Alternate history: suppose there were no WWII

In 1945, Leftism emerged victorious over the whole planet.  It can be hard to remember how different things were about a decade before, in the mid thirties.  The Western world then was undergoing a serious crisis of faith in the 19th century creed:  liberalism, democracy, capitalism.  It was a great time for communism, but it was also a surprisingly good time for the genuine Right.  The thirties witnessed the rise of conservative heroes like Franco, Salazar, and Dollfuss in Spain, Portugal, and Austria.  In Italy, Mussolini had swashed the Leftist republic and made peace with the Church.  One could have reasonably hoped that Italian Fascism was evolving into a form of conservatism.  Germany was ruled by a loon, but a loon who had crushed the German Left and given his country a respite from democracy.  The Catholic and Orthodox Churches were enduring savage persecution at the hands of Russian, Mexican, and Spanish Leftists, but they were withstanding it heroically.  The self-confidence of Christians was actually pretty high, as one sees in writers of that era like Chesterton and Thomas Merton.  They believed society was broke and the Church had the answers, not vice versa.

Was it inevitable that the Left would triumph?  No, at least it was not inevitable that it would triumph so quickly.  Drieu has, in one of my old comments, mused that an Axis victory was Western civilization’s last hope.  My opinion is somewhat different.  I think the non-Leftist West was doomed the moment WWII started.  But in 1938, we were not yet doomed.  I could potentially save the West if I could just go back in time and take over Hitler’s brain and tell him not to start a war.  It was so stupid anyway.  Germany and the Nazis were really riding high; why the hell did they risk and lose it all?

Suppose I did go back in time, and I replaced the real Hitler with Bonald-controlled zombie-Hitler.  Zombie-Hitler’s one imperative is to hold what he’s got and not start a war.  Zombie-Hitler decides Germany has sufficiently stuck it to the Treaty of Versailles, and he goes on to spend most of his time playing golf.  No big initiatives, no new world order.  Being top dog in continental Europe is enough.  Of course, zombie-Hitler keeps his dictatorial rule, censorship, beating the crap out of communists, and other such worthwhile activities.

Now, I really doubt that if Hitler hadn’t provoked a European war, anyone else would have.  So let’s say that the non-democratic parts of Europe–the majority of European countries, remember–just sit there for a couple of decades and rule their countries with minimal effectiveness.  The crisis of faith in democracy, which always needs to think of itself as the wave of the future, deepens.  My guess is that the French Right would grow in strength until, by the end of this period, France gets sick of being the odd man out in Europe and adjusts its constitution in an authoritarian direction.  Now democracy is a peculiarity of England and her progeny, making it much less internationally attractive.  What’s more, England rules a vast empire that it acquired undemocratically through conquest, so the great beacon of democracy can easily be painted as hypocritical.  Let us imagine that an anti-colonialist movement arises in this alternate history, as it did in ours.  The rebelling natives are really driven by nationalism, but they look for the anti-English ideology with the widest traction.  In our reality, this was communism.  In the alternate reality, it would have been fascism, which would have better suited their true motives anyway.  And in my alternate reality, zombie-Hitler has made fascists risk adverse, and they’re naturally gravitating toward conservatism.

In 1958, a new man ascends the throne of Saint Peter.  He thinks to himself that maybe it would be best if the Church were to “open its windows”, address modern man on his own terms, and initiate a more positive relationship with the world.  It is amusing to think what aggiornamento would have meant in such a world.


27 Responses

  1. In 1945, Leftism emerged victorious over the whole planet.

    Bullshit. We lost our last real battle in 1918. WWII was about which bunch of crazy modernists/leftists would be in charge (actually WWII narrowed the field from 3 to 2 and the Cold War narrowed it from 2 to 1). We had no side in WWII. Guys like Franco were only accidentally our kinds of guys. Franco was the anyone-but-the-commies side in the civil war. Accidentally, he was a heroic Catholic Monarchist. He could just as easily have been some Social Democratic putz.

    It was inevitable that the modernists would triumph. Woodrow Wilson and his intellectual descendants had the power and the will to make modernism triumph. How’s Spain looking these days?

  2. Ah, but the whole point of June, 1941, was to take out the Bolshevik menace. It was real, very real. I hate to think what would have happened–how dark and red Europe would have gotten–had Hitler not deeply wounded it. George Patton wanted to rebuild the German army to be our ally in finishing it off.

  3. Something else–the Japanese saw themselves as a bulwark against Communism. They were enemies of the Russians, and were also deeply concerned about Communism in China.

    The end of the war saw Communism triumphant in Korea and (soon to be in) China.

  4. This might be the single stupidest thing I’ve ever read. Ever. “Imagine water wasn’t wet…”

  5. I’m with Bill on this one — WW2 was probably the first really, thoroughly modern war. And I think there’s good reason to doubt, moreover, that taking Hitler out of the equation could’ve really averted WW2. The internal logic of the Nazi regime demanded war eventually, even needed it. In some sense, war was always its telos.

  6. Hi Proph,

    Could you explain this further? It seems to me that, by 1938, Hitler was so successful, and his regime so solidly established, that he had a lot of freedom to change course. The true Nazis wouldn’t have liked it, but most Germans weren’t Nazis. They liked Germany being powerful, and it was, so they would have probably been content.

  7. Hitler’s anti-Bolshevism, as I argued in a recent essay ( was the only element of National Socialism that could be regarded as right-wing. Otherwise Nazism, its nationalism as well as its socialism, was left-wing. In that sense I agree with Bill that WWII was a battle between leftisms. This is illustrated in Evelyn Waugh’s “Sword of Honour” trilogy in which the hero, Guy Crouchback, is gradually awakened from his naive initial belief that in joining the war he is taking up arms against the modern age to the realization that that very modernity was firmly in control in his own country as well.

    That reflects Waugh’s own awakening to that fact, an unpleasant one, but very significant because the only countries that could arguably be said to be fighting for something other than modern, leftist, values were Britain (and the British family of nations including my own Canada, who went to war for the honorable, right-wing reason, that our place was at the side of our mother country and our king) and France. They fought to preserve the last remnants of the old order the 20th Century was smashing to pieces all around them, including what was left of their empires. They failed because modernity had already rotted them from the inside, causing them to embrace Stalin and Roosevelt, and to hand their power over to them in exchange for a Pyrrhic victory over Hitler.

  8. As I see it, the “good war” ended when the nationalists completed their victory in Spain.

  9. Check out Drucker’s “The End of Economic Man.” Parts of his analysis are unsound but I think it’s valid on the whole. Part of it is simply that the failure of the Nazi regime to successfully produce the noneconomic society it had promised had to be pinned on someone, and persecuting Jews could only go so far; part of it was that they hoped to create such a society through martial valor, which created internal pressures for war.

  10. Was it inevitable that the Left would triumph?


    The roots of leftist triumph lie in rising comfort and prosperity and in technological change.

    Those who think that intellectuals, the media, or historical events like WWI and WWII were the primary reasons for the ascendancy of the left are utterly deluding themselves.

    (Please note that the continued ascendancy of the left is not inevitable.)

  11. ‘This might be the single stupidest thing I’ve ever read. Ever.’

    Clearly you are new to this whole “reading” thing.

  12. Yeah. I alone have written things way stupider than this!

  13. Bonald
    I think a big piece of the puzzle was the extreme-ness of A. Hitlers anti-semitism. He meant all the things he wrote in Mein Kampf. His main goal was to hack his way to the East and kill a lot of the sorts of people he did not like. He only fought in the West because that turned out to be a necessary preliminary step. There is plenty of evidence that he really did not think the Allies would go to war over his incursion into Poland. He would rather that they had not. The war he wanted was in the East.
    Traditionalists should take more comfort from the fall of the Soviet Bloc than they seem to do. JP2 was a huge factor in the key changes that happened in Poland – and that was a key phase. Gorbachev looks to me like a closet believer. There are strong rumors that he was baptized.

  14. Oh By the way.
    At least 7/8ths of the German war effort was expended on the Eastern front. The Americans, British, Canadians, etc. took altogether 1/8th of the punishment inflicted by the Wehrmacht.

  15. Cute. Leaving aside the moral issue of Hitler still committing genocide, liberalism tends to make citizens rich and fascism doesn’t. Even today there are major powers ruled by conservative dictators (i.e. Russia), but their per capita GDP is nothing great.

    I remember reading a review of Marx’s Das Kapital I somewhere that said while it didn’t stand up as falsifiable science, even non-believers can appreciate it as a great gothic horror novel where the protagonists are the poor and the monster is capital. To put that in Aristotelian terms: before industrial capitalism, 90% of us couldn’t fulfill our telos because we lacked goods necessary to enjoy the life of the mind. Industrial capitalism created the vast wealth that could have given us all the ability to flourish, but had to uproot people, destroying traditional culture to make factory workers and office drones.

    What we call democracy Aristotle would have called “elected oligarchy”, and the oligarchs are elected to make laws the capitalists’ lobbyists tell them to. The Communist solution was to kill all the capitalists; the Fascist was to subordinate them to the state. The latter is certainly not a solution to the problem of combining enough wealth for all to live the good life with the pre-industrial spiritual goods we’ve lost. Even if there were no moral issues with it.

  16. “The self-confidence of Christians was actually pretty high, as one sees in writers of that era like Chesterton and Thomas Merton. They believed society was broke and the Church had the answers, not vice versa.”

    That optimism tends to be found in writers living in countries of Protestant culture.

    Laberthonnière captures the mood in Catholic countries much better:

    “The triumph [of the Church] in society?” That would be excellent. Still, we ought to consider by what means our religion permits us to pursue it. Besides, it has not been promised us. And, then, perhaps, it is not the most pressing of our tasks… Do not pursue childish dreams, when you have within your reach eternal realities that invite you…”

    This is typical of a whole generation of rising Catholic thinkers, associated with Abbé Bremond and with Maurice Blondel and the journal, L’Annales de philosophie chrétienne, characterized by a detachment from politics and a retreat into interiority. Their most characteristic theme was “the church is not instrumental to God’s purpose of redeeming the world, rather the world is instrumental to God’s purpose of fashioning a body and bride for his Son.”

    The influence of both trends, Anglo-Saxon and French, can be found in Belloc, nowhere more than in “The Great Heresies.”

  17. WW1 was the inevitable war, with WWII as its sequel and it had nothing to do with ideologies (War never does; most men will not die for an idea)

    1. With a stagnant population, France could not hope to recover the lost provinces of Alsace and Lorraine unless it fought immediately.

    2. Ever since 1815, when she acquired territory on the Rhine and lost territory in the East, Prussia had always known that war with either France or Russia meant war with both. Russia could not mobilize quickly, so Germany’s strategy was to deliver a crushing blow against France first, before turning East. Russia was developing a railway system that would have undermined this strategy.

    3. Austria could not control its fractious ethnicities, if it did not punish Serbia.

    4. Russia could not keep control of the industrialised western part of its empire – Poland, the Baltic States and Finland – if it allowed Austria to humiliate its Serbian ally. Russia depended on these provinces for the bulk of its tax revenues.

    5. England could not maintain the balance of power in Europe if Germany crushed France and was afraid of Germany’s growing naval power.

  18. I agree that the vast majority of men will not die for an idea. Woodrow Wilson didn’t do a lot of dying for his ideas and neither did Bill Kristol. Men will cheerfully kill for their ideas, however, and men will risk death for lots of other things—money, honor, avoiding prison, etc. So, division of labor solves the paradox that men routinely fight wars for ideas even though virtually no man is willing to die for one.

    WWI was most definitely about cleansing Europe of pre-modern institutions and the ideas they embodied. Witness the passion with which the Anglosphere hated Austria-Hungary. Your points 3 and 4 (and perhaps 1) casually assume that the ideology of nationalism does motivate men to die—which ideology the modernists used during the long 19th century to undermine Christendom.

    I agree that WWI or something like it was inevitable, but not for the realist reasons you are giving. As we have witnessed since the fall of the Soviet Union, the mere existence of pre-modern institutions fills modernists will killing rage. So, only by killing themselves could AH and Russia have avoided some kind of war. Contemporary Russia is only protected by its nuclear weapons, otherwise we would have been at war with them by now.

    On realist grounds, Russia could have and should have sacrificed Serbia. Killing AH’s crown prince was an absolutely deranged thing to do. With allies like that, who needs enemies? Plus, going to war against Germany and AH was not going to go well for Russia, even assuming that England and France were going to live up to their treaty obligations (which was no sure thing on realist grounds). So, even if you are right that Russia would have lost territory, that would have been better than waging a war so likely to end badly.

  19. Amen at least to the inevitability, given the way the long 19th Century went. With no WWI, AH and Russia would have been smashed some other way. Maybe by a “color revolution.”

  20. A priest once observed to me how different things were for Catholics today than in his youth. He grew up in an ethnic Catholic neighborhood, and it never occurred to him to be anything but Catholic. And this was an observation about the US. How much more different must the experiences be of Catholics from Catholic countries decades ago and Catholics in utterly non-Catholic countries today.

    The Conciliar Popes often seem clueless to me. Each of them grew up in Catholic countries (or regions) surrounded by a Catholic culture, and they seem so thoroughly imbued with the liberal’s weird, thoughtless confidence that the branch he is sitting on will still be there after he is done sawing through it. As if they sort of can’t really get their minds around the idea that the culture they grew up in could possibly cease. To be fair, they verbally acknowledge the change, but that’s really not what I’m talking about. I wonder what a future Pope who has grown up in a thoroughly non-Catholic culture will be like.

  21. Russia’s GDP per capita is around $15K. Its growth rate has been around 3%. It is doing better, growth-wise, and a little worse GDP/cap – wise than democratic Poland, for example, which seems like a reasonable comparator. Singapore has been ruled by a right wing dictator for a long time, and it is very rich. S Korea and Taiwan were ruled by right wing dictators while they were becoming rich. Chile did quite well under Pinochet, and Spain did fine under Franco. So, I think you are wrong about right wing dictators necessarily impairing progress.

    Das Kapital contains numerous falsifiable predictions. It is good science. Over time, as these falsifiable predictions have been violently falsified, Marxian economists spun bizarre ex post fixes to try to save it. So, Marx was a good scientist, but Marxian economists not so much. If you are interested, Thomas Sowell has a book about exactly this.

  22. Well, I had pigeonholed myself to reading intelligent things, sad as it is to admit. I’m a bit of a virgin at this “ridiculous brain fart” genre, however. You have sussed me out, sir. Well played indeed.

  23. But the Hitler government needed permantent action for its inner stability. The nazis were a pure movement they could not stop moving. There were also a lot of debt for the rearmament of the mid-thirties.

    Stability was impossible. And not desirable too – especially form a conservative or christian point of view.

  24. Yes. Definitely agree with Bill here. Looking at history its impossible to not conclude that fascist societies are not better at producing economic growth than socialist societies. And Russia is right wing compared to Europe but last I checked it is still a democracy and the second leading party in the country is the Communist party.

  25. That should read: “its impossible not to conclude that fascist societies are better”

  26. A small, but very telling, difference I notice between my native Scotland (essentially a secular, Protestant country) and France, a traditionally Catholic one, is the way a French curé will distinguish between “his parishioners” and “his congregation”; the former includes all the inhabitants of his parish. In large areas of La France profonde, Catholicism is still seen as the default position, along with great laxity of practice; the congregation of regular worshippers may amount to some 10% or 15%, but up to 70% may have their children christened and their dead buried by the Church. Often, there is no non-Catholic place of worship for 50 miles.

    Catechism classes are well-attended, but not always for purely religious reasons. Under the Jules Ferry laws, religious instruction is strictly forbidden in the public schools, so they are required to close on Thursday afternoons, in order that the children may receive religious instruction, if this is their parents’ wish. Thursday afternoon Catechism classes provide a cheap form of child-minding for working parents.

  27. The parish I recently moved from was kind of like that. It was about half Catholic if you go by self-identification. But most of the self-identified Catholics saw the inside of a Catholic church for Christmas, Easter, weddings, funerals, their children’s baptisms, and required events for Catechism class (not that it is called that). But their kids did get baptized, attend Catechism classes, receive first Communion, receive Confirmation, and get married in the church. I found and find them kind of baffling. They are sort of tribal Catholics.

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