Industrial Civilisation, Rational Order and Liberalism: On the Barbarity of Democracy from Collingwood’s German Herd Discourse





Published date: 

June, 2022


Jia-Hau Liu


The brutal wars of the 20th century have had a profound impact on European civil societies. As a historian and a political thought scholar, Collingwood explored the developmental process of European civilisation and the conditions for modern European barbarianism. In Collingwood’s view, the vital foundation of European civilisation’s civility had gradually died away when Enlightenment thought and the industrial technological culture emerged. Taking this crisis of European civilisation as the background, Collingwood considered it to be one of the conditions for the Nazis to seize power via democratic procedures by means of their propaganda based on the myth of the German nation, which was allegedly created for the independence and autonomy of the Germans. Indeed, the German Herd Discourse developed in Collingwood’s analysis had its prejudices owing to his Anglo-French cultural background. However, for Collingwood barbarism was not confined to a certain national circumstance, but was rather a phenomenon which can appear in each liberal democratic regime. This article thus explores Collingwood’s analysis of the development of European civilisation and the conditions for barbarism, while also discussing Collingwood’s study of the rational and non-rational aspects of the human mind and its relationship with the two principles of modern politics, namely, the aristocracy and democratic principles. In addition, this study probes into how Collingwood articulated the close connections between civilisation and barbarity, and liberty and democracy, through his work and analysis. As we are now living in a turbulent time, Collingwood’s findings regarding the nature of civilisation and barbarity and of liberty and democracy may give us further insights.