Review of “The Vampire of the Continent” by Ernst Reventlow

How much German World War I propaganda have you read?

I’ve now read one piece of it. My guess is that this puts me in a distinct minority.

"Foseti," you say, "why would you read such crazy stuff?" Good question.

Before I started reading this, I decided to think about what I knew about the beginning of WWI. I knew that Europe was a tangled mess of alliances. I knew that England followed its historical pattern of allying itself in such away as to maintain a "balance of power" in Europe. I knew that the major powers were building up their armies and navies. I knew that when war broke in the Balkans, the alliances caused every country to instantly be at war with every other country. I knew that England was pledged to defend Belgium, but that it could have easily decided not to do so, when German attacked France. I knew that the war lasted a very long time and that lots of people died.

Looking back now on this narrative (which I have perhaps over-simplified slightly), I see some holes. Why were the alliances the way they were? If the major powers were accidentally drawn into war with each other – as the story goes – why were they willing to fight so long and lose so much? Why were they building up their armies prior to the outbreak of WWI? What did they hope to gain from the war once it had begun? Etc.

Reading Reventlow’s work, I realized that my understanding of WWI is based largely on Allied propaganda – this is really only a slight exaggeration. The hazy answers that I would have been able to provide to these questions were also based on Allied propaganda – this is hardly an exaggeration. Allied propaganda in 1916 (the year Reventlow wrote this book) is now known as "history." The Allies, after all, won.

Reventlow’s work is over-the-top. But if Germany had won the war, it would probably be known as "history" now. Thus, one can argue that most of history is written by cranks. The truly even-handed historian is rare, indeed. If you can’t find a true historian, reading propaganda from both sides is the next best option. Of course, in doing so, you’ll be exposed to some cranks. The true however, is not always easy to come by.

Before I get into the book, here’s Mencius Moldbug recommending it (sort of):

I stole [the title for the post] from Count Ernst zu Reventlow, whose Vampire of the Continent (1916), translated by the Irish traitor George Chatterton-Hill, then smuggled to New York by (I kid you not) U-Boat, is today available to all and sundry, courtesy of the innocent young progressives at Google Books. Read it now, before they realize their terrible mistake.

I can’t really endorse Reventlow’s Vampire. For one thing – unlike the aristocratic German nationalists I really do admire, eg, Ernst Jünger, Ernst von Salomon and Fritz Reck-Malleczwen – he succumbed to the brown poison, ie, became a Nazi. And Vampire is not about America, of course, but England. (The translation is half the length of the original – I’m sure any morsels of counter-Americanism were scrubbed for propaganda purposes.) Nor is it a terribly cogent piece of analysis. Reventlow often finds calculated malice where I see only accidental incompetence. He is, after all, writing war propaganda.

Vampire is still a fun read, however. I’ll bet you’ve never read any German World War I propaganda. Better yet, wash it down it with some Allied propaganda – such as George Herron’s Menace of Peace. Herron, who was perhaps even more Wilsonian than Wilson, was actually employed by that dear President as a peace emissary in negotiations with Emperor Charles. It is with great surprise that I report that the talks were not successful.

Anyway, Reventlow wants to explain the build-up to WWI. He starts with British foreign policy going back to the Spanish Armada:

Thus be­gan, as British his­to­ri­ans solemn­ly tell us, the “ hero­ic age ” of the En­glish peo­ple. It was an age char­ac­terised by or­gan­ised pira­cy and high­way rob­bery; which was at first tol­er­at­ed, and sub­se­quent­ly sanc­tioned, by the En­glish sovereigns — es­pe­cial­ly by the Vir­gin Queen, the cham­pi­on of Protes­tantism.

This is hard to argue with.

In Reventlow’s telling, England did nothing good. In fact, in his telling, the industrial revolution didn’t really start in England. It started elsewhere, but since England controlled the seas, England prevented any other country from becoming truly industrialized. Instead, England stole technology from others and ensured that markets around the world were opened to its goods. In other words, if you want to industrialize, you should: 1) steal others’ technological advancements, 2) prevent their goods from being sold abroad, and 3) prevent anyone from closing off other markets to you. Actually, this sounds like it would be highly effective. Here’s Reventlow:

Through­out En­glish his­to­ry, and up till the present day, we can trace the con­stant ap­pli­ca­tion of three meth­ods: first­ly, de­struc­tion of the means which the na­tion whom it is intend­ed to rob pos­sess­es for pro­tect­ing its prop­er­ty on the seas and over­sea — i.e. its fleet, har­bors, docks, etc.; sec­ond­ly, the seizure or de­struc­tion of the trad­ing ves­sels of such a na­tion. When these aims have been re­alised, Eng­land lays hands with­out fur­ther dif­fi­cul­ty on that na­tion’s over­sea pos­ses­sions. It is to be ob­served, that this pol­icy and this method of war­fare de­pend in the last in­stance for their suc­cess on the weak­en­ing of Eng­land’s con­ti­nen­tal ri­vals. When the sea-pow­er of the lat­ter has been bro­ken, the colonies fall off au­to­mat­ical­ly, so to speak. . . .

They [i.e. England] were not more in­tel­li­gent than oth­er na­tions; on the con­trary, dur­ing the era of dis­cov­er­ies they dis­cov­ered noth­ing, and dur­ing the era of in­ven­tions they invented noth­ing. But they un­der­stood the art of plough­ing their fields by means of stolen ox­en. And that which very clear­ly dis­tin­guished them from ev­ery oth­er Eu­ro­pean peo­ple was the greed of lu­cre as the fun­da­men­tal main­spring of ac­tion. . . .

Ad­mi­ral Free­man­tle and oth­er En­glish his­to­ri­ans speak with pride of the era when the En­glish fleet be­gan to un­der­take the du­ties of “ po­lice­man of the seas,” and to im­pose the pax bri­tan­ni­ca on all by force. The right of polic­ing the seas has since been con­sid­ered a Di­vine right of the Cho­sen Peo­ple. This right con­sists in steal­ing as many trad­ing ves­sels, whether neu­tral or not, as pos­si­ble, un­der some pi­ous and ly­ing pre­text.

Colonies can then be forced to buy your goods, and so on. You can then step back and admire your economic and technological prowess.

Far from being the bringer of liberty, Reventlow sees England as the bringer of war:

From the very out­set it was tac­it­ly ad­mit­ted that noth­ing could be so dis­ad­van­ta­geous for the re­al­isa­tion of En­glish aims, than har­mo­ny among the Con­ti­nen­tal States, i.e. peace in Eu­rope. Peace must in­evitably bring about in­creased pros­per­ity; and the con­se­quence will be the growth of the sea-pow­er of Con­ti­nen­tal na­tions, alike in the wa­ters in the neigh­bor­hood of Eng­land, and on the ocean. Sea-pow­er is the typ­ical ex­pres­sion of the in­ner strength and uni­ty of a na­tion — of a strength which must ex­pand abroad be­cause it can­not find ad­equate em­ploy­ment with­in the lim­its of the moth­er coun­try. But it was pre­cise­ly this grow­ing pros­per­ity of the Eu­ro­pean Con­ti­nent of which Eng­land had no need! . . .

In re­al­ity the En­glish pol­icy of the bal­ance of pow­er means sim­ply the stir­ring up of as many Eu­ro­pean Pow­ers as pos­si­ble against the na­tion which Great Britain, at any giv­en time, con­sid­ers as her most dan­ger­ous com­peti­tor. This na­tion is, of course, al­ways the one which, thanks to its strength and pros­per­ity, threat­ens to de­stroy the com­mer­cial monopoly of the Cho­sen Peo­ple [i.e. the British].

In sum:

We have tried, in the course of this book, to give the read­er a bird’s-​eye view of some cen­turies of that his­to­ry; Eng­land, with­out one sin­gle ex­cep­tion, has been found to be the Vam­pire of Eu­rope. Her eco­nom­ic pol­icy, her po­lit­ical pol­icy, her wars, have in­vari­ably had but a sin­gle aim: to drain the rich­es and the life-​blood of the Con­ti­nen­tal na­tions. In order to do this, she has sys­tem­at­ical­ly stirred them up against each oth­er.— But Mr. Lloyd-​George, with true En­glish im­per­ti­nence, speaks about the “in­valu­able ser­vices” rendered by Great Britain to the cause of Con­ti­nen­tal free­dom; he even dares to talk to Eu­rope about “cen­turies of hero­ism and achieve­ment,” when the sole ob­ject of his coun­try has al­ways been pira­cy and theft un­der ev­ery con­ceiv­able form.

I leave it you, dear Reader, to determine whether England embarked on the Great War to cripple the power of Germany or whether she did so to protect liberty and democracy or whatever else you have been told. If you have a few hours, you could do worse that read some Reventlow for yourself. Any crankiness he may have is surely not contagious.

11 Responses to Review of “The Vampire of the Continent” by Ernst Reventlow

  1. Samson says:

    Ooh, I ,a href=””>eat up WWI history. I’m going to have a look at this stuff.

  2. JL says:

    This is the best account of how the First World War started;)

  3. Cyrus says:

    I’m afraid Reventlow leaves me cold. All he’s doing is fighting propaganda with propaganda. His history is, for the most part, bunk. The one area in which he could make reasonable claims is the English Balance of Power system but Metternich’s criticisms of the same are much better.

    I can’t speak about America but certainly in the UK nobody is crass enough to claim that England was fighting solely for the rights of small nations let alone democracy. Indeed in the UK so powerful is the disenchantment view of the Great War that British motives are viewed with far more suspicion than they deserve.

    Beyond that I find Reventlow rather distasteful. All he’s really doing is criticising the British for defending what’s theirs. It has more than a whiff of someone complaining to their mum about the big boys being mean.

    Indeed it’s the fundamental psychological state of Wilhelm’s Germany: a desire to show everyone that you’re, like, totally worthy to be in their gang and if you won’t let me in then, like, you totally didn’t want to be in it anyway. And it smells. So there.

    • Foseti says:

      I don’t actually disagree with anything you’ve said. However, I still believe one’s understanding of the war is improved by understanding Reventlow’s perspective. After all – whether we like it or not – we’re soaked in Allied propaganda. If nothing else, Reventlow exposes this easily forgettable fact.

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  5. […] But what did the “free trade” look like from the other side? Let’s ask a German (quoting myself): In Reventlow’s telling . . . the industrial revolution didn’t really start in England. It […]

  6. […] major wars (for example, here’s one from the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, the German Wars, and the Cold War). Mr Douthat’s list may provide you with multiple viewpoints on why the US […]

  7. etype says:

    Interesting, I will download and read this book. Although I have yet to read this… books like these are useful in constructing a comprehensive approach to history. The book deals with England, but it’s usefulness is in regard (at least in my view) to America. The international politics and tactics of the English has since moved to America, as Britain is more functionally dead than any of the European nations it attempted to destroy, and we see this in the common perception that ‘America’ is not the ‘America’ – Americans grew up thinking it was. It has been reabsorbed as a colony of England pre WWI, and visa versa post WWII with the difference that neither the English nor the American people rule either, and yet it still somehow goes about it’s customary work shattering nations into pieces in order to bring about free trade and democracy through death, starvation and destruction.
    I don’t think, (or hope) we will ever find a better template to take back and apply to English International policy as we have today (June, 2014) with the colour revolutions in the mid-East, the Ukraine and the former Soviet lands all driven by US led NGO’s and their psych-tech wonks. Actually we can take this template back (and it matches perfectly) right back to the 16th century England/Spain. Do the patterns match other ‘Empires’ or major historical powers? Some, like one above will say ‘of course,’ without hesitation or study – but I would say ‘no’. There is one template which hasn’t changed because it has been successful in preventing peace and enriching it’s purveyors.
    And it’s useful to know of it.

  8. name789 says:

    The vampire of the continent:

    But what had others, non-Germans, to say about the origins of the war of 1914-18 ?

    An American socialist, John Turner:
    “The German ambassador inquired whether England would remain neutral, provided the integrity of both France and her colonies was guaranteed. Grey refused to tell him. Grey declined to state the conditions under which England would remain neutral; declined to state whether or not, in any event, England would remain neutral; at the same time declining to say that England would stand with France and Russia, but leading Germany on to hope that she would not.”

    An American historian, Sidney Fay:
    ” Sir Edward could probably have prevented war if he had done either of two things. If, early in the crisis, he had acceded to the urging of France and Russia and given a strong warning to Germany that, in a European War, England would take the side of the Franco-Russian Alliance, this would probably have led Bethmann to exert an earlier and more effective pressure on Austria; and it would perhaps thereby have prevented the Austrian declaration of war on Serbia, and brought to successful issue the “direct conversations” between Vienna and St. Petersburg.”

    “Deep unmitigated hatred of democracy was indeed the moving spring of the English Tories’ policy. Napoleon was warred against, not as they pretended because he was a tyrant and usurper, for he was neither; not because his invasion of Spain was unjust, but because he was the enemy of aristocratic privileges.” —Major-General William Francis Patrick Napier

    “Napoleon in 1809 attempted to wrench a planet from the hideous tentacles of this octopus, this British dominion strangling a world” –J.A. Cramb, Germany and England

    “The English oligarchy was determined to crush Napoleon. After deluging Europe in blood and woe, during nearly a quarter of a century, for the accomplishment of this end, it became necessary to prove to the world, and especially to the British people, who were tottering beneath the burden of taxes which these wars engendered, that Napoleon was a tyrant, threatening the liberties of the world, end that he deserved to be crushed. All the Allies who were accomplices in this iniquitous crusade were alike interested in consigning to the world’s execration the name of their victim; and even in France, the reinstated Bourbons, sustained upon the throne by the bayonets of the Allies, silenced every voice which would speak in favor of the monarch of the people, and rewarded with smiles, and opulence, end honor, all who would pour contempt upon his name. Thus we have the unprecedented spectacle of all the monarchies of Europe most deeply interested in calumniating one single man, and that man deprived of the possibility of reply.” –John S.C. Abbott, The History of Napoleon Bonaparte

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