Jack Beatty, a veteran American radio journalist, seems to have been reading a famous old book, George Dangerfield’s The Strange Death of Liberal England. It came out in 1935, only twenty years after the end of Asquith’s Liberal government, which had come to grief, said Dangerfield, over trade unions, Ireland and the women question. Then it was involved in war, and in 1916 Asquith lost out to the demagogue Lloyd George. Jack Beatty extends the Dangerfield argument to continental Europe, including Russia, and says that the death of liberal Europe was not inevitable, that the war did not need to happen, and that the liberal world could have gone on and on. He takes the famous European cases – Germany, Russia, France, Austria-Hungary – and tells some good stories in vigorous style, though a little bit of the Rasputin story goes a long way, and why we need to have the Mexican gunslinger Pancho Villa in the narrative is not altogether plain.
When the First World War turned out badly, senior men on the Austrian and German sides destroyed their papers; and in the last RAF bombing of Berlin, in mid-April 1945, a large part of the Prussian war ministry archives was destroyed. Much of the rest ended up in Moscow, in