You could say that the cause of World War One was that European countries had all allied with each other, and that created an obligation that once any of the countries went to war it would pull the rest of Europe into the same war. While this is a good explanation for the immediate events of The Great War it is not a good explanation for another phenomena. Why did so many think that the war would be over quickly. After all, Europe was going to war. It wasn’t as if it was a small isolated event. Then why the blind confidence that they could conquer, and go home soon after?
The answer lies in advent of the Scientific Revolution, and enlightenment. Newton saw the universe in a mechanistic way with the laws of it applying to all things in all places. The enlightenment believed the same things about the universe, but the enlightenment stripped the lawmaker out of Newton’s vision. The question after this was what to use to fill the vacuum?
A way of answering this is what do the two ideas have in common? They are both incredibly deterministic. Things that happen in a mechanistic universe must happen, and can happen in no other way. So, then what could replace Newton’s God? Human progress had the intellectual capacity to get the job done.
This is the mindset going into the industrial revolution. As this process makes its way throughout Europe it seems as if the earlier intuitions of the enlightenment philosophy was right in the idea that human progress has the power to manipulate nature toward our will. This makes much more sense of the idea that Europeans thought that the war would be over quickly. They had been progressing quickly toward more and more advanced technology. So, to say that they would go out in the field and use it, it fit their worldview, that their technology would save them.
Another way of approaching WWI philosophically is from a post war point of view. It can, in fact be seen as an escape from reason. Because, what did reason give us? It gave us guns, tanks, and different ways to kill each other.
This can be articulated through one of the enlightenment’s philosophic competitors, the Romantic Movement. Instead of embracing human progress they embraced nature as the ultimate good. One example of this is Jack’s London’s book: “The Call of the Wild,” in which a civilized dog embraces his ultimate good of going back to his feral roots, and becomes once again a wild animal.
You could say that the first World War has a lot to do with specific events such as the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand, which it does. However, ideas like the empiricism of the enlightenment, or ideas that make ultimate truth claims have consequences, and they almost always are big.


6 Comments so far

  1.    Andrew Miller on February 27, 2017 10:23 am

    WW1 began as any war began, boys trying to show everyone they have the biggest toys.

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