Thursday, November 20, 2008

When Hitler got all medieval on France.

The collapse of France seemed to mean not only the collapse of the bourgeoisie, it also seemed to signify the end of the entire era of bourgeois capitalism -- of liberalism, of parliamentarism, of constitutionalism, of capitalism, of the preponderance of Western Europe, of the Age of Reason. In June 1940 it seemed that the German triumph in the West meant a return, politically speaking, to the days of the Holy German-Roman Empire, a Europe dominated by Germans, North Italians, and Spaniards, with England excluded from Europe, France divided or reduced to her shape of the late Middle Ages, and the Netherlands, Artois, Flanders, and perhaps even a reconstituted Burgundy incorporated into the Reich. And there was more to this than political geography. In 1940 certain aspects of the Middle Ages had an appeal to millions of people, and not only to the triumphant Germans. Du Moulin de Laberth├Ęte, a sensitive observer of the early Vichy period, recorded in his memoirs "this kind of return to the Middle Ages, this 'instinctive medievalization,' something that Berdyaev has not foreseen." A Europe pullulating with Landsknechten, with mercenary soldiery in the service of an imperial ideology, this German-Spanish Europe with Jews restricted, Freemasonry disappearing, capitalism replaced by a new social order, corporations and guilds and the tribe exalted anew -- it was reminiscent of a Europe around 1500, before the Modern Age began.
John Lukacs, The Last European War: September 1939 - December 1941 512-13 (Yale University Press, 2001).

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