John Steele Gordon’s “What We Lost in the Great War” begins as required reading for anyone who would understand our century. But then it plummets into anti-intellectualism and laissez-faire apologetics. First, those he credits with creating Western thought were themselves intellectuals, as much maligned in their times as were, later, those he castigates. Second, the idea that “class divisions within a society” have “no real-world analogue” could only occur to someone doing quite well, thank you, from the existing situation. Saying there are no classes because Marx’s simplistic dualism of bourgeoisie and proletariat did not work out in practice is like saying there are no subatomic particles because the situation is more complicated than protons, neutrons, and electrons.
Third, the idea that power dispersed during the nineteenth century is simply ludicrous. It became more concentrated. Fourth, we are better off now than we were at the beginning of this century because capitalism is not what it was in 1900, and it changed because of what Mr. Gordon called the other great nineteenth-century invention, representative democracy. We are not seeing the triumph of capitalism; we are seeing the triumph of the mixed economy. We wisely gave up pure capitalism in the 1930s. Britain followed suit after World War II. Now we are seeing pure socialism go the way of its rival Utopia. Again, good riddance.