (Instincts of the Herd in Peace and War, by W, Trotter. Published by Ernest Benn Limited, London, 1916. Eleventh impression, February 1930, pp.33-34).
But man is inconceivable outside of society and society consists of individuals who perceive the world in common with others sharing the same set of experiences. The fact that these shared experiences differ, or, what in this context is the same thing – individuals sharing the same experience but perceiving it differently depending on their social circumstances, the basis exists for outcomes that could be defined as class-based opinions. On the question of such opinions he has this to say:
“Slightly more complex manifestations of the same tendency to homogeneity are seen in the desire for identification with the herd in matters of opinion. Here we find the biological explanation of the ineradicable impulse mankind has always displayed towards segregation into classes. Each of us in his opinions and his conduct, in matters of dress, amusement, religion, and politics, is compelled to obtain the support of a class, of a herd within the herd …. Again, anything which tends to emphasize difference from the herd is unpleasant. In the individual mind there will be an unanalysable dislike of the novel in action or thought. It will be ‘wrong, ‘ ‘wicked,’ ‘foolish,’ ‘undesirable,’ or as we say ‘bad form,’ according to varying circumstances which we can already to some extent define.” (ibid., pp.31- 32).
This was the reason why Trotter also claimed that the vast majority of society was mentally unstable. However, this was not meant in the clinical sense. Because the individual was a part of a herd or more accurately part of a number of herds (the same person could be part of a family herd, a professional herd, a class herd, a national herd etc.) and because the herd is by definition a conservative entity there was a tendency towards mental instability as it struggles to accommodate the new and the novel which is brought forth by experience. Different herds or herds within herds will accommodate experience at different rates and to varying extents – hence the instability. Within this situation it was crucial that the mentally stable continue to control events.
“Amongst the first-class Powers today the mentally stable are still the directing class, and their characteristic tone is discernible in national attitudes towards experience, in national ideals and religions, and in national morality. It is this possession of the power of directing national opinion by a class which is in essence relatively insensitive towards new combinations of experience; this persistence of a mental type which may have been adequate in the simpler past, into a world where environments are daily becoming more complex – it is this survival, so to say, of the waggoner upon the footplate of the express engine which has made the modern history of nations a series of such breathless adventures and hairbreadth escapes. To those who are able to view national affairs from an objective standpoint, it is obvious that each of these escapes might very easily have been a disaster, and that sooner or later one of them must be such.” (ibid., pp.54-55).
The disaster here feared had nothing to do with the impact of war but more to do with the growing possibilities of the mentally stable rulers being threatened by the growing influence of the mentally unstable. Democracy in these terms represents a potentially dangerous arena but it need not be so. As long as it produces individual leaders who are mentally stable, i.e. capable of rising above the negative impulses of their narrower herd instincts and embracing the wider requirements of the national interest, the situation will remain manageable, but the very nature of these herd instincts continues to ensure that the overall situation remains unstable and capable of descending into disaster. Democracy therefore, although not in itself the inevitable cause of a potential disaster, creates the conditions where such a disaster is all the more likely.
When war was declared by England in August 1914 Trotter was compelled to explain how the herd operated in the domestic context but in a way which ensured that it was differentiated from German society – there was after all no mileage from an account that portrayed the social instinct as something that operated on similar lines in both nations. Thus, the basic social element which humanised a people had to be reduced to something worth opposing.
Trotter began by explaining the concept of the nation within his scheme of things as follows:
“The nation, if the term be used to describe every organization under a completely independent, supreme government, must be regarded as the smallest unit on which natural selection now unrestrictedly acts. Between such units there is free competition, and the ultimate regulator of these relations is physical force. This statement needs the qualification that the delimitation between two given units may be much sharper than that between two others, so that in the first case the resort to force is likely to occur readily, while in the second case it will be brought about only by the very ultimate necessity. The tendency to the enlargement of the social unit has been going on with certain temporary relapses throughout human history.” (ibid., p.121 ).
The nation, or as he defines it, the “completely independent, supreme government” – in other words – as he equates it, the State, is, as far as man is concerned, “the smallest unit on which natural selection now unrestrictedly acts.” He goes on to say that the nation’s instincts are heightened under conditions of war.
“The characteristic feature of a really dangerous national struggle for existence is the intensity of the stimulus it applies to the social instinct. It is not that it arouses ‘dormant’ or decayed instincts, but simply that it applies maximal stimulation to instinctive mechanisms which are more or less constantly in action in normal times. In most of his reactions as a gregarious animal in times of peace, man is acting as a member of one or another class upon which the stimulus acts. War acts upon him as a member of the greater herd, the nation, or, in other words, the true major unit. As I have repeatedly pointed out, the cardinal mental characteristic of the gregarious animal is his sensitiveness to his fellow-members of the herd. Without them his personality is, so to say, incomplete; only in relation to them can he attain satisfaction and personal stability Corresponding with his dependence on them is his openness towards them, his specific accessibility to stimuli coming from the herd.” (ibid., p.142).
But the war of 1914 was unique in the sense that it occupied the whole of British society. It was the first that actually occupied the attention of the whole nation and in that sense it was the first truly national war – an industrial war and one in which every member of the society was compelled, either by instruction or design, to become part of- it was a war that involved the whole herd.
“War in itself is by no means necessarily a maximal stimulus to herd instinct if it does not involve a definite threat to the whole herd. This fact is well shown in the course of the South African War of 1899-1901. This war was not and was not regarded as capable of becoming a direct threat to the life of the nation. There was consequently no marked moral concentration of the people, no massive energizing of the Government by a homogeneous nation, and therefore the conduct of the war was in general languid, timid, and pessimistic. The morale of the people was as a whole bad; there was an exaggerated hunger for good news, and an excessive satisfaction in it; an exaggerated pessimism was excited by bad news, and public fortitude was shaken by casualties which we should now regard as insignificant. Correspondingly the activity and vitality of rumour were enormously less than they have been in the present war. The weaker stimulus is betrayed throughout the whole series of events by the weakness of all the characteristic gregarious responses.” (ibid., p.143).
Yet, although the nation constitutes the “the smallest unit on which natural selection now unrestrictedly acts” Trotter sets his face against the doctrine of the “biological necessity of war” as a necessary element in the evolution of the species – a doctrine that he lays at the feet of Germany. Instead, at least at this stage of the book, Trotter believes that the species as a whole requires a condition of variety within the race in order to prosper.
Consequently, any conflict that involves the potential annihilation of significant numbers can only militate against the continuance of such variety. It is this variety, however, which is threatened by Germany. Trotter unhesitatingly defines Germany as the representation of a nation with an inferior type of social instinct that is prone to a failure of understanding when it comes to the implications of its actions for the species as a whole. He does this within the context of a categorisation of social units based on different types of the gregarious instinct.
“Taking a broad survey of all gregarious types, we are able to distinguish three fairly distinct trends of evolution. We have the aggressive gregariousness of the wolf and the dog, the protective gregariousness of the sheep and the ox, and, differing from both these, we have the more complex social structure of the bee and the ant, which we may call socialized gregariousness. The last-named is characterized by the complete absorption of the individual in the major unit, and the fact that the function of the social habit seems no longer to be the simple one of mere attack or defence, but rather the establishment of a State which shall be, as a matter of course, strong in defence and attack, but a great deal more that this as well. The hive is no mere herd or pack, but an elaborate mechanism for making use by co-ordinate and unified action of the utmost powers of the individual members. It is something which appears to be a complete substitute for individual existence, and as we have already said, seems like a new creature rather than a congeries united for some comparatively few and simple purposes. The hive and the ant’s nest stand to the flock and the pack as the fully organized multicellular animal stands to the primitive zoogloea which is its forerunner. The wolf is united for attack, the sheep is united for defence, but the bee is united for all the activities and feelings of its life.” (ibid., pp.166-167).
He goes on to say that the purely aggressive or protective form of gregariousness is a feature of primitive peoples and uses as examples the North American Indians and the Australian aborigines. Historically also he says that it was this type of gregariousness which featured among the Northern Barbarians in the destruction of the Roman Empire. He refers to these types as “the most perfect form” of “the lupine type of society in action.” (p.168). The German State, from the very beginning the German confederation, by a process of differentiating herself against other European peoples (or more accurately, those European peoples which constituted the Entente – ED) had decidedly reverted to the more primitive type of society.
”This is the reason, therefore, why the rulers of Germany, of course in complete ignorance of how significant was their choice, were compelled to abandon the ideals of standard civilization, to relapse upon the ideals of a more primitive type of gregariousness, and to throw back their people into the anachronism of a lupine society. In this connection it is interesting to notice how persistently the political philosophers of Germany have sought their chief inspiration in the remote past, and in times when the wolf society and the wolf ideals were widespread and successful.” (ibid., p.170).
But the people, as the constituent elements of the functioning society, were willing and malleable ingredients in the construction of the character of the society being moulded by the new state.
“To them it doubtless appeared merely that they were discarding the effete and enfeebling ideals which made other nations the fit victims of their conquests. They may be supposed to have determined to eradicate such germs of degeneracy from themselves, to have seen that an ambitious people must be strong and proud and hard, enterprising, relentless, brave, and fierce, prepared to believe in the glory of combat and conquest, in the supreme moral greatness of the warrior, in force as the touchstone of right, honour, justice, and truth. Such changes in moral orientation seem harmless enough and it can scarcely be suspected that their significance was patent to those who adopted them. They were impressed upon the nation with all the immense power of suggestion at the disposal of an organised State. The readiness with which they were received and assimilated was more than could be accounted for by even the power of the immense machine of officials, historians, theologians, professors, teachers, and newspapers by which they were, in season and out of season, enforced. The immense success that was attained owed much to the fact that suggestion was following a natural, instinctive path. The wolf in man, against which civilization has been fighting for so long, is still within call and ready to respond to incantations much feebler than those the German State could employ The people were intoxicated with the glory of their conquests and their imposing new confederation; if we are to trust the reputation the Prussian soldier has had for a hundred years, they were perhaps already less advanced in humanity than the other European peoples.”(ibid., pp.170-171).
But it seems that even those who set themselves the task of forming the character of the new state were not aware of the full implications of what it was they were unleashing:
“It is maintained here that the ambitious career consciously planned for Germany by those who had taken command of her destinies, and the maintenance at the same time of her social system, were inconsistent with the further development of gregariousness of the socialized type. New ideals, new motives, and new sources of moral power had therefore to be sought. They were found in a recrudescence of the aggressive type of gregariousness – in a reappearance of the society of the wolf. It is conceivable that those who provided Germany with her new ideals thought themselves to be exercising a free choice. The choice, however, was forced upon them by Nature. They wanted some of the characteristics of the wolf; they got them all. One may imagine that those who have so industriously inculcated the national gospel have wondered at times that while it has been easy to implant certain of the desired ideals, it has not been possible to prevent the appearance of others which, though not so desirable, belong to the same legacy and must be taken up with it.” (ibid, pp.171-172).
The British, in contrast, occupy the highest plain of socialised gregariousness – that of the honey bee and the hive. This type of gregariousness, although capable of impulses of defence and attack, possesses a higher element involving the complete absorption of the individual in the social unit and in the construction of the State. Trotter had earlier described the honey bee type of gregariousness as follows:
“If we could suppose her to be conscious in the human sense, we must imagine the bee to be possessed by an enthusiasm for the hive more intense that a mother’s devotion to her son, without personal ambitions, or doubts or fears, and if we are to judge by the imperfect experience man has yet had of the lofty passion, we must think of her consciousness, insignificant spark as it is, as a little fire ablaze with altruistic feeling.” (ibid., p.106).
Such diametrically opposed social types made it inevitable that they were incapable of real communication or understanding.
“Since the beginning of this war attracted a really concentrated attention to the psychology of the German people, it has been very obvious that one of the most striking feelings amongst Englishmen has been bewilderment. They have found an indescribable strangeness in the utterances of almost all German personages and newspapers, in their diplomacy, in their friendliness to such as they wished to propitiate, in their enmity to those they wished to alarm and intimidate. This strange quality is very difficult to define or even to attempt to describe, and has very evidently perplexed almost all writers on the war. The only thing one can be sure of is that it is there. It shows itself at times as a simplicity or even childishness, as a boorish cunning, as an incredible ant-like activity, as a sudden blast of maniacal boasting, a reckless savagery or gloating in blood, a simple-minded sentimentality, an outburst of idolatry, not of the pallid, metaphorical, modern type, but the full-blooded African kind, with all the apparatus of idol and fetish and tom-tom, and with it all a steady confidence that these are the principles of civilization, of truth, of justice, and of Christ …
“The incomprehensibility to the English of the whole trend of German feeling and expression suggests that there is some deeply rooted instinctive conflict of attitude between them. One may risk the speculation that this conflict is between socialized gregariousness and aggressive gregariousness. As the result of the inculcation of national arrogance and aggression, Germany has lapsed into a special type of social instinct which has opened a gulf of separation in feeling between her and other civilized peoples. “(ibid., pp.173-174).
Then, having earlier denied any legitimacy to the doctrine of the “biological necessity of war” and claiming that the health of human kind relies upon the sustenance of variety within the race, Trotter pursues his argument right up to the confirmation of the argument that he had previously denied.
“Between the path England finds herself on and that which Germany has chosen there is a divergence which almost amounts to a specific difference in a biological scale. In this, perhaps, lies the cause of the desperate and unparalleled ferocity of this war. It is a war not so much of contending nations as of contending species. We are not taking part in a mere war, but in one of Nature’s august experiments. It is as if she had set herself to try out in her workshop the strength of the socialized and the aggressive types. To the socialized peoples she has entrusted the task of proving that her old faith in cruelty and blood is at last an anachronism. To try them, she has given substance to the creation of a nightmare, and they must destroy this werewolf or die.” (ibid., pp.174-175).
The war was thus not merely a contention between two nations or two empires. It was not even a contention between alternative modes of society. It had become a war, the outcome of which was to determine if the species evolves to a higher or sinks to a lower mode of social existence. But it was more than that. Trotter claimed that “Germany had left the path of natural evolution, or rather, perhaps, has never found it.” (p.193). Germany represented the equivalent of an evolutionary black hole in which the light of civilization cannot exist. Unsurprisingly, such a foe is unworthy in war and in victory of normal human consideration. Thus we have his description of the treatment that such a foe demands:
”A psychological hint of great value may be obtained from our knowledge of those animals whose gregariousness, like that of the Germans, is of the aggressive type. When it is thought necessary to correct a dog by corporal measures, it is found that the best effect is got by what is rather callously called a ‘sound’ thrashing. The animal must be left in no doubt as to who is the master, and his punishment must not be diluted by hesitation, nervousness, or compunction on the part of the punisher. The experience then becomes one from which the dog is capable of learning, and if the sense of mastery conveyed to him is unmistakable, he can assimilate the lesson without reservation or the desire for revenge. However repulsive the idea may be to creatures of the socialized type, no sentimentalism, and no pacifist theorizing can conceal the fact that the respect of a dog can be won by violence. If there is any truth in the view I have expressed that the moral reactions of Germany follow the gregarious type which is illustrated by the wolf and the dog, it follows that her respect is to be won by a thorough and drastic beating, and it is just that elementary respect for other nations, of which she is now entirely free, which it is the duty of Europe to teach her.” (ibid., p.200).
Of course there was nothing new in this kind of thinking. The British army had undertaken numerous punitive expeditions in her colonies during the nineteenth century with the specific purpose of chastising rebellious natives as if they were an inferior species. What was new was that this thinking was now being applied to a white European power – a situation that no doubt was partly responsible for the need to re-categorise it as essentially an inhuman Lupine deviation from the path of social evolution.
It was various permutations of the dehumanised enemy that provided the basis for the popular motivation behind the British war effort against Germany but it was a motivation that found its validity within the country’s intellectual class – those to whom was devolved the task of authenticating British righteousness not only to god but also to Science.
Aside from the important function played by its churchmen and cultural representatives in the supportive British war effort, its scientists were also critical. But besides those areas of science which played a direct role in the invention and manufacture of new weapons and equipment of war, there were other areas of no less importance. Wilfred Trotter himself, in the preface to his book acknowledges this important requirement.
“If this war is becoming, as it obviously is, daily more and more completely a contest of moral forces, some really deep understanding of the nature and sources of national morale must be at least as important a source of strength as the technical knowledge of the military engineer and the maker of cannon. One is apt to suppose that the chief function of a sound morale is the maintenance of a high courage and resolution through the ups and downs of warfare. In a nation whose actual independence and existence are threatened from without such qualities may be taken for granted and may be present when the general moral forces are seriously disordered. A satisfactory morale gives something much more difficult to attain. It gives smoothness of working, energy and enterprise to the whole national machine … ” (Trotter, op. cit., November 1915 preface, pp.6-7).
Thus, while “the maintenance of a high courage and resolution through the ups and downs of warfare” can be taken for granted “in a nation whose actual independence and existence are threatened from without”, something more profound was required by the British situation – something that required a “really deep understanding of the nature and sources of national morale”. Trotter believed he provided this in his account of the herd instinct during the war but it was an account, which at the end of the war, when his role as war propagandist was no longer required, that even he was prepared to admit had been tainted.
In the second edition of his book published after the end of the war in November 1919 Trotter included a “Postscript of 1919”. In this, presumably in order to retrieve some element of objectivity for his version of social psychology, he makes an attempt to explain the contents of the book in terms of the demands of war.
“With the exception of the two preliminary essays, the foregoing chapters were written in the autumn of 1915. As the chief purpose of the book was to expound the conception that psychology is a science practically useful in actual affairs, it was inevitable that a great deal of the exemplary matter by which it was attempted to illustrate a psychological discussion should be related to the war of 1914-1918.
Rich, however, as this subject was in material with which to illustrate a psychological inquiry, it presented also the great difficulty of being surrounded and permeated by prejudices of the most deeply impassioned kind, prejudices, moreover, in one direction or another from which no inhabitant of one of the belligerent countries could have the least expectation of being free. To yield to the temptation offered by the psychological richness of war themes might thus be to sacrifice the detachment of mind and coolness of judgment without which scientific investigation is impossible.” (Trotter, op cit, p.214).
But, despite his claim at the time to have been advancing a scientific understanding of the human condition and his subsequent admission that it was itself riddled with prejudice, his culpability in the admitted behaviour was in turn refashioned as further proof of the herd instinct:
“Thus we may say that in a country at war every citizen is exposed to the extremely powerful stimulation of herd instinct characteristic of that state … Whence, we conclude that in a country at war all opinion is necessarily more or Jess subject to prejudice, and that this liability, to bias is a herd mechanism, and owes its vigour to that potent instinct.
” … We may lay it down, then, as fundamental that all opinion among the members of a nation at war is liable to prejudice, and when we remember with what vehemence such opinion is pronounced and with what fortitude it is defended we may regard as at least highly probable that such opinion always actually, is prejudiced – rests, that is to say, on instinct rather than reason.” (Trotter, op cit, authors’ emphasis, pp.216-217).
Of course, while blaming the herd instinct for the use of his own prejudiced “exemplary matter” during the war, Trotter fails to acknowledge or take responsibility for his role and that of his fellow social psychologists in stimulating and directing the very herd instinct that he now sees as contaminating his scientific credentials. Such an admission would have removed his role and that of his colleagues in the new science from one of passive observer to that of active agent – something that would have made it impossible to sustain any continuing claim to scientific objectivity. Instead Trotter chooses to turn attention towards the arena in which his science feels most safe – that of the wider social defect which the advent of war has in no way solved.
“Society, therefore, is setting out upon what is generally regarded as a new era of hope without the defect that made the war possible having in any degree been corrected. Certain supposedly immutable principles such as democracy and national self-determination are regarded by some as mankind’s guarantees against disaster. To the psychologist such principles represent mere vague and fluctuating drifts of feeling, arising out of deep instinctive needs, but not fully and powerfully embodying such; as automatic safeguards of society their claims are altogether bogus, and cannot be ranked as perceptibly higher than those of the ordinary run of political nostrums and doctrinaire specifics. Society can never be safe until the direction of it is entrusted only to those who possess high capacity rigorously trained and acute sensitiveness to experience and to feeling.
Statecraft, after all, is a difficult art, and it seems unreasonable to leave the choice of those who practice it to accident, to heredity, or to the possession of the wholly irrelevant gifts that take the fancy of the crowd. The result of such methods of selection is not even a mere random choice from the whole population, but shows a steady drift towards the establishment in power of a type in certain ways almost characteristically unfitted for the tasks of government. The fact that man has always shirked the heavy intellectual and moral labour of founding a scientific and truly expert statecraft may contain a germ of hope for the future, in that it shows where effort may be usefully expended. But it cannot but justify uneasiness as to the immediate future of society. The essential factor in society is the subordination of the individual will to social needs. Our statecraft is still ignorant of how this can be made a fair and honest bargain to the individual and to the state, and recent events have convinced a very large proportion of mankind that accepted methods of establishing this social cohesion have proved to them at any rate the worst of bargains.” (Trotter, op. cit., pp.240-241 ).
The war, which had the effect of deflecting attention from the core issue confronting the future of humanity, could now be put aside and the potential conflict of what was called statecraft
and the popular will and democracy was once more to the fore. (It should be pointed out that this was but one viewpoint in social psychology and that there were others which embraced democracy more enthusiastically but that is a subject to be dealt with elsewhere).
The purpose of the intellectual endeavour invested in things like Pan-Germanism and the Herd Instinct was that they provided the wider perception of the enemy within which information could become propaganda. The creation of such stereotypical depictions enabled individual incidents to be comprehended within a secular value-system that might otherwise escape the alternative religious morality play of good versus evil.
The ultimate secular value-system by which the modern world operates was created within what became known as the public relations and marketing professions and it is no coincidence that the father of modern Public Relations, Edward Louis Bernays, openly acknowledged his debt to the French social psychologist Gustave Le Bon and also to Wilfred Trotter. Bernays developed his own unique ‘take’ on the world by combining Le Son’s doctrine of “crowd control’ with that of Trotter’s “herd instinct’. He was born in Vienna to Jewish parents in 1891 and had close family connections with Sigmund Freud. In fact he was a double nephew of Freud as his father, Ely Bernays, was the brother of Freud’s wife Martha Bernays and his mother was Freud’s sister. Bernays moved to the United States in the year following his birth and went into American journalism as a young man. During the First World War he was employed in the administration of Woodrow Wilson with the Committee on Public Information and worked with Carl Byoir and John Price Jones in making the public case for America’s involvement in the First World War. It was his ideas which contributed significantly to the Wilsonian line that America’s involvement in the war was aimed at “bringing democracy to all of Europe.” Bernays attended the Paris Peace Conference in 1919 at the invitation of Woodrow Wilson and after the war used his knowledge of public manipulation techniques to embark on a lucrative career in advertising and public relations. Like other social psychologists, Bernays was distrustful of democracy but he saw no point in setting himself up in opposition to it. Instead he felt the public needed to be guided from above into making the right choices under democracy and it was in that context that he saw the political value of propaganda. However, because of the negative connotations of the word which arose from its use in war-time he came up with the term Public Relations as a substitute for his peace-time activities. In the decades after the war he developed a highly successful business in advertising, marketing, and public relations. With regards to changing public behaviour, he is widely credited with having broken the taboo of women smoking in public as a result of his campaign in the 1920s. However, it is more likely that this was due to the way in which the practice was depicted in the cinema than his attempts to achieve more cigarette sales for his client. Nonetheless there is little doubt that he was responsible for some of the most important developments in modern marketing techniques – turning an advertisement into a news item and the use of the product “tie-in” being typical examples.
Throughout the 1930s he used his understanding of public manipulation techniques in various marketing campaigns on behalf of American big business including the American Tobacco Company, General Electric, Cartier, CBS and Dodge Motors. But his early involvement with American government war propaganda ensured that he continued to have an interest in this area of ”public relations”. Consequently, in January 1942, in the immediate aftermath of America formally abandoning neutrality when the focus turned once more towards war propaganda Bernays published an article in The Journal of Marketing which reflected his continuing grasp of its requirements in terms of the marketing process. The article was called The Marketing of National Policies: A Study of War Propaganda. In this article Bernays quotes approvingly from an analysis by an American academic of First World War propaganda as a means of understanding what it was that such activity required:-
“A book published in the late twenties, Propaganda Techniques in the World War, by Harold Lasswell, attempted to isolate the factors of marketing. This analysis was made by a social psychologist looking back over past events. Obviously, things had not been planned this way in advance. He isolated six factors:
- Fasten the war guilt on the enemy.
- Claim unity and victory, in the names of history and deity.
- State war aims. In the last war, the Germans failed to do this successfully. The Allies made successful counter-propaganda out of it. Security, peace, a better social order, international laws, are given as war aims.
- Strengthen the belief of the people that the enemy is responsible for the war, with examples of the enemy’s depravity.
- Make the public believe that unfavourable news is really enemy lies. This will prevent disunity and defeatism.
- Follow this with horror stories. The story of the Turk who sits before a tubful of his captives’ eyes was first told during the Crusades. Horror stories, says the author, should be made to sound authoritative.” (p.236).
In analysing German propaganda efforts during the First World War Bernays reaches the same conclusion as the author of the book from which he takes the above quote, Harold Lasswell. For instance he admits that, “The Germans had no total psychological approach” and, “The Germans also distributed deadly dull leaflets or pamphlets and heavy academic books in foreign countries by mail.” He concludes that the complete failure of German propaganda during the First World War served as a lesson to Hitler in ensuring that propaganda was allocated a significant part of Germany’s armoury during the Second World War. He might also have added that in acknowledging the value of social psychology and racial stereotyping, Hitler, as in so many other things, learned his trade from Britain.
Eamon Dyas April 2013
This article appeared in Issue 13 of Problems magazine. You can find more at the Problems page on the Labour Affairs website.