James Joll (1936–2011) was a British historian. His books include The Origins of the First World War and Europe Since 1870.

Nietzsche vs. Nietzsche

Of the three thinkers who have been among the most influential of the twentieth century—Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud—Marx has, for the moment at least, been cast aside and Freud no longer holds the unchallenged position he once had. That leaves Nietzsche, whose thought seems particularly appropriate to the fragmented, bewildered, …

Tales from the Vienna Woods

Do we need yet more books about Vienna in the early twentieth century? Publishers clearly think we do, for we now have two new biographies of Alma Mahler (although a perfectly adequate one was published as recently as 1983)[^1] as well as a selection in English from the letters of …

Revolt in Munich!

In 1911 an unsuccessful landscape painter, supported by 140 other artists, published a pamphlet called A Protest by German Artists. It stated: In view of the great invasion of French art, which for the past few years occurred in the so-called progressive art centers of Germany, it seems to me …

Stompin’ with the Savoy

Denis Mack Smith is the leading writer in English on nineteenth- and twentieth-century Italian history. Over nearly forty years he has done much to challenge many myths and to counter the view of the liberal prime minister Giovanni Giolitti, who once said, “It would not be right to let beautiful …

Art and Anarchy

When in 1922 the Metropolitan Museum in New York organized an exhibition of modern French painting, the Paris Bulletin de la Vie Artistique reported that a “Committee of Citizens and Friends of the Museum” had published a protest: We see in this so-called art one of the symptoms of the …

No Man’s Land

Each of the two World Wars not only changed the political, social, economic, and ideological structure of the world in a very practical way; they also left behind symbols that have continued to haunt us.

City Lights

Paris has long been a powerful symbol as well as a city, and it has symbolized many contradictory things. It is the city of luxury and high glamour—“centre de luxe et des lumières,” as the anarchist P-J Proudhon called it, a city to which men were attracted by, as Gustave …

Goodbye to All That

In May 1898 the British prime minister, Lord Salisbury, in a powerful and somber speech to the annual meeting of the Conservative Primrose League, divided the nations of the world into the living and the dying: “On the one hand you have great countries of enormous power growing in power …

Coming Up for Air

Authors, publishers, and, presumably, readers show no signs of becoming bored with the cultural history of the decades before the First World War. And indeed the fin de siècle, the belle époque, remains fascinating because it can be seen both as the end of an age in Europe, the last …

The Cost of Bigness

In 1833 the young German historian Leopold Ranke published an essay on the great powers that traced the pattern according to which the European powers had risen and fallen between the seventeenth and the nineteenth centuries; he suggested the factors that explained their success and failure—the size of armies, financial …

Red Rosa

It is easier to sympathize with unsuccessful revolutionaries than with successful ones. For all the admiration which, for example. Lenin’s intelligence, ruthless determination, and revolutionary charisma may inspire, he is ultimately judged by the kind of society to which his revolution gave rise and which led to Stalin’s arbitrary tyranny …

Esalen East

What have the following in common: Kafka, Rilke, D.H. Lawrence, F.R. Leavis, Alesteir Crowley, Gandhi, George Orwell, Expressionists, Surrealists, National Socialists? According to Martin Green they all, to a greater or lesser extent, “fed on a living stream of thought that had its source in Ascona.” At first sight, this …

Mann and the Magician

“How many professions and confessions I have already made on the subject of Wagner, for Wagner and against Wagner—it seems as if it will never end,” Thomas Mann wrote in 1951, four years before his death. Indeed, Wagner was not only to preoccupy Mann as an artist (“I can never …

Business as Usual

Any explanation of the rise of National Socialism and Hitler’s success is bound to have strong moral implications. The crimes of the Third Reich—war, persecution, genocide—were so great, but at the same time the similarities between Germany and other Western industrial societies are so close, that any discussion of the …

Klingsor’s Apprentices

“People who start to think about Wagner too much go crazy,” the composer’s great-granddaughter recently remarked to an interviewer. And indeed it is hard to think of any artist who has had so widespread and disturbing an influence. His music has inspired terror as much as affection. Puccini talked of …

Turning Toward War

When early in 1890 Bismarck, the German imperial chancellor, was forced by Kaiser William II to resign, the British prime minister, Lord Salisbury, described the event as “an enormous calamity of which the effects will be felt in every part of Europe.” For twenty years Bismarck’s diplomatic skill had preserved …

Slithering over the Brink

The tragedy of political decisions lies in the fact that again and again politicians find themselves in situations in which they are constrained to act in ignorance of the consequences and without even being able to assess calmly the probable results, the profit or loss that their actions would bring. This is no doubt as true now as it was in 1914.

Ravings of a Renegade

In 1899 the Munich publisher Hugo Bruckmann (later to be one of Hitler’s early financial backers) brought out a rambling book of a thousand pages, The Foundations of the Nineteenth Century (Die Grundlagen des Neunzehnten Jahrhunderts). The author was a forty-four-year-old English expatriate living in Vienna, Houston Stewart Chamberlain. The …

The Weimar Review

The Weimar Republic lasted less than fifteen years, yet few periods in recent history have left so potent a legend. “Weimar culture” has come to symbolize a particular blend of radical art and radical politics. The ideas and tastes of an embattled minority of Weimar radicals and artists are now …

The Old Diplomacy

In 1870, in the midst of the Franco-Prussian war, Karl Marx, always a shrewd commentator on contemporary international affairs, wrote, “If Alsace and Lorraine are taken, then France will later make war on Germany in conjunction with Russia. It is unnecessary to go into the unholy consequences.” It was a …

Why Men Do Not Revolt

For at least a century and a half the specter of revolution has haunted the ruling classes of the West. Tocqueville’s fears in 1848—“Don’t you feel…a wind of Revolution in the air?”—Bismarck’s anxieties that in the 1870s international socialism presented a real and immediate threat, the red scares in the …

How Hitler Made It

The appetite of English-speaking readers for books about Nazi Germany seems insatiable. As our uneasiness about our own society grows, perhaps the study of National Socialism provides some comfort: at least we are not so bad as that. Or perhaps, more disturbingly, it reminds us of how easily one thing …

No End to the Affair

To a generation which has experienced the bitter debates about Hiss and Chambers and which is in the midst of searching for inconsistencies, evasions, and lost threads in the Warren Report, the Dreyfus case presents much that is familiar. On the one hand, it was an issue which forced people …

Le President Soleil

Four more books about General de Gaulle! It is a measure of the power of his personality that no other contemporary statesman arouses such interest or provokes such speculation about his motives and aims. His success has been due to a series of contradictions: He is single-minded and devious, a …

A Middle Way

There are certain statesmen whose reputation is based more on their personal qualities and on the ideas they are held to symbolize than on their actual political achievements. While Lincoln and Gladstone and Lenin can be judged by their accomplishments, others—Rosa Luxemburg and Adlai Stevenson, for example—depend for their fame …

Guided Tour

When war broke out in 1914, very few people realized what it was going to involve. While the French soldiers scrawled A Berlin on the railroad cars taking them to the front and the German Crown Prince called for a “bright and jolly war”—a frisch-fröhlichen Krieg—the British were confident that …

A Very Unpleasant Man

Napoleon, Bismarck, Lenin—all three changed the face of Europe and each contributed to the making of our midtwentieth century world. In each case, the achievement transcends the man, and although the temptation to write their biographies will recur in each generation, the difficulty of doing so remains almost insuperable. However …