Seventy-six years ago, on May 8, 1945, at 2301 hours, Central European Time, World War II in Europe officially ended. Although the war would continue in the Pacific Theatre for several more months, May 8 marked the dramatic end of what was certainly the most horrific and disastrous land war in history. European culture was changed irrevocably. A civilization which had survived the devastation and depopulation of the Thirty Years War, the horrors of the French Revolution and Napoleon, and then the calamity of the Great War of 1914-1918, now witnessed a kind of final collapse, a coup de grace by which its politics, its history, its traditions, its very mode of viewing the world were undone.
Those millennial traditions and inherited beliefs, that time-honored culture, that understanding of how societies function and properly exist so identified with Europe—what remained of that, after the catastrophe of the First World War—was now overwhelmed, subsumed into a new reality dominated by competing blocs: the United States and its allies, and the Soviet Union and its Communist satraps. Both spoke often and loudly of democracy and equality; both projected global visions for the world. Their definitions were, of course, different. But both had the cumulative effect of exiling older terminologies and language, and, in practice how Europe and the rest of the world should be organized and governed, and what principles and beliefs should be held dear.
In their conquered zones the Soviets, of course, did their best for the next forty-plus years to extinguish long-standing religious belief and a Western and Christian culture that dated back at least to Charlemagne’s coronation in Rome on Christmas Day, 800 A.D. But in an ironic way, Communist oppression only covered over that legacy and those inherited traditions and faith. The persecution did not extinguish that heritage; it survived intact, often just below the surface, to emerge fully vibrant in such countries as Hungary, Poland, and Russia after the fall of Communism in 1989-1991. And in some fascinating ways what the break-up and disappearance of the Soviet system revealed was that its totalitarian rule had served as kind of prophylaxis which not only kept its “captive nations” superficially docile, but also protected them against the more radical and life-altering vision of a Pax Americana from the West.
This last statement deserves explanation. The Marshall Plan and American insistence on disauthorizing older more conservative and traditional elements in Western Europe—during the same period as the Soviet domination of Eastern Europe—had profound cultural and educational effects. Whereas Soviet domination was unable to uproot an older religious faith and culture in its areas of hegemony—and, in reality, those forces were to play a significant role in its eventual overthrow—in countries like Germany, France, and Italy the transformation imposed by the United States was more profound and pervasive, and the resistance to change far less resilient.
Essentially, American global policy placed nebulous values of equality and liberal democracy ahead of allegiance to country, or, rather, insisted that allegiance to country was coterminous with acceptance of American style democracy and equality as absolutes. Of course, the rationale for this was an initially legitimate and real opposition to world Communism—our American “ideology” against theirs, our ideals against the Red menace. But in its post-war role America became the “exceptional nation,” and soon assumed the duty to go round the world and impose those ideas and that vision of democracy and equality on other, unenlightened or recalcitrant countries. To use the words of Neoconservative author Allan Bloom (in his The Closing of the American Mind): “And when we Americans speak seriously about politics we mean that our principles of freedom and equality and the rights based on them are rational and everywhere applicable.” Americans thus engaged in “an educational experiment undertaken to force those who do not accept these principles to do so.” (Quoted in Paul Gottfried, War and Democracy, 2012, p. 110)
In so doing our policy-makers, given free run for decades, not only attempted to impose a kind of global “world faith” which would subvert regional identities and national traditions abroad, but also strengthened and cemented the growth of what James Burnham and Sam Francis would call “the managerial state” at home.
It was the fulfillment of the prophetic words of General Robert E. Lee after the War for Southern Independence and the resultant radical bowdlerization of the United States Constitution: the America cobbled together in 1787 would henceforth be set upon a path “aggressive abroad and despotic at home.”
If World War II signaled the final eclipse of the British Empire—a decline actually begun through the exhaustion and destruction of the Great War—it also signaled the advent of the American colossus. And despite a spirited challenge from world Communism, it was the American side which would finally emerge triumphant.
But the seeds of our decline were already present and germinating; indeed, they had been there since those fateful days in 1865.
There is little said by Abraham Lincoln with which I can agree. But I do concur with the words he spoke in Springfield, June 16, 1858: “A nation divided against itself, cannot stand.” And so, just as the unsuspected election of Donald Trump in 2016 indicated rising and serious doubts about American universalism in the world, if ever so slightly, it also uncovered giant fissures and raw divisions between populations not only incapable of speaking to or understanding each other, but in fact, incapable of finding agreement over basic definitions of what is good and true. Expressions such as “systemic racism,” “sexism,” “white supremacy,” and “police brutality” have been deployed as verbal cluster bombs used to disable, cancel, and ultimately vanquish all opposition to the rapidly advancing liquidation of those remnants of Western civilization and culture which somehow escaped the post-war dissolution.
May 8, 1945, and the Potsdam Agreement later that August, while representing the end of mankind’s worst land war and the (brief) triumph of a Pax Americana, foretold the eventual triumph of progressivist neo-Marxism and the demise of the “American Century.” The Framers of the American Constitution in 1787 were not granted a divine guarantee that the confederation they cobbled together would last forever. It was, in the words of Benjamin Franklin, “a republic if you can keep it.”
That republic has not been maintained. The time for dissolution and separation is at hand.
Boyd D. Cathey holds a doctorate in European history from the Catholic University of Navarra, Pamplona, Spain, where he was a Richard Weaver Fellow, and an MA in intellectual history from the University of Virginia (as a Jefferson Fellow). He was assistant to conservative author and philosopher the late Russell Kirk. In more recent years he served as State Registrar of the North Carolina Division of Archives and History. He has published in French, Spanish, and English, on historical subjects as well as classical music and opera. He is active in the Sons of Confederate Veterans and various historical, archival, and genealogical organizations.