British academics and war with Germany 1914 - 1918
Wallace, Stuart John
Before 1914 the German university system and German scholarship occupied a position of special prestige. The outbreak of the First World War not only severed ties of friendship and common endeavour between British and German scholars, but also seriously undermined the reputation of German Wissenschaft* British academics, hitherto admirers of German achievements, now claimed to have long harboured doubts as to the tone of German academic life. Others, like Lord Bryce, who had worked to promote Anglo- German understanding now joined the propaganda battle against Germany. Intellectuals in all belligerent states saw the war as a great ideological contest. British philosophers provided an ideo¬ logical exegesis for German policy, although the legacy of Hegel gave considerable difficulties for the neo-Xdealist school then dominant in British universities. The historian's traditional explanation of Britain's role in the world was given greater impor¬ tance by the German claim that the war was a contest for world empire. The war also posed an intellectual problem for academics. Before 1914 there had been little discussion of the questions of war and peace amongst British academics. When war forced liberal academics to face moral issues, only Bertrand Russell stood out in total opposition to government policy. Gilbert Murray and Lowes Dickinson provide more typical examples of the behaviour of liberal intellectuals under the stress of war. In Britain the eulogy of war may have been more muted than it was in Germany or France, the persecution of academic "dissenters" less intense than in the United States, but the involvement of academics as publicists and propagandists of the national cause was not less marked than in other belligerent states. However, the theme is not one of "betrayal". The commitment of British academics to value-free objective enquiry before the war was, in reality, as illusory as the similar claims of their German colleagues.