The Study of Man: The Great Transformation
CONTEMPORARY history begins with the First World War. In 1914 European society was shaken by the earlier of two armed conflicts whose after-effects have now unsettled the whole globe. The resulting chain-reactions are still with us; they detonate in the intellectual sphere as decisively, if not as loudly, as in the arena of politics. Yet Europe, once their starting point, is no longer their prime focus. When we speak of today’s crucial issues we are more likely to associate them with events in America, Russia, or even China. It is not inconceivable that in the lifetime of those still present, Europe will become a backwater. Few things would have seemed less likely in 1914. Europe in those days was not merely the greatest repository of power in theworld: it wasunchallengeably dominant in all spheres of thought. And within Europe the western half-England, France, Germany, Austria, Italy-maintained its traditional ascendancy over the regions to the east and south. Spain hardly counted; Russia took its intellectual notions from Germany or France; and the two last named shared an eminence which even their mutual rivalry could not seriously endanger; or so it seemed. Few people in those days were aware of the fragility of the whole structure. Even as late as 1930, on the eve of a second cycle of wars and revolutions, it was still unfashionable to suggest that the whole European era might be drawing to a close.
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