The Impact of Racism and Nationalism on the Eve of World War I
The widespread ideas of social Darwinism and eugenics that emerged in the late nineteenth century fueled racist attitudes towards other cultures and civilizations across Europe. The British Empire believed that they were destined to rule over “inferior races” and lead the entire world, with the Anglo-Saxon race being at the top of the hierarchy. Nationalism became intensely linked with ideas of race and struggles for survival and supremacy. However, objections to these ideas also emerged and led to the establishment of important rules for limiting damage caused by war. The Balkan Wars, religious rivalry, and demands for cession in Macedonia, led to tensions between different religious and political groups, both in the region and internationally. Financial difficulties and military expansion in the Balkans also contributed to growing tension leading up to the outbreak of World War I.
Table of Contents
- Social Darwinism and Eugenics
- Nationalism and Racism
- Objections to Racism and Nationalism
- Tensions in the Balkans
- Precursors to World War I
Q: What were social Darwinism and eugenic campaigns? How were they applied to human society?
A: Social Darwinism is the application of Darwinian ideas to human society, specifically in the notion that some races are superior to others. This fueled the belief in a racial hierarchy and eugenic campaigns that encouraged “superior” humans to breed and discouraged the procreation of “inferior” ones. Eugenicists believed that genius was determined by heredity, and consequently, inferior peoples were endangering the future of the race by producing too many sub-standard children.
Q: How did British schoolbooks contribute to racial differences in the empire?
A: British schoolbooks began to emphasize racial differences and the alleged inferiority of peoples from colonized nations. Imperialists in the late 19th and early 20th centuries believed that the British race was destined to rule over other “inferior” races and lead the world.
Q: Who were some proponents of racial beliefs outside of Britain?
A: French racial theorist Arthur de Gobineau and German zoologist Ernst Haeckel both popularized ideas of racial hierarchies and anti-Semitic attitudes. These ideas were taken to new heights by Houston Stewart Chamberlain, who promoted racialized anti-Semitism in The Foundations of the Nineteenth Century. German military strategist Friedrich von Bernhardi believed that war, assimilation, or even extermination were necessary for the survival of the fittest races.
Q: What was the relationship between nationalism and racism?
A: Nationalism in the 19th century was linked to liberal values of freedom but became increasingly tied with racial supremacy struggles for survival. The idea of national identity became linked with the notion of a racial hierarchy, in which some races were believed to be superior to others.
Q: Were there any objections to these ideas?
A: Yes, opponents to these views included critics of imperialism such as Bertha von Suttner, who published Lay Down Your Arms! in 1889, and successfully lobbied Alfred Nobel to endow a Peace Prize in 1905. Additionally, conferences held at the Hague in 1899 and 1907 laid down important rules for limiting the damage caused by war, but they did not establish a binding arbitration system for international disputes largely due to opposition from Germany.
Q: How did tensions rise in the Balkans leading up to World War I?
A: The Balkan Wars began in Macedonia where religious rivalry between Orthodox Christians and Muslims as well as demands for cession by the Greeks, Serbs, and Bulgarians led to a radicalization of IMRO agents. The general uprising that followed was eventually put down by the Turkish Army, causing international outrage. The massacres against Armenians in 1892-3 and 1897 also resulted in the death of between 100,000 and 300,000 Armenians, losing international sympathy for Abdülhamid. National armaments were heavily financed through loans, and national insolvency was common in Greece, Serbia, and Bulgaria. A coup d’etat in Serbia led to the assassination of King Alexander, and Serbia became deeply hostile to Austria-Hungary while Bulgaria declared independence, and Russia encouraged Croatian and Montenegrin uprisings.
Q: What were some of the precursors to the outbreak of World War I?
A: The annexation of Bosnia-Herzegovina by Austria-Hungary and the creation of mutual alliances in the Balkans further contributed to the tension. The Italian invasion of Libya and the Ottomans’ inability to defend it also marked the final dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire. All these events were among the precursors to the outbreak of World War I.
The ideas of social Darwinism and Eugenics in the late 19th and early 20th century fueled racism towards other cultures and civilizations across Europe. These ideas were applied to the belief that superior races were destined to rule over “inferior races” and lead the world. Nationalism became intensely linked with struggles for survival and supremacy, which contributed to rising tensions leading up to World War I. However, there were also strong objections to these ideas that led to the establishment of important rules for limiting the damages caused by war. The Balkan Wars and events leading up to the outbreak of World War I were heavily influenced by religious, political, and financial difficulties, as well as military expansion in the Balkans, and were among the precursors to the outbreak of World War I.