The Moment of the Paradigm Shift

Our British correspondent JP sends some contemporaneous analysis of events in 1918, when the political structures which had governed Europe since the Congress of Vienna in 1815 seemed to dissolve spontaneously.

JP says, “With reference to viral propagation, and its disappearance — the fading of the viral wave — here is a useful quote by Lewis Namier about the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which was destroyed by the logic of hitherto repressed ideas.”

The Enormous Void

The October days of 1918 in Austria will for ever remain remarkable for their mass psychology and as an example of how ideas, talked about yet unthinkable on one day, acquire life on the next, while other ideas, which had seemed solid fact, pass out of reality. Austria-Hungary disappeared when it vanished from the consciousness of those concerned. The War had broken the habits and the approach of defeat disbodied the ideas which made up its political and social structure. The language changed; for the first time men drew conclusions from old familiar facts; the pace at which they did so, quickened daily; it became catastrophical. Diplomatic notes, speeches in the Vienna and Budapest Parliaments, declarations and manifestoes published at Prague, Zagreb, Cracow, or Lvov, were no longer mere moves in a political game. The masses listened to the march of events, the leaders watched the movements of the inarticulate masses. Elemental forces seemed to work through men and to control them, uncontrolled by them. The solid political foundations of inherited everyday existence vanished, and in the enormous void ideas seemed to move, free from hindrance, obeying their own laws.


Vanished Supremacies. Essays on European History, 1812 – 1918. Lewis Namier, Hamish Hamilton Ltd, London, 1958 (reprinted 1970), pp. 139 – 140.

The quote appears in an essay entitled “The Downfall of the Habsburg Monarchy” originally published in A History of the Peace Conference of Paris, edited by Harold Temperley, Oxford University Press/Hodder & Stoughton, 1921.

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5 thoughts on “The Moment of the Paradigm Shift

  1. And this will happen again, far sooner than most people think. The political system in the West is broken, and the general public is starting to notice. Something new will arise, for better or worse. What appears unthinkable today will appear inevitable in a few years. Let’s try to make sure that people like us set the agenda for tomorrow.

  2. As someone who has studied the Austro-Hungarian Empire for a history essay, I believe that modern historiography actually suggests that the Empire didn’t disappear because it lost the war (it was, in fact, the only empire still standing in its general area), but rather because the Allies wanted to destroy it.

    The book I primarily refer to is The Decline and Fall of the Hapsburg Empire 1815-1918 by Alan Sked. I haven’t read through the whole thing (and he admits the title is kind of misleading, as the Empire wasn’t in a terminal decline at 1918), but his conclusion is basically that the Empire didn’t fail because it lost the war militarily, but rather because the Allies were intent on obliterating the Empire in order to destroy the Old Order and render Europe “safe for democracy” (for what happened next, I would refer you to Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism).

    Thought you should know what more recent historians have said (especially since the 1920-1950 period still saw the Empire in general living memory, and not all said memories were fond, especially for virulent nationalists).

  3. All empires have a sell by date and start to decline. The only difference with multicultural empires like the Autro-Hungarian one is that once the power in the center fails they collapse very quickly. There was some very interesting vicious wars fought in central Europe after the first world war. We have seen the same happen with the fall of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia. The British Empire was no different although much smoother than most, this was due mainly to the fact that America had taken over, as policeman of the world. From 1947 when the British economy went down the drain because of the blizzard stopped all rail transport for months and we couldn’t get our exports too the harbors for export to pay for our imports. America loaned us one and half billion dollars to get us through, we paid it off the last installment in 2007. It took us less than 20 years to dispose of our colonies that had taken centuries to acquire.

    The E.U. will go the same way, most likely for the same reason as Russia, the collapse of it economies. It will only take a war in the middle east over oil, and the dream of a United Europe will quickly turn into a nightmare.

  4. York, the Austro-Hungarian empire wasn’t THAT multicultural. It was multi-ethnic, but not multicultural. The British empire was similar, actually. It was just part of Wilson’s quest.

    LAWWells, and it’s funny, but destroying the Old Order led to the rise of communism and nazism and eventually to WW2. Basically, we need to go back in time and erase all this insanity that happened in the last 200 years and restart from there. And as Fjordman says, the current paradigm will end fairly soon.

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