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The Decline of Bismarck's European Order: Franco-Russian Relations 1875-1890

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In an attempt to discover some of the underlying origins of World War I, the eminent diplomat and writer George Kennan focuses on a small sector of offstage events to show how they affected the drama at large long before the war even began. In the introduction to his book George Kennan tells us, I came to see World War I . . . as the great seminal catastrophe of this centu In an attempt to discover some of the underlying origins of World War I, the eminent diplomat and writer George Kennan focuses on a small sector of offstage events to show how they affected the drama at large long before the war even began. In the introduction to his book George Kennan tells us, I came to see World War I . . . as the great seminal catastrophe of this century--the event which . . . lay at the heart of the failure and decline of this Western civilization. But, he asks, who could help being struck by the contrast between this apocalyptic result and the delirious euphoria of the crowds on the streets of Europe at the outbreak of war in 1914! Were we not, he suggests, in the face of some monstrous miscalculation--some pervasive failure to read correctly the outward indicators of one's own situation? It is from this perspective that Mr. Kennan launches a micro-history of the Franco-Russian relationship as far back as the 1870s in an effort to determine the motives that led people to wander so blindly into the horrors of the First World War.


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In an attempt to discover some of the underlying origins of World War I, the eminent diplomat and writer George Kennan focuses on a small sector of offstage events to show how they affected the drama at large long before the war even began. In the introduction to his book George Kennan tells us, I came to see World War I . . . as the great seminal catastrophe of this centu In an attempt to discover some of the underlying origins of World War I, the eminent diplomat and writer George Kennan focuses on a small sector of offstage events to show how they affected the drama at large long before the war even began. In the introduction to his book George Kennan tells us, I came to see World War I . . . as the great seminal catastrophe of this century--the event which . . . lay at the heart of the failure and decline of this Western civilization. But, he asks, who could help being struck by the contrast between this apocalyptic result and the delirious euphoria of the crowds on the streets of Europe at the outbreak of war in 1914! Were we not, he suggests, in the face of some monstrous miscalculation--some pervasive failure to read correctly the outward indicators of one's own situation? It is from this perspective that Mr. Kennan launches a micro-history of the Franco-Russian relationship as far back as the 1870s in an effort to determine the motives that led people to wander so blindly into the horrors of the First World War.

46 review for The Decline of Bismarck's European Order: Franco-Russian Relations 1875-1890

  1. 5 out of 5

    Hale

    The Decline of Bismarck’s European Order is the first of US diplomat George Kennan’s projected three books (two completed, this one and "The Fateful Alliance") on the evolution of the European diplomatic climate that produced World War I. Kennan’s thesis is that (1) the evolution of politics in Russia produced a switch in alliances: Russia moved away from its relationship with Germany and Austria towards one with France; but (2) the opening for the change was produced by the inherent instability The Decline of Bismarck’s European Order is the first of US diplomat George Kennan’s projected three books (two completed, this one and "The Fateful Alliance") on the evolution of the European diplomatic climate that produced World War I. Kennan’s thesis is that (1) the evolution of politics in Russia produced a switch in alliances: Russia moved away from its relationship with Germany and Austria towards one with France; but (2) the opening for the change was produced by the inherent instability of Bismarck’s settlement of the Franco-Prussian War, a settlement so weighted against French patriotic sentiment that drove the French to seek virtually any means of overturning it. “Decline” is populated by a fascinating cast of characters: an irresolute, impulsive Russian Tsar; military planners, interesting princes, bankers, plus various intelligence, diplomatic and journalistic gadflies; and a gaggle of nationalist Russian journalists and politicians, seeking a “place in the sun” for Russia. Behind the scenes, and hinted at by Kennan, there appear to have been powerful elements of the French and Russian military and intelligence apparats, maneuvering their leaders into confrontations that they (particularly the Russians) would have done better to avoid. On the other side there was Otto von Bismarck, a legend in his own time, who had spent his first 15 years of power making Germany a unified state, and spent the last 15 years defending what he had won. But the driver in Kennan’s chronicle; his description of the European reversal of alliances that set up World War I, is Russia. Essentially, the “Panslav” faction which controlled the Russian Foreign Ministry’s “Asiatic Department” and which was backed by powerful forces in the Russian press, finance and the governing class, wanted Russia to acquire the Turkish straits and a predominant position in the Balkans. The more traditional “Chancery,” which controlled relations with Europe, particularly with the more conservative courts of Austria and Prussia/Germany, was more attached to Russia’s traditional tie with these countries, and the Russian elite carried on what amounted to a bureaucratic civil war with the “Panslavs” on one side and the Chorister’s Bridge (Russian Foreign Ministry) traditionalists (usually led by the Foreign Minister, N.K. Giers) favoring the German tie. The Panslavs wanted to move Russia nearer France to acquire “freedom of action” – mostly against Austria-Hungary, which they perceived as blocking their ambitions in the Balkans, particularly as concerned Bulgaria. This would embroil the Russians with Germany because of the Germans need to prop up Austria-Hungary. The new, Western derived secular and linguistic nationalist movement, (so distinct from traditional Russian nationalism which was more inward looking and based on the uniqueness of the Orthodox Church) which in turn led to Panslavism (and later Soviet Communism) sprung, was both dangerous and illogical: The Tsars would have been well advised to be wary of it; for it was bound, in the end to inflame the centrifugal tendencies within the Empire [Kennan did live to see the break-up of the USSR!]. But it appealed mightily to the new intelligentsia of the Russian portions of the Empire. It served as the impetus to the Panslav movement. It had a powerful appeal to large portions of the bureaucracy. The new bourgeois press, frustrated in the effort to play any significant critical role with regard to internal developments, embraced it with enthusiasm. It contrived, despite the deep philosophic differences that divided the two movement [older nationalism from newer], to combine effectively. . .with the older religious nationalism. And between them both, these tendencies had a powerful influence not only on the new bourgeois intelligentsia, but also on people in the higher ranks of [the] military establishment, where they fused all too easily with professional pride, arrogance, ambition and – with relation to the militarily successful Germans – envy. Kennan, Decline (Princeton, Princeton University Press 1979 [second printing, 1980]) at 418. The 19th Century intelligentsia, out of which the Social Democrat, Russian socialist and Leninist/Bolshevik movements all later appeared, coming to prominence in the next reign, was, as a class, the real doom of Russia. The strangest person in the business is the Russian Emperor, Alexander III, whose motives are difficult to fathom. Kennan says he wanted to play up to the nationalists/Panslavs, was biased against the Germans out of, among other things, envy of Bismarck (the Russian Empress’s Danish background was possibly significant there); and was not terribly reflective or intelligent. Meanwhile, the French, of course, wanted out of isolation, and to find an ally in case of a new war with Germany. The French were not reconcilable with Germany, because of their loss of Alsace-Lorraine in the war of 1870-71. The Austrian part of Austria-Hungary did not want to fall afoul of Russia, although the Hungarians were very anti-Russian. Kennan is, rightly, a huge admirer of Prince Bismarck, who did all that he could have, and perhaps more than he should have, to maintain the Russian tie and prevent the three eastern monarchies from falling out. But Bismarck was hampered by the inability to escape the enmity of France – which the Germans always had to guard against, and which gave the French every incentive to maneuver to get the Russians on side – which they did. Bismarck’s whole policy depended, in fact, on the isolation of France, which was difficult to maintain, and in the long run, quite impossible. Accommodation between France and Germany was that which “alone could have averted. . .the disasters of 1914-1918.” But it was never achievable, because the French could never, never accept that 1871 was a period, that the loss of Alsace-Lorraine was permanent. The proponents of the Franco-Russian alliance obtained their objective. The book closes in 1889-1890, when Russia makes a definitive diplomatic break with Germany, by declining to renew the “Reinsurance Treaty.” It is clear that an alliance with France is on the cards, which is the subject of Kennan’s next book. The consequences of this break were a disaster for Germany, for Russia, for Austria, for three imperial dynasties and for the world.

  2. 5 out of 5

    André

    After three wars, Bismarck has successfully weakened France and Austria and unified all the smaller german states as one nation, with Prussia at the top, after the napoleonic wars six decades ago, france is believed to be a threat to european peace and the rest of the european powers agreed to stop trade with france. Bismarck's "Balance of power" theory has has brought Europe to a long period of peace. But as soon as Kaiser Wilhelm II stepped up and took the crown of the German empire, he felt t After three wars, Bismarck has successfully weakened France and Austria and unified all the smaller german states as one nation, with Prussia at the top, after the napoleonic wars six decades ago, france is believed to be a threat to european peace and the rest of the european powers agreed to stop trade with france. Bismarck's "Balance of power" theory has has brought Europe to a long period of peace. But as soon as Kaiser Wilhelm II stepped up and took the crown of the German empire, he felt that Germany deserved oversea colonies, when the Kaiser inspected the Navy, he immediately ordered a automatic strengthening of the German navy to conquer oversea land of their own. Britain, who decided to strengthen their navy, has started an arms race to build up the navy. Later, Russia made a treaty with France which means France will rise as a European power once again, now, there are countries who are stronger than one and another. The idea of Balance of power is beginning to lose its meaning. The fate of the world, lies in the hands of europe.

  3. 5 out of 5

    emilio squillante

    Yes I did read this, yes I did finish this, and yes, I do understand better why what we believe is not to be believed.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Michael Roberts

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    Johannes Lukas

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    Edward Jones

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    William

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    Scott Baillargeon

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    Garrick Kantzler

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    Dick Tinto

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    Steve

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    Liquidlasagna

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    Wikimedia Italia

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    BookDB

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    Ryan Groesbeck

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    Eric Michels

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    Andreas

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  46. 4 out of 5

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