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Archduke Franz Ferdinand Lives!: A World without World War I
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Archduke Franz Ferdinand Lives!: A World without World War I

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by Richard Ned Lebow

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The "Great War" claimed nearly 40 million lives and set the stage for World War II, the Holocaust, and the Cold War. One hundred years later, historians are beginning to recognize how unnecessary it was. In Archduke Franz Ferdinand Lives!, acclaimed political psychologist Richard Ned Lebow examines the chain of events that led to war and what could reasonably have


The "Great War" claimed nearly 40 million lives and set the stage for World War II, the Holocaust, and the Cold War. One hundred years later, historians are beginning to recognize how unnecessary it was. In Archduke Franz Ferdinand Lives!, acclaimed political psychologist Richard Ned Lebow examines the chain of events that led to war and what could reasonably have been done differently to avoid it. In this highly original and intellectually challenging book, he constructs plausible worlds, some better, some worse, that might have developed. He illustrates them with "what-if" biographies of politicians, scientists, religious leaders, artists, painters, and writers, sports figures, and celebrities, including scenarios where: there is no Israel; neither John Kennedy nor Barack Obama become president; Curt Flood, not Jackie Robinson, integrates baseball; Satchmo and many Black jazz musicians leave for Europe, where jazz blends with klezmer; nuclear research is internationalized and all major countries sign a treaty outlawing the development of atomic weapons; Britain and Germany are entrapped in a Cold War that threatens to go nuclear; and much more.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
For Lebow (A Cultural Theory of International Relations), a professor of international political theory, the erasure of WWI from our historical timeline would have placed our world on a path quite different from the one we are on today. He expounds on the theory of counterfactuals to revisit and better understand our history. “What-ifs of this kind offer insights into the world in which we actually live,” Lebow claims, letting us “probe why and how it came about, how contingent it was, and how we should evaluate it.” He begins with the assassination of Franz Ferdinand and its aftershocks, detailing what could have happened in the fields of science, art, medicine, and politics had the archduke survived. Using historical and personal records, supported by known personality traits of notable period figures, Lebow fashions two possible worlds, one better and one worse, had WWI been avoided. His confidence is evident on every page; this work of alternative history reminds us of our own position in flow of events and tempts us to follow Lebow’s lead in fantasizing about the possibilities inherent in these very distinct worlds. Though we can’t escape the realities of our past, Lebow provides his readers with exciting alternatives to consider. (Jan.)
From the Publisher

“One of the 7 Books You Should Own” —Belfast Telegraph

“Lebow persuasively argues that the outbreak of world war was contingent on the assassination of Franz Ferdinand…. So, what if there had been no First World War? Lebow imagines the best and worst plausible worlds…. These forays are fun.” —The Times (London)

“Richard Ned Lebow is a prolific political scientist who uses counter-factual hypotheses to illuminate the possibilities of a far from simple situation in Archduke Franz Ferdinand Lives!” —Financial Times

“A well-written, thought-provoking read, particularly for people with a keen interest in modern history.” —Discover Your History magazine

“A curious look at an alternative history.” —Your Family Tree magazine

“Lebow's ‘counterfactual' worlds are fascinating… This is an entertaining and plausible series of ‘what-ifs' that makes us pause and consider the contingency of what we are pleased to call the real world.” —New Internationalist magazine

“The thought-experiments in Archduke Franz Ferdinand Lives! serve purposes on multiple levels. At its core, Alternate History has always been an intriguing chance to ponder "what if?" Through Lebow's work, we may see further through analysis that we can apply to our own world and judge our own trends in culture, and science, and political leadership.” —BlogCritics

“Lebow has written a sharp… work that many with an interest in the first world war will enjoy. As well as providing a "what-if" analysis of a world without the conflict, Archduke Franz Ferdinand Lives! invites us to reflect in new and unexpected ways on the connectedness of things – and on the unpredictability of history.” —The Observer

“Astute, challenging exercises in consequence and contingency.” —Kirkus Reviews

“Though we can't escape the realities of our past, Lebow provides his readers with exciting alternatives to consider” —Publishers Weekly

“What if WWI had never happened? No Nazis, no Bolsheviks, no Holocaust, no WWII, no Cold War, perhaps no nuclear weapons. Then again: Kaiser and Tsar would have ruled the 20th century, holding back democracy and decolonization. A century of peace would have delayed war-related inventions like radar, penicillin, nuclear energy, long-distance air travel, computers. Without frenzied industrialization in the service of war, no Black mass migration to the North - and neither civil rights nor Obama. Ned Lebow has produced the most sophisticated "what-if" history in many years. Read this fascinating book to jog your mind and to understand the worst and best century in world history - why we are where we are now.” —Josef Joffe, Publisher-Editor of Die Zeit, and Distinguished Fellow, Stanford University

“An extraordinary counterfactual book.… The playful alternatives that Ned Lebow so cleverly constructs have a serious purpose in helping to explain the failures and success of the 20th Century.” —Sir Richard Dearlove KCMG, OBE, former head of MI6 and Master of Pembroke College, Cambridge

“If you ever had doubts about why the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife so changed our lives, you won't after reading Richard Ned Lebow's prodigy of historical speculation. Can there be a book that better explains why the counterfactual matters?” —Robert Cowley, editor of the WHAT IF? Series

“This is a thoughtful, insightful and provocative study which will intrigue a broad range of readers. Ned Lebow's impressive deconstruction of the events leading to World War I and its shattering consequences is a timely reminder that policy decisions based on linear predictions are often wrong and that contingencies and the unexpected must be considered very carefully by policy makers before pursuing the path to war. That lesson is particularly relevant today and Lebow is to be congratulated for presenting it so effectively.” —Kenneth S. Yalowitz, US Ambassador (ret.)

Kirkus Reviews
An alternate history of how the world would have emerged if World War I had not occurred. World War I brought devastation on the 20th century, mowing down an entire generation of young men, dismantling empires, introducing ethnic cleansing, disease, revolution and civil war, and, ultimately, sowing the rotten global political and economic yield that gave rise to Adolf Hitler. Yet seasoned political scientist Lebow (International Political Theory and War Studies/King's Coll. London; The Politics and Ethics of Identity, 2012, etc.) reminds us that WWI was entirely avoidable and indeed reluctantly embarked upon by the prevailing powers: The retaliation by Austrian hawks against Serbia in 1914 after its directed assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand forced Germany's hand. Caught between France and Russia, the German military was determined to knock out the former before the latter could mobilize. Russia, ripe for revolution and resolved not to appear weak, came to Serbia's side, while France, bound to the Franco-Russian alliance, supported Russia. Germany invaded Belgium to get at France, thereby bringing Britain into the maelstrom. The assassination thus encouraged a "psychological environment" in which war was deemed necessary, yet what if it had been thwarted or at least avoided for a mere three years more? Lebow posits a plausible set of what-ifs: The 99 years of peace in Europe since the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815 could have gone on; the anti-war movement was strong; famines had subsided and economic progress was growing. Further, Germany would probably have evolved into a constitutional democracy, and the military spending would instead have been channeled into social and economic growth. However, writes the author, the survival of the various empires faced an uncertain future, and the United States would not have emerged as a world power. Astute, challenging exercises in consequence and contingency.

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St. Martin's Press
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Archduke Franz Ferdinand Lives!

A World Without World War I

By Richard Ned Lebow

Palgrave Macmillan

Copyright © 2014 Richard Ned Lebow
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-137-41350-5


Possible Worlds

It is August 2014, and the northern hemisphere is experiencing a second month of exceptionally lovely weather. Americans have just celebrated the one hundredth anniversary of the opening of the Panama Canal, hailed in retrospect, along with its sister Suez Canal, as transportation links that facilitated globalization and helped forge a century of peace. In Balmoral the aging but spry Queen Elizabeth II is hosting Prince Harry and his German bride, Princess Elizabetha. The princess's father, younger brother of the kaiser, named her after the British queen in recognition of the excellent relations between these two long-intermarried families of constitutional monarchs. In Jerusalem, under the authority of the Great Powers Condominium for the Holy Land, renewed clashes have occurred between Orthodox Jews and their Muslim counterparts at the Temple Mount. In India the governor general, Gurchuran Singh, is on holiday at a hill station but has met with representatives of India's sporting and business elite for a briefing on their preparations for hosting next year's Commonwealth Games. They will hold events in all of India's major cities, from Dacca in the east to Karachi in the west.

This fantasy world might have been our world if World War I had not been fought. For reasons I make clear in the book, many aspects of life would be better. Nearly a century of peace among the great powers would have made large military establishments and arms races things of the past, allowing vast sums of money to go to infrastructure, education, health care, urban renewal, and foreign aid. The standard of living would be higher and poverty all but nonexistent in the developed world, as it is in today's Scandinavia. Without either world war or the Holocaust, the Jewish population of Europe would be large and thriving, but Israel would not exist.

A downside is inevitable. Governments would have made massive investments in weapons and weapons-related developments. So penicillin, nuclear energy, radar and safe long-distance air travel, and the information revolution would have been delayed. So too would civil rights in the United States in the absence of the massive migrations of Negro workers to the war plants of the East, Midwest, and the Pacific coast during both world wars. Neither Barack Obama nor anyone else of African descent could have been elected president of the United States. Colonialism would have had a longer shelf life, although India, Israel-Palestine, and Cyprus would have avoided partition and the bloody conflicts that followed.

Why focus on World War I and its consequences? It wiped out a generation of young men and killed large numbers of civilians through disease, ethnic cleansing, and the civil wars that arose in its aftermath. The war hastened the ascendancy of the United States as the world's leading economic power; led to the breakup of the German, Austro-Hungarian, Russian, and Ottoman empires; and set in motion a chain of events that would ultimately lead to the end of the British, French, Spanish, and Portuguese empires as well. It triggered a revolution in Russia, which had repercussions in eastern and central Europe and more lasting resonance in China and Southeast Asia. Collectively these developments made it almost impossible to restore political and economic stability to Europe, thus paving the way for Hitler's rise to power, the Holocaust, and a second, far more deadly, bid for domination by Germany in alliance with Italy and Japan. World War II in turn gave rise to a cold war between the Soviet bloc and the West that kept Europe divided for fifty years, a target of thousands of nuclear weapons that — at the push of a button — could have left the continent a desolate, uninhabitable no-man's-land. World War I was, without question, the defining event of the twentieth century.

World War I and the events that followed had equally profound cultural and intellectual consequences. Europe's self-confidence was lost along with its leading role in the world, a psychological turn that was evident in the increasing defiance, doubt, confusion, and alienation of postwar art, literature, and music. Many artists and intellectuals sought refuge in a highly idealized image of Soviet-style socialism. Matters were, if anything, worse in the immediate aftermath of World War II. The United States became the leader of the self-proclaimed Free World. It financed the reconstruction of western Europe and Japan, imposed US political and economic institutions and practices wherever it could, and gained influence in a wider circle of states through aid, trade, and investment. Extraordinary levels of investment at home in education and research, charitable support for the arts, and emigration of thousands of Europe's leading scientists, artists, and intellectuals made the United States the world's leader in medicine, science, space exploration, and the creative arts. American popular culture became global in its appeal, leading some intellectuals to worry about Hollywood's takeover of culture and others to celebrate it as a "soft power" resource.

To fathom the consequences of World War I, we must know what our world might have been like without it. We cannot turn back the historical clock or access parallel universes to create or discover alternative worlds. Our only recourse is to engage in counterfactual thought experiments. My what-ifs cannot undo the devastation of World War I, but constructing possible fictional worlds can help bring to light some causes and consequences of the war. The imaginary worlds I describe are the most plausible best and worst worlds that might have arisen in the absence of World War I. Of course other scenarios might have emerged. This margin for error is not a problem because I am not suggesting that either world was the most likely to arise. Rather, they define the limits of the worlds that might have come about and thus the envelope in which any of them, including the most probable, would be found.

I use the terms "best" and "worst" worlds in an entirely relative sense. They are not the best or worst worlds that you or I can imagine, as the best world has a nasty downside and the worst world some good features. Rather, they are the best and worst worlds that might reasonably have evolved in the absence of World War I. The best world is far from being a utopia, although the worst world certainly qualifies as a dystopia. Are they "better" and "worse" worlds than the one in which we live? This is a matter of judgment, and readers will form their own opinions. The so-called "best" world is, I believe, a "better" world than ours. It avoids two World Wars, the Holocaust, the Russian Civil War, the Soviet Union and communism, and the deaths of almost 100 million people. There is a price: tolerance of all kinds is delayed, as are the scientific and engineering breakthroughs that lead to antibiotics, safe air travel, and computer and information technology. It seems a fair trade-off as these developments all ultimately occur and many more people survive to enjoy them.

Why would we imagine alternative lives? Because what-ifs are a useful, often necessary, means of evaluation. If you want to assess your choice of partner, school, job, or car — or even the book you are reading — you have two ways of going about it. One is to try an alternative. This is relatively easy to do with books, as you can put one down and pick up another. It can work with jobs if the economy is good. With automobiles you can rent a different model or take a spin in a friend's car. Unless your partner or spouse is unusually understanding, trying another one out for several months of comparison is more difficult. The same is true for universities, many jobs, and places of residence. Your only recourse may be to imagine what it would be like to have a different partner, school, job, home, city, or country. People do this every day. They spontaneously conduct counterfactual experiments to evaluate their lives or aspects of them.

Numerous studies suggest that people are most likely to resort to counterfactuals when they are unhappy about choices they have made. They invent "upward" counterfactuals that lead to better outcomes and make them feel better. This works best when people also convince themselves that they had little choice but to act as they did, thus minimizing their responsibility for negative outcomes. Alternatively people resort to "downward" counterfactuals that lead to worse outcomes and serve as wake-up calls to prompt preparatory responses.

I use both kinds of counterfactuals in this study. In the next chapter I do away with World War I and anything like it. Then I use an upward counterfactual to construct a better, more peaceful, world. I am not convinced, and neither should you be, that our world was in any way inevitable. I contend that World War I was a highly contingent event that could easily have been derailed. From the vantage point of 1914, that is, from the perspective of contemporary politicians, generals, and pundits, the war came as a surprise. Widespread expectations of continuing peace were by no means unreasonable. They may look this way from our perspective, but that is because we know the world went to war. In its aftermath politicians and generals wrote self-serving memoirs to advance the case for its inevitability.

I then invoke a downward counterfactual, on the grounds that avoiding war in 1914 would not necessarily have led to a better world. It could have produced a nastier and highly unstable one. This may be the harder case to make, given the extraordinary horrors of the twentieth century. Germany's defeat in World War I led to Hitler, World War II, the Holocaust, the political division of Europe, and fifty years of cold war. In Asia the Japanese invasion of China triggered another bloodbath, as did post-1945 wars of independence in the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia), Malaya, Indochina, Madagascar, and Algeria. Asia and the Middle East saw a slew of postcolonial wars. What could possibly have been worse?

Imagine the survival of a conservative authoritarian Germany, a revolution in Russia, and an alliance of both countries and Japan. Then throw in successful development of atomic weapons by Germany and their use in a war against the Western democracies. Once again, the point of the exercise is not to make the case that this scenario, or any other I examine, would have come to pass, only that they were possible. What-ifs of this kind offer insights into the world in which we actually live. They let us probe why and how it came about, how contingent it was, and how we should evaluate it. They allow us to think more intelligently about the causes, contingency, and consequences of events that did occur, and this is my avowed goal.

And, lest you think that these grand historical sweeps are pure whimsy, I show how my alternative worlds would have affected real people. I create counterfactual biographies of the war's actors, victims, and others affected by it. All their lives would have played out quite differently in these different worlds. Some achieve fame for different reasons, and others live more ordinary lives. Some also live longer, as they do not die in World War I, the influenza epidemic, World War II, or the Holocaust.

My life, and that of my original family, offers a graphic illustration of how individual lives are affected by larger historical developments. To the best of my knowledge my parents fled to Paris in the hope of escaping the Nazis, and I was born there in 1941. In July 1942 the French National Police (Milice) rounded up the foreign Jewish population. I was saved by an ordinary French police officer (flic), to whom my mother handed me before being pushed into a freight car and shipped to Drancy and Auschwitz. This courageous and well-intentioned man later handed me over to a group of French Jewish women who had organized to protect children. I was subsequently hidden in a village, smuggled over the Pyrenees into Spain, and then shipped out of Lisbon to New York with one hundred other Jewish orphans. Immigration officials looked the other way, and we were offloaded at night and sent to orphanages.

I was adopted by an American Jewish family that provided the love and guidance all children need. One need not go any further to recognize how incredibly lucky I was in comparison to most other Jewish children born in Nazi-occupied Europe. My life could easily have ended in 1942. Also fortuitous was the goodwill of US immigration officials and my adoption by a wonderful couple. I was lucky again when my adoption became legal five years later, and the judge, having figured out that my papers were phony, had the court issue me a birth certificate with New York City as my place of birth.

My early life is more dramatic than most and would have been different in either alternative world. So would yours, although in ways different from mine. By thinking about what your life, and perhaps the lives of your parents, would have been like in the worlds I am about to create, you will develop a much better appreciation of how World War I and its consequences affected your life.


Preventing World War I

Counterfactual means contrary to facts. A counterfactual describes an event that did not occur. In everyday language counterfactuals can be described as what-if statements. This nicely captures their purpose: they vary some feature of the past to change some aspect of the present. Some people use counterfactuals to imagine different futures, although strictly speaking they pertain only to the past. Counterfactuals make changes in the past (antecedents) and connect them via a chain of events to a change in the present (consequent). I contend that if Franz Ferdinand and Sophie had not been assassinated (antecedent), then World War I could have been averted (consequent).

Historical counterfactuals always involve some degree of speculation because, as evolutionary biologist Stephen J. Gould laments, we cannot rerun the tape of history to see what would actually happen in the new circumstances that counterfactuals create. This is equally true of so-called "factual" history. If we assert that Hitler was responsible for the Holocaust, we must consider what would have happened in Germany if he had never become its dictator. Every historical claim rests on a counterfactual, but these alternative worlds are rarely, if ever, examined.

The fictional nature of counterfactuals makes many scholars, especially historians, wary of them. Counterfactual experiments often make use of evidence as rich as that incorporated in any factual argument. Even when evidence is meager or absent, the difference between counterfactual and "factual" history is much less than commonly supposed. Documents rarely provide smoking guns that allow researchers to establish motives or causes beyond a reasonable doubt. Actors only occasionally leave evidence about their motives, and historians rarely accept such testimony at face value. More often, historians infer motives from what they know about actors' personalities and goals, past behavior, and the constraints under which they operated. This is exactly how good counterfactuals are constructed.

Historians frequently smuggle counterfactuals into what are alleged to be factual narratives. The English historian E. H. Carr, no friend of counterfactuals, does this in his treatment of the Soviet Union when he insists that Stalin hijacked the Bolshevik Revolution. The implication is that socialism would have developed differently without him. John Lukacs, an even more vitriolic opponent of counterfactuals, does the same in his highly regarded study of the role Churchill played in preventing a British capitulation to Hitler. Lukacs's argument rests on a series of unacknowledged counterfactuals, principally that if Churchill had not become prime minister, the Allies would not have won World War II.

The most plausible counterfactuals rewrite history only minimally. They make small and credible changes in the fabric of history as close as possible in time to the outcome they hope to bring about. A small and credible rewrite of history has the potential over time to bring about a very different world. Consider the survival of the young Elián Gonzalez. In November 1999 Elián fled Cuba with his mother and twelve others in a small boat with a faulty engine; his mother and ten other passengers died in the crossing. Floating in an inner tube, Elián was rescued by two fishermen who handed him over to the US Coast Guard. The subsequent decision by US Attorney General Janet Reno to return Elián to his father in Cuba, rather than allow him to stay with his paternal great uncle in Florida, infuriated many Cuban Americans. Accordingly, many fewer Americans of Cuban descent voted Democratic in the 2000 presidential election. Most Cuban Americans vote Republican, but enough vote Democratic to make a difference. Gore received 25 percent of Florida's Cuban-American votes and John Kerry close to 30 percent in in 2004, and Obama won 48 percent in 2008. More Cuban Americans voting for Gore could have made a critical difference in Florida.


Excerpted from Archduke Franz Ferdinand Lives! by Richard Ned Lebow. Copyright © 2014 Richard Ned Lebow. Excerpted by permission of Palgrave Macmillan.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Richard Ned Lebow is professor of International Political Theory in the Department of War Studies at King's College London and James O. Freedman Presidential Professor Emeritus of Government at Dartmouth College. He is also a bye-fellow of Pembroke College at the University of Cambridge, and the author of almost 30 books. His work has been cited in The New York Times , The Wall Street Journal , and The Economist , and he has been interviewed on NPR, the BBC, CSPAN, and German, French, and Italian radio and television. He lives in London, England and Etna, New Hampshire.

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Archduke Franz Ferdinand Lives!: A World without World War I 3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
WillowOK More than 1 year ago
His theories are interesting and worth buying the book but the author does not think at all of motives of any nations but those in Europe and the USA & Canada. I think he dismisses Japan, China, and India far too quickly from his speculations. But then, that would probably be at least one if not 2-3 more volumns.