First World War: ‘Quagmire of European Tribalism’

I rarely agree with his politics, but Paul Keating (former Australian PM) is one I curiously can’t help admiring. He still has a way of cutting through and saying things in a way that make you stop and say, ‘shit yeah’. Today, in his speech for Remembrance Day for the end of the First World War, he said:

The First World War was a war devoid of any virtue. It arose from the quagmire of European tribalism, a complex interplay of nation-state destinies, overlaid by notions of cultural superiority peppered with racism … The virulent European disease of cultural nationalism and ethnic atavism not only destroyed Europe; it destroyed the equilibrium of the world … One thing is certain: young Australians, like young Europeans … can no longer be dragooned en masse in the military enterprises of the former imperial variety on the whim of so-called statesmen.


2 thoughts on “First World War: ‘Quagmire of European Tribalism’

  1. I beg to differ.

    To say that the First World War “arose from the quagmire of European tribalism” is jejune. Though I’m sure Keating knew what he was doing when he spouted this nonsense.

    I can’t imaging what you were thinking when you endorsed it.

    Any serious analysis must include a lot of economics, and so to a discussion of the nature of imperialism.

    1. Of course, Lenin’s analysis of imperialism is crucial here, and Keating is no Leninist. But the context of such statements is to counter the conservative narrative touted in these parts, in which the disaster of Gallipoli saw a nation ‘come of age’ and the ‘grand achievements’ of colonialism are what made Australia. That’s a minority narrative by what is now a distinct minority tradition. Keating is quite clear that this has little to do with the political myth of Australia. What I like about this aspect of his approach is that it reveals the anomaly of European history within a global framework, rather than seeing it as the template for everything. Yet Keating is one voice in a fascinating process of reshaping Australia’s self-awareness as a country between Southeast Asia and the Pacific rather than the silly idea that it is an outpost of the West.

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