Now and Then
Anxiety and distress, interrupted occasionally by pleasure, is the normal course of man’s existence.
Joseph Krutch (McWilliams online).
The period between the two World Wars is known as the Age of Anxiety. This is for three main reasons. One of these reasons is because of the loss of a spiritual center because of the war. Another reason is that Europeans felt helpless about not being in control of their lives. The third is that they were miserable and this caused them to be anxious about the future.
Anxiety is abnormal fear that lacks a specific cause. Between the two world wars, Europeans were surrounded by nothingness. This was a time when Europeans were uneasy and looking for some kind of identity for themselves. A reader ignorant of the history of the twentieth century who was given samples European literature of this time could think that Europe had been defeated in the war. The futility of World War I had led to the loss of a spiritual center. The Europeans who lost their spiritual center became known as the “lost generation. They were soldiers who were no longer convinced of the good purposes of European civilization or of the inherent good of human beings. This loss had meant the death of human faith, science, reason, God, progress, and history. The war had taken Europeans ability to answer the ultimate questions, Why do we exist? and What is the meaning of life? There was a new quest for knowledge. Paul Tillich coined this type of anxiety as the anxiety of meaningless, which makes perfect sense: Does it not follow that people who think their lives are meaningless, are anxious about finding meaning in life? The loss of their spiritual center led to fascist movements and, it turn, to World War II.
Fascism comes from the Italian word fascio, which means union. It was created by Benito Mussolini, and is a political ideology that sought to regenerate the social, economic, and cultural life of a country by basing it on increased patriotism. Fascist political parties and movements capitalized on the intense patriotism that emerged as a response to the social and political uncertainty after World War I. While most of these movements failed, fascism succeeded in Germany, and the result was World War II and the holocaust.
Anxiety is a also strong wish to do something. According to Frederick Fritz Perls, a psychoanalyst influenced by existential philosophers, and Peter McWilliams, a New York Times bestseller who uses Perls quotation to further explain anxiety, Anxiety is a form of fear. Anxiety is the space between the now and the then, explained Fritz Perls. Anxiety…demands we do something right now about closing the gap between now and then. The fight or flight response is triggered, and the body wants to take action, productive, physical action right away…We can’t do anything about the thing we want to do, but the energy to do remains (McWilliams online). One type of anxiety is a loss of control of a situation, which leads to a feeling of helplessness (Kelvens online). With the loss of their spiritual center, Europeans of post-W.W.I had nothing to do but just wait. They were constantly worried, anxious that the then would come soon, but they could not do a single thing to prevent it. Nietzsche wrote the ice that still supports us has become thin: all of us feel the warm, uncanny breath of the thawing wind. Europeans were standing on the ice, knowing that to remain would cause the ice to break, but still were unable to move. They would have done anything in their power to prevent a Second World War, or the anxiety it would certainly bring with it, but they had no power to stop it from coming.
Seneca, an ancient Roman philosopher, once said, The mind that is anxious about the future is miserable (McWilliams online). It follows that a person who is miserable will be looking to, and be anxious about the future. It is safe to say the post-W.W.I Europeans were miserable: they had just been through a world war. Miserableness causes anxiety causes miserableness in an endless cycle that lasted until World War II.
Three main things caused the Age of Anxiety in twentieth century Europe in between the two world wars. The loss of human faith made Europeans anxious about their future and the meaning of life. Europeans were anxious because of their inability to do anything that would affect their lives. Also, because Europeans were miserable, they were looking towards the future and they were anxious about it.
This is, I think, very much the Age of Anxiety.
- Louis Kronenberger (McWilliams online).
Anxiety. Webster s II New Riverside Dictionary. New York: The Berkley
Publishing Group, 1984.
Fascism. Encarta Encyclopedia. 07 Dec 2000. .
Frederick “Fritz” Perls. McGraw-Hill/Dushkin. 12 Dec 2000.
Kreis, Steven. Lecture 8: The Age of Anxiety: Europe in the 1920s (1). The History Guide. 12 Dec. 2000. .
McWilliams, Peter. WEALTH 101-PART THREE. 12 Dec.2000.