How that all turned out

“In 1900 there were grounds for optimism about the coming century. Apart from bloody but brief contests between Prussia and Austria and Prussia and France, Europe had been at peace since Napoleon. The first great age of industrialization had vastly increased national wealth and standards of living throughout Western Europe and North America. A moderate and humane liberalism, leavened by social-democratic stirrings, seemed the common political destiny. The arts, sciences, and crafts were flourishing; the graces and amenities of bourgeois civilization were gradually spreading. Among the educated, satisfaction prevailed and continued progress was the universal expectation.

“The actual history of the 20th century was, as we know, hideous beyond imagining. A world war begun by accident, unexpectedly and unprecedentedly destructive, dragged on for no adequate strategic or political reason, embittering an entire generation. The peace settlement was vindictive, creating lasting resentment among the losers. Statist parties took power in several countries with weak democratic traditions – notably Russia, Germany, and Italy – and ruled by indoctrination and terror, culminating in mass murder. Another world war, twice as destructive as the first, ended with the use of a new class of weapon, capable of obliterating cities in a few minutes. All this in the first half of the century. The second half was a little quieter, but still wracked by war, political murder and torture, and the novel threat of instantaneous global nuclear annihilation.

“We have a lot of reflecting to do.”

– George Scialabba, “Humanity: A Moral History of the Twentieth Century”

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