The Wasted Century

The Great War and its inevitable successor have been called Europe’s civil war, and there is some truth in this characterization.  Divided by language, religion, and culture, the nations of Europe were nonetheless united in a common civilization that developed out of the ruins of the Christianized Roman Empire.  Despite the strains brought on by religious schisms and the Enlightenment’s revolt against the Church, an educated Scottish atheist had much in common with French Catholics and German Lutherans: Civilized Europeans accepted both the classical tradition and the residue of Christian morality that underlay their notions of fair play, personal responsibility, and the duties of charity.  No more.  To speak of Europe today makes sense only as a reference to material comfort, state-subsidized benefits, and adherence to the corrupt and inept bureaucracy of the European Union.

If the two armed conflicts were part of a European civil war, they were also the beginning of the end both of Europe itself and of the vestigial Christendom that survived in the hypocrisy of good manners.  The memory of those traditions is now preserved only in libraries, museums, and church buildings that tourists admire as uncomprehendingly as a savage who relies on the magic of television and mobile devices.

The Great War that began the process of cultural extinction was a writer’s war, particularly a poet’s...

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