“Philosophers and theologians often cite World War 1 as the end of “the modern era,” a period of optimism in the progress of science and the perfectibility of human nature and society. The “progressives” of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries believed — with much justification — that the irresistible march of scientific knowledge would offer not only mastery of the physical world but also mastery of the psychological and social worlds. We were extricating ourselves from the backwardness and the superstitions of the pre-modern world (the achievements and the philosophical and scientific syntheses of the “Dark Ages” prior to the “Enlightenment” were conveniently forgotten), and were forging a new world order, spreading the light of knowledge (and therefore peace and joy) through Europe’s far-flung colonies around the globe.
World War 1 shattered that belief. It was the most scientifically developed nations, and the most politically developed ones as well, that fought each other until they were savagely red in tooth and claw. In the Great War, science was the great leveler, the machine that mowed down a generation and cared nothing for title and rank. Europe staggered out of World War 1 far less confident in its own virtue, and far less confident that the world was growing brighter with every passing decade.”
– Timothy Dalrymple, War Horse: A Modern Epic on the End of Modernity