Wednesday, November 8, 2017

The background of my discussion with Adam Tooze re. the origin of World War I

Adam Tooze on his Website today presented his version of our recent disagreement on the origins of World War I. Perhaps as an example of a more general difficulty of establishing “the truth”, we have two slightly different versions of the events. I propose mine here.

After reading and reviewing Adam’s important book “Deluge”, we agreed (at Adam’s initiative) to meet and have a drink. Adam kindly accepted to come all the way to mid-town New York. We had drinks and while discussing both his book and my ongoing project on pre World War I inequality and foreign investment with Thomas Hauner and Suresh Naidu, to be released in a couple of days (and on which Adam could give us valuable advice), Adam offered to send me two of his recent papers.

One of them dealt with the July crisis. The paper is here. I was quite surprised by Adam’s uncritical support of,  I would have thought,  discredited thesis of Chris Clark on the origins of the war. I will not go here into the dissection of Chris Clark who, without knowledge of the language or archives, decided to discuss Serbia’s pre-war politics  based mostly on the official dispatches of Austrian military attachés in Belgrade (as if one were to write a history of German militarism, without knowing the language, and  basing himself on uncritical reading of French military attachés dispatches from Berlin!).  For a brilliant dismantling of Clark’s book see Miloš Vojnović’s review here.

Adam, as he says in his today’s blog, seems to rejects towards the end of his paper Clark’s thesis. This was not, nor is it now, fully evident to me. He mentions Clark, always approvingly, no fewer than twenty-eight times in a 50-page paper. I then wrote to Adam the two emails shown below (plus a third one giving some data on Serbia’s trade prior to 1914 that Adam, citing the work of yet another author, says are unavailable: the data by the way show that 2/3 of Serbia’s trade was with the Central Power which I suppose might have been an uncomfortable fact).

The first email was sent the day after our meeting (on 20 October), the second, more detailed, several days later. I have not heard a word from Adam since, that is, until yesterday (7 November). That is almost three weeks. The least you can say is that it is a very impolite reaction. If after having had drinks with somebody and having given him your papers for comments, you just ignore his friendly comments simply because he disagrees with some parts of your paper is neither nice nor is it an academically appropriate reaction. Had Adam cared to explain his position regarding Clark’s “orientalism” our discussion would have gained much in clarity, and perhaps there would have been no discussion at all.

Here are the emails:

My email No. 1 (October 20)
Dear Adam,

Two quick comments (I may come back with some Qs later) on your "July crisis revisited".

You quote with agreement Clark's rather bizarre association between "The Young Bosnia", "Black Hand" ("Union or Death") organizations and Al Qaeda. Obviously, we can say that there is a similarity between OAS and AQ, or Irgun and AQ,  or IRA and AQ or whatever but we need to understand the logic and ideology of these organizations which I think Clark does not.

"The Young Bosnia" was not even a Serbian nationalist but Yugoslav nationalist organization, as clearly stated by Princip during his trial when he referred to himself as a "Yugoslav nationalist". So if one wants to find similarities, it is rather with the Carbonari; and it was not for nothing that they took the name of the "Young". The organization had, among its members, Serbs, Croats and Muslims (all three religions were among 7-8 people who planned the assassination). Obviously, the objectives of the Serbian Military Intelligence which supplied the weapons were different; they were pan-Serb nationalists and they looked very warily to what was for them the Viennese-Zagreb idea of South Slav unification. But for a while, between 1908 and 1914, the two ideologies had the same objective: getting A-H out of Bosnia. Clark fails to note the difference and to place the Young Bosnia squarely within the context of European unification movements.

I can also get you the data on Serbia's exports and imports. Up to the Customs crisis with A-H in 1906, some 80% of Serbia's exports went to Austria-Hungary (import figures were probably similar). During the Austrian embargo (up to 1910), Serbian exports diversified significantly toward France, Italy etc., so that the A-H share went down to (I guess) a half or less of what it was in 1906. And I do not think that it recovered before 1914. But it does not seem to me that Bulgaria which was much more integrated with the Ottoman Empire and became fully independent only in 1908 is at all a good proxy here.

My email No. 2 (October 25)
Here are my comments on your July crisis paper. You are unlikely to agree with them, but here they are.

For Suresh and Thomas (who is the coauthor of our paper; cc-ed here), the interesting part is, I think, what I argue is the unified feature of imperialist theories. We do not even mention in our paper that they apply (in my opinion) equally well to the Balkans, but it is reassuring to know that they do (or at least that the argument can be made that they do), and hence that they are more generally valid.

With the attachment:

Dear Adam,

As I mentioned before, here are some reactions on reading your piece on the July crisis.

Let me start with the end. I could not agree more with you statement that the “democratic peace theory” can hold only when there is a hegemon, relatively benign over its domain (not outside the domain thought) which keeps in check other rivalries. This is why  think the West had had no war within itself since 1945 and is unlikely to have one so long as the US remains the hegemon.

What is wrong, in my opinion, with other theories you discuss (except globalization à la Williamson and O’Rourke which really pertains to North Atlantic only)? The fundamental problem is that they see  the war as the conflict of the already formed European states whereas the trigger for conflict lies in Austrian imperialism. They are misled because imperialism (colonialism) in this case took place in Europe. If Bosnia were in Africa, they would surely attribute the origin of the war to imperialism and then to the struggle for national liberation. But because the conflict is in Europe, they are blind to that obvious fact. (Lieven however is not.) It is in fact the same issue that played again in 1941 in Germany’s attempted conquest of the Soviet Union: colonialism applied to Europe, as Mazower and Aimé Césaire point out.

In this case, Austria, not being strong enough to expand overseas (also because all the territories were already taken), saw the only way to maintain its Great Power status through European imperial conquest. That explains why it annexed Bosnia and even (wildly) entertained plans of expansion all the way to the Aegean. But imperial conquests in Europe were more difficult because the gap in power and technology between the conqueror and the colonizer was less and the countries were more thoroughly enmeshed into alliances. And the stakes were greater.

Thus the origins of the Balkan conflict that triggered the War is part and parcel of the same imperialist narrative that is frequently used only for the Great Powers struggle for territory in non-European spaces. This in my option a great plus for the theory of an imperialist origin of the war: it is unified: Sarajevo is no different from Fashoda or Amritsar.

Two other points. When Gartzke writes how European Great Powers did not go to war after 1870 and Balkan countries did, he totally misunderstands the facts. European powers did go to wars to effect national unifications as Germany did in 1866 and 1870 and Italy against Austria. And they did it despite trade links. This process was simply played out with delay in the Balkans where the formation of national states (or South Slav unification) took place over a longer period from around 1830 and was not completed until 1914 (and it may not be fully completed even now). Wars had nothing to do with trade integration or not, but with the delay, explained by relative underdevelopment, in the process of nation-formation.

Finally, on Clark, I already mentioned what I think. But the most extraordinary is his psycho-babble about Serbian “national psyche” which I find not only incomprehensible but totally “Orientalist”. Nobody would today dare to explain German politics by some elementary school psychology of the German Junkers’ problems adjusting to modernity. But because Clark knows very little of Serbian history, economics or politics and assumes that such lack of knowledge is shared by his readers he is allowed to engage in such childish psychoanalysis of a nation.

Hope you find some of this useful (even if you may not agree).

PS. There are many inconsistencies: if Vienna was a “laboratory of modernity” vs. Serbia how do we explain that Serbia had a constitutional monarchy (since 1903) with a government responsible to parliament and 98% male franchise and Vienna had neither? (In Hungarian part, the franchise was 2-3%, if I remember correctly).

And for better understanding of what I meant by Clarks’ pop psychology 101, quoted very approvingly by Tooze, whereby Clark explains Serbia’s history, politics and society in 1914, here is the text of his “Orientalism” in action:

 “the development of modern consciousness [in Serbia] was experienced not as an evolution from a previous way of understanding the world, but rather as a dissonant overlaying of modern attitudes on to a way of being that was still enchanted by traditional beliefs and values”.

That’s where the matter stood as of yesterday. But yesterday in response to somebody on Twitter who very highly praised “Deluge” I replied that I concur with that (as is evident from my review of “Deluge”) but that the book has several flaws. After not having reacted to my three messages over almost three weeks, Adam reacted very fast to this tweet (the power of Twitter!) saying that if I have critical comments on the book I should express them openly rather than by the way of “innuendo”. This seems a rather strong term for an off-hand remark and Adam and I then exchanged a couple of emails (out of which he has copied and pasted a paragraph on his website) which, in my opinion, is totally incomprehensible unless one reads his article, understand how this disagreement came about, and reads my previous (and I have to say, still unanswered) emails.

Yesterday Adam suggested that we “don't further pursue this exchange” but he seems to have decided that it would be more fun to continue it on the Internet and I am quite happy to oblige.

Now, what remains to be done is that I re-review Adam’s book pointing out to the parts that I do not find compelling (so that my comments are  no longer treated as “innuendos”). I will do so around Thanksgiving because I am off tomorrow on a two-week trip to Europe and I would prefer do the review with Adam’s book in front of me rather than with only copious (attesting to the quality of the book) notes that I took. But so that Adam knows what are, in my opinion, some “problems” with “Deluge” let me briefly mention them. They are of three kinds:

1. A chronicle-like approach that while abounding with facts fails to give to the reader a sense of these facts, why and how they line up, fails to provide  understanding of the facts, i.e., I would like more of histoire raisonée. Even the uptick in democracy around 1918-19, which provides a key theme of the book and is well documented in political terms (parties' share of the vote) is often discussed without addressing social factors leading to it. This weakness is at its most obvious in the Introduction and Conclusions.

2. Misunderstanding of the fact that the Soviet Russia was not a state like any other in 1917 but a state that had a double policy of being a beacon of the new world (and hence having an extremely strong ideological appeal across Europe and increasingly across the world) and a “normal state”. In 1917, you can argue, it was only the former but Adam treats it throughout the book as only the latter. Failure to see that and to correctly assess the ideological importance of the October Revolution (for those outside of Russia) leads  him to interpret wrongly, in my opinion, the Brest-Litovsk peace agreement, to underestimate the appeal of the Revolution in Europe and thereby to overlook the fear that the European elites had of left-wing take-overs, to minimize the importance of strikes and farm chaos in Italy on the rise of Fascism etc. So this serious failure permeates many parts of the book.

3. Economic chapters in the last part of the book seemed written in haste and a plethora of numbers, some given without sources,  expressed in nominal units (with no anchor to some more meaningful statistics) makes the reading and understanding of that part quite difficult.

I hope  to explain in greater detail each of these points around Thanksgiving.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Dining alone…in a hyper-competitive world

After living mostly by myself in New York for four years and having had dinner alone for at least 400 times, I think I may be allowed to opine on how you should eat evening meals by yourself…and what it tells us about the world we live in.

I have recently read that New York is the city with the highest ratio of seats that cater to solo diners compared to the total number of restaurant seats. I do not think it is an accident. The number of such seats has been, even over the last few years, in my experience, going up.

What are the advantages of solo dining? There are some obvious ones: you can decide when and where you want to eat; do not have to worry about how the bill will be split; can stay as long as you feel like. You also learn much more about the people you live with. In our ordinary lives, we are too busy to pay much attention to our surroundings: subway, work, colleagues, friends who are not too dissimilar in age, background or income, and that’s all we know. When you dine alone, you have nothing else to do but to look at people around you and to listen to their conversations. You notice their body language, awkwardness or ease they have with each other, whether men talk more than women, who brags and who is silent, who pays the bill; you listen to what they say: to their job complaints, plans, political opinions, love troubles. There are some negative advantages: you do not have to put up with boring dinner companions or pretend you are interested in topics you do not care about.

What are the disadvantages? It is all vicarious. You learn some but it is a knowledge that comes not from a real exposure to things but rather from pieces of conversation, some possibly misunderstood, that you collect along the way. You never meet anybody and even those you meet (bartenders) are there, ex officio, paid to listen and entertain you.

The question you ask yourself is, what can solo dining tell us about the way of life we lead? The solo life is, I think (rather unoriginally), driven by the break-up of traditional family and communal ties. It comes with greater mobility of labor; it is enabled by higher incomes. What is not appreciated, I think, is that is driven also by hyper-competitiveness and increasing commodification of our lives.

Hyper-competitiveness is demanding in terms of time and effort. As we compete against more people, not only does this take a toll on our time, but we become more aware that every action, every word, every comment ought to be measured and controlled lest they come back to be used against us. Being alone provides a welcome relaxation from the pressure to perform and to project an image required by our public or business lives.

Increasing commodification means that much of our personal space and private actions have become potential money-makers. Birthday parties, reunion dinners, theaters are occasions to meet people who may turn out to be useful and to “network”. (Museums openly advertise vernissages as occasions to network.) Our “dead capitals”, private time or homes, have become commercialized opportunities: we can drive own car for profit or rent own apartments for monetary gain. Being alone provides a respite from such incessant  commodification. You do not network with yourself.

Is the life where we “bowl alone”, dine alone, exercise alone, go to concerts alone, live alone our ultimate objective? It seems to be the case. The average size of household has been going down with higher income. Not only do richer countries have lower (or negative) population growth rates, but the richer the country the smaller the household size. The final objective will be to live in a world where each household is composed of one person. Denmark, Norway and Germany are almost there: the average household size is 2.2 (Senegal and Mali have the average household size of 9.1 and 9.5). Japan offers a vision of a society of ultra-competitiveness combined with loneliness.

We should not be surprised by such an outcome. Being together with others always had an economic angle: expenses were less, on a per capita basis, when shared; we needed children to help us in the old age and spouses to pay our bills. But with higher incomes and higher labor participation rates, we can afford expensive utility bills, we can provide for our old age and a comfortable old-age homes (so broadly advertised today). Our children (if we have any) will be too far away, cast around by the availability of jobs and hyper-competitiveness to take care of us.
Being alone is both our preference and a response to a world of competitiveness,  commodification and higher incomes. The new world that we can glean will not be dystopian. It will be a Utopia, with a twist.

“It will not be a universal concentration camp for it will be guilty of no atrocity. It will not seem insane, for everything will be ordered, and the stains of human passions will be lost amid the chromium gleam. We shall have nothing to lose and nothing to win. Our deepest instincts and our most secret passions will be analyzed, published and exploited. We shall be rewarded with everything our hearts ever desired. And the supreme luxury of the society of technical necessity will be to grant the bonus of useless revolt and an acquiescent smile.” (Jacques Ellul, The technological society, 1954).