Mass democracy, mass warfare, mass barbarism.
by Andrew Cusack
The twentieth century was the most democratic in human history. It was also the bloodiest, and these two factors are inextricably linked. For it is the rise of mass democracy during the nineteenth century and into the twentieth that led to wars not between sovereigns, but between entire peoples which, even in the darkest depths of stalemate (as during the First World War) leaders dared not sue for peace, because a propagandized electorate would not accept negotiations with an enemy it had been told was sub-human.
In many ways, the period from the defeat of Napoleon to the First World War was the last (or rather, pray, merely the latest) golden age of Western civilization. Great leaps were made in art, science, technology, and learning, while at the same time (with some notable exceptions) the all-important traditional forms were maintained. But, contrarily, steaming beneath this last breath of the Old World, was the rise of large-scale mass democracy.
In Great Britain, France, Spain, Italy, and the nascent Germany, electorates which had started out limited and aimed at the upper and upper-middle classes, those with a stake in society, gradually but continually expanded to include the merchant, smallkeepers, and eventually working classes. (Though every European country denied women suffrage until into the twentieth century). The growth of the electorate weakened the power of both the king and the aristocracy and changed the composition of the ruling classes. In order to maintain its domination, the political class (spanning both “left” and “right”) had to take mass culture into greater consideration, in order to deftly manipulate the masses and thus control increasingly democratic political structures.
It was not always so. In the age of monarchs, king warred against king. Armies went to war because their commander, the king, told them to (or because they were paid to), and this was largely enough in a more rigidly hierarchical age. One king defeated another, terms were decided upon, perhaps a province or some other bit of territory was handed to the victor, and peace was then restored.
The British and Americans denied the enemy their rightful status as human beings with ultimate co-equal status. Mass meetings were held decrying the menacing Hun and posters frequently depicted the Germans as subhuman ape-like monsters.
Great. That had to increase the appeal of the later "Ubermensch" propaganda.