The Civil War and the Modernization of American Society: Social Structure and Industrial Revolution in the Old South before and during the War
- Civil War History
- The Kent State University Press
- Volume 18, Number 3, September 1972
- pp. 230-250
- View Citation
- Additional Information
THE CIVIL WAR AND THE MODERNIZATION OF AMERICAN SOCIETY: Social Structure and Industrial Revolution in the Old South before and during the War Raimondo Luraghi Il n'est pas seulement du blé qui sort de la terre labour ée, c'est une civilization toute entière. Lamartine. At the end of the nineteenth century, lieutenant-colonel baron Colmar von der Goltz, a profoundly perceptive German military theorist, remarked that "Military institutions are intimately bound up with that state of culture which the Nation has attained."1 In so doing, he was stressing more strongly what Carl von Clausewitz had yet observed, namely that, "A War both arises and derives its nature from the ideas, feelings and political relations which obtain at the moment when it breaks out."2 I am in the main a military historian; but, of course, in underlining this, I do not mean to isolate myself from the main currents of historiography . Indeed, as Anatol Rapoport has remarked, "The problem of War is universally recognised as one of the most awesome problems with which the human race is presently confronted."3 But let me go back to Colmar von der Goltz and Clausewitz. The profound meaning of their philosophies is to warn us that military history is totally sterile if studied in a vacuum; and it seems to me utterly impossible to understand the ultimate historical meaning of a war without going deeply into the political backgrounds of societies at war, (as, it was said, war is only "a continuation of policies by different means"4 ) and without studying carefully the dynamics of social classes, groups and individuals whose interests, ideas, feelings, also prejudices, are reflected and embodied in such policies and ideologies. Several years ago I began to wonder if the so-called American Civil 1 H. Nickerson, The Armed Horde, 1793-1939: a Study of the Rise, Survival and Decline of the Mass Army (New York, 1940, p. 2 Carl von Clausewitz, Vom Kriege (Berlin, 1832), p. 3 Anatol Rapoport, Introduction to "Carl von Clausewitz, On War," p. 12 (publication information). 4 Carl von Clausewitz, Vom Kriege, p. 18. 230 War was not, after all, the missing link between two eras of wars and revolutions, namely the French revolutionary and Napoleonic on one side, and both World Wars on the other. Considered from such a viewpoint , the American Civil War is basically (and dialectically) contradictory , as it appears linked with both eras, being, on one side, the fulfillment and completion of what Napoleonic genius could only foresee but not realize, still lacking in part the technological means ( and so the Civil War was the completion and achievement of the past); and appearing , on the other side, as a forecast and a rehearsal ( albeit ignored by European military men ) of both World Wars. So I began studying this fascinating problem about fifteen years ago; and, of course, tried to make the most of my previous experience in European and Italian history. I am perfectly aware that any kind of comparative history is a dangerous tool to handle: it is highly explosive and has to be used carefully and with a deep sense of relativity and limitations. Nevertheless, either we are able to find a common design in mankind's history, or history would turn out to be only a mess of violence deprived of any sense. Giambattista Vico, a major Italian philosopher, living between the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in that Italian South which is, in many ways, so similar to the American one (and, let us not forget this, so different in many other ways ) , came to believe that history is a perfectly knowledgeable field for human science: ". . . in the present work," he wrote in 1744 in his New Science, or Inquiry about the Common Nature of Nations, ". . . philosophy undertakes to examine philolology (that is, the doctrine of all the institutions that depend on human choice; for example, all histories of the languages, customs, and deeds of peoples in war and peace) . . . and reduces it to the form of a science by discovering in it the design of an ideal eternal history traversed in time by the histories of all nations."5 So, Vico concluded...