The World We Lost on June 28, 1914

By Gary North

William Lind is a specialist in 4th-generation warfare: non-state warfare. He is also an observer of culture.

He has written an assessment of the assassination of Archduke Francis Ferdinand on June 28, 1914. Within five weeks, this led to the outbreak of World War I on August 1.

With the commemoration of Christ’s first Advent, the end of the calendar year and a widespread (and justified) sense that we are all walking on the edge of a precipice, an old question pops up again: when will the world end? Many seers, prophets, and charlatans have predicted a date when the world will end, only to find themselves both relieved and disappointed. Unlike them, I know with complete certainty when the world will end. It will end on June 28, 1914.

Had Archduke Franz Ferdinand lived, we would almost certainly inhabit a better world. There would have been no war; he was the leader of the peace party in Vienna. Without the vast civilizational catastrophe that was World War I, the West would not have lost faith in itself, its culture, and religion. Instead of cultural Marxism, we could still have Christian, conservative monarchy as the West’s leading paradigm. I doubt the House of Hapsburg, which had twice repelled the Moslem hordes from the gates of Vienna, would have opened those gates to more than a million Islamic “refugees” (really migrants). Interestingly, it is mostly states that were part of the Empire, Hungary, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, that have the moral courage to say no to the EU’s refugee quotas. Had the Archduke lived, there would be no Lenin, no Stalin, no Hitler, no Holocaust. Israel might have been established as a province of the Ottoman Empire, under German and Austro-Hungarian protection; the Zionists were quite influential at the Viennese court and Kaiser Wilhelm II had a number of close Jewish friends. Russia, which by 1910 had reached the economic takeoff point, would not have lost the 60 million people killed by Soviet Communism, the figure revealed when the Soviet archives were opened in 1989. Economically, the Russian people might enjoy the same standard of living Americans have today, while still residing under a Christian monarch in an Orthodox country.

Vienna was not only a political capital, it was a cultural capital as well, the rival of Paris. While the cultural pessimism that now rules the West was already stirring, without World War I and the fall of the Empire it probably would not have become dominant. Music, art, and architecture would still strive for beauty, not alienation (thank you Adorno). Nietzsche’s “transvaluation of all values,” where the old sins become virtues and the old virtues sins, would have remained the delusion of a syphilitic philosopher instead of the guiding rule of Western elites. In the year 2017, a Hapsburg Vienna might well be the source of much of the world’s cultural and intellectual greatness.

Only a handful of people are left who understand how much was lost on that June day in 1914. With those pistol shots in Sarajevo, the West put a gun to its own head and blew its brains out. Our history since has been the twitching of a corpse.

In 1971, when doing graduate work in Vienna, I had the good fortune to meet the Empire face-to-face. My landlady was Frau Baron von Garabedian-Elislago. Her father was General von Krauss-Elislago, Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s aide-de-camp and favorite soldier. She knew the Archduke and the last Emperor, Kaiser Karl. As you entered her apartment, you saw two magnificent Renaissance chests, gifts to her father from the Archduke. She could remember the picnics on the decks of Austrian battleships in the Adriatic.

The good Frau Baron was lively, funny, and a window into all that was lost. She spoke six languages fluently. She enjoyed high culture as only a truly educated person can. One night as we were coming out of the Burgtheater she gestured dismissively to two statues and said, “Those are the monkeys who founded the republic.”

Now, we Americans live in a country where the monkeys seem to be running everything. Our downward spiral accelerates. Soon, education and cultural levels will be so low that no one will be able to understand the value of a place governed by Christian monarchy and devoted to the life of the mind. But Hapsburg Vienna was such a place. Until, on June 28, 1914, the world ended.

Well, as academic historians like to say, yes and no.

In assessing historical change, I’m well aware of the ups and downs of events in history. They have meaning in terms of subjective imputation. Ultimately, the imputation that counts is God’s imputation, which goes on constantly, and will be reflected historically at the final judgment. The apostle Paul announced this regarding historical development: “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).

I look at the event that Lind describes, and also the crucial event which took place three years later only because of what Lind describes, namely, Lenin’s successful overturning of the Russian revolutionary government on October 25, 1917. I conclude that the historical effects of these monumental events, however negative in the short run and mid-term, will turn out to have been be positive in the long run.

In short, as the 1940’s radio newscaster Gabriel Heater announced every evening, “There’s good news tonight!


Lind does not mention why the Archduke was in a position to have been a significant man of peace. It was because of the most important self-fulfilling prediction of modern times: the belief of Austrian economist Carl Manger that there would be a great military conflagration sometime early in the 20th century, a conflagration that would lead to the disruption of the old order. He predicted this in the late 19th century. This prediction was important because Menger was the tutor of the son of the Emperor, Rudolf. Menger’s dark outlook influenced the thinking of the young man, who committed suicide on January 30, 1889. This left the Archduke as the heir to the Hapsburg throne. Here is the account of Ludwig von Mises in his Notes and Recollections, which he wrote in 1940, shortly after his arrival in the United States as a refugee of the Nazi regime.

I believe I know what discouraged Menger and what silenced him so early. His sharp mind had recognized the destiny of Austria, of Europe, and of the world. He saw the greatest and most advanced of all civilizations rushing to the abyss of destruction. He foresaw all the horrors which we are experiencing today. He knew the consequences of the world’s turning away from true Liberalism and Capitalism. Nonetheless, he did what he could do to stem the tide. His book Untersuchungen über die Methode der Socialwissenschaften und der Politischen Oekonomie insbesondere was meant as a polemic essay against all those pernicious intellectual currents that were poisoning the world from the universities of” “Great Prussia.”The knowledge that his fight was without expectation of success, however, sapped his strength. He had transmitted this pessimism to his young student and friend, Archduke Rudolf, successor to the Austro-Hungarian throne. The Archduke committed suicide because he despaired about the future of his empire and the fate of European civilization, not because of a woman. (He took a young girl along in death who, too, wished to die; but he did not commit suicide on her account.)

This is not the standard account of the suicide. I regard this as an accurate account. It is certainly one that is worth considering.

I also invoke the insights of the enormously learned founder of the Department of Sociology at Harvard University in 1933, Pitirim Sorokin. He offered these cultural categories which he saw as successive: idealistic, ideational, and sensate. Wikipedia summarizes:

In his Social and Cultural Dynamics, his magnum opus, Sorokin classified societies according to their ‘cultural mentality’, which can be “ideational” (reality is spiritual), “sensate” (reality is material), or “idealistic” (a synthesis of the two). He suggested that major civilizations evolve from an ideational to an idealistic, and eventually to a sensate mentality. Each of these phases of cultural development not only seeks to describe the nature of reality, but also stipulates the nature of human needs and goals to be satisfied, the extent to which they should be satisfied, and the methods of satisfaction. Sorokin has interpreted the contemporary Western civilization as a sensate civilization, dedicated to technological progress and prophesied its fall into decadence and the emergence of a new ideational or idealistic era.

The most impressive recent historical study of this decline into decadence is Jacques Barzun’s magnum opus, From Dawn to Decadence — 500 Years of Western Cultural Life, 1500 to the Present (2000). It was published when he was 93. He died at age 104.

I do not believe that historical interpretations that rest heavily on categories of inevitable development provide anything like a secure foundation of historical analysis. But I do believe that there are general categories relating culture and historical development. These connections are much looser than grand theorists would like us to believe, but there are general categories. The categories I use are the ones found in Deuteronomy 28 and Leviticus 26. They are fundamentally ethical categories. In this sense, I am in sympathy with Lind’s analysis.


Western analysts are hypnotized by the categories of “the West and the rest.” These categories are rapidly disappearing. I think it is safe to say that, within half a century, the technological distinctions between the West and the rest will no longer be significant. We do not know whether the cultural distinctions will still be significant. I think they will be far less significant.

New technologies and exponentially declining costs of information will undermine the present world order. The gatekeepers are in full retreat in the West, and they have been for two decades. The symbol of this retreat is the success that Matt Drudge had in reporting Newsweek‘s spike of the story of Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky. He posted a series of reports on Sunday evening, January 17, 1998. The original reports are here. Three days later, the Establishment media ran the story. The Establishment media could no longer control the flow of information. This was a monumental breakthrough. Drudge became a multimillionaire, while Newsweek went bankrupt in 2010.

On February 2, Time grudgingly ran this assessment: “The Internet made this story. And the story made the Internet. Clinterngate, or whatever we are going to call it, is to the Internet what the Kennedy assassination was to TV news: its coming of age as a media force. Or some might say media farce.” The author held his nose.

Let’s not give Drudge too much credit. Though he thumbs his nose at traditional news outlets, they supply most of his information. His sources are inside the media, not (usually) inside the institutions they cover. His scoops — including this one — are generally stuff the grownups either have declined to publish or are about to publish. Having pilfered other folks’ material, Drudge has the considerable gall to emblazon his own E-mail dispatches with the warning, WORLD EXCLUSIVE. MUST CREDIT THE DRUDGE REPORT.There is a case to be made, however, for lower standards. In this case, the lower standards were vindicated. Almost no one now denies there is a legitimate story here. Taped conversations and suspected subornation of perjury moved the story safely beyond furtive rumors of sexual dalliance. For Drudge, though, furtive rumors of dalliance are enough.

Even for traditional media journalists, furtive rumors of dalliance are enough — at least to gossip about among themselves, if not to share with their readers and viewers. There is something slightly elitist about the attitude that we journalists can be trusted to evaluate such rumors appropriately but that our readers and viewers cannot. Actually, though, almost everybody has the same standards — that is, almost none — in passing along juicy rumors to friends and colleagues.

Information is vastly less expensive for readers to access today, and the wide range of interpretations available to the public is greater than at any time in the history of man. There is a great amount of chaff, but there is far more wheat than ever before. This is a huge advantage for consumers of information and also for decentralized decision-making. Liberty is far greater today than at any time in the history of man, and the falling cost of information is the primary source of this liberty. Liberty is going to increase, not decrease, from now on.


Lind believes that the West is declining culturally. It is not difficult to make this case. But there is more to the world than the West. Culturally, China today is vastly superior to what it was under Mao. The Soviet Union is far better off culturally today than it was under Stalin and his Communist successors. I think the same can be said of India. The traditional local oligarchies of Asian village life are under siege from new technologies. Cheap smart phones, when coupled with free Internet service provided by Amazon, Google, and Facebook, no later than 2030, will complete the destruction of these oligarchies within half a century. It may not take this long.

I believe that nice guys do not finish last. I believe that honesty is the best policy. I believe that righteousness is productive, and debauchery is unproductive. I believe that drug addicts and alcoholics self-destruct, and hard-working people who are committed to their families are successful in the long run. The patterns of success and failure are ultimately ethical and covenantal, not technological. But advancing technologies steadily decrease the costs of production. This decentralizing process favors hard-working, thrifty people far more than it favors debauched people and political power-seekers. The Soviet Union and Red China are no more. This was not random.

This is why I do not agree with Lind’s overall assessment. Bad as the West’s cultural decline may be, it is not unilateral. It is also not universal. There is more to civilization than the West. The West’s cultural decline threatens the elitist Western Establishments far more than it threatens the rest of us.

Therefore, there’s good news tonight!

Happy new year.

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