Adam Tooze on
his Website today presented his version of our recent disagreement on the
origins of World War I. Perhaps as an example of a more general difficulty of establishing
“the truth”, we have two slightly different versions of the events. I propose
After reading and reviewing Adam’s important book “Deluge”,
we agreed (at Adam’s initiative) to meet and have a drink. Adam kindly accepted
to come all the way to mid-town New York. We had drinks and while discussing
both his book and my ongoing project on pre World War I inequality and foreign
investment with Thomas Hauner and Suresh Naidu, to be released in a couple of
days (and on which Adam could give us valuable advice), Adam offered to send me
two of his recent papers.
One of them dealt with the July crisis. The paper is here.
I was quite surprised by Adam’s uncritical support of, I would have thought, discredited thesis of
Chris Clark on the origins of the war. I will not go here into the dissection
of Chris Clark who, without knowledge of the language or archives, decided to discuss
Serbia’s pre-war politics based mostly on
the official dispatches of Austrian military attachés in Belgrade (as if one
were to write a history of German militarism, without knowing the language, and
basing himself on uncritical reading of
French military attachés dispatches from Berlin!). For a brilliant dismantling of Clark’s book see Miloš Vojnović’s review here.
Adam, as he says in his today’s blog, seems to rejects
towards the end of his paper Clark’s thesis. This was not, nor is it now, fully evident to
me. He mentions Clark, always approvingly, no fewer than twenty-eight times in
a 50-page paper. I then wrote to Adam the two emails shown below (plus a third one
giving some data on Serbia’s trade prior to 1914 that Adam, citing the work of
yet another author, says are unavailable: the data by the way show that 2/3 of
Serbia’s trade was with the Central Power which I suppose might have been an uncomfortable
The first email was sent the day after our meeting (on 20 October),
the second, more detailed, several days later. I have not heard a word from
Adam since, that is, until yesterday (7 November). That is almost three weeks. The
least you can say is that it is a very impolite reaction. If after having had drinks
with somebody and having given him your papers for comments, you just ignore his
friendly comments simply because he disagrees with some parts of your paper is
neither nice nor is it an academically appropriate reaction. Had Adam cared to explain his position regarding Clark’s “orientalism” our discussion would have gained
much in clarity, and perhaps there would have been no discussion at all.
Here are the emails:
My email No. 1 (October 20)
Two quick comments (I may come back with some Qs later) on your "July
You quote with agreement Clark's rather bizarre association between "The
Young Bosnia", "Black Hand" ("Union or Death")
organizations and Al Qaeda. Obviously, we can say that there is a similarity
between OAS and AQ, or Irgun and AQ, or IRA and AQ or whatever but we
need to understand the logic and ideology of these organizations which I think
Clark does not.
"The Young Bosnia" was not even a Serbian nationalist but Yugoslav
nationalist organization, as clearly stated by Princip during his trial when he
referred to himself as a "Yugoslav nationalist". So if one wants to
find similarities, it is rather with the Carbonari; and it was not for nothing
that they took the name of the "Young". The organization had, among
its members, Serbs, Croats and Muslims (all three religions were among 7-8
people who planned the assassination). Obviously, the objectives of the Serbian
Military Intelligence which supplied the weapons were different; they were
pan-Serb nationalists and they looked very warily to what was for them the
Viennese-Zagreb idea of South Slav unification. But for a while, between 1908
and 1914, the two ideologies had the same objective: getting A-H out of Bosnia.
Clark fails to note the difference and to place the Young Bosnia squarely
within the context of European unification movements.
I can also get you the data on Serbia's exports and imports. Up to the Customs
crisis with A-H in 1906, some 80% of Serbia's exports went to Austria-Hungary
(import figures were probably similar). During the Austrian embargo (up to
1910), Serbian exports diversified significantly toward France, Italy etc., so
that the A-H share went down to (I guess) a half or less of what it was in
1906. And I do not think that it recovered before 1914. But it does not seem to
me that Bulgaria which was much more integrated with the Ottoman Empire and became
fully independent only in 1908 is at all a good proxy here.
My email No. 2 (October 25)
Here are my comments on your July crisis paper. You are
unlikely to agree with them, but here they are.
For Suresh and Thomas (who is the coauthor of our paper; cc-ed here), the
interesting part is, I think, what I argue is the unified feature of
imperialist theories. We do not even mention in our paper that they apply (in
my opinion) equally well to the Balkans, but it is reassuring to know that they
do (or at least that the argument can be made that they do), and hence that
they are more generally valid.
With the attachment:
As I mentioned before, here are some reactions on reading
your piece on the July crisis.
Let me start with the end. I could not agree more with you
statement that the “democratic peace theory” can hold only when there is a hegemon,
relatively benign over its domain (not outside the domain thought) which keeps
in check other rivalries. This is why
think the West had had no war within itself since 1945 and is unlikely
to have one so long as the US remains the hegemon.
What is wrong, in my opinion, with other theories you discuss
(except globalization à la Williamson and O’Rourke which really pertains to
North Atlantic only)? The fundamental problem is that they see the war as the conflict of the already formed
European states whereas the trigger for conflict lies in Austrian imperialism. They
are misled because imperialism (colonialism) in this case took place in Europe.
If Bosnia were in Africa, they would surely attribute the origin of the war to imperialism
and then to the struggle for national liberation. But because the conflict is
in Europe, they are blind to that obvious fact. (Lieven however is not.) It is
in fact the same issue that played again in 1941 in Germany’s attempted conquest
of the Soviet Union: colonialism applied to Europe, as Mazower and Aimé Césaire
In this case, Austria, not being strong enough to expand
overseas (also because all the territories were already taken), saw the only
way to maintain its Great Power status through European imperial conquest. That
explains why it annexed Bosnia and even (wildly) entertained plans of expansion
all the way to the Aegean. But imperial conquests in Europe were more difficult
because the gap in power and technology between the conqueror and the colonizer
was less and the countries were more thoroughly enmeshed into alliances. And
the stakes were greater.
Thus the origins of the Balkan conflict that triggered the
War is part and parcel of the same imperialist narrative that is frequently
used only for the Great Powers struggle for territory in non-European spaces.
This in my option a great plus for the theory of an imperialist origin of the
war: it is unified: Sarajevo is no different from Fashoda or Amritsar.
Two other points. When Gartzke writes how European Great Powers
did not go to war after 1870 and Balkan countries did, he totally misunderstands
the facts. European powers did go to wars to effect national unifications as Germany
did in 1866 and 1870 and Italy against Austria. And they did it despite trade links.
This process was simply played out with delay in the Balkans where the formation
of national states (or South Slav unification) took place over a longer period
from around 1830 and was not completed until 1914 (and it may not be fully
completed even now). Wars had nothing to do with trade integration or not, but
with the delay, explained by relative underdevelopment, in the process of nation-formation.
Finally, on Clark, I already mentioned what I think. But the most
extraordinary is his psycho-babble about Serbian “national psyche” which I find
not only incomprehensible but totally “Orientalist”. Nobody would today dare to
explain German politics by some elementary school psychology of the German
Junkers’ problems adjusting to modernity. But because Clark knows very little
of Serbian history, economics or politics and assumes that such lack of
knowledge is shared by his readers he is allowed to engage in such childish psychoanalysis
of a nation.
Hope you find some of this useful (even if you may not agree).
PS. There are many inconsistencies: if Vienna was a
“laboratory of modernity” vs. Serbia how do we explain that Serbia had a
constitutional monarchy (since 1903) with a government responsible to parliament
and 98% male franchise and Vienna had neither? (In Hungarian part, the
franchise was 2-3%, if I remember correctly).
And for better understanding of what I meant by Clarks’ pop psychology
101, quoted very approvingly by Tooze, whereby Clark explains Serbia’s history,
politics and society in 1914, here is the text of his “Orientalism” in action:
“the development of modern
consciousness [in Serbia] was experienced not as an evolution from a previous
way of understanding the world, but rather as a dissonant overlaying of modern
attitudes on to a way of being that was still enchanted by traditional beliefs
That’s where the matter stood as of yesterday. But yesterday in
response to somebody on Twitter who very highly praised “Deluge” I replied that
I concur with that (as is evident from my review of “Deluge”) but that the book
has several flaws. After not having reacted to my three messages over almost
three weeks, Adam reacted very fast to this tweet (the power of Twitter!) saying
that if I have critical comments on the book I should express them openly rather
than by the way of “innuendo”. This seems a rather strong term for an off-hand
remark and Adam and I then exchanged a couple of emails (out of which he has
copied and pasted a paragraph on his website) which, in my opinion, is totally incomprehensible
unless one reads his article, understand how this disagreement came about, and reads
my previous (and I have to say, still unanswered) emails.
Yesterday Adam suggested that we “don't further pursue this
exchange” but he seems to have decided that it would be more fun to continue it
on the Internet and I am quite happy to oblige.
Now, what remains to be done is that I re-review Adam’s book
pointing out to the parts that I do not find compelling (so that my comments
are no longer treated as “innuendos”). I
will do so around Thanksgiving because I am off tomorrow on a two-week trip to
Europe and I would prefer do the review with Adam’s book in front of me rather
than with only copious (attesting to the quality of the book) notes that I
took. But so that Adam knows what are, in my opinion, some “problems” with “Deluge”
let me briefly mention them. They are of three kinds:
1. A chronicle-like approach that while abounding with facts
fails to give to the reader a sense of these facts, why and how they line up,
fails to provide understanding of the facts,
i.e., I would like more of histoire raisonée. Even the uptick in democracy around 1918-19, which provides a key theme of the book and is well documented in political terms (parties' share of the vote) is often discussed without addressing social factors leading to it. This weakness is at its most
obvious in the Introduction and Conclusions.
2. Misunderstanding of the fact that the Soviet Russia was
not a state like any other in 1917 but a state that had a double policy of
being a beacon of the new world (and hence having an extremely strong ideological
appeal across Europe and increasingly across the world) and a “normal state”. In
1917, you can argue, it was only the former but Adam treats it throughout the
book as only the latter. Failure to see that and to correctly assess the
ideological importance of the October Revolution (for those outside of Russia) leads him to interpret wrongly, in my opinion, the
Brest-Litovsk peace agreement, to underestimate the appeal of the Revolution in
Europe and thereby to overlook the fear that the European elites had of
left-wing take-overs, to minimize the importance of strikes and farm chaos in
Italy on the rise of Fascism etc. So this serious failure permeates many parts
of the book.
3. Economic chapters in the last part of the book seemed
written in haste and a plethora of numbers, some given without sources, expressed in nominal units (with no anchor to
some more meaningful statistics) makes the reading and understanding of that
part quite difficult.
I hope to explain in
greater detail each of these points around Thanksgiving.