Ironically, the spirit of the modern world, the very hopefulness and optimism that so commended Modernity, ultimately caused its violent demise. It was as if mankind built its Tower of Babel and invited the gods to destroy it. He did.
Modris Eksteins, in his book The Rites of Spring: The Great War and the Birth of the Modern Age argues that First World War was the pivotal moment in modern history and consciousness. Eksteins’ argument is that in our modern world, life and art have blended together and aesthetics have become more important than ever. In other words, Modernists are not sure what is real and what isn’t. He then points to Germany before the Great War as the nation in which these ideals were the most pronounced as the modernist nation par excellence, which served as a model for our world. For Eksteins, the First World War was a conflict between the old established world order based on reason, logic, and tradition—all Enlightenment ideals–and represented primarily by Great Britain and, to some extent, by France, and, on the other hand, Germany, the representative of the new ideas of the modern world struggling for liberation and emancipation from the old order. While Germany lost the war, many of the ideas and attitudes that characterized German society eventually won out and are characteristic of the modern consciousness. In other words, Germany lost the shooting war but won the culture war (Modris Eksteins, Rites of Spring, The Great War and the Birth of the Modern Age , Key Porter Books, Toronto, 1989 discussed in http://www.allempires.com/article/index.php?q=The_Rites_of_Spring)
New York Times journalist Christopher Lehmann-Haupt (March 13, 1989) points out that Eksteins uses the 1913 Russian ballet “The Rites of Spring” as a metaphor for the war. He then proceeds to examine the climate of opinion immediately preceding the war, particularly in Germany. His analysis of the First World War focuses almost exclusively on the attitudes and ideas expressed by common people in the lead-up to the war, as well as throughout the duration of the brutal trench warfare period. Following the war, he focuses on two cultural phenomena which shed insight on the way that the war had changed the world: the reception of Lindbergh as a hero after his transatlantic flight and the success of Erich Maria Remarque’s war book All Quiet on the Western Front. Finally, he wraps it all up with an analysis of how the ideals and attitudes represented by Germany created the ideologies of Fascism and National Socialism (Nazism).