THE PERSISTENCE OF THE OLD REGIME: Europe to the Great War by Arno Mayer
Kirkus Star

THE PERSISTENCE OF THE OLD REGIME: Europe to the Great War

By
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

The general belief that the Great War resulted from the ancien rÉgime's death throes is seriously challenged here by Princeton historian Mayer--who contends, rather, that the war was precipitated by an old order very much in control. Mayer first shows that the European economy up to 1914 was dominated by ""pre-modern"" sectors: namely, agriculture and, more surprisingly, consumer rather than capital goods production. Though the turn of the century is usually viewed as a period of new, expanding industrial methods and technologies, and therefore of their economic dominance, Mayer emphasizes the overwhelmingly small-scale nature of production in the economies as a whole; the modern sectors were expanding, true, but they were still only a small part of things. Taking a cue from Schumpeter, Mayer goes on to argue that this economic disjuncture was matched by aristocratic dominance in the total society, and buttresses the argument with chapters on politics, high culture, and ideologies. Aside from the preponderance of monarchies with the consequent importance of court life, the eagerness with which the newly wealthy--those who made up the supposedly rising bourgeoisie--sought after the titles and life-styles of the old order is significant here. Drawing on examples from all over Europe, Mayer documents the absorption of the industrial and banking magnates into the culture of the aristocracy at the same time that aristocratic wealth was itself moving into the modern sectors. But the grafting of modern economic sectors onto pre-modern stalks, together with the attempt to realize rational market economics within a nonrational aristocratic mind-set, produced a crisis that resulted in the Great War. Mayer is stronger on the texture of pre-War Europe, but its various aspects do not per se provide evidence of this crisis or its form; the study lacks an integrating conclusion. Similarly, without a prior knowledge of Mayer's previous works (Political Origins of the New Diplomacy, 191 7-1918, Politics and Diplomacy of Peacemaking--on Versailles--and Dynamics of Counterrevolution in Europe, 1870-1956), no one could understand his claim that it was the crisis backgrounded here that led to the ""thirty years' war"" of this century, encompassing the two World Wars and the Holocaust. Some big claims fall short, therefore, but--allowing for the sometimes overwhelming detail--an important new image of pre-War Europe.

Pub Date: March 20th, 1981
ISBN: 1844676358
Publisher: Pantheon