on 4 March 2014
Totally different from all the other books on the First World War I've read over the past few months, Frank Furedi's 'First World War: Still no End in Sight' considers the Great War and the conflicts it bred from a sociological perspective. Identifying WW1 as "a key moment of transition between the old and the new", the sheer magnitude and awfulness of the First World War had what Furedi describes as "a dissolvent effect upon conventional belief and behaviour" which led to "a loss of belief in the legitimacy of the institutions and ideals associated with the pre-war regimes". With the pre-1914 elites delegitimised, Furedi argues that an exhausted West completely lost confidence in its own beliefs and values and, worryingly, "the experience of the following century has shown that what was lost has been neither regained nor replaced".
Currently the emeritus professor of sociology at the University of Kent and a co-founder of the Revolutionary Communist Party in the 1970s, Furedi is also a frequent contributor to Brendan O'Neill's Spiked Online [formerly Living Marxism magazine] which provides some of the most provocative and incisive commentary on the state of modern society available on the web. While you may or may not agree with his politics, there's no doubting Furedi's command of his subject and this is one of the most thought-provoking books I've read on the First World War to date. In emphasising the remorseless sidelining of democracy and popular sovereignty which has been in motion since 1914 [and the subsequent drift towards ever more authoritarian government], Furedi's assessment seems pretty spot on to me. As you'd expect from someone with his background on the far-Left, he has little to say about the post-WW1 spiritual malaise of western societies, preferring to consider events in purely rational and material terms.
However, despite the humanist-focused perspective, I'd still have no hesitation recommending this book to anyone interested in learning how the Culture Wars of today [over gay rights, abortion etc] are merely the latest pit stop on the West's century-long drift into irrelevance during which important political and economic battles have been replaced by ever more trivial, bitter clashes over petty lifestyle issues. Unless these cultural matters are pushed back to the sidelines of the debate where they belong and western societies begin to grapple with the massive political and economic issues which confront them then the deconstruction of our civilisation which began in 1914 looks set to continue.