In the Light of the Flame of War
Cover and extracts from In the Light of the Flame of War, an essay on the meaning of the war by the Dutch writer Frederik van Eeden, based on his lectures given in late 1914 and 1915 and published in Amsterdam in 1915.
The internationalist Dutch writer and social activist Frederick van Eeden interpreted the outbreak of war as a personal failure. In August 1914, his internationalist society, the Forte Kreis, fell into disarray. Germany's invasion of Belgium and the arrival of thousands of Belgian refugees abhorred the writer. While denouncing all forms of nationalism, he nonetheless believed Prussian militarism to be worse; its destruction was a prerequisite for the rise of a new international community. Van Eeden put aside his neutral stance and assisted in Allied propaganda. He also developed initiatives to restore dialogue between German and West European intellectuals. In this essay In the Light of the Flame of War, van Eeden analysed the causes and consequences of the war and reflected on the role of the neutral Netherlands in this conflict. In the first extract, van Eeden interprets the war as, above all, a nationalist conflict. He states that the role of religion as a factor of war was capitalised on, referring to the allegedly failed German-Ottoman efforts to revolutionise Muslims, the united fighting of Protestants and Catholics, and the presence of Jews in many national armies. Van Eeden considered the nation to be a fictional concept, perpetuated by authoritarian leaders, while it was mass democracy that would inevitably lead to internationalism. In the second extract, van Eeden made clear his belief in the regenerative power of the war, an idea which he shared with many European intellectuals (Buelens 2015, 21-30). This conflict, he claimed, was part of a godly plan that would lead irrevocably to the rise of an international community. He pleaded for a restored international socialism, since it was the only ideology capable of transcending nationalism and making a just distribution of wealth and political power. He was intrigued by the idea of a political federation, since it combined nationalism and internationalism. In the third extract, van Eeden condemned those versions of Dutch pacifism and anti-militarism that originated from economic self-interest. The Dutch, he claimed, generally lacked heroism and idealism. They preferred a cautious neutrality over decisiveness, even when their Belgian neighbour was in danger. Van Eeden argued that their attitudes did not allow the Dutch to advise the belligerents on idealism and morality. In the fourth extract, van Eeden defined a special task for the Dutch in this war. They should treasure their ‘non-aggressive’, ‘good’, and ‘pure’ nationalism in contrast to the violent German version. The Dutch should propagate this ‘open-minded’ and 'non-imperialistic' nationalism, not only in their interactions with other Europeans but also with their own Indonesian colonials.