Announcement: Shadow Agents of War Workshop

A fascinating event is taking place next week on 4th June at the University of Edinburgh: a one day workshop titled “Shadow Agents of War”, which will focus on the role in war of certain players who are largely overlooked by scholars of war and conflict, such as refugees, convicts, commoners and even animals. The workshop also promises to tackle methodological issues and point to relevant sources. The workshop is co-organised by Stephen Bowd, who is currently working on a project on gender and early modern warfare, Sarah Cockram, who focuses on the early modern period, too, and is interested in historical animal studies, and John Gagné whose current book project is on transcultural war in the early sixteenth century.

The workshop will have three sessions: The Unwilling Agents of War; The Organisers of War; The Suppliers of War.

The full programme can be accessed by following this link:

A fatal encounter in war. A case of impact of PTSD on civilians in Christopher Nolan’s “Dunkirk”

by Gianluca Cinelli

Dunkirk (2017) as a war movie seems to direct itself toward a new way of representing war on the screen. No gore, no mangled bodies are to be seen. It seems as though the director meant to say that horror in war does not only depend on the amount of terrifying visions of slaughter, but rather on the psychological perception of fear as an overwhelming emotion that constantly drives the combatant to choose between two basic actions: fighting or fleeing.

Dunkirk tells a story of flight rather than fight. Between the end of May and the early days of June 1940 about 400.000 encircled British and French soldiers were evacuated in a few days from the beaches of Dunkerque, in northern France. Every available ship was employed for the rescue, including a number of private yachts and fishing boats. In the movie the crew of one of these private yachts play a major role, and their story suggests these few lines of reflection about a case of lethal encounter between combatants and civilians.

The small boat rescues a British soldier who has remained stranded at sea for some time, his boat having been sunken. This young soldier is affected by a serious form of PTSD. Fear has taken hold of his mind and he categorically refuses to be taken back to the coast of Dunkirk, insofar as this is the route and task of the small boat. He struggles with the captain and eventually with one of the two young boys who are sailing on the yacht from England to Dunkirk to rescue the stranded troops. In the fight the young boy, a captain’s family friend, falls and is concussed. It is an ugly accident from which he will eventually die.

The British soldier will never grow conscious of the tragic aftermath of his revolt. He acted out of utter fear and his strong desire to escape the madness of being encircled, trapped between the German troops and the sea, bombed and chased like a sitting-duck. He meant no harm, but his action was violent enough to easily overcome the young boy. He does not acknowledge the death of the boy and will eventually leave the boat, after they reach the English shore, without being fully aware of the gruesome effect that war has been having on him.

In fact, in order to save himself he involuntarily kills one of those fellow citizens, to defend whom he had gone to war: a young brave man who put his own life at stake to save him and his comrades from peril and death. How does it come to be? How does war change the mind and even the personality of those who are involved in it? Does war make people more courageous, morally stronger or ethically wiser? Such questions the movie raises that are worth answering.

And finally, how should we judge such a character as this young soldier? Is he vile? Is he a felon? Is he to blame?

In the end, the captain’s son does not reveal to the soldier that his young unlucky friend died. He just says to comfort the traumatised soldier that his friend will be all right, and then he lets the castaway go to join his comrades. It seems a profoundly human action, full of piety and understanding. One could wonder whether some disguised rhetorical claim is embedded here. I do not believe it. Dunkirk is more than just a war movie, rather a work that chooses war to represent the wonder of human ethical response (in its broad variety) to a basically moral quest: what should one do, when the moment demands that everyone be involved into great and dangerous events, which the vast majority is not ready or willing to take part into? Although someone else is supposed to go abroad to fight and die, we could be called up to back those who are over there, because their failure could mean our doom as well. Being brave is not necessarily a matter of exquisite heroism. It could just have to do with taking up one’s own responsibility, to the very end no matter what.

Land of mine: an Ethical Example of Wisdom and Empathic Rationality

By Patrizia Piredda

The Oresteia by Aeschylus, like every Greek tragic trilogy, represents a series of catastrophes and grieves provoked by the violent feeling of revenge that prevents reason from evaluating the best actions to take. Orestes is hunted and tormented by the Erinyes because he killed his mother, who assassinated her husband, who originally sacrificed their daughter Iphigenia, Orestes’ sister.   

In the last tragedy of the trilogy, however, a fundamental event happens: Athena, goddess of reason and justice, enters the scene as the judge of a regular process, during which a jury composed by twelve Athenians and the goddess herself has to judge whether to condemn or to absolve Orestes and therefore whether to stop the Erinyes hunting him. Orestes is eventually absolved and the long chain of sufferings and grieves is broken: the Erinyes are transmuted into Eumenides and Orestes, the last descendant of Agamemnon’s dynasty, finds peace.

The importance of this myth lies on the fact that it represents the passage from the habit of perpetuating the state of conflict throughout the violent reaction of revenge, which derives from the incapacity to limit the feeling of hatred, to the habit of mitigating the natural emotional reactions of hatred, violence, and resentment throughout rational thinking.

The myth of Orestes brings us to reflect on a number of fundamental aspects of the human character and on the building of our social habits, based on the capacity of feeling emotions and empathy in a balanced way, always in combination with the critical thinking of reason.

What can one do in the case of suffering from violence, or of having witnessed or perpetrated violent actions? In the ancient Greek society, violence (bia) was known as the mother of tyranny and defeat, while on the opposite end there was democracy, viz. a society based on free discussion and exchange of opinions. However, the statement according to which violence brings violence is only partially true. Any violent act begets revenge when the agent believes that only by means of punishment grounded on the principle of an eye for an eye it is possible to act by justice and to restore peace. These ethical reflections on the Greek myth are once more expressed in Land of Mine, a historical movie from 2015, directed by Martin Zandvliet and nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards in 2017.

After the surrender of Nazi Germany, the disposal of over two million anti-personnel mines all along the Danish beaches immediately started. German POWs were used for this dangerous work, many of whom were just boys, the same ones that the Nazi regime had sent to war after the Wehrmacht’s decimation.

At the beginning of the movie, Sergeant Rasmussen savagely beats up one German prisoner who is strongly holding the Danish flag, probably stolen and kept as an ironic trophy. In order to understand this emotional reaction, it is necessary to take into account the fact that at the end of every war, the most common feelings toward the enemy army, guilty of horrible crimes and atrocities, are hatred, resentment and the desire of revenge. These feelings prevent empathy, compassions and sympathy for prisoners to raise and consequently hinder the possibility to attribute some value to their lives. At the beginning of the story, Sergeant Rasmussen, appointed to lead a team of prisoners for clearing an area of Danish beaches, is entirely dominated by these feelings as well as Lieutenant Ebbe, who manifests a strong rancour and a firm will to take revenge. However, being in daily contact with young prisoners, Rasmussen notices that his team is formed by boys who call their own mother when they feel pain and fear. Slowly, as Rasmussen grows aware of the situation, his feelings change and his hatred, under the control of critical reflection, turns into compassion. This allows him to act wisely and prevents him from committing injustices in turn. Rasmussen, insofar as Lieutenant Ebbe told him, promises his boys that once the clearing is finished they will go home. Without asking for authorisation, because his prisoners had not been eating for days, he personally brings them some food taken from the military depot and decides to relieve them from work on a Sunday so they can enjoy a football game. The peak of this empathic feeling is reached when Rasmussen provides moral support to one of his boys, who has just lost his twin because of an explosion. It is undeniable that many Nazi soldiers that many Nazi soldiers never had similar behaviours and that they almost never developed a thought based on mercy and empathy, which permits us to see ourselves mirrored in the others. The irrational and uncritical acceptance of the false beliefs promulgated by Nazi propaganda (like every uncritical acceptance of populist discourses) originated from the fear that impels to look for strong certainties that might protect the individual (or at least give an illusion of protection) as a part of a group, even if this happens to the detriment of freedom of thought and agency.

The characters of the movie, moreover, are very young boys educated under Nazism. Forged according to the principles of hatred, anti-Semitism, violence and the crazy myths of the purity and supremacy of the Arian race, the generations of the 1920s and 1930s developed their own image of the world founded on the emotion of fear and on the feeling of hatred against diversity: a concept of identity, in other words, which contemplates alterity as something potentially dangerous, since the other, being a stranger, is considered as a potential threat.

 Hatred generates hatred. There are two possible behavioural solutions for Rasmussen: to take revenge on his prisoners for the evil produced by the Nazi ideology that had been feeding them since they were born; or to listen to his own feelings and reason, and to show them a different way of life, built on humanity and wisdom. Rasmussen’s wisdom becomes evident during the football game, when his dog gets killed by a missed hidden mine which had remained undisposed. Suffering from the pain for the death of his dog, after his first reaction of fury – the same he felt when he beat up a prisoner at the beginning of the movie – Rasmussen is able to understand that the prisoners had not premeditated to let mines hidden in the sand and that it was just a human mistake. Therefore, he can regain control over his own emotions and eventually bring his duty to completion, viz. he grants the safety of the beach: he decides that the prisoners will check the safety of the ground by walking in a row all over the beach, but he does not take revenge or punish them. He does not allow hatred to take over reason and justice.

Rasmussen chooses, therefore, the second solution and thanks to his empathic and rational behaviour he manages to provide the young prisoners with a new perspective over life because he donates them an example of something they have not yet experienced: the feeling of justice that paves the way to democracy. In fact, as opposed to the violence of dictatorship, democracy expects the existence of disputes, insofar as without diversity there would never be changes or evolution. Democracy does not mean simply putting the city government in the hands of the population: this is, indeed, extremely problematic because the judgment of the individual – who is part of a group – is influenced by rhetoric. The propagandistic use of rhetoric is aimed at enhancing the passions in the audience as to convey the general opinion toward a precise direction; it is also aimed at diminishing the presence of a rational reflection through which it is possible to see the errors of argumentation and to eradicate prejudices, false beliefs and erroneous opinions.  That who does not develop such critical capacity risks having his-her emotions manipulated and, therefore, emitting erroneous judgments. When one is not aware of the importance and dangerousness of passions, it is possible that one easily listens to and accepts the absurd argumentations of propaganda, by approving and backing dictatorship and consequently by renouncing freedom. By thinking on the power of propaganda, Jaspers writes that the conflict of information, the prohibition of free public discussion and finally the repetition of falsehood might turn a community into an unresponsive dull mass (Karl Jaspers, Vernunft und Widervernunft in unserer Zeit, München, Piper, 1950). When the human being does not act like a thinking individual, he falls in the trap of sophists whom Jaspers calls the sorcerers, the enchanters that create illusion by promising knowledge and by claiming to act for the good of the others (Jaspers).

Such “sorcerers” fight reason with the weapon of “anti-reason”, which requires the enchanter’s and the enchanted audience’s cooperation: the mediocre and undecided people who legitimate anti-reason by believing in its absurdity and by adopting the rhetoric of scientific objectivity (Jaspers).

 Democracy, then, means that everyone should develop critical capacity to have a balanced interaction with their emotions, which are necessary for judgment, without letting them prevail over reason. In this way, it is possible within a group to compare different opinions based on knowledge and on rational and critical evaluation, which time after time permits to make decisions for the sake of social equilibrium.

This is what Rasmussen does. Even if he is blinded by hatred and pain, he is able to find an emotional balance between the feeling of grudge against the prisoners and that of compassion towards the young men. Eventually, reason prevails: it is right to punish those who are guilty of the evil they have perpetrated, but that it would be wrong to take revenge: this rational behaviour permits to break the same closed circle that reproduces the violence in the Oresteia.

Against the will of Lieutenant Ebbe, who instead of sending the young prisoners home, after the clearing is finished, assigns them to clear another beach, a much more dangerous one, therefore condemning them to death. Rasmussen decides to keep to his promise; he goes and picks them up with a truck and drives them a few metres away from the border with Germany, where he sets them free. By doing so, he prevents the perpetuation of the chain of hatred, which characterises Orestes’s myth according to which the victims sooner or later become oppressors, and prevents his own feeling of hatred from causing him to act unfairly.

The movie shows that the ethical sentiment depends on the individual and does not concern complying with laws and rules; these are fundamental for organising societies but, being made by human beings, can be unjust or wrong. Therefore, one must develop critical thought, which enables to judge and act well. The only possibility for the young prisoners to develop this feeling, in order to be rescued from an unjust system, is to develop the maturity to understand that they were educated to hate and to obey blindly. In other words, only by letting them modify and improve the consciousness of themselves and others, to develop a better conception of life through the experience of diversity and, above all, of justice, the young prisoners have a possibility to direct their lives toward wisdom.

Max Weber and the “Weltkrieg” – Max Weber e la “Weltkrieg”

By Carlo Bordoni

Max Weber and the ' Weltkrieg' - Max Weber e la 'Weltkrieg'

The twentieth-century opened under the sign of great trust in progress and technology. Machines, which had since ever been considered as a dangerous adversary and as a source of primordial fear, quickly began to lose their disquieting aspect and to become an ally of human beings as a ductile tool to overcome physical strain. Airplanes and cars created new opportunities for transport at unprecedented speed besides steam-locomotives, which had replaced horse-powered coaches as the main connection between cities.

The military also benefited of such evolution: weapons became lighter, automatic, transportable and lethal, as the new tanks or submarines. Both war and strategy had already been changing: from Napoleonic war to Franco-Prussian war in 1870 artillery had reversed the impact of the forces on the field, but only with the new century, and in particular with the Great War, an extraordinary change occurred: war started to be conceived positively, in people’s minds even before than in the combatants’ view. General rehearsal took place in the Italian-Turkish war in 1911-1912, better known as the Libyan war, when airplanes (nine Italian aircrafts), cars, motorcycles and unfortunately toxic gas were for first employed.

The old conception of war as physical fighting carried out hand-to-hand with the enemy, with great masses of soldiers rallying enemy positions to conquer, was replaced with the idea (or illusion) of a mechanised war in which modern technology took the place of human force.

Combat was no longer based on direct fighting or on the possibility to overcome the enemy with one’s own strength, but rather by means of conduction/mastery of machines, for which knowledge, communication, expertise and promptness are really key.

This new idea of an indirect combat, mediated by technology, which let the weapons do the dirty job, was perhaps one of the main arguments that convinced people in the early years of the twentieth-century that war was after all not an evil to escape but rather an opportunity to catch, insofar as weapons rather than men would fight it and because its duration – unlike past wars, which went on for decades – would be short. A lightning-war, a Blitzkrieg as a modern war should be, in which velocity, rapidity of decision-making, courage – juvenile qualities – are determining factors.

The idea of a war which was not fearful but beautiful, if not even a source of wealth as a powerful stimulus for economic growth and change against the stagnation of the past, spread all over the early twentieth-century and persuaded also those who, as pacifists and internationalists, were afraid of being accused of weakness, cowardice, defeatism, pessimism or even worse with being reactionaries.

Nonetheless, the nineteenth-century, despite its social problems, barricades, communes, revolution and the growing pressure of masses, had been enlightened by internationalism, also derived by the experience of Socialism and Marxism, whose Manifesto of 1848 – although not rejecting violence – invited to a trans-national brotherhood which stretched beyond the interests of single countries, convinced that the problem of working-class people were the same everywhere.

Conversely, the reinforcement of the State, of national culture, traditions and interests was the aim of conservatories, who based their own principles on the defence of such ideals as the Fatherland and the State. Not by chance all right-wing movements since the nineteenth-century have recalled key-concepts such as Nation, people, and Fatherland by attributing to them some sacred value and by highlighting the emotional feeling of participation in a closed enclave, coherent and made recognisable by the share of values and symbols. Terms like people and popular, nation and national or even social often recur in the acronyms of right-wing parties and movements, which attempt to obtain consensus by moving the lever of emotions. The feeling of belonging to the nation, patriotism, so glorified during the Italian “Risorgimento”, had its part of responsibility in the growth of aggressive feelings toward other countries. Nationalism revealed itself as a fertile ground for war.

The most surprising thing is that intellectuals, and among those sociologists, who had inherited that branch of positivistic philosophy aimed at studying society with scientific method, i.e. with a super partes and objective approach, supported the interventionist position in the face of war.

Karl Emil Maximilian Weber, or Max, born in Erfurt in 1864 and dead in Munich in 1920 stood out among these sociologists. Weber was on the one hand the father of modern sociology, as he claimed the need for sound objectivity and non-evaluation in sociological research (Gesammelte Aufsätze zur Wissenschaftslehre, published in 1904 and 1917 and collected in 1922), of studies on religion up to his fundamental Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft, published posthumous in 1922; on the other hand he was the intransigent nationalist, the firm assertor of the superiority of his country and its historical mission to preserve and develop civilisation against barbarisation.

By assuming a contradictory and sometimes even counterproductive attitude, Weber showed his faith in war as a catalyser of change and as a shocking event capable of waking the consciences from lethargy and pushing civilisation forth.

Aldo Toscano, who devoted an important study to the sociologists of the Great War, wrote that since the very beginning Weber knew that sooner or later something terrible would happen and that Germany should then play its role in the world by facing the hostility of other countries. Nonetheless, Weber always remained faithful to the German cultural patriotism with sense of honour and devotion.

Therefore, the outbreak of the war found him prepared and enthusiastic. The words of his wife Marianne in his monumental biography of 1926 do not leave doubts behind: the scene is set in Weber’s house, where he is surrounded by friends and disciples on the 26 July 1914, the last Sunday before the war which would be declared two days later, on Tuesday 28. Marianne recounts that the guests asked for his opinion and waited with anxiety for his answer: he said that a war would allow young people to find the real connection with their own community by means of sacrifice.

Weber could not enlist, which made him bitter. His faith in Germany remained firm also in the face of serious familiar losses. In 1915 he wrote to his sister Lili, concerning his brother-in-law Hermann Schäfer, fallen at Tannenberg during one of the first combats, that this new war would be, despite its outcome – great and wonderful and above all expectations.

During the conflict Weber strongly defended German policy. The letter of January 1916 to Gertrud Bäumer, editor of the magazine Die Frau testifies to that, where he wrote that a people that is numerically superior, organised as a powerful State should lead the destinies of other small countries. In the same year, though, the first doubts rise. In 1916 Weber wrote that after the sinking of Lusitania on 7 May 1915 time was against Germany and that war would become a satanic event that would eventually crush the German people. Later on he started to believe that peace should be the necessary outcome of a brief war, in order to avoid irreparable economic damages. Finally, on 4 November 1918, in the face of the disastrous conditions of Germany, in a public speech in Munich Weber proposed to accept peace at all costs. But the effect was not as hoped for. He was contested and even accused of being a traitor. As others had done before, Weber too decided to write his opinion about the German responsibilities for war, in a work published in the Frankfurter Zeitung of January 1919.

The end of the war and the foundation of the Republic of Weimar saw the decline of an intellectual who always has a “secret passion” for politics and was ready to do whatever possible for his nation and to lead the young people, but who had no followers in such a quest.

Italian version:

Il secolo XX si apre all’insegna di una grande fiducia nel progresso e nella tecnologia. La macchina, da sempre considerata una temibile antagonista e fonte di una paura primordiale, sta perdendo rapidamente la sua connotazione perturbante per divenire alleata dell’uomo e farsi duttile strumento di sostituzione alla fatica fisica. L’aereo e l’automobile aprono nuove opportunità di trasporto a velocità finora impensabili e vanno ad aggiungersi al treno a vapore, sostituendo le carrozze a cavalli nel collegamento tra le città principali.

Di questa evoluzione tecnologica beneficiano ovviamente anche le attrezzature militari, le armi si fanno più leggere, automatiche, semoventi, micidiali – come il carro armato o il sottomarino. Già da tempo la guerra, assieme alla strategia di condurre le battaglie, ha cambiato volto: dalle guerre napoleoniche alla guerra franco-prussiana del 1870, l’artiglieria ha sovvertito le sorti delle forze in campo, ma è col nuovo secolo, e in specie con la “grande guerra”, che si compie la straordinaria rivoluzione nel concepire la guerra in maniera positiva, prima nelle menti delle persone che sui campi di battaglia. Le prove generali hanno luogo in occasione della guerra italo-turca del 1911-12, conosciuta anche come “guerra di Libia”, nella quale furono impiegati per la prima volta gli aerei (nove quelli italiani), ma anche auto, moto e, purtroppo, anche gas tossici.

La vecchia concezione della guerra come combattimento “fisico”, che si compie nello scontro a corpo a corpo col nemico, dove i soldati assaltano in gran numero le postazioni avversarie per conquistarle, si è andata sostituendo con l’idea (o l’illusione) di una guerra “meccanizzata”, dove la tecnologia più avanzata prende il posto delle forze umane. 

Il combattimento non è più basato sullo scontro diretto, né sulla possibilità di sopraffare l’avversario con la forza, ma attraverso la conduzione/gestione di una macchina, dove ha più importanza il sapere, il comunicare, la conoscenza del mezzo e la rapidità d’intervento.

Questa idea innovativa di combattere in forma indiretta, mediata dalla tecnologia, lasciando che siano le armi a fare il lavoro sporco, è forse una delle motivazioni principali che convincono gli uomini del primo Novecento che la guerra non sia poi un male da evitare, ma un’opportunità da cogliere, dal momento che a combatterla saranno più le armi che gli uomini e che – contrariamente al passato, la cui durata si misurava in decenni – si sarebbe risolta in breve tempo. Una guerra lampo, una blitzkrieg, come si conviene a un tempo moderno, in cui la velocità, la rapidità delle decisioni, il coraggio – tutte qualità giovaniliste – sono determinanti.

L’idea di una guerra non temibile, ma bella, persino produttiva di benessere, perché in grado di stimolare lo sviluppo economico, spingere al cambiamento, a fronte della condizione d’inerzia del passato, permea tutto il primo Novecento e finisce per convincere anche chi, pacifista e internazionalista, teme di essere accusato di debolezza, codardia, disfattismo, pessimismo o, peggio ancora, passatismo.

Eppure il secolo precedente, con tutti i problemi sociali, le barricate, le comuni, le rivoluzioni e la crescente pressione delle masse, era pervaso di uno spirito internazionalista, frutto anche dell’influenza dei movimenti socialisti e in particolare del marxismo, il cui Manifesto del 1848, pur non rifuggendo dalla violenza, invitava però a una fratellanza transnazionale che andava ben oltre gli interessi dei singoli paesi, nella convinzione che i problemi del proletariato fossero ovunque gli stessi.

Al contrario, il rafforzamento dello Stato, della cultura, delle tradizioni e degli interessi nazionali è fatto proprio dal pensiero conservatore che, sulla difesa degli ideali di patria, nazione e Stato, fonda i suoi principi.

Non è un caso che tutti i movimenti di destra, a partire dall’Ottocento e per buona parte del secolo successivo, si siano richiamati a concetti “chiave” come nazione, popolo, patria, assegnando loro un valore sacrale indiscutibile e facendo leva sull’emotività diffusa che l’appartenenza a un gruppo circoscritto, coeso e riconoscibile attraverso la comunanza di valori e simboli, poteva suscitare.

I termini popolo e popolare, nazione e nazionale, e persino sociale, si ripetono spesso nelle sigle dei movimenti e dei partiti di destra, che cercano di coagulare il consenso facendo leva sulle spinte emozionali. Il senso di appartenenza alla nazione, l’amor di patria, così tanto esaltato nel Risorgimento, ha la sua parte di responsabilità nella crescita del sentimento di rivalsa e di aggressività nei confronti degli altri paesi. Il nazionalismo si dimostra così terreno fertile per la guerra.

La cosa più sorprendente è che siano proprio gli intellettuali e, tra essi, i sociologi, eredi di quella branca della filosofia positivista che si era posta l’obiettivo di studiare la società con metodi scientifici, mantenendo un atteggiamento obiettivo e super partes, a sostenere un’opinione interventista in occasione della prima guerra mondiale.

Tra questi brilla tale Karl Emil Maximilian Weber, detto Max, nato a Erfurt nel 1864 e morto a Monaco nel 1920. Veniamo così a conoscere due Max Weber: da una parte il padre della sociologia moderna, autore dei saldi propositi dell’oggettività e dell’avalutatività nella ricerca sociologica (in Il metodo delle scienze storico-sociali apparsi nel 1904 e 1917 e raccolti nel 1922), degli studi sulla religione, fino al fondamentale Economia e società, pubblicato postumo nel 1922. Dall’altra l’intransigente nazionalista, convinto assertore della superiorità del suo paese, come della missione storica di cui esso è investito, al fine di conservare e far progredire i capisaldi della civiltà, contro l’imbarbarimento.

Con un atteggiamento contraddittorio e, a tratti, persino controproducente, Weber manifesta il suo credo nella guerra come acceleratrice del mutamento, evento scioccante che è in grado di smuovere le coscienze dal letargo e far avanzare la civiltà.

Fin dall’inizio, scrive Aldo M. Toscano, che ai sociologi della prima guerra mondiale ha dedicato uno scritto illuminante, Weber “sapeva che da un momento all’altro qualcosa di tremendo si sarebbe compiuto, e lo lasciava intendere in non pochi passaggi dei suoi scritti. Sapeva che la Germania avrebbe dovuto affrontare il nodo del suo ruolo mondiale, che nessuno avrebbe riconosciuto pacificamente.” E tuttavia “la vocazione tedesca, con tanto di patriottismo culturale, passione storica, senso dell’onore, devozione al destino e anche Lebensraum, accompagnerà Weber per tutta l’esistenza.”

Pertanto lo scoppio della guerra lo trova preparato ed entusiasta. Le parole della moglie, Marianne, nella monumentale biografia pubblicata nel 1926, non lasciano dubbi: la scena si svolge in casa Weber, attorniato da amici e discepoli, il 26 di luglio, l’ultima domenica prima della guerra, che sarebbe stata dichiarata due giorni dopo, il martedì 28.

 “Quel pomeriggio tutte queste persone preoccupate si accalcano attorno a Weber, lo portano in giro per il mondo con le loro domande e pendono ora per ora dalle sue labbra. L’esperienza più importante della sua infanzia, lo scoppio della guerra del 1870, Weber l’aveva vissuta proprio nella stessa stanza e nello stesso periodo dell’anno. Nella memoria gli sembra che lo stato d’animo allora fosse diverso: più austero e solenne. Ma adesso la decisione non è ancora presa, si può ancora giocare con il destino. Eppure, una cosa emerge già oggi: quei giovani che hanno cercato sinora la forma e il contenuto del proprio essere discosti dalla comunità, sono pronti a sacrificarsi servendo la comunità.” E subito dopo: “L’ora è giunta ed è di inimmaginata grandezza” .

Lo amareggia non potersi arruolare. La sua fiducia nella Germania non crolla neppure di fronte ai lutti in famiglia. Nel 1915 scrive alla sorella Lili, a proposito del cognato Hermann Schäfer, caduto a Tannenberg, in uno degli scontri iniziali, concludendo con le parole “perché questa guerra è – qualunque sia l’esito – veramente grande e meravigliosa al di sopra di ogni attesa.”

Durante il conflitto mantiene i suoi propositi e si conferma strenuo difensore della politica tedesca. La sua opinione è ben espressa in una lettera del gennaio 1916 e inviata a Gertrud Bäumer, curatrice del mensile “Die Frau”, che la pubblicherà nel febbraio:

“Un popolo superiore dal punto di vista numerico, organizzato come Stato di potenza, proprio per il semplice fatto di essere tale, si trova di fronte a compiti del tutto diversi rispetto a quelli che toccano agli svizzeri, ai danesi, agli olandesi o ai norvegesi.”

Ma è in quello stesso anno che cominciano a manifestarsi i primi dubbi. Infatti nel corso del 1916 Weber annota che, dopo l’affondamento del Lusitania avvenuto il 7 maggio 1915, “il tempo lavora non per la Germania, ma contro di essa; e la guerra, da straordinaria manifestazione di eroismo e di abnegazione, si trasformerà in un evento satanico che spegnerà la resistenza fisica e morale del popolo.”

Più tardi finirà per convincersi che la pace, alla fine, sia il coronamento necessario di un breve periodo di guerra, onde evitare un danno economico irreparabile. Il 4 novembre del 1918, di fronte alle evidenti difficoltà della Germania, in un discorso pubblico a Monaco, propone di stipulare la pace ad ogni costo, ma l’effetto non è quello sperato. Weber viene contestato e persino accusato di tradimento.

Così anch’egli, come avevano fatto altri prima di lui, si decide a scrivere sulle responsabilità della guerra, in uno scritto dal sapore amaro che viene pubblicato sulla “Frankfurter Zeitung” del gennaio 1919.

La fine della guerra e la nascita della Repubblica di Weimar segnano il declino di un intellettuale dalla “passione segreta” della politica, “pronto a fare qualsiasi cosa per la nazione e ad assumere la guida delle giovani leve. Ma non c’era nessuno che lo seguisse.”

For further reading

Toscano, A. M., Trittico sulla guerra. Durkheim, Weber, Pareto, Bari-Rome, Laterza, 1995

Weber, M., Max Weber. Ein Lebensbild, Tübingen, Mohr, 1926

Weber, M., Economy and society. An outline of interpretive sociology, Berkeley, University of California press, 1978

Weber, M., Scritti politici, Rome, Donzelli, 1998