This paper is aimed at discussing the book Rites of Spring by Modris Eksteins. In this work, he explores the underlying causes of World War I, its effects on people’s experiences, and the long-term effects of this political and social catastrophe.
This topic has been examined by various historians, but Modris Eksteins takes a slightly different approach to this question.
The author focuses on various aspects. In particular, he speaks about the culture of the western civilization; moreover, he mentions that war, sacrifice, and violence were inseparable parts of this culture (Eksteins 15).
He tries to demonstrate the link between modernism and the political history of the western world. Moreover, the writer discusses the nature of diplomatic alliances existing at the beginning of the twentieth century.
In this way, the scholar attempts to identify the motives that could have prompted various states to enter into this military conflict. This source is also aimed at examining people’s perception of this war. This is why he focuses on various literary sources as well as diaries.
One of the author’s intentions is to examine the way in which soldiers grappled with this war. This is why Modris Eksteins mentions the so-called Christmas Truce (Eksteins 97).
Furthermore, the writer discusses the implications of World War I. For instance, this book throws light on the rise of National Socialism in Germany and Italy (Eksteins 321). Furthermore, Modris Eksteins’s book demonstrates how this military conflict paved the way to World War II.
For instance, he refers to the Treaty of Versailles and its limitations (Eksteins 253). These are some of the main aspects that can be identified.
This book does not follow a strict chronological pattern. Moreover, Modris Eksteins can draw the connections between the events that do not seem to be related. Overall, the scholar focuses on such themes as culture, attempts to adjust the word of war, and post-war beliefs and attitudes.
They are critical for describing the history of the twentieth century. The scholar looks at various countries, but he takes the greatest interest in the cultural and political history of Germany.
One of the most important themes examined by the writer is the peculiarities of the Western culture. At the beginning of the book, Modris Eksteins discusses the famous ballet The Rite of Spring composed by Igor Stravinsky.
He attracts the readers’ attention to the idea that the idea of human sacrifice plays an important role in this artwork. In his opinion, “the celebration of life through sacrificial death” represents the spirit of the twentieth century (Eksteins 15).
Eksteins argues that the modernist art, which began to emerge during that period, “transcended reason, didacticism, and moral purpose” (Eksteins 15). Moreover, it did not portray war and suffering as something outrageous. More likely, war and violence were glorified.
This is one of the main aspects that can be singled out. Yet, it is important to remember that Modris Eksteins does not fully explain the causal relations between various artworks created during that period and the military conflict which engulfed the entire Europe.
Nevertheless, one can also argue that culture simply reflected the attitudes and values of many people. It might not be the driving force of history.This is one of the limitations that should not be overlooked.
The writer views culture as one of the factors that could have prompted some nations to enter this war. For instance, he notes for Germans, this war was a way of expanding the influence of their culture (Eksteins 77). German intellectuals emphasized the importance of a person’s inner freedom.
In their opinion, this quality distinguished Germans among other European nations. Moreover, it is vital to remember that many German artists and philosophers called for a leader who could achieve greatness for the country (Eksteins 315).
The combination of these worldviews greatly contributed to the violence committed by the German state. Nevertheless, this view on World War I completely excludes economic and geopolitical considerations.
Additionally, Modris Eksteins does not show why similar tendencies were not observed in other countries like France or England. So, some of his conclusions can be disputed because the scholar excludes the examples that contradicts his arguments. This is one of the points that can be made.
There is another important theme which should not be overlooked. In particular, one should speak about people’s attempts to reconcile the experience of war with their values, customs, or traditions.
The author shows how German, British or French soldiers attempted to make this existence more acceptable or livable. In this way, they attempted to show how senseless this war had been. This is one of the issues that Modris Eksteins focuses on.
For example, he describes a short truce during the Christmas of 1914 (Eksteins 97). This event has been described in literary and academic sources. To examine the experiences of soldiers, Modris Eksteins examines various primary sources.
Among them one can distinguish the famous novel All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque. The author speaks about other sources which can show how people could adjust to war.
Overall, this approach is helpful for understanding the hardships that soldiers had to overcome. Apart from that, this perspective is useful because it enables the readers to learn more about individual narratives that are often overlooked by historians.
This part of Modris Eksteins’ book is probably the strongest one.
The post-war existence of people is the theme that Modris Eksteins examines. The author admits that the end of World War I did not resolve many tensions and potential conflicts within Europe.
He recognizes the limitations of the Versailles Treaty which placed the burden of responsibility for this war only on Germany (Eksteins 253). One can even say that it was a truce which only postponed war. This opinion is shared by other historians.
Modris Eksteins is quite right in identifying the drawback of this treaty. Much attention is also paid to the culture which began to develop during that period. To a great extent, it reflected people’s need for peace and stability. Yet, there are some important trends that should be taken into account.
The author speaks about the idealization of technology and will. This argument is particularly important if one speaks about Charles Lindbergh who became extremely famous for his non-stop flight from Long Island to France (Eksteins 243).
The main problem is that such attitudes contributed to the idealization of people who claimed to posses the strength of will. Among them, one can certainly distinguish Adolf Hitler and Mussolini.
To some degree, they wanted to be viewed as ideal human beings who had a right to govern or even subdue other people.
These examples can be very convincing, but this line of reasoning is not applicable to such countries as England or the United States in which there were no autocratic leaders. This is one of the drawbacks that should not be overlooked.
It is possible to say that the author wants to draw connections between the culture of modernism and political history of western civilization. One of the main points is that that modernism turned the political history of the twentieth century into a nightmare.
Nevertheless, he does not want to admit the idea that modernism was just a response to the horrors of wars that broke out very often. This is one of the details that should be identified.
Moreover, the scholar does not want to consider the conflicts between and within various countries which could have led to many military confrontations.
As it has been said before, one cannot overlook economic and political history of western states. The cultural history of this period is certainly important, but it cannot be separated from areas of human activity.
On the whole, this book can be of great interest to people, who are interested in the origins of World War I. This book is important for illustrating the attitudes and beliefs of people who lived at the beginning of the twentieth century.
Moreover, this source may be helpful for examining the attitudes of people during the period between the two wars.
Nevertheless, the author makes very broad generalizations that are not fully substantiated. Still, these limitations do not undermine the potential value of this book for a great number of readers.
Eksteins, Modris. Rites of Spring: The Great War and the Birth of the Modern Age, New York: Mariner Books, 2000. Print.