The Green Swastika Environmentalism in the Third Reich

From Malthus to Mifepristone: A Primer on the Population Control Movement

The History of the Population Control Movement 1798 to 1998

Dictatorship of the Landlords - The Green Roots of the Housing Crisis

Cultural Marxism and the Alt-Right

The Meaning of Corporatism

356 Enviro-critical Websites and additional info about the organized enviro-critical movement

Pierre Trudeau: Eco-fascist

A Primer for the Paris Climate Talks

Jorge Bergoglio's Green Encyclical

Environmentalism and Aboriginal Supremacism (Part 2): The Mobilization of Aboriginal Opposition to the Northern Gateway Pipeline

Environmentalism and Aboriginal Supremacism in Canada - Part 1 - Idle No More

Of Buffalo and Biofuel - More Tales of Environmentalism in Alberta

War on Coal

In Praise of the Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity Act (Bill C-38)

Environmentalism and Edmonton Land Use Politics

The "Tar Sands" Campaign and the Suppression of North America's Energy Potential

Desertec and Environmentalism's North African Campaign

The Environmental Movement in Alberta

Environmentalism 400 BC

Spirit of NAWAPA

Waldheim's Monster:
United Nations' Ecofascist Programme

Early 19th Century British "Environmentalism"

Environmentalism's Appropriation of Christianity

Environmentalism's Environment

The Continental Counter-Enlightenment

The American Eco-Oligarchy update

If Only This Were About Oil


Who is Affraid of The Big Green Wolf

The Gore Presidential Bid

The Groundbreaking Career of Doctor Science

The English Environmental Elite, Global Warming, and The Anglican Church

The Great Global Warming Hoax

The American Oligarchy's Economic Warfare Campaign on British Columbians

The Persistent Profundity of Professor Mayer

By William Walter Kay


Environmentalism is Count Dracula rising from the coffin. Environmentalism is a protracted act of political combat undertaken by a social phenomenon too large and too old to be classified as a mere social movement. The Industrial Revolution, the capitalist-libertarian movement, and the republican-democratic movement are inextricably entwined. They did not develop in isolation. Wound around them, like a twin helix, is a protean counter-revolution. Environmentalism is this counter-revolution’s current incarnation.

Professor Arno Mayer is the Copernicus of counter-revolution. Mayer was born in Luxemburg in 1926, the son of a Jewish warehouse owner who led his family on a harrowing flight to the USA in 1940. Professor Mayer received his Ph.D. in History from Yale and, after stints at Brandeis and Harvard, settled at Princeton in 1961 where he remained. He is currently Princeton’s Dayton-Stockton Professor of History (Emeritus). Professor Mayer is the author of several acclaimed books. What follows is a nano-abridgement of his four most important volumes.


The French Counter-revolution
1848 and 1871
Down to 1914
The Primacy of Land
Upper and Lower Parliaments
State Bureaucracies
Higher Education
Down to June 28, 1914
The Nazi Counter-revolution
Sundry Generalizations


Metternich discerned three types of regime change: palace revolutions, political revolutions, and social revolutions. The prime mover of modern history: the replacement of hereditary elites with elected representatives is a political revolution with transformative social consequences. There are no revolutions without counter-revolutions. The recoils to republican revolutions, literally re-actions, have indeterminate vectors transcending mere restoration.

Revolution and counter-revolution must be studied together. Not accounting for the forces opposing democratization is to describe a military battle without mentioning the enemy army. Revolution is studied thoroughly, but few address counter-revolution head on. As a library index concept, “counter-revolution” barely exists. Yet counter-revolution is as complex and consequential as revolution.

Counter-revolutions have distinct logics and styles. As the unavoidable second half of revolutions, they involve mobilizations and revolts with ferocities proportionate to the revolution. While symbolically entwined with revolutions, they have discreet lives and momentums. Counter-revolutionaries imitate, but do not copy, revolutionary ideas and methods. They appear to seek radical change but are always pseudo-revolutionary. They re-act to revolutions but characteristically act pre-emptively.

Counter-revolution is a durable phenomenon. Aristotle repeatedly noted how fear of the loss of power precipitated pre-emptive political manoeuvres. The main continental European counter-revolution is a contiguous entity pre-dating the French Revolution. It arose from, and feeds upon, the disequilibrium intrinsic to market economies. The forms it takes are dictated by national and international contexts. Each country has its own logic, but counter-revolution is a product of world history, not local aberration. 


The French Counter-revolution

The French Revolution was an improvisation driven by circumstance. The decade preceding the storming of the Bastille (July 14, 1789) was a period of aristocratic reaction. France was 85% rural and illiterate. Primitive Catholicism was omnipresent. The Church coordinated its attack on the Enlightenment from its principal altar, in the royal palace. The Church collided with the revolutionary government in Paris in 1790 after the proscription of monastic vows, Pope Pius VI’s condemnation of the Declaration of the Rights of Man, and the defeat of a motion to make Catholicism the state religion.

The old regime was not easily brought down because privileged orders fought back out of an elementary sense of self-preservation. Incorrigible bishops and aristocrats, outraged by talk of “specious and phantasmic liberty and equality,” were more aggressive than the revolutionaries. Until 1792 Louis XVI was central to counter-revolutionary efforts which were often of an offensive rather than defensive nature. Queen Marie Antoinette, Count d’Artois, and Marquis de Favras were diehards. After the dispossession of Church property the bishops, with Pius VI’s blessing, joined the counter-revolution.

Between 1789 and 1794 resistance was the norm. By 1793 some 60 of France’s 83 departments were out of control and a majority of the population, in some degree, resisted Republican authorities. France had as many counter-revolutionaries as revolutionaries. Two years later the number of counter-revolutionaries was greater. A large area of southern France (Vendee, Midi, Languedoc, etc.), being the most rural and backward, became strongholds of the counter-revolutionary forces. Villages became the principal theatre of a bloody civil war in which parish priests played a major role.

The counter-revolution was led by displaced aristocrats, generals, and churchmen who occupied paramount positions in émigré circles in foreign capitals where they solicited aid for the “white” side of the civil war. Voluntary exile is a luxury few can afford. Those with previous international contacts and cosmopolitan ways kept the upper hand over upstart rivals within the movement.

The émigrés loved Anglo-Irishman Edmond Burke. He immediately identified the new regime in Paris as “enemies to King, Nobility, and Priesthood” foreshadowing “a real crisis in the politics of Europe.” Burke saw them as a cabal attempting to found a utopia through destroying traditions. His Reflections on the Revolution in France (November 1790) castigated individual liberty and popular sovereignty. In place of the revolutionaries’ praise of Reason, Burke argued for custom, prejudice, and authority. He denounced the abolition of seigniorial rights and the nationalization of Church properties. Such transgressions were more baneful if they touched large private estates: the fount of immemorial rights. He opposed big cities and the monied interest. He called for a counter-revolution.

On the front lines, threatened local elites led a spontaneous, irregular anti-revolution reflexively blocking the reach of the Republic. This anti-revolution remained ill-organized and parochial despite counter-revolutionaries’ efforts to harness it.

The counter-revolution clearly had a deeply-rooted mass base. However, revolutionary zealots in the Jacobin camp reified the counter-revolution into a polymorphous aristocratic conspiracy, in part to justify the Terror.

The Republic’s 12-man Committee of Public Safety issued all essential military and political directives. Their Terror ran from March 1793 to August 1794 and claimed 35,000 lives. 17,000 were condemned to death by tribunals. 12,000 were summarily executed. The rest perished in over-crowded detention centres. (400,000 were at one time or another detained.) Most summary executions and prison deaths occurred in rural southern counter-revolutionary strongholds.

The Terror had three phases: March to September 1793, October 1793 to May 1794, and June/July of 1794. The decrees of March 1793, which resulted in most of the executions, were provoked by the Vendean rising. During the first two phases, the violence in the south vastly exceeded that in Paris. Counter-revolutionaries in the Vendee tied down 100,000 revolutionary soldiers desperately needed to fight off the European powers.

As the revolutionaries learned that terror alone would not ensure victory, efforts were made to win the hearts and minds of the rural masses. In the words of General Vimeux, the revolution had to: “reach out to those whom perfidious priests and nobles had incited to violence but were now contrite and prepared to obey the laws of the Republic.”

One counter-revolutionary strategy was to instrumentalize fear of Protestants, whose geographic concentration and affluence made them perfect scapegoats. France’s 650,000 Protestants (3% of population) were most visible in southern cities where they controlled commerce and manufacturing. They had a far higher literacy rate than Catholics. They overwhelmingly supported the revolution. Montauban’s 25,000 inhabitants included 6,000 Protestants who dominated business, especially the important textile trade. Nimes (population 45,000) also had a Protestant minority of relatively wealthy textile manufacturers and merchants. After 1789, the region’s landlords and priests rallied to the ancient regime, presenting themselves as guardians of a rural world threatened by cunning encroachments of urban money men. They called for an end to religious tolerance because “the Protestants were still what they always were.”

Staunch Catholic Joseph de Maistre claimed Burke’s Reflections reinforced his own anti-democratic sentiments. As an ultramontanist, he reconciled Burke’s prized prejudices with theocratic monarchism and papal infallibility. He admired the revolutionaries’ “infernal genius” while cursing their “satanic character.” Like Burke, he considered the Revolution divine vengeance for the blasphemous Enlightenment. He called for “the opposite of a revolution” led by a coalition of Christian kings.

1795-1814 were years of devouring war. In the end the Bourbons were restored not by royalist groundswell but because British Foreign Secretary Viscount Castleraugh deemed them indispensable. A pan-European army, not French counter-revolutionaries, crowned Louis XVIII, although he forever boasted how his subjects had summoned him to be their king.
Pius VII surfed back into the Vatican on an ultramontanist wave. He re-established the Jesuits and re-instated the Index. The twilight of the revolutionary epoch faded into the dawn of religious reaction.


While Louis XVIII spoke of compromise between the new society and the old, his Charter empowered kings to promulgate and amend laws and to appoint members to the house of peers. Lower house deputies were elected by a property-based system giving fewer than 100,000 men the vote. Property qualifications for candidates restricted the pool to 15,000. Even this was criticized as treacherously over-democratic by an ultra-royalist party that spoke for most nobles and formed the official opposition.

On January 21, 1815 the bodies and severed skulls of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were exhumed and given a ceremonial re-burial.  All the church-bells of France clanged.

Napoleon left his exile on Elba with seven ships; landing near Cannes, March 1, 1815. A negotiated peace on his hazy terms was impossible. The Quadruple Alliance defeated Napoleon on June 18 at Waterloo in a battle inflicting 60,000 casualties on 350,000 combatants. When Paris capitulated (July 3), one million foreign soldiers occupied France. The Second Treaty of Paris imposed a territorial cutback, reparations of 700 million francs, and a yearly 150 million franc charge to cover the costs of the 150,000 troop occupation force. Louis XVIII was placed on the throne again.

The Holy Alliance of Throne and Altar, first proposed by Tsar Alexander I, then approved by all crowned heads and Pius VII, invested governance with religious imperative. The Holy Alliance was a spill-over into the international system of a triumphant restoration sweeping Europe’s kingdoms. Having thwarted the new order, old regimes stood taller than ever. All countries experienced a resurrection of monarchy, nobility, and church, with religion serving as the principal cement. Their majesties declared:

in the face of the whole world, their fixed take for their sole guide the precepts of their Holy Religion; namely the precepts of justice, Christian charity and peace, which must guide all their steps, as being the only means of consolidating human institutions and remedying their imperfections.

Castleraugh called it a “piece of sublime mysticism and nonsense.” Metternich concurred but valued the declaration as a premise for anti-republican intervention into rogue states. After initial infighting, Francis II, Frederick William, and Alexander I re-worked the Holy Alliance into an instrument of statecraft. In 1819 the Holy Alliance dispatched Austrian troops to suppress unrest in Naples and Turin.

Louis’s second restoration was fiercely reactionary. After the 1815 elections, 90% of the 380 deputies were royalists, many former émigrés. They legitimized a terror that had broken out earlier that summer. In July/August 100 civilians, mostly Nimes-area Protestants, were murdered. Protestant homes were plundered. The violence was half-spontaneous but abetted by the Duke of Angouleme and the Knights of Faith (a secret royalist society). 2,500 Protestants fled Nimes. Across France 5,500 persons were condemned for political crimes and 65,000 public servants (25%) purged.

Louis, finding the ultra-royalist deputies intractable, dissolved the chamber in 1816 and brazenly manipulated subsequent elections. Ultras were reduced to a third of the deputies but remained a coherent party tied to Count d’Artois. The new majority were moderate royalists. On the far left of the house sat a handful of liberals still championing the principles of the Revolution. The struggle between moderates and ultras was influenced by outside powers. Britain favoured the moderates. Austria, Prussia, and Russia favoured the hawkish ultras.

Louis’s Prime Minister, Cardinal Richelieu, borrowed from banks to pay off the war indemnity, thus ending the occupation ahead of schedule and securing France’s readmission to the concert of great powers.

After the 1820 assassination of Count d’Artois’s son by a lone Bonapartist fanatic, the ultras surged, claiming the murder was a vast liberal conspiracy. The next election returned an intractable chamber. Within months an ultra replaced Richelieu. In 1823 the Duke of Angouleme marched 100,000 soldiers into Spain to save Ferdinand VII who then distinguished his restoration with vindictive reprisals.  As Louis’s death neared (1824), his ministers increasingly bypassed him for Count d’Artois, who, like Ferdinand VII, “forgot nothing, learned nothing.”

Ultras demanded the church control education. Bowing to their pressure, Louis had earlier set up a ministry run by a militant Monseigneur to purge universities, cancel courses, and close certain schools. After 1824 this Monseigneur took his crusade to all levels of education.

Count d’Artois was crowned Charles X in a ceremony calculated to be a replica of the great martyr Louis XVI’s coronation. The next day Charles was in Saint-Marcoul proving his divine healing powers by ministering to scrofula sufferers.

Charles and his fellow émigrés considered Louis’s Charter too liberal and secular. They hastily pushed through an unconstitutional law indemnifying ex-émigrés for confiscated properties. Their next bill punished sacrilegious acts with penalties including public hand amputations...


This admittedly is a pregnant ending to the tale, but suffice it to say France’s ancient regime was pronounced dead in 1793 only to resurface violently. Although the counter-revolution and Counter-Enlightenment lost ground during the revolutionary epoch, neither was destroyed. The Catholic Church endured despite severe buffeting. De-feudalized nobles saved the bulk of their lands. Europe’s ancient regime took temporary comfort in the restoration of monarchism in France (1815 to 1830) and in their Holy Alliance. But the revolution marched on, and so did the counter-revolution.

1848 and 1871

During both the 1848 and 1871 upheavals: the greater the effort to extend political revolution into social revolution, the greater the anti-revolutionary cohesiveness.

1848 taught revolutionaries (and counter-revolutionaries) the difficulty of a frontal assault on the state. 1871 confirmed the obsolescence of barricades and street fighting. Insurrectionist strategies gave way to mass mobilization strategies.

In 1848 the counter-revolution struck first in Naples. In Paris, during the June Days, it developed a pan-European character that first reverberated decisively in Vienna. In Berlin, the counter-revolution was both completed and compromised.

In Berlin, business interests closed ranks with feudalist reactionaries. By leaving the Crown, bureaucracy, and army intact, the business community became a political prisoner of the counter-revolutionary camarilla. Seeds sowed by businessmen were harvested by aristocrats. However, this counter-revolution, being purely political, did not alter dynamically instable social foundations. Governments, once again led by preindustrial elites, now sought to tame and harness capitalist-led industrialization.

Culturally, after 1848 science and technology were increasingly hailed as keys to a plentiful, ethical life. The most faithful to this gospel were businessmen and professionals. However, too much of the old order remained for this creed to gain hegemony.

Economic liberalism percolated steadily, peaking after 1871 when the landed classes mounted their counterthrust. By then international competition was obviously undermining European landlords. A flood of cheap produce from overseas drove down prices and rents. Rural bankruptcies rose and land prices collapsed. Agrarian elites used their disproportionate influence to pressure for tariffs, subsidies, and tax breaks. They organized lobby groups, peasant leagues, and parties (or factions within parties). They set out to choke the market economy and its corollary, constitutional government. Big landowners took the lead in preaching the virtues of the land and its cultivators, presenting themselves as guardians of man’s natural habitat, the soil. Liberalism was powerless to thwart this mobilization because key business sectors sought government aid and knew the agrarians had the sway to secure it.

After 1871 Italy, Austria-Hungary, and Russia adopted protective duties in response to agrarian pressure. Germany followed suit in 1879. Only in Britain did free traders outweigh protectionist agrarian interests but even there a massive reaction brewed.

After 1871 counter-revolutionary leaders were drawn less from traditional elites and more from middle classes. Unlike conservative notables who disdained the demos, the new counter-revolutionary tribunes flattered the lower classes in order to raise anti-revolutionary sentiments from below and place them at the service of counter-revolution from above.

After 1871 the socialist movement gained sufficient size to make the revolution/counter-revolution contest a three-way game. The conservative-reactionary constellation realized suppressing socialism required a popular counter-ideology. Due to the heterogeneity of anti-socialists, this ideology required programmatic vagueness, soaring rhetoric, and incessant sloganeering. Truculent nationalism emerged as the sole affirmation in platforms bristling with negations about modernism.

After 1871 socialists opposed war or yielded to it reluctantly. At the same time, they found wars to be golden opportunities. Counter-revolutionaries embraced war as a means to buttressing their fortunes. They advocated using the military to crush enemies at home before destroying enemies abroad.

Down to 1914

Conventional history has Europe breaking out of its ancient regime and crossing the threshold of modernity before World War One (WW1). Scholars downgrade the importance of preindustrial economic interests and predemocratic authority systems. They exaggerate the decline of land, kings, churches, upper chambers, and public service nobilities. They neglect the ancient regime’s genius for subduing counter-elites, rehabilitating archaic culture, and assimilating new practices. The ancient regime imposed self-serving terms on the implantation of industrial capitalism and harnessed bureaucratic and military modernization to serve conservative objectives.

Reconstructing WW1’s origin requires reversing the picture of a crumbling old order. Between 1905 and 1914, old elites wilfully and powerfully tightened their political hold. WW1 was not caused by an explosive rise of industrial capitalism but by an old order fighting to perpetuate itself. Europe’s crisis was fuelled not by insurgent popular forces fighting against the establishment but by resurgent reactionaries determined to brace it.

In 1914 Europe was mainly a rural world dominated by hereditary nobles. Except for a few bankers, merchants and ship-owners, large fortunes were based on land. Aristocrats occupied first place economically, culturally, and politically. Centrepieces of this system were royal families. Churches were closely tied to royalty and aristocracy and also had land as their main source of revenue. Churches retained fiscal and legal exemptions and a quasi-monopoly on education.

Europe, except for Britain, was largely preindustrial. Even in Britain, craftsmen and shopkeepers outnumbered workers in mechanized industry. Peasants, artisans, and private banking houses were not remnants. These supposedly declining modes of production were massive and vigorous.
By 1914 juridical feudalism in the form of personal servitude, seigniorial prerogatives, manorial taxes, local tolls, church titles, etc. were things of the past. Landed nobles became postfeudal in economic terms by adopting capitalist methods. However, since they were not shorn of their land and as agriculture and resource extraction were economic mainstays, landed nobles remained wealthy and continued to suffuse society with a feudalistic spirit.

Political feudalism persisted as landed nobilities translated feudal residues into power. To the extent landed society economically faltered, political society rescued it. This occurred at local, provincial, but above all central levels of governments. Upper chambers, legislatures, bureaucracies, and armies drew their lifeblood from rural provinces, not from industrializing cities. Monarchical authority ended military feudalism only to install aristocrats atop the military hierarchy. Economic elites were a symbiosis of aristocrats and businessmen, but state elites were often completely feudal. Royal courts, aristocratic dynasties, bureaucracies, and armies had a considerable consistency.

Public service nobilities dominated every government and reinforced preindustrial society by protecting backward agriculture and by blocking electoral, educational, and tax reform. Except in Britain and France, nobilities monopolized politics. Their position was solid and awesome, not precarious and quaint. Britain had gone the furthest in taming agrarian nobles, but even there the landed upper class never vacated the political scene nor subordinated itself to the new plutocracy.

Businessmen, generally, were too weakened by internal cleavages to overrule the landed elite. Landowners outnumbered industrialists and were more cohesive. Industrialists, by necessity, collaborated with established governing elites. Businessmen often defined success as rising to a class of non-business origin. They purchased country houses, sent their sons to prestigious schools, and embraced high culture.

Wealthy leisure classes disdained, and were overtaken by, progress. They became obstacles to development and champions of obsolescence. There was a grinding incongruence between economic growth and existing politico-cultural institutions. The more the landed estate clashed with industrial capitalism, the more it behaved like a political party.

The Primacy of Land

On the one hand, the period down to 1914 was one of transformative industrialization and urbanization. A second Industrial Revolution brought electricity, synthetic chemicals, and internal combustion engines. Between 1893 and 1913 Britain and Germany respectively increased iron production by 50% and 287%, coal production by 75% and 159%, and steel production by 136% and 552%.

Germany’s population rose 33% between 1882 and 1902 while its industrial/manufacturing work force jumped 180%. By 1907, 27,000 German companies employed over 50 workers. Big corporations multiplied their workforces. Krupp employed 68,500 in 1913.

In Russia rail construction spurred development. By 1914 mining, metallurgy, and engineering accounted for 20% of output value. There were 960 industrial/manufacturing concerns in St. Petersburg (7% of the Russian total). In Italy rail construction, military procurement, and hydroelectricity stimulated industrial expansion. Austrian industrial firms Wittgenstein and Skoda were among Europe’s largest.

In 1850 London and Paris had populations of two million and one million respectively while both Berlin and Vienna had populations of 400,000. By 1870 Berlin and Vienna both passed one million. By 1914 London’s population was 4.6 million and both Berlin and Vienna were over two million. St Petersburg’s population increased from 750,000 to 2.2 million between 1870 and 1914.

On the other hand, in 1914, except for Britain, modern manufacturing and industrial firms employed fewer people than agriculture. As well, “manufacturing” consisted mostly of family run shops working in textiles, leather, wood, and food processing etc. These resilient small jobbers were at cross purposes with the capital goods sector, a cleavage the agrarians exploited. Artisans remained a major part of the working class and often opposed modernization.

While Germany (1907) had ten million workers employed in manufacture and industry, 90% of such firms employed five or fewer workers. Small-scale manufacture was even more preponderant in France. In Russia (1910) modern manufacturing and industry employed only 5% of the labour force. Italy’s manufacturing sector was slightly larger than Russia’s but again consisted of mostly artisan-like shops. British automobile production in 1913 was 34,000 units. French automobile manufacture was artisanal and, except for trucks, catered to luxury markets.

Corporate finance was more portent than fact. While modern widely-owned banks had begun financing industry by aggregating the savings of thousands of small clients, such practices did not prevail in the banking world. Enormously wealthy, well-connected private banking houses were more significant than joint stock investment institutions.

Much of big industry was non-capitalist. Armaments industries and railroads were either state-owned or state-dependent. Governments also aided capital goods makers and shipyards with tariffs, contracts, and financial warranties. These firms were at the forefront of colonial ventures dependent on diplomatic pressure and military intervention.

Gigantism was limited to steel and coal. Because of their massiveness and novelty, steel mills appeared to lord over an undergrowth of farms and petty shops, but in terms of their share of gross national product they were no match for agriculture or small-scale manufacture.

Industrialization was circumscribed geographically in the Ruhr, English Midlands, Vienna, etc. Urban-industrial zones boomed but remained an archipelago in a rural ocean. In pre-WW1 France, 23 million persons (55% of the population) lived in rural settlements of less than 2,000.
While department stores with vast show windows and floor space were salient urban landmarks, these retail emporiums inspired awe and curiosity because of their uncommonness. Britain had only two large department stores, both in London. Germany’s 400 department stores had greater visibility. (The symbolic significance of department stores, which were mostly Jewish owned, increased because populist conservatives targeted them in anti-Semitic denunciations of capitalist modernization.) However, German retailing continued to be populated by small shops.

Modernizing industrial capitalists were engulfed by petty retailers, public servants, professionals, and domestic help. In terms of value added, the tertiary sector could not measure itself with agriculture, manufacture, or industry, but in sheer numbers of workers it could. The tertiary sector employed 35% of economically active Brits. The two million domestics accounted for 40% of British women working outside of agriculture and equalled the number of workers in heavy industry. Austria’s tertiary sector, Europe’s least developed, employed 11% of the workforce. (60% of Austrian labourers worked the land.) St Petersburg swarmed with 16,000 street vendors. Between 1870 and 1914, the number of French grocers, bakers, butchers, clothiers, restaurateurs, etc. increased from 700,000 to 800,000. Germany had more shopkeepers and office workers in the soft branches of its economy than wage earners in its mechanized industries.


Landed classes persisted not merely as politico-cultural elites but as economic elites. Landed property remained the principal form of personal wealth and the main source of private income. Even in England and Germany, the wealthiest men were land magnates. Some became improving landlords. Others combined rationalized exploitation of land and labour with large-scale milling, distilling, brewing, and dairying. Others turned to industrial extraction of timber, coal, and minerals from their lands. They capitalized on the oversupply of rural labourers whose abject material conditions kept them quiescent and cheap.

Across Europe much timber, iron, and most importantly coal came from aristocrat-owned land. In 1914 coal provided 90% of Europe’s energy. Coal mining and coal-utilizing firms were central to British industry. Coal mining employed 650,000 Germans. Even in poorly endowed, France, coal production rose marginally down to 1914, consistently employing 300,000 miners.

Bolstered by rising values of their urban properties and mineral rich domains, great landowners remained numerous and their fortunes far exceeded those of businessmen. By 1914 the 4,000 men who owned half of Britain were the single largest group among Britain’s richest men. The Duke of Westminster’s London estates alone were valued at 14 million pounds. Several other peers were as wealthy. The fortunes of Manchester manufacturers who pioneered the Industrial Revolution were comparatively modest.

Germany’s largest landholder, Kaiser Wilhelm, owned 250,000 acres. The next five (three princes, a count, and a duke) each owned around 100,000 acres. In 1910 four of Germany’s ten wealthiest men were princes. Ninety of 100 of Germany’s super-rich, regardless of the source of their wealth, were nobles; 25 came from old aristocratic families.

In the Austro-Hungarian Empire, two dozen families owned 250,000 acres a piece. Prince Schwartzenberg owned 360,000 acres, complete with scores of churches, 12 castles, 12 breweries, 100 dairies, 2 sugar refineries, 20 sawmills, and a few mines. An 1886 tally revealed aristocrats owning 80 of Bohemia’s 120 sugar beet refineries. In Hungary, the Esterhazys were the largest landowners (one million acres) followed by the Karolyis and Schonborns.

The 10% of Russian landowners with over 2,700 acres owned 75% of Russia. Count Sherementev owned 600,000 acres. His brother owned 400,000. Princess Yusupova owned 21 estates comprising 580,000 acres. In 1914 aristocrats owned 2,377 of Russia’s 2,978 liquor distilleries.
In Italy, the Borgheses owned 85 square miles in and around Rome. The rest of the land in and around Rome was owned by several aristocrats and the church.

Throughout Europe, except France, the vast majority of large landowners were ennobled. They lorded over not just estate workers, peasants, and other tenants (artisans and shopkeepers) but, being nobles, they occupied key local government positions.


There were three types of landlord: affluent cosmopolitan aristocrats who lived in big cities, lesser nobles with large estates and regional influence, and a squirearchy of merely local horizons. All were united by a common material stake and worldview.

Aristocracies were not the same as nobilities. A noble was merely someone who had been tapped on the shoulder by a monarch and given a “title.” Nobility was disconnected from wealth. By 1914 only a tiny fraction of nobles were wealthy land magnates. Aristocracies consisted of a few families who combined blue blood with enormous wealth in land, often including urban real estate. Europe had as many nobilities as nations, but it had only one aristocracy.

Between 1871 and 1918, Prussian kings raised 1,129 men into the nobility. Most were merely honoured with the rank of “von” while some became barons, counts, or princes. In 1914 traditional landowners, soldiers, and bureaucrats dominated the German nobility. Land-owning dynasts were at the apex of this pyramid; even neophytes typically had an aristocrat mother or wife.

While industrialists August Thyssen and Hugo Stinnes declined ennoblement, neither their mentality nor their politics were liberal and their progeny eagerly climbed the preindustrial establishment. Alfred and Fritz Krupp remained commoners, but by 1854 Alfred was accepting decorations. In the 1870s Alfred built the 250-room Hillside Villa with special quarters for Wilhelm I who graced him with a yearly visit. Fritz and his wife, Baroness Margareta von Ende, spent the social season in Berlin cultivating ties with Wilhelm II, who led Fritz into the Harrenhaus and Privy Council. Fritz’s daughter, and sole heir, married Gustav von Bohlen und Holbach who assumed the name Krupp upon decree of Wilhelm II who also christened their first-born son. To celebrate the centennial of Alfred Sr. in 1912, Wilhelm II brought to Hillside Villa all the Hohenzollern princes and Chancellor von Bethmann Hollweg and his entire cabinet. (Alas, the medieval tournament of mounted knights did not go off as planned.)

Austria’s archaic first society was no moribund vestige. A wealthy, land-owning aristocracy numbering 300 families (Schonburgs, Schwarzenbergs, Metternichs, Hohenholes, Liechtensteins, and Dietrichsteins) orbited the court of Emperor Francis Joseph I who secluded himself among Hapsburgs. Vienna’s salon culture was self-enclosed and excluded new wealth. No one less than a baron was considered human. Following 1848’s upheaval, many retreated from Vienna to their provincial estates but maintained resplendent premises in the capital’s exclusive quarters.

Austria’s second-tier, numbering 250,000, was more open and heterogeneous. Bankers, industrialists, and prominent professionals, though rarely ennobled, were decorated with the Orders of Maria or Iron Crown, thus were entitled to insert “von” into their names. Between 1800 and 1914, of 9,000 Austrian ennoblements, 1,000 went to businessmen. Others went to civil servants, artists, scholars, and scientists, but most went to well-born military men who had seen combat. (To be ennobled Jews had to convert to Catholicism.) The fact that only a small fraction of entrepreneurs secured ennoblement did not temper their aristocratizing zeal.

The aristocracy was Russia’s ruling, but not governing, class. The latter consisted of a vast bureaucratic estate within which ennoblement equalled employment. Romanovs awarded patents of nobility wantonly but rarely included land grants, hence most nobles were landless. By 1900 there were 1.3 million Russian nobles. 7% of St Petersburg men were nobles, but few lived off land rents; most were civil servants who nevertheless maintained a lordly bearing and championed the ancient regime. A mass of landless commoners among Russia’s nobility did not dilute the dominance of blue-blooded land magnates. In 1900 there were 800 princes, counts, and barons. Led by the Tsar’s extended family, these 800 men remained the single most effective lobby.

Italy’s nobility was one of Europe’s largest.  However, middle class rage for nobility led to widespread misuse of titles. By 1889 abuse reached such proportions the regime established an official register. In 1896 the Interior Ministry codified legal norms for the use of titles and the prosecution of usurpers. The 1922 registry ran 1,016 pages with 12 entries a page.

Italy’s aristocracy, inseparable from the church, was an amalgam of agrarian and mercantile families. Wealthy merchant families acquired land. Old feudal families branched into commerce. After 1870 the Rome-centred “blacks” (Barberinis, Borgheses, Chigis, Colonnas, and Orsinis) supported the Pope in his defiance of the secular Italian nation. The “white” nobility, especially the commercially oriented, gravitated around the royal House of Savoy. The “whites” also bolstered the ancient regime by providing high numbers of military officers. The old kingdoms of Naples and Sicily teemed with nobles among whom the richest were absentee landlords. The rank and file were sluggish agrarians. Northern landowners were more entrepreneurial.

British businessmen could aspire to nobility if they acquired land. Hence, the brewer Edward Guinness acquired an estate in Suffolk; Henry Eaton, the cloth-maker, purchased 34,000 acres in Yorkshire; William Armstrong, iron and arms master, bought a vast estate in Northumberland where he built an ostentatious mansion. Captains of heavy industry sought peerages and excelled at marrying into the landed elite, matrimony being a better avenue to social promotion than education. Sterling service in the colonies, or meritorious public service at home, was rewarded with knighthoods or baronetcies. 70% of the be-knighted earned the honour for public service, 17% for distinction in the professions, and 4% for business achievement. Banking and mercantile dynasties (Barings, Harrisons, Liptons, Montefiores, Rothschilds, Sassoons, and Whiteleys) were ennobled and interwoven into London’s aristocratic high society. The boards of directors of leading railroads and banks were crowded with nobles of new and old vintage. London’s business elite were Anglicans, often recent converts.

After the Revolution, France’s aristocracy lost its statutory existence. However, they survived, and the wealth of those who reclaimed their patrimony continued to be primarily in land. Some resumed renting out farms, though many became improving landlords. Others, especially Legitimists, sold out and invested the proceeds into urban real estate. Many Orleanists made fortunes in banking and trade, then acquired large estates. Other large landowners branched into banking, industry, and commerce.

The two dozen men at the vertex of France’s plutocracy included: Duc de La Rochefoucald-Doudeauville, Comte de La Rochefoucauld, Baron de Graffenried, Marquis D’Albon, Viscount Aguado, Prince of Beauvau, and Baron Alphonse de Rothschild. All were active in finance and land development. A third of railroad company directors and a quarter of the directors of steel and banking firms were from this milieu.  A few industrial pioneers joined them: the Wendels (iron), the Moettes (champagne), the Comte de Chardonnet (artificial silk), and the Marquis de Dion (motors). 

Successful entrepreneurs encouraged their children to marry into renowned dynasties. Eugene Schneider steered four daughters into marriages with noblemen and a grandson into the House of Orleans. Some 30 grandee aristocrats married American heiresses during the Belle Epoch while others married into indigenous fortunes, including Jewish ones.

French business magnates bought imitation castles and stately manor houses. In 1910, 4,500 Parisians owned chateaux surrounded by parks. The Rothschilds owned six palatial estates around Paris. Chateaux society was no lifeless fossil, nor was Paris’s salon culture. The most exclusive salons, the ones in hotels, were a pseudo-courtly world of royalist, Catholic, and nationalist intrigue and of duelling, dandyism, and sexual deviance.

In 1914 Hungary was preindustrial. The haughty Magyar ruling class disvalued business pursuits, hence most entrepreneurs were German or Jewish. The 200,000 Jews in Budapest (population 800,000) constituted 65% of those active in commerce and 95% of those active in finance. Ten Jewish families owned the largest banks and businesses. Jews learned the Magyar language and became fervent Magyarizers among national minorities. Thousands of Jews were ennobled and acquired country manors. Forty-six Jewish nobles were among Hungary’s 1,000 largest landowners. Because Jews were their competitors in the professions and civil service, the gentry and lower middle class became stridently anti-Semitic, denouncing Jews as the vanguard of capitalism.

Across Europe capitalists appropriated aristocratic life-styles. The nouveau riche who did not buy a country estate was the exception. They purchased land for capital diversification and prestige. Some set themselves up as landed gentlemen with operating country estates, though most acquired rental properties and villas. The sycophancy of the businessman was rooted in his ambition, not to overturn the old establishment but to break into it. Entrepreneurs, doubting their own legitimacy, aped the nobility’s accent, demeanour, etiquette, dress, and lifestyle. By steering their sons away from business toward snobbish pursuits and suitable marriage unions, such families drifted inter-generationally into the old establishment’s orbit. Aristocratization of the business community trumped bourgeoisification of the aristocracy. Crowned heads invited wealthy commoners to court while eminent families received them in their mansions. Sparkling hostesses of the uppermost aristocracy smoothed the intercourse between old and new families. Social climbing’s rise was liberalism’s descent.


Although liberal ideas flourished, capitalism never generated sufficient strength to successfully challenge the ancient regime. Britain’s business elite abandoned economic liberalism; the Continents’ business elite never embraced it to begin with.

Agrarians won favourable tariffs, tax breaks, and subsidies because of the landed nobilities’ ties with the feudal element in government. In France the agricultural tariff of 1892 was extracted by a composite agrarian movement led by the wealthy Marquis Melchior de Vogue. In Germany the removal of Chancellor Count von Caprivi in 1894 proved the omnipotence of protectionist agrarians.

In Russia capitalist modernization was retarded. Agrarian resistance to capitalism undermined indigenous capital aggregation. Consequently, much of Russia’s iron and coal industry was foreign financed. Without state-financed railroad construction, mutations in Russia’s class structure would have proceeded at an even more glacial pace. After 1905 Nicholas II attached greater importance to maintaining the old order than to modernization.

Hungary’s state elite, accepting gradual modernization, subsidized and protected their business community in exchange for support against the reactionary gentry. This compromise, which was neither liberal nor liberalizing, was assailed by besieged agrarians determined to suppress a business community whose influence they systematically exaggerated.

Austrian industrialists formed cartels to fix prices and press for tariffs. Both Wittgenstein and Skoda supported cartelization and found ready allies among agrarians. Others in the business community, especially bankers, complained that tariffs inflated prices, stimulated unrest, and incited international retaliation. Because 80% of Austria’s bankers were Jewish, even if largely converted, it was easy for established elites to dismiss there concerns.


In 1896, following a year’s mourning for Tsar Alexander III, Muscovites witnessed a coronation steeped in tradition. The procession to the Kremlin was led by mounted Imperial Guards, Cossacks, and Muscovite nobles, followed on foot by court lackeys and state officials. Then came Nicholas II, on a white horse, completely set apart, followed at a distance by Russian dukes and foreign princes, all on horseback. The Dowager Empress led the cortege to the cathedral under a canopy carried by 16 nobles; her purple train carried by four chamberlains and two masters of the hunt. The Protopresbyter sprinkled her path with holy water. Metropolitans hand-incensed the entrance where Nicholas and Alexandra, sprinkled with holy water, took their place under the canopy. Inside, Nicholas recited the Orthodox confession and crossed himself three times. Count Miliutin handed the nine-pound crown to a Metropolitan who handed it to Nicholas. (The public festival was marred by a stampede for free beer, killing scores.)

In 1908 the 60th jubilee of Emperor Francis Joseph’s reign was celebrated with an opera extolling Hapsburg accomplishments. Army generals arrived first, followed by an imposing cast of dignitaries, all in dress uniform. They occupied choice seats beside cabinet ministers, privy councillors, Hungarian magnates, and Catholic prelates in colourful vestments. The only business suits in this sea of uniforms were worn by the president of parliament and by Albert von Rothschild. The opera was followed by a star-studded musical invoking the dances and songs of subject nationalities culminating in an allegorical tableau where all the peoples of his Empire united to glorify Francis Joseph.

For the 1910 funeral of Edward VII, bereaved Brits queued, eight abreast, for seven miles to the entrance of Westminster (hitherto London’s largest crowd). Two million lined the streets to glimpse the funeral cortege. George V, on horseback, led a mounted array of nine kings (all descendants of William the Silent). In the first file rode the Duke of Connaught and Kaiser Wilhelm II (respectively Edward’s brother and nephew). In the next three files rode Haakon of Norway, George of Greece, Alfonso of Spain, Ferdinand of Bulgaria, Frederick of Denmark, Manuel of Portugal, and Albert of Belgium. Also attending were close relatives of the monarchs of Russia, Holland, Sweden, Rumania, Montenegro, Serbia, Turkey, Egypt, Japan, Siam, and China. George V later held the most bombastic of Europe’s coronations.

In 1913 the 25th jubilee of Kaiser Wilhelm II was celebrated by a parade of aristocrats. There was not a single businessman or progressive politician among the 80 associations invited to the ennoblement ceremony. Wilhelm received delegations from Protestant, Catholic, and National labour associations and surveyed a procession of artisan guilds ranging from blacksmiths to wigmakers. Nearly all awards went to agrarians or military officers, but Wilhelm also decorated the head of the Imperial Society against Social Democracy and Count von Reventlov – editor of the arch-reactionary German Newspaper.

In 1913 Russia marked the tricentenary of Romanov rule in spectacles freighted with dignitaries bearing glittering swords and resplendent uniforms. Nicholas chose the occasion to appoint N. Maklakov, a murderous reactionary, as his new Interior Minister. With difficulty the president of parliament secured a seat in the cathedral, but no elected politicians were allowed into the gala dinner at the Winter Palace or at the Imperial Opera’s performance of Glinka’s A Life for the Tsar.
In 1914 Europe was monarchic. France, the lone republic, was a without a king but with an aristocracy and a large royalist movement. In the rest of Europe, nobilities of land and office traipsed after their magical kings at pompous christenings, weddings, funerals, and jubilees. Participating in court life earned sinecures in government bureaucracy, armed services, and cultural institutions. The inner core of court society appeared regularly in highly choreographed dinners, balls, and festivals. Kings, draped in effulgent uniforms, sustained this cosmic aura during the visits they paid one another. Royal courts were cultural command centres sponsoring operas, concerts, and plays; purchasing paintings, sculptures, and furniture; and commissioning buildings, monuments, and gardens. Even diehard reactionaries, embittered by the king’s facilitation of modernization, expressed devotion to the king.

Kings no longer battled aristocrats. The central state was the main agency of aristocratic support. Kings, as Europe’s largest landowners, were “first among equals” within the landed estate. British Crown lands stretched over 300,000 acres, including valuable properties in London. While British sovereigns were discrete about their possessions, Wilhelm II boasted to an assembly of Junkers in 1894 that as Germany’s greatest landowner he knew well the difficulties facing agrarians. Nicholas II, whose holdings were Russia’s greatest, did not object to being listed as “landowner” in the 1897 census.

The British sovereigns’ powers had been the most trimmed, but even they retained executive responsibilities and influenced the selection of prime ministers and cabinets. Victoria sustained Conservative ministers and inhibited Liberal governments. Edward VII influenced his Prime Ministers’ selection of foreign secretaries, war ministers, ambassadors, and proconsuls. George V demanded a second general election in 1910 and in 1914 while, in close contact with PM Asquith, he urged intervention in WW1 and leniency toward the Ulster rebels.
The emperor-kings of Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Russia appointed and dismissed ministers, issued ordinances, made treaties, and decreed martial law. They excelled at ignoring and dissolving legislatures. Hohenzollerns derived their power less from being Kaiser than from being King of Prussia where their rule approached absolutism. Kings of Italy had great room to manoeuvre. Humbert I (1878-1900) and especially Victor Emmanuel III (1900-1946) navigated in the pathways of a permeable constitution to consolidate the royal prerogative.

Upper and Lower Parliaments

Parliamentary upper chambers were redoubts of the ancient regime. These Houses, Councils, and Senates never lost their mark of origin. Except for the French Senate, which was chosen by indirect election, upper chambers were a mix of hereditary and royal appointment.

Universal manhood suffrage for lower houses of parliament proceeded gradually. France reconfirmed it in 1875. England effected it in stages between 1867 and 1918, Germany in 1871. In every country apportionment and gerrymandering weighted lower houses in favour of rural areas. During elections churches mobilized their rural flocks.

After the Second Reform Act (1867), the predominantly Conservative British House of Lords increasingly amended and rejected progressive bills of Liberal governments. With periods of remission during Conservative administrations, the confrontation between Lords and Commons intensified after 1890.

In Britain, in 1868, wealthy landowners claimed two thirds of House of Commons seats. By 1886 this fraction dropped to one-half and by 1906 to one-tenth. This decline reflected the rise of the Liberal Party. Conservative MPs, even in 1902, were mostly large landowners.

The ancient regime’s influence manifested itself in the Prime Ministers. Before leading the aristocratic Tories, Benjamin Disraeli totally styled himself in their image. Liberal Prime Minister Lord Roseberry was the husband of Hannah de Rothschild (the heir of two million pounds and Mentmore Towers, the imposing Buckinghamshire testimony to her family’s boundless aristrocratizing zeal). The third Marquess of Salisbury and Lord Balfour of Burleigh, both Conservatives of impeccable lineage and substantial wealth, together served as Prime Minister for 17 years.

Not until 1908 were landed classes outnumbered in cabinet and dislodged from the premiership. In that parliament 7% of Liberal MPs were landowners, 66% came from commerce and industry, and 23% from the learned professions. Still, nearly half Liberal cabinet ministers came from ennobled families, and the old guard retained control of the Foreign Office and diplomatic corps.

In 1909 Chancellor of the Exchequer Lloyd George inserted a benign land tax into the budget. To taunt the Lords, he complained decision-making was constrained by “leisure classes with nothing else to do except govern others.” These “10,000 people,” he added, “were the owners of the soil and the rest of us trespassers in the land of our birth.” This infuriated the Lords into vetoing the budget. Those pressing for a showdown with the Commons included privy councillors, former cabinet ministers, proconsuls, and leaders of both the Unionist Party and Social Imperialist League. They were led by the Dukes of: Bedford, Norfolk, Somerset, and Westminster; the Earls of: Halsbury, Selborne, and Plymouth; Lords Milner and Roberts, Viscount Llandaff, and the Marquess of Salisbury. In response, the Liberals moved to reduce the number of hereditary Lords in relation to appointed Lords. After two years of intransigence, the Lords accepted a compromise bill reducing their veto power to a mere delaying power. This capitulation came only after: an extraordinary general election, George V’s threat to pack the Lords with compliant peers, and Conservative Party leader Arthur Balfour throwing his weight behind the compromise. Even after the Parliament Act (1911) only 60 Lords were former businessmen. The majority remained wealthy reactionary aristocrats who then shifted to exploiting the Ulster question.

The Ulster rebels were led by insurgent Orange aristocrats. In coming to their aid, High Tory Lords prepared their counter-offensive by first replacing Balfour with Bonar Law. The Lords then defiantly delayed the Irish Home Rule Bill in 1912 and 1913 (and three other bills). Bonar Law, cheered on by High Tories and unrestrained by George V, all but publically endorsed Sir Edward Carson’s illegal paramilitary drilling and gunrunning. Bonar Law called the Liberal government a “revolutionary committee which seized by fraud upon despotic power,” adding there were “things stronger than parliamentary majorities.” Bonar Law incited British troops to refuse orders. Prominent Conservatives condoned the Curragh mutiny in March 1914 – an act in which Ulster-born general staff chief Sir Henry Wilson was unabashedly complicit. The outbreak of WWI defused an explosive impasse.

Because Prussia dominated the German confederation, its parliamentary institutions were as important as those of the Imperial Diet. Prussia’s Harrenhaus (House of Lords) was a creation of the King. In 1914 this 400-man chamber held 200 princes and peers and 200 others (mostly land-owning military officers) chosen for their fidelity to the Crown. Harrenhaus shared power with an elected lower chamber which was really a second upper chamber due to glaringly unequal suffrage laws and an open ballot system. These two chambers appointed Prussia’s delegation to the upper chamber of the Imperial parliament, where Prussia’s 17 votes were decisive. The Imperial lower chamber (Reichstag) was governed by a Chancellor anointed by the Prussian King. Reichstag elections restricted representation from growing industrial areas. Rural seats could be captured with 10,000 votes while urban seats needed on average 78,000 votes. Princes, backstopped by Wilhelm II, also used the Prussian state to contain the Reichstag.

Austria’s Harrenhaus was composed of Hapsburg princes, Catholic bishops, and aristocrats granted hereditary seats by the Emperor. Another 160 notables had lifetime appointments. Hungary’s Table of Magnates was an assembly of 300 aristocrats. Russia’s State Council were half tsar-appointed and all aristocrat. The Italian Senate had similar features.

In France, after Louis Napoleon’s demise and the crushing of the Commune (1871), a divided monarchist movement found a rare point of unity on the need for a senate. They looked to an upper chamber as a Trojan Horse to subvert the Third Republic. They secured a Senatorial electoral arrangement guaranteeing wanton overrepresentation of rural areas. This Senate, chosen by large farmers, preserved things stagnant and thwarted things dynamic.

France’s political elite were an amalgam of business tycoons and high aristocrats. Worries of unrest and levelling led the former to appreciate the latter’s stability through a century of adversity. Europe’s one-time republican vanguard became so fearful of change they gravitated toward scuttling the republic they created. Few from this amalgam went directly into politics.  Instead, politicians of modest origins were raised into the establishment after serving it as lawyers and lobbyists.

As even French republicans feared the cities, the lower chamber was weighted in favour of rural society. The landed interest reigned in the lower house by virtue of church collaboration and the rural population’s fixed mentality. The conservative drive culminated in Poincare’s 1913 election; by then, Maurras’s Action Francaise had kindled proto-fascist anti-republicanism on a broad front. Ninety of 597 lower chamber deputies were land magnates. Farmers and rural middle classes were grossly over-represented.

In 1882 Italy lowered its voting age and reduced tax-based voting restrictions, thereby tripling the electorate to two million (7% of the population). With industrialists scarce, parliament remained a club for latifundists and merchants. In 1912 universal suffrage was enacted as a pre-emptive strategy to assimilate lower orders. Endangered artisans, illiterate peasants, and lower middle classes of provincial towns were rallied in support of a minimally reformist agenda.

Pre-1907 Austria’s lower house consisted of four estates: 5,000 great families elected 85 deputies, one million from rural communes elected 129 deputies, a 500-man Chamber of Commerce elected 21 deputies, and 186,300 qualified city voters got 118 deputies. In 1907, despite bitter aristocratic opposition, Austrians won universal male suffrage. Instead of expiring peacefully, ultra-conservatives used the Christian Social Party to undermine the Liberals and split the lower house into factions from whom no effective majority could form. In 1914 Emperor Francis Joseph prorogued this parliament.

Pre-1913, 6% of Hungarians could vote for the lower chamber. Dissensions in this chamber echoed cleavages within the Magyar ruling class, not between them and the business community or national minorities. In 1913 voting prerequisites became educational instead of fiscal, but this only marginally increased the electorate. This parliament too was prorogued by Francis Joseph in 1914.

In Russia all cabinet ministers, not just prime ministers, answered to the Tsar, not the lower house (Duma). 1905 so destabilized Russia that Nicholas II yielded some power. In response, Duma deputies demanded parliamentary and land reform. Nicholas dissolved this Duma in 1906 and the next one in 1907, then told his prime minister, land magnate Peter Stolypin, to narrow the franchise. This backfired as the “Black” Dumas of 1907 and 1912 became dominated by atavistic petty gentry who used the budgetary process to thwart the government. After Stolypin’s 1911 assassination, cleavages between ruling and governing classes deepened.

State Bureaucracies

The “steel frames” of the state were grounded in the ancient regime. British judiciary, foreign office, diplomatic corps, and imperial service remained preindustrial citadels partly because salaries were nominal and high functionaries needed to be independently wealthy. In 1914, 25% of Prussian civilian ministers were Junkers; a similar situation prevailed in Bavaria, Wurttemberg, etc. Austria’s less exclusive public service accepted Jewish and Czech bureaucrats, but executive positions remained an aristocratic preserve. In Hungary an economically drowning gentry swam to the government. By 1914, 90,000 gentry-officials conspicuously dominated Hungary’s bloated 230,000-man state apparatus. In similar numbers Russia’s gentry sought government posts to compensate for deteriorating landed fortunes, albeit after the debacles of 1905, gentry-officials lost out in the Interior Ministry to non-nobles of superior merit. The French civil service was predominantly middle class, but military men still hailed from backward rural areas. Even where governments came to rely on educated middle classes for staff, bureaucracies were not politically neutral. Conservatism was a prerequisite for promotion. Civil servants of humble origin internalized the noble code to the point of psychological hernia.

While the purchase of British army commissions was abolished in 1871, democratization of the army’s upper reaches was slow except in the artillery and engineering corps. The military’s growth demanded evermore officers, but with few exceptions the topmost generals remained high-born. Low-born generals adopted the mentality and carriage of the exalted world into which they had arisen, often expressing reactionary views. Deviants were discreetly screened. Nevertheless, circa 1914, Britain’s small volunteer professional army was a modernist freak compared to Continental counterparts.

The swaggering warlord Wilhelm II commanded a heavily aristocratic army. The Crown Prince, Duke of Wurttemberg and Prince Rupprecht of Bavaria hoarded top posts. The von Goltz family provided one field marshal and six generals. Prussian officers formed associations aimed at thoroughly re-feudalizing the military, especially the cavalry. 90% of lower ranks were from farms or villages. Loyalty was never a problem; this army broke strikes and restrained dissident crowds without thought of defection.

In the Hapsburg Empire, minorities and lower classes were allowed in reserve units but elite regiments remained closed.

In Russia princes were certain of promotion to general, half the officers claimed noble birth, and the cavalry was noble to a man. Ten of the top generals were Romanovs.


Official culture mirrored the tenacious perseverance of preindustrial political society. Waves of avant-garde art crashed against official culture, which, like breakwaters, survived intact. Time-honoured styles dominated architecture, statuary, painting, and performance art. Elites used art for practical purposes, not aesthetic enjoyment. Art celebrated the patron’s God, dynasty, regime, class, and nation.

Before the 19th century artists were dependent on royal, aristocratic, or ecclesiastical patronage. During the 19th century two new patrons emerged. Capitalists, in their rage for nobility, collected “classical” art objects, built “historical” mansions, and patronized “traditional” performing arts. Their injunction was to buy art portraying religious legends, historic epics, and pastoral customs. The other new patrons, civilian governments, built offices, museums, libraries, and university halls; commissioned murals, monuments, and statues; organized festivals; and founded institutes. Politicians and bureaucrats planned these structures and activities in consultation with artists and academics wedded to traditionalism. Staid academies and conservatories cast artistic vanguards down into the subculture.

Architecture was the exemplary mirror. Architects prided themselves on imitating past styles: Grecian, Roman, Byzantine, Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque. This historicism was not an inert accretion trailing socio-economic development but a symbolic arsenal for thwarting and disguising the present; it was a vocabulary calculated to give changing cities a premodern aura and to glorify past epochs of absolutism and extreme social injustice. Churches and city halls were built in a Gothic style to evoke the rebirth of municipal life after the Dark Ages. Parliament buildings were either Classical or Gothic. Military barracks took the form of medieval fortresses. Universities conveyed the spirit of Periclean Athens, the cloistered Middle Ages, or the Italian Renaissance. Museums were made to pass for Greek temples. Banks were patterned after Florentine palaces. Mansions of the noveau riche were given ostentatious Baroque facades. In this mathematical battlefield, railroad terminals did the opposite to post-1848 Europe as cathedrals did to the 13th century. Now the arches and colonnades denied the potential of the age.

In London the Houses of Parliament, churches, offices, and civic buildings were built in the Neo-Gothic style to reconcile industrial capitalism with the ancient regime. The same style was inflicted on the capital of the Industrial Revolution, Manchester. Berlin’s Reichstag was given a stern facade and heavy Baroque walls connecting four corner towers. Vienna’s Ringstrasse sported a Gothic city hall, a Baroque theatre, a Renaissance university building, etc.

London’s Crystal Palace (1851), the first blatant use of an architectural language evoking nothing of the past, was soon whisked from Hyde Park to Sydenham while the equally modern Machine Palace was dismantled altogether. The next probe, Paris’s Eiffel Tower (1889), was left in place during the reactionary resurgence because, despite its steel girders, it was harmlessly non-utilitarian.

Painting academies drilled students in past styles and mythologies. Painters exalted the ruling class with flattering portraits. However, because painting was an individual art form, it became a locomotive of modernity. Impressionists were the first to swear off mythology and flattery to reveal the world outside the murky studio. Still, save for Left Expressionism, the new movements were estranged from the industrial city. The urban moloch nurtured anxiety even among avant-garde cosmopolitans. Art Noveau screened out this invading ferment. Post-Impressionists escaped it. Cubists synchronized geometric forms in hermetic vacuums without reference to city or nature. Futurists championed automobiles, airplanes, and turbines in their visual art, but their writings were pure reaction. The 1909 Futurist manifesto first appeared on the front page of the conservative Catholic newspaper, Le Figaro.

Europe’s museum craze dates to the clampdown following the French Revolutionary era. Munich, Dresden, and Darmstadt’s museums originated as private art collections of ruling houses. The Hohenzollerns constructed their Old and New Museums (1823-1828, 1843-1845) to rival the houses of Wittelsbach, Wettiner, and Hessen. The Romanovs were last to “nationalize” their hoard; and even after the Hermitages’ sumptuous interior and majestic collection were opened, the Imperial Court continued to administer them along with their theatres, operas, and ballets.
London’s Corinthian-style National Gallery was completed in 1838. The British Museum, cast as an Ionic Temple, opened in 1847. British museums numbered 59 in 1850 and 295 in 1914. These included the expansively Romanesque Natural History Museum (1871-1881), the eclectically Renaissance-Romanesque Victoria and Albert Museum (1891-1909), and the bombastic Classical Tate Gallery (1897).

The historicist facades of museums induced awe even among initiates. Once past the portico, visitors, daunted by the central hall’s austerity, collected themselves before entering the temple to worship the enshrined art. The high priests of museums felt little obligation to modernize exhibits. Berlin’s National Gallery director was fired for acquiring an Impressionist painting.

Performing arts palaces were cast in the same mould as museums, but going to a theatre, opera, or ballet was an ostentatious act. Operas, of Baroque origin, were aristocratization rituals for businessmen. Much use was made of grandiose facades, spiral staircases, tiered loges, and mannered foyers. Wagner’s pompous operas were the last mystifying mushrooms on Romanticism’s dunghill. The Wagnerian cult consisted of snobs who travelled afar to hear bleating echoes of a bogus past. Wagner debased music to phonetic symbols and had difficulty with more than one singer on stage. He propagated kinghood over law, emotion over reason, and nationalism over cosmopolitanism.


Despite rising secularism, churches remained centripetal social forces. Churches operated hospitals, orphanages, old age homes, asylums, and were very involved in education. In provincial towns, religious processions were popular spectacles. Nor had the ruling class given up on the Church. Monarchs vetted the heads of national churches and influenced general synods. There were intimate ties between aristocracies and church hierarchies. Churches provided conservative parties with brigades of preaching friars during electoral battles. They sanctified those born noble, hallowed the poor, and decried the robber baron. Clerics ran for office and sat in upper chambers. At the same time, church attendance plummeted in fast-growing cities. As well, as churches held much of their wealth in rural land, falling rents strained their finances. Churches increasingly needed government funds.

In 1891 Pope Leo XIII censured economic liberalism. He also denounced socialism and declared private property to be part of God’s order. He called on governments to “protect lawful owners from spoliation” and to check the abuses of capitalism. He urged workers to trust preindustrial forms of self-reliance while reminding them that man’s lot was to “suffer and endure.”

In 1907 Pius X affixed the “modernist” label on Catholics seeking to adapt to contemporary reality and historical facts. He denounced their writings as profane novelties, foolish babblings, and poisonous doctrines. He damned them for putting the interests of humanity ahead of the interests of the Church. He establishment anti-modernist councils in every diocese and demanded anti-modernist oaths from every priest.

In Russia, after the revolt of 1905 was crushed and reforming bishops purged, the upper clergy became rigid and aggressive. Prominent Orthodox churchmen blessed anti-Semitic pogrom banners and led the proto-fascist Union of Russian People. Neither Synod nor Tsar disavowed these zealots. The clergy became active in elections. Forty-six Orthodox priests sat in the “Black” Dumas.

Higher Education

Universities and secondary schools (Britain’s “public schools”; France’s “lycees”; Italy’s “ginnasi-licei”; and “gymnasia” in Germany, Austria and Russia) were pillars of the ancient regime. Secondary schools catered to a small upper class demographic. Universities were even more restrictive. Both reproduced a worldview integral to the conservative complex. One of their main functions was co-opting sons of businessmen and professionals so as to impede counter-elite formation. While segments of universities’ junior faculty and student body occasionally turned philo-revolutionary, the regnant cadres eagerly traded emancipation for classical education and property.

The several British public schools that mattered – Eton, Harrow, Rugby, etc. – were secluded in the countryside to affirm the supremacy of the manorial lifestyle. Sons of gentry made up the largest block of students followed by sons of clergymen, professionals, and military officers. Well into the late 19th century, classical studies claimed three-fourths of the curriculum and two-thirds of the faculty. Not until the 1880s had most set up “modern” and “military” majors with more attention to science and modern language. Graduates were destined for Oxford and Cambridge; and since these universities all but ignored science, mathematics, and modern languages, pubic school headmasters were not motivated to update curricula, the less so because the Empire needed administrators with a sense of service seemingly only Greco-Roman classics could nurture.

German gymnasia were of an equal variety and dispersed across cities and towns. Greek studies prevailed until the 1850s when they were replaced by Latin curricula centring on philology. In 1914 curricula were: classics 40%, modern literature 20%, history 10%, religion/philosophy 8%, mathematics 14%, and sciences 7%. Graduates sought careers as civil servants, professors, lawyers, and clergy. As in Britain, Protestant clergy permeated secondary education.

In France, Catholicism contested rather than sanctified the political regime. In 1882 the French government made primary education compulsory and free (a decade before Britain) because they wanted schools to rival churches as missionary centres with teachers spreading education and republicanism. 12% of boys and 25% of girls still attended Catholic primary schools. Secondary education was confined to upper class teenagers. In 1910 there were 75,000 students in lycees (3% of teenagers). Half their time was spent on Latin and Greek classics, one-eighth on science. Classical education was deemed a cherished heritage, a mark of nobility, and valuable intellectual capital.

In Italy 1% of teenagers attended secondary school. All who did applied to attend university to qualify for respectable careers. Professors were appointed after government vetting and after swearing an oath to the king. The apolitical German model prevailed. Curricula were frozen in the classical mould.

At Oxford and Cambridge, except for theology, professional training was all but excluded. In 1850, 60% of Cambridge students were sons of clergy or landowners, and half the graduates went to the Anglican ministry. By 1914, the origins and goals of students had changed, but Cambridge was no fief of industrialists and engineers. Sons of the landed class were 19% of the student body, but clergymen’s sons were as numerous as ever.

Across Europe, with university curricula frozen, new institutes were founded to advance applied science and engineering. These were Britain’s “red brick” universities, Germany’s technical schools, France’s Ecole Polytechnique, etc. Red brick universities popped up at Manchester and several other cities between 1880 and 1914 to focus on medicine and technology – fields deemed unfit for gentlemen at ‘Oxbridge’ where fluency in archaic Greek remained mandatory. ‘Oxbridge’ neglected chemistry, physics, and engineering precisely because of their links to industry.

French university attendance compared unfavourably because French theology faculties trained neither clergy nor schoolmasters. Nevertheless, the number of French university professors rose from 500 in 1880 to 1,050 in 1910. 30% of professors were of high social origin and all boasted classical training. In 1880 Ecole Polytechnique began recruiting middle class students; thus, by 1914 such students were numerous. Ecole Polytechnique, Ecole Mines, etc. were not elite schools in terms of student social origins, curricula, or the posts graduates came to occupy.

German university enrolment was high because a degree was required for a range of bureaucratic posts and for accreditation in key professions. Between 1890 and 1914, enrolments in philosophy faculties rose while those in theology fell. While German professors were hailed as “the Hohenzollerns’ intellectual bodyguard” they were only marginally more conservative than other European professoriates. At university, sons of the nobility obtruded their social primacy through duelling fraternities. (Combatants were so thoroughly shielded that the “risky combat” was really a ritualized facial operation.) In keeping with the conservative resurgence, fraternities assumed a new brazenness; to join was to don aristocratic pretension. Industrialization failed to attenuate universities’ anti-modernism, but it hastened the development of technical institutes. By 1914 the 11 applied sciences and engineering schools accounted for 20% of post-secondary enrolment.

The Austro-Hungarian educational system was similar to Germany’s minus the technical schools. (Before assuming his post in Prague, Albert Einstein donned a uniform complete with sword, avowed a belief in God, and swore an oath to the Hapsburgs.)

Russia’s higher education was also patterned on the German model. Professors, often nobles, saw themselves as apolitical scholars. After 1905, students and professors recoiled from collaborating with workers, peasants, or liberals. This obeisance was rationalized as part of the struggle for university autonomy. In 1911 dissident students used Tolstoy’s death to protest capital punishment and prison conditions, not constrictions on liberty. Even so, 5,000 students were arrested and 3,000 expelled.


In 1914 Europe’s reigning views were reactionary and anti-democratic. Theories of linear progress were under constant attack. An academic choir opined on how capitalist-led modernization forced the growth of soulless cities. Prophets of decadence rallied to established churches or cults of super-patriotism. The new Counter-Enlightenment was articulated by critics patronized by the ancient regime. Nouveaux philosophes denounced democracy, capitalism, and bourgeois culture while championing survival of the fittest, the wholesomeness of rural life, and the need to eliminate greed.

In this counter-attack on the demonic demos, Social Darwinism became a dominant mindset. Social Darwinism grew from the same soil as “elite” – a word just gaining currency. Social Darwinism originally sanctified laissez faire economics, i.e. competitive markets, as a proving ground; but with the rebirth of statism, the formulary shifted to justifying other forms of domination (elitism). A realigned Social Darwinism provided pseudo-scientific support for a resurgent aristocracy.

The ancient regime’s chief minstrel, Frederick Nietzsche, claimed noble Polish ancestry. His father tutored four Sachsen-Altenburg princesses and received his pastorate from King Frederick William IV, on whose birthday Nietzsche was born and whose first name Nietzsche bore with pride. Nietzsche was consistently anti-liberal and anti-democratic. Although he became particularly scornful of progress in the delirium of his final years, he was no less critical of it in his years of sanity. He reviled his times for allowing the masses to shackle the highest specimens. Classical Greece and the Renaissance were shining examples of aristocracies creating high culture with lordly disregard for plebeians whose humanity Nietzsche all but denied. Democracy made herd animals the masters. Democracy was a “nonsense of numbers,” a “superstition of majorities.”

Nietzsche saw Europe degenerating under the influence of a business community whom he obsessively despised. He never accepted the rise of these “philistines” and thundered against them for devitalizing Germany with cheap imitations of traditional culture and for their idolatry of parliaments. Philistines, especially the Jews among them, were a counter-elite cloaked in a perpetual masquerade of styles. He called for a caste of supermen to reverse the onrush of the philistines; a caste of aristocrats willing to sacrifice vast numbers of people. Nietzsche:

“If men will read my works, a certain percentage of them will come to share my desires as regards the organization of society; these men inspired by the energy and determination which my philosophy will give them, can preserve and restore aristocracy, with themselves as aristocrats or like me sycophants of aristocracy (andthereby) achieve a fuller life than they can have as servants of the people.”
For the benefit of nobility, the masses had to be reduced to slaves. War was as essential as slavery.

Social Darwinist/Nietzschean ideas permeated high culture. True believers maintained a vigilant illiberalism as they marshalled their revolt. They proclaimed an inevitable separation of society between rulers and ruled with the former possessing innately superior qualities and the latter being weighted down with demeaning passions. Businessmen were unfit to be in the elite because they lacked honour and honesty. Capitalism was wrecking the sacred old order. Jews were centred out as embodying all things democratic, liberal, and cosmopolitan.

Oscar Wilde and Stefan George were aristocratizing aesthetes. Dostoyevsky promoted anti-modernism and chauvinism. Thomas Mann, and Hugo von Hofmannsthal extolled ultra-patrician values. Maurice Barres, Paul Bourget, and Gabrielle D’ Annunzio were militant anti-democrats who converted readers with an irruptive war-worshipping nostalgia. More brutal, reckless, and popular were the Bonapartist Gustave Le Bon and the proto-fascist Julius Langbehn.

In 1889, Langbehn persuaded Nietzsche’s mother to allow him to minister to her institutionalized son with a view to placing Nietzsche at the head of an anti-democratic crusade. He soon abandoned efforts to save Nietzsche but carried on the crusade in Rembrandt as Educator (1890) where he implored hereditary aristocrats to regain supremacy by corralling the herd-like masses into an obedient “volk.” He portrayed Jews as obverses of aristocrats and as masterminds of the liberal-progressive conspiracy.

Academics expounding orderly versions of this creed (Pearson, Haeckel, Mosca, Pareto, and Michels) perceived a narrow governing class distinct from a larger ruling class and agreed on the unfitness of the masses to join this governing class. Pareto censured Napoleon III and Bismarck for conceding to universal suffrage. Michels quipped that an electoral party of gentry appealing to members of their class could not win one parliamentary seat. A candidate who told the electorate they were incapable of prudent political decision-making and ought to be deprived of the vote would be honest but insane. The master-caste had no alternative but to don a specious democratic mask.

While the counter-revolution was divided over whether to freeze the status quo, return to a status quo ante, or force a spiritual regeneration, all factions shared hostility to economic liberalism and political democracy. They rummaged history for motifs celebrating preindustrial cultures and denounced modernity for disfiguring high culture’s immemorial forms. Decrying urban life as the seedbed of corruption, they advanced the wholesome village as the counter-ideal. Glorification of soil and peasant was embroidered on the nationalist banner.

The “nation” idea was partisan. Nation cults lauded societies where feudal elements occupied pivotal positions. Zealous nationalists were typically reactionary anxiety-mongers with bunker mentalities. Nationalist campaigns, with church blessings, hardened and spiritualized regions where landed nobilities reigned.

Down to June 28, 1914

European countries were separate theatres in which the same tragedy was simultaneously performed, albeit in different languages and with local variations. Between 1900 and 1914, labour movements and subject nationalities suffered setbacks. Reactionary intransigence blocked Stolypin, Beck, Bethmann-Hollweg, Caillaux, Asquith, and Giolitti. Not the failings of these men, but aristocratic reaction, aborted promising possibilities for reform. The inner spring of the crisis was the overreaction of old elites to exaggerated dangers of capitalist-led modernization.

Landed elites were the vanguard against moderate conservatism. Their deteriorating economic situation obsessed them with political control. Together with certain industrialists who sought government preferment, they mobilized the lower orders most threatened by modernization. The aristocracy’s success lay in the fact that, except in France, top state personnel shared its social origin and outlook.

Aristocrat resurgence wrapped in militaristic super-patriotism led to soaring military outlays that gravely unbalanced state budgets. The fiscal crunch was integral to the crisis. Militarization assumed enormous proportions. Europe’s division into two rigid blocs quickened the build-up. This division was but a by-product of the core crisis – counter-revolutionaries had checkmated moderate conservatives.

In the 1800s European states went to war for defined, negotiable objectives. As war mutated into an instrument of domestic politics, and as Nietzschean-Social Darwinism gained circulation, ruling classes began to celebrate war as a cure-all; as a fiery ordeal for testing physical prowess, spiritual soundness, and national solidarity. The blood of battle sanitized races, revitalized societies, and regenerated morality. This war cult was a distinctly elite, not plebeian, affair.

The main instigators of WW1, the Austrian governing class, despaired of not having the time or fiscal resources to consolidate their Empire into a nation. General von Hotzendorff specifically proposed inducing wars to strengthen the primacy of Austro-Germans within the Empire. Throughout the Empire modernist stirrings were squashed by a revival of traditionalism under the regressive sway of Archduke Francis Ferdinand (Hapsburg). Duelling was making a comeback.

WW1’s co-instigators, Russia’s governing class, after 1905 succumbed to counter-revolution. 1905 rocked Russia and caused a mass land selloff. Counter-revolutionaries climbed into the saddle, then pursued an aggressive foreign policy financially and militarily dependent on the French alliance. Domestically, they whipped up hatred against Jews. Contemporary oppositionists immediately identified these efforts as a novel reactionary wave. As the counter-revolution consolidated, land prices rose steeply.

Many contemporaries saw the pan-European rise of militarism as being aimed at suppressing liberalism and labour. The potentials for terrible war and upheaval were obvious but the uppermost class were willing to run their peoples through catastrophe. Aristocratic-reactionary politicians and generals of the combatant states were accomplices, not adversaries, in the march to the brink. In July 1914 the governors of the major powers, with calculating heads and eyes wide open, leaped over the precipice.

Archduke Francis Ferdinand, whose assassination triggered WW1, incarnated the resurgent ultra-conservatism permeating the nerve-centres of power. He was a haughty aristocrat, arrogant absolutist, proud Austro-German, fervent Catholic, imperious militarist, and integral reactionary. He was anti-democrat, anti-capitalist, anti-socialist, anti-Magyar, anti-Slav, anti-Semite, and anti-modernist. He was the victim of a terrorist commando who fired the fatal shots in Sarajevo. Behind him was the larger target of the aristocracy; a target too vast and resilient to be felled by a few bullets.

The Nazi Counter-Revolution

WW1 was labour intensive. Emphasizing the technology in the killing process diverts attention from the war’s taproots in the ancient regime which, though weakened by WW1, survived. Its political leadership needed reconstituting, but the conservative-reactionary constellation held most of its commanding heights. The forces of persistence recovered, sponsored fascism, and contributed to the resumption of war in 1939.

In the 1920s and 1930s, counter-revolutionaries came to power via quasi-legal coups during paralyzing breakdowns, then morphed into doctrinaire regimes. Their initial thrust was against allegedly imminent revolutionary perils. Established classes and strata were undisturbed. Industry and agriculture were kept in line by bribery, intimidation, and the restoration of stability. Structural incongruities were hidden behind nationalist frenzy. The more time elapsed without challenges to their encroaching monopoly of power, the more difficult challenge became. Conservatives who earlier condoned counter-revolutionary excesses developed second thoughts about the juggernaut.

1917, like 1789, was an historical hinge. In both France of 1789 and Russia of 1917, about 1.5% of the population were nobles, 85% were illiterate rural folk, and primitive Christianity was omnipresent. In both revolutions dispossession of Church property enraged bishops, rural priests mobilized peasant resistance, and villages became venues of deadly civil wars. Again the revolutionaries afflicted by a Manichean mindset reified the counter-revolution into a polymorphous conspiracy, and again an émigré counter-revolutionary leadership took root abroad.

The Russian counter-revolution mutated throughout Europe into a wing of the fascist movement. Not that anti-communism was fascism’s ultimate motive. Anti-communist demons were conjured to justify conservatives’ collaboration with anti-republican counter-revolutionaries. Proto-fascist activity spread throughout East and Central Europe, notably in Hungary and Yugoslavia. In Italy the ancient regime summoned the trendy “Fascisti” counter-revolutionaries to take power in 1922.

In blossoming post-WW1 presses, dystopians and Cassandras critiqued the Enlightenment, now said to be the fountainhead of runaway science and materialism. Sceptical of progress, they saw only decline. Big industrial cities were cause and symptom of decay. Whereas previously Enlightenment philosophes were the source of upheaval, now Marxists were blamed. Jews replaced Protestants and Freemasons as scapegoats. As the mystique emanating from the altar ebbed, new conservatives invested it into the “volk.” The new Counter-Enlightenment appealed to endangered lower middle classes caught in modernization’s maelstrom and to threatened upper classes desperate to maintain privileges.

European states were burdened with budget deficits, foreign debts, and overseas competition. Economic problems were exacerbated by militant labouring classes who resisted higher taxes while pressing for costly social programs. An economic recovery – the mid-1920s Indian Summer – relied on American loans. After the Crash of 1929, unemployment and inflation exposed structural disorder. The Depression intensified the impasse between urban and rural sectors. At the dynamic disequilibrium’s molten core were elites of an embattled old order locked in death struggles with elites of a defiant new order. Petty capitalism resisted corporate capitalism. Landed rural nobles resisted professional urban politicians.

Counter-revolutionaries used “the Jews” as a vehicle for attacking modernity and as a lightning rod for popular frustration at economic problems. Anti-Semitism flourished across Europe with churchmen being among the most brazen disseminators. Men of the cloth replaced the old blood libel charge with “Judeo-Bolshevism” in order to transmute, not lessen, Christianity’s age-old ostracizing diabolism. Anti-Semitism’s escalation was coterminous with an upsurge in super-patriotic anti-communism.

Eastern European counter-revolutions were engineered by cabals already in control of government. Generals and bureaucrats, often with a king and his camarilla, tightened control by flaunting the spectre of revolution. They sometimes fostered fascoid movements, then struck against them in order to avoid being excessively pressed by them. Incumbent elites utilized counter-revolutionaries without reducing their own authority. In 1932 Hungary’s “Regent” Horthy neutralized parliament. In 1935 Bulgaria’s Tsar Boris III assumed dictatorial power. In 1938 King Carol II took over the Romanian state and decreed a corporatist constitution. In all cases, official propaganda was ultra-nationalist and anti-communist. This fascistic suffusion of old orders reflected the failure of moderate conservatives, not overwhelming drives from populist right-wing movements.

Polish landed and ecclesiastical elites retained a loyal rural electorate. Marshal Pilsudski and his main rival were both: ultra-nationalist, anti-leftist, anti-parliamentary, and respectful of Catholicism. Pilsudski’s shifting of the tax burden onto non-agrarian sectors further stymied economic growth. Before his death (1935), a new constitution strengthened the executive, thus empowered the junta who succeeded him. These successors sought to contain extremists by meeting them partway. In 1936 they restricted, rather than outlawed, kosher animal slaughter practices. The squirearchy, fearing peasant unrest, stepped up anti-Jewish agitation, and the Catholic hierarchy chimed in. In 1936 Cardinal Hlond wrote:  “It is an actual fact that the Jews fight against the Catholic Church, they are free-thinkers and constitute the vanguard of atheism, bolshevism and revolution.” Cracow’s Archbishop issued similar epistles. In the late 1930s hundreds of Jews were pillaged and assaulted in pogroms in rural Poland.

Spain’s counter-revolution became a military operation. Conservatives recently swept from power were so confident of church and landowner support, and of their own expertise and resources, they attempted to overthrow the Republic without donning the “specious democratic mask.” When their thwarted pronunciamento turned into civil war, the value of that mask became self-evident. During and after the war, Franco’s authority was anchored in the army and backstopped by a subordinate counter-revolutionary movement. Landowners, churchmen, and civil servants considered his system a fair price to pay for the re-conquest of their positions.
Germany’s November Revolution (1918) took repeated hits from the Freikorps, abortive putsches, and a rash of assassinations. Moreover, the Weimar Republic confronted calculated obstruction from the judiciary, army, church, and academia. By the late 1920s most university students were romantic partisans or Nazi sympathizers.

Max Weber, an early adept of the Democratic Party, chronicled how preindustrial elites manipulated the thrust for democracy. He saw how prioritizing foreign policy fortified feudalist-agrarians and statist-industrialists. A chastened liberal, he was daunted by the tenacity with which Junkers preserved their positions and the zeal with which certain businesses obeyed. In time, he too fell in line.

Germany’s republican institutions were too fragile to mediate the discontent unleashed by massive unemployment. Entrenched elites abandoned electoral politics and embraced Hitler in a replay of the Italian establishments’ embrace of Mussolini, except Germany was Europe’s linchpin.
Within the German counter-revolution, big business was the junior partner of the feudal element. Businessmen were divided and ambivalent. Grassroots Nazi support came from sectors of the lower middle class: farmers, artisans, shopkeepers – the losers in capitalist competition. They, and the aristocracy, were far more enthusiastic about the new religion than was the business community.

Despite their contempt for Christianity, particularly Catholicism, the Nazis had church-like features: hierarchy; disciples, shrines, symbols, incantations, hymns, sermons, and cultish ceremonies. Nazism was a religion in secular disguise with a political program cast in the form of a faith.

Anti-Semitism was one tenet of Nazism but neither its foundation nor principal intent. The more salient tenets within this syncretic ideology were: Social Darwinism, eastern expansionism, and anti-Marxism. This ideology courted different publics. Its arguments, symbols, gestures, uniforms, rituals, and rallies took shape before Hitler assumed leadership.

Nazism was rooted in late 19th century theories negating reason and progress in favour of intuition and a return to an idealized past. Nazis carried this discourse from the salons to the beer-halls. Earlier critiques of liberalism and democracy became a venomous indictment of the Weimar Republic. The earlier axiom of the pastoral Arcadia became the mystique of blood and soil. While the earlier discourse lacked systematic structure, the Nazis transformed it into a counter-revolutionary program – “a revolution against the revolution” – aimed at reversing the November Revolution.

Nazis saw Marxism as the culmination of the Enlightenment. They saw liberalism and Marxism as differing only in degree and personalities, with both leading to the slough of a slowly decaying world. They placed race over class and aristocratic principle over democratic right. Their idealist Reich was pitted against the realist Republic of the mathematicians. Parliamentarianism was said to provide the soil for Marxism whose popularity was due to the propaganda of 10,000 tireless agitators.

Nazis had great faith in propaganda and were frank about the masses’ ignorance and forgetfulness. Their propaganda made widely separated adversaries appear to belong to one category. Jews were said to be running Marxist and capitalist battering rams against the traditional world. According to Hitler, “The Jewish doctrine of Marxism denies the aristocratic principle of Nature and sets mass and dead weight of numbers in place of the eternal privilege of strength and power.”

Hitler struck at modernity through the Jews. His epicentre was animosity toward contemporary civilization. Hatred for Jews was grafted onto this. Destruction of Jews was not a primary motive.  Mein Kampf’s Judeo-Bolshevik conspiracy theory was a rehash of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion – a forgery by Russian counter-revolutionaries purporting to be a Zionist manual for world conquest. Influenced by Alfred Rosenberg, a German refugee from the East, Hitler appropriated the idea of the ubiquitous, conniving Jew.

Hitler denounced globalization for forcing industrialization, which in turn supplanted peasants with proletarians. This, combined with overpopulation, resulted in class conflict. Globalization was making commerce “the ruling mistress of the state and money the false Mammon for whom incense was being burned.” Even Wilhelm II was faulted for sanctioning the “rule of money (and) by bringing the nobility under the influence of the new finance capitalism.” Traditional property forms were being crushed by corporations and stock exchanges intent on furthering the “internationalization of the German economic structure.” Globalization was the work of Jews bent on “breaking the backbone of the German National State.”

Hitler’s obsession with Lebensraum (living room) was an intrinsically anti-modernist foreign policy hostile to industry, city, and labour. Germany needed “new land for the transplantation of the overflowing population.”  Lebensraum would arrest Germany’s decay by restoring a healthy peasant class who in turn would check the growth of industry. In light of overpopulation, there were two options: more urban “work centres” (“abscesses in the national body”), or Lebensraum. Conquering Russia would guarantee “every individual descendant of our people his own piece of land.” He knew no holier right than to the “soil which one wants to till oneself” and no holier sacrifice than to shed blood for it. Swords break paths for ploughs. Lebensraum, being a retreat from globalization, would shrink trade-dependent economic sectors and expand heavy industry essential to warfare.


On January 30, 1933 a coalition government formed with more aristocrats than Nazis in the cabinet. Nazi ministers were: Adolf Hitler (Chancellor), Dr Wilhelm Frick (Interior Ministry), and Steel Helmet founder Franz Seldte (Labour Minister). The second most powerful Nazi, Hermann Goring, while not an aristocrat, was certainly of aristocratic lineage and swagger. Goring headed the Prussian Interior Ministry and Gestapo. The aristocrats were: Franz von Papen (Vice-Chancellor and Prussian Commissar), Baron Konstantin von Neurath (Foreign Minister), Count Lutz Schwerin von Korigsk (Finance Minister until 1945), Baron Paul von Eltz-Rubenach (Transport and Postal Service), and General Werner von Blomberg (Armed Forces). Joining them was Nationalist Party leader Alfred Hugenberg (Economics Minister), a Krupp executive-cum-media mogul. A reactionary monarchist, Hugenberg clumsily adopted populist strategies that antagonized the aristocrats. He was forced out in months.

Aristocrats in the coalition, supported by President von Hindenburg, concentrated on attacking the political and syndical Left. They were more willing than Hitler to use violence against these people. The “Jewish problem” was not an issue in the negotiations culminating in the incumbent elite’s selecting Hitler as Chancellor. Not anti-Semitism but anti-communism and ultra-nationalism were the brick and mortar for this collaboration. Fears of Nazi levelling were overridden by a common resolve to destroy the Left and subvert the Weimar constitution. Old elites, in and out of government, whitewashed Nazi aggression and lent credence to wild exaggerations of the Left’s strength and militancy. The Left remained the main target of repression well past the regime’s definitive consolidation in August 1934.

Two days after he became Chancellor, Hitler issued a declaration blaming Marxists for Germany’s misery. Two days later he informed armed forces commanders of his resolve to “exterminate Marxism root and branch” and to “eliminate the cancerous ravages of democracy.” Two weeks later Hitler and Goring addressed 25 major industrialists at Goring’s residence. Goring quoted Bismarck’s maxim: liberalism leads to socialism. The industrialists pledged three million marks for an election fund to be administered by Hjalmar Schacht, Reichsbank president.

Goring had already ordered Prussia’s 54,000 police to attack Communists, assuring them he would cover any excesses. During February he doubled the force by deputizing and arming SA, SS, and Steel Helmet men. Within hours of the suspicious Reichstag fire (February 27) 4,000 Communist party members were arrested. Communists underestimated the resolve and efficiency of their enemies.

In the March 5, 1933 election, 39 million went to the polls (90% of eligible voters). Despite the terror, Social Democrats lost only 2% of their support, receiving 7 million votes and 120 deputies. The Communists lost 4.5% of support but received 5 million votes and 81 deputies (all of whom were in jail or in exile). The Nazis received 17 million votes (43.9%) and the Nationalists 3 million (8%) – a slim majority but enough to assuage troubled consciences.

The new parliament’s investiture ceremonies were broadcast live and in meticulous detail on national radio from Potsdam, the Hohenzollerns’ cradle. Festivities began with Hitler greeting Hindenburg outside Garrison Church, near Frederick the Great’s crypt. As in Imperial times, the church galleries were filled with dignitaries in colourful attire. In the Emperor’s box a chair sat empty for Kaiser Wilhelm. Behind this chair, wearing a Death Head Hussar uniform, sat the hopeful restorationist Crown Prince Frederick Wilhelm and his Nazi-loyalist wife Princess Cecilie von Mecklenburg. With bells tolling and organ peeling, Hitler and Hindenburg strolled up the aisle. Hindenburg stopped before the Imperial box to raise his baton to the Crown Prince. At the post-investiture military parade, Hindenburg and Prince Frederick, both more conspicuous on the reviewing stand than Hitler, saluted irregulars of the SA, SS, and Steel Helmet as they goose-stepped passed. At the final ceremony at the Kroll Opera House, Prince Frederick wore a general’s uniform and sat in the centre box. Hitler entered and marched directly to greet the Prince who gave the Fuhrer a straight-arm salute.

On April 1, with the Communists dispatched, the regime moved against the moderate labour movement with another wave of arrests. A May 10 book-burning targeted books promoting class struggle. By July 31, Germany counted 27,000 political prisoners. Few Jews were arrested. Those who were arrested were so because of their leftist activity.

The Nazi’s conservative partners had no qualms about persecuting leftists but some were troubled about persecuting Jews. On April 1, when the Nazis announced a boycott of Jewish businesses and called for quotas on Jews in the professions, conservatives demurred.
No German university or school became a centre of protest. Before the March 1933 election, 300 leading high school educators issued a statement supporting the Nazis. Soon after, both the high school teachers’ and university professors’ associations pledged loyalty to the Nazis. On May 27, when Martin Heidegger became rector of Freiburg University, his inaugural address celebrated the new turn in Germany’s destiny. Weeks later 700 professors swore allegiance to Hitler.

There were two million SA “brown-shirts” by December 1933 (half were former Steel Helmet men). Opportunist civil servants poured in after January 1933 but the rank and file brown-shirt was an unemployed worker. SA leadership was lower middle class – the quintessential base of fascist movements. SA supremo Rohm called for replacing industrial capitalism with small-scale agriculture and artisanal manufacture.

Meanwhile, Himmler’s SS morphed into a party-state. The SS grew from a small bodyguard for Nazi leaders in 1929 to a 50,000 man force in January 1933. The SS was a main Nazi liaison with old elites. The SS was originally composed of ex-Freikorps mercenaries and a contingent of aristocrats. In 1933 these aristocrats welcomed in scores of their own including Prince von Waldeck, Baron von der Glotz, Count von Rodern, Prince von Hessen, Count Stachwitz, Baron von Geyr, Prince von Hohenzollern-Emden, Count Bassewitz-Behr, Baron von Malsen-Ponickau, and the Archduke of Mecklenburg. This community was destined to supply one fifth of SS top generals.
1934 began with the SS numbering 200,000 and in command of all state police forces except Prussia’s. By mid-1934 political resistance had been broken. 90,000 political prisoners had been interned, but no more than 27,000 at any one time. Goring led the way in streamlining the camps. The SS took charge of all camps late in 1934 when the number of inmates was below 10,000.

Counter-revolutionaries were split between the SA and elite arch-conservatives. On the Night of the Long Knives (June 30, 1934), SA leaders were massacred by SS men. In Himmler’s mind, this purge completed a counter-revolution from above. The massacre also claimed non-SA Generals von Schleicher and von Bredow and was followed by the humiliating removal of Vice-Chancellor von Papen. In this, Hindenburg and the Reichswehr readily acquiesced for while the arch-conservatives deplored the brutality and treachery of the massacre, they accepted it as the price of stabilization.

The regime remained divided between autarkists and exporters. While Germany was not overpopulated, it was deficient in natural resources. Goring led the autarkists. His foil, Reichsbank President Schacht, wanted to step up manufacturing exports to pay for raw material imports. Goring wanted to stay the autarkic course and conquer Eastern Europe’s reservoirs of oil and minerals. Goring prevailed. The Third Reich’s aim became: “to once and for all solve German land shortage through the expansion of Lebensraum so as to command a secure supply of raw materials.” The quasi-religious crusade against Judeo-Bolshevism sacralised geopolitical necessity.

By August 1936, as weapons production hit high gear, Hitler obsessed over the showdown with Russia. Whereas heretofore he rallied conservative Germany against Marxism, now he rallied conservative Europe against bolshevism. He held “bourgeois democracy” responsible for the Popular Fronts in France and Spain. He claimed the “bourgeoisie” were being duped by Comintern compromises.

Winter of 1937-1938 witnessed another government shakeup. Foreign Minister von Neurath was replaced by long-time Nazi von Ribbentrop. (Few conservatives removed from leadership went into opposition. Even those discharged dishonourably remained ready to serve. In 1934 von Papen became envoy to Austria. In 1938 von Neurath became proconsul for Bohemia and Moravia.)

Unemployment disappeared as the forced-draft rearmament got under way. The regime now faced labour shortages. New concentration camps were designed with production in mind. By 1939 the number of inmates had risen to 20,000. The regime also faced raw material shortages. The push for autarky led to the development of alternative fuels.


Barbarossa (Frederick I), the 12th century German Emperor who set his sights on Eastern Europe, earlier took the cross to the Holy Land. In the 1820s the Barbarossa legend became a nostalgic cry for a hero to restore German imperialism. In 1846 Wagner’s Siegfried heralded an imminent Barbarossa-like second coming. In the 1870s the Hohenzollerns were portrayed as heirs of Barbarossa and their Second Empire as a restoration of his. In 1888 Wilhelm I was commemorated with an equestrian statue on a mountain that had a sleeping Barbarossa hewn into the mountain’s slopes. The area became a venue for rituals. By 1914 the Barbarossa cult acquired strident anti-democratic inflections. In Mein Kampf Hitler proposed picking up where Barbarossa left off by heading east again.

The June 1941 assault on Russia, Operation Barbarossa, was both war of conquest and crusade against bolshevism. From the outset the stress was on capturing grain and petroleum. Goring decreed (June 1941) that Russia’s oil industry being of “supreme importance” had to be transferred to the German oil consortium. There would be no restoration of private enterprise in the Soviet Union. Unlike France’s political class, which Berlin proposed to break but not destroy, the Soviet elite were marked for extinction.

Defeat at Moscow and the subsequent harrowing retreat in the winter of 1941-1942 ended the Third Reich’s unbroken streak of victories. They attempted to seize back the initiative by capturing the oil-rich Caucasus. Hitler became commander-in-chief and replaced generals in the east with men of proven Nazi sympathies. This was mutation, not purge. Hitler meant to fight to the end, if need be by pulling Europe down with him. Most of Germany’s power elite backed this stand.

On January 10, 1942 Hitler decreed an all-out war economy. Ten days later, leading armaments planners met in Berlin. On the same day, in the same city, the Wannsee Conference met to expedite the Final Solution. Participants in both meetings moved in the same circles. Top priority went to the needs of the army and to the production of oil and coal. Stewardship of the economy remained entrusted to the industrial and agrarian magnates who had long served the Nazi conquest state. These captains of industry and agriculture now concentrated on harnessing slave labour. After January the rampantly expanding SS enlarged its slave force. SS business partners located their plants near or in concentration camps. Camp labour was also tapped for mining and construction work. Three million captive workers were shipped into the Reich by the end of the year. By 1944 they comprised 25% of the armaments industry’s labour force. By 1945 over seven million such workers had toiled in Germany.

Radicalization of Jewish policy coincided with the breakdown of the eastern campaign. Jews had been legally de-emancipated in September 1935 but little violence followed. On Crystal Night (November 9, 1938) 36 Jews were killed and 25,000 thrown into camps, but those interned were soon released. This irruption was more echo of late tsarist pogroms than prefiguration of the coming Judeocide. After Stalingrad, as Nazi leaders steeled for a war to the finish, they intensified their crusade against Judeo-Bolshevism. With Bolsheviks out of reach, they struck at those close at hand and defenceless. From 1942 to 1944 the Judeocide was part of desperate economic efforts in support of the war. In 1944 productivists were eclipsed by exterminationists.

The military debacle galvanized a cabal of aristocrats into attempting to assassinate Hitler on July 20, 1944. Himmler then liquidated 4,000 real and imaginary conspirators, many of them distinguished notables and their innocent relatives.  The notables in this eleventh hour opposition never objected to the enslavement of eastern peoples or the persecution of the Jews. The July 1944 conspirators wanted to end a losing war and restore the pre-1914 regime.


In the 1930s the ancient regime empowered Hitler to violently re-order Germany. They approved wiping out the Left, perverting parliamentarianism, purging culture, and building concentration camps. Some were caught short by Nazi speed and thoroughness and by the recasting of the regime in 1934. However, most of the old elite remained loyal, and by eagerly endorsing Operation Barbarossa they crowned their unenforced collaboration. Their acceptance of the Einsatzgruppen and the Final Solution was in keeping with this compliance.

Sundry Generalizations

Anti-revolution consists of whatever forces oppose progressive social change, including spontaneous lower class outbursts. In contrast, counter-revolutions are contrived affairs wherein old elites block democratization and precipitate civil war. Counter-revolution is the ‘upper ten thousand’ refusing to yield. Outright counter-revolutionaries form the anti-revolutionary triad along with reactionaries and conservatives.

Reactionaries, seeing society as decaying, long for a romanticized past. Consumed by pessimism, they distrust technology and industry. They want the direction of history changed. They want to resurrect monarchy, church, and landed estates as ramparts against modernity’s corrosive levelling. They want the good old days forever frozen. Their conspiratorial view helps them ignore economic causes of modernization. They tend toward self-isolation because they disdain conservative acceptance of the status quo and counter-revolutionary pandering to the masses.
Reflexive traditionalism, or apolitical conservatism, is anchored in unconscious predispositions of pragmatic individuals who, rather than fetishize the past, are fixed on the present. They are of mature age, psychological equipoise, and financial security. Satisfied with the status quo, they advocate normalcy and consensus. Conservativism is refutation, not innovation; a defence of the status quo. Under conditions of dislocation, rather than vacate power and in order to contain forces striking at their world, conservatives may ally with counter-revolutionaries. Conservatives claim to be anti-doctrinaire and non-partisan, but in times of crisis they may support aggressive, ideological politicians.

Counter-revolutionaries can be fanatics, opportunists, or calculating realists. Their lode-star is the physical capture of the state apparatus. Unlike conservatives, they play on the distempers of lower classes. Conservatives are reticent about mass manipulation; counter-revolutionaries thrive in it. Their zest for meta-politics and resolve for offensive action attract them to street politics hallmarked by verbal, symbolic, and physical violence. They have no illusions about the vulnerability of the state to direct frontal attack and are thus inclined to disguise bids for supremacy. They are more doctrinal and less accommodating than either reactionaries or conservatives. Terror is an integral to the anti-revolutionary project, but only counter-revolutionaries admit this.

The three factions have separate ways of lancing crises. Conservatives favour gradual reform. Reactionaries advocate standing firm and have fewer scruples about violence. Counter-revolutionaries aim to crush lower class resistance as a stepping stone to state control. Each anti-revolutionary faction celebrates order and tradition and distrusts reason and progress. Each wears a populist, emancipator mask. Ultra-nationalist jingoism has historically been a cementing force. As they jockey for position, the factions keep their respective goals in view: reactionaries to turn back the clock of history; conservatives to reoccupy positions of power; and counter-revolutionaries to seize the state.
Counter-revolution can be made only with the masses. This requires leadership and propaganda. The leaders are always the great oligarchic cartel of anxiety who recruit a base from diverse clienteles. Small farmers are a reliable reservoir of grass roots support as are artisans, shopkeepers, and civil servants. Counter-revolutionaries mobilize redundant, marginalized economic sectors dependent on subsidies and tariffs. These sectors form pressure groups which forge links with the grass-roots.

Counter-revolutionary ideas are malleable weapons whose impact depends on the intensity and radius of their dispersal. New formulas are disseminated through cultural, religious, and fraternal societies, and through newspapers, periodicals, etc. These ideas are commented on by reviewers, editors, and publicists. References show up in sermons, plays, novels, lyrics, and cartoons. Politicians adopt and adapt these ideas. This politicization of ideas – which are often aesthetic – is filtered through the most modern media, even if the message is atavistic. Inducements imbedded in the formula lend themselves to ritualistic incantation.

To appeal to incumbent elites, counter-revolutionary programs are based in venerated values and call for purification, not overthrow, of existing institutions. Their ideology, being merely a mobilizing tool, is an incoherent mash of conservative and reactionary phrases. Meticulously shaded explanations are presented to audiences of various degrees of commitment. In the national arena general formulas are used to avoid offence. Specific sub-appeals cater to local aspirations. Yellow journalism, radio, and cinema magnify occasions of trivial local importance and create potent false perceptions of imminent peril. Popular wrath is fomented against “conspiracies” to provide semi-educated anxiety-ridden followers with uncomplicated, plausible explanations. “Passion” is exalted to the near paralysis of reasoning faculties. Leaders, guided by “feelings,” deliver broadsides against industry and capitalism. There is thundering, but always equivocal, talk of relief for crisis-stricken strata interspersed with vague calls for taxing and regulating industry. Promises to underwrite economically besieged interests and regions win collaboration from chronically insecure sectors.

Counter-revolutionary finances are always secret. Money comes from dues, collections at meetings, paper sales, etc. Large contributions come from philanthropists, landowners, businesses, interest associations, government authorities, foreign supporters, etc. who often prefer to support auxiliary rather than parent organizations. State officials further the cause through sympathetic exercise of their functions. Conspicuous fraternizing by clergy and celebrities lend legitimizing force. Concealed government subsidies usually trace back to the royal entourage, security forces, or interior ministries.

Summary and Conclusion

Mayer’s great failing, for our purposes, is his focus on the Paris to Moscow galaxy and on the 1780 to 1950 epoch. The democratic-capitalist revolution was originally a Dutch-British-American project undertaken between the 1570s and the 1780s. This epic had its own counter-revolutionary antagonist. After 1945, this antagonist resuscitated the overall phenomenon and catalyzed its mutation into environmentalism.

Mayer courageously explodes the fallacy of fascism and bolshevism being similar – a view concocted by the Cold War’s “totalitarian school” to conceal fascism’s ultra-conservative mainsprings and hence justify alliances with guilty parties. The “totalitarian school” fixated on the two movements’ commonalities, such as mass media monopoly and state-directed industrial economy (characteristics shared by every combatant state in both world wars). Communist and fascist regimes were anything but similar. The Bolsheviks were a clique of impoverished militants who violently seized power, then consolidated themselves as a property-less regime in the face of bitter opposition from economic, political, and ecclesiastical elites at home and abroad. In contrast, Mussolini and Hitler were handed power by panic-stricken establishments. After fascist regimes were consolidated, old elites stayed in position. Upstart fascist leaders dined with aristocrats. To contemporaries, communism and fascism were opposites.

This is not a defence of communism. It is blind lunacy to suggest the West needs Bolshevik or even socialist policies. The West, certainly North America and Australia, needs economic liberalization. The West needs to unleash industrial entrepreneurialism onto its hinterlands. The preceding paragraph is relevant because much of the anti-environmentalist movement, being prisoners of Cold War consciousness, suffer a delusion that environmentalism is of leftist pedigree and orientation. Too many enviro-sceptics offer excellent analysis of environmentalist lies yet remain historically, sociologically illiterate. Reality check: the centuries-old struggle for democracy in the West was waged not against labouring levellers but against arrogant aristocracies.

Mayer does not address environmentalism; it falls outside his field of study. Environmentalism shares key features of previous counter-revolutions. European environmentalism has been led by Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands, Princes Philip and Charles of Britain, Prince Albert II of Monaco, Prince Albert von Thurn und Taxis, King Carl XVI Gustav of Sweden, and around them hundreds of prominent and wealthy nobles and aristocrats. Across the Atlantic, environmentalism has been led by the Rockefellers, Pews, Fords, Mellons, Du ponts, Kennedys, and other oligarchic dynasties betrothed to Europe’s ancient regime. The Catholic, Lutheran, and especially the Anglican and Greek Orthodox churches have for decades aided and abetted environmentalist mobilization.

Counter-revolutions are never narrow conspiracies. Environmentalism represents a “landed estate” including millions of farmers, small town property bugs, and petty urban landlords whose material well-being requires capitalist market relations not be applied to land and that public lands, wilderness areas, and green spaces remain undeveloped. The green counter-revolution appeals to economic sectors jeopardized by unrestricted market competition. Environmentalism, like its forebears, forms alliances with industrial cartels bent on exploiting state policy. Counter-revolutionaries, especially fascists: denounced globalization, worshipped soil and forests, fretted about over-population, called for alternative energy, extolled things ecological and organic, opposed urban expansion, rejected economic liberalism, romanticized primitive indigenous peoples, blurred the line between religion and politics, marshalled lower classes into acts of physical and symbolic violence – hallmarks of environmentalism all.

As a postscript, it must be noted that Canada, perhaps more any other country, is burdened with a counter-revolutionary legacy. During the American Revolution, thousands of the 13 Colonies’ inhabitants fought for the British Crown. At the conclusion of the Revolutionary War, about 90,000 counter-revolutionaries fled, about half to Canada. The provinces of Ontario and New Brunswick were created by and for these “loyalists.” This constituency boasted many of the features of latter day European counter-revolutionaries including a knee-jerk hostility to democracy and industry. This loyalist legacy is deeply embedded in Ontario’s culture, which helps explain the strength of environmentalism in that province.


Mayer, Arno: Dynamics of Counterrevolution in Europe, 1870-1956: An Analytical Framework, Harper and Row, New York, 1971.

Mayer, Arno: The Furies: Violence and Terror in the French and Russian Revolutions, Princeton University Press, Princeton and Oxford, 2000.

Mayer, Arno: The Persistence of the Ancient Regime, Europe to the Great War, Pantheon Books, New York, 1981.

Mayer, Arno: Why Did The Heavens Not Darken? The “Final Solution” In History, Pantheon Books, New York, 1990.

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