— Mike Davis, Late Victorian Holocausts.
— Leon Trotsky
Amazing. Champagne time.
Far from escaping the twentieth century, we need to go back and look a bit more carefully. We need to learn again—or perhaps for the first time—how war brutalizes and degrades winners and losers alike and what happens to us when, having heedlessly waged war for no good reason, we are encouraged to inflate and demonize our enemies in order to justify that war’s indefinite continuance.
The twentieth century is hardly behind us but already its quarrels and its achievements, its ideals and its fears are slipping into the obscurity of mis-memory. In the West we have made haste to dispense whenever possible with the economic, intellectual, and institutional baggage of the twentieth century and encouraged others to do likewise. In the wake of 1989, with boundless confidence and insufficient reflection, we put the twentieth century behind us and strode boldly into its successor swaddled in self-serving half-truths: the triumph of the West, the end of History, the unipolar American moment, the ineluctable march of globalization and the free market.
The belief that that was then and this is now embraced much more than just the defunct dogmas andinstitutions of cold war–era communism. During the Nineties, and again in the wake of September 11, 2001, I was struck more than once by a perverse contemporary insistence on not understanding the context of our present dilemmas, at home and abroad; on not listening with greater care to some of the wiser heads of earlier decades; on seeking actively to forget rather than remember, to deny continuity and proclaim novelty on every possible occasion. We have become stridently insistent that the past has little of interest to teach us. Ours, we assert, is a new world; its risks and opportunities are without precedent.
Perhaps this is not surprising. The recent past is the hardest to know and understand. Moreover, the world really has undergone a remarkable transformation since 1989 and such transformations are always unsettling for those who remember how things were before. In the decades following the French Revolution, the douceur de vivre of the vanished ancien régime was much regretted by older commentators. A century later, evocations and memoirs of pre–Word War I Europe typically depicted (and still depict) a lost civilization, a world whose illusions had quite literally been blown apart: “Never such innocence again.”
But there is a difference. Contemporaries might have regretted the world before the French Revolution. But they had not forgotten it. For much of the nineteenth century Europeans remained obsessed with the causes and meaning of the upheavals that began in 1789. The political and philosophical debates of the Enlightenment had not been consumed in the fires of revolution. On the contrary, the Revolution and its consequences were widely attributed to that same Enlightenment which thus emerged—for friend and foe alike—as the acknowledged source of the political dogmas and social programs of the century that followed.
In a similar vein, while everyone after 1918 agreed that things would never be the same again, the particular shape that a postwar world should take was everywhere conceived and contested in the long shadow of nineteenth-century experience and thought. Neoclassical economics, liberalism, Marxism (and its Communist stepchild), “revolution,” the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, imperialism, and “industrialism”—the building blocks of the twentieth-century political world—were all nineteenth-century artifacts. Even those who, along with Virginia Woolf, believed that “on or about December 1910, human character changed”—that the cultural upheaval of Europe’s fin de siècle had utterly transformed the terms of intellectual exchange—nonetheless devoted a surprising amount of energy to shadowboxing with their predecessors. The past hung heavy across the present.
Progress so far. I doubt I’m going to be able to sustain my reading at the current rate, but we shall see.
Yeah, I really don’t like stopping, and the four month long summer that I’m oh-so-close to means I’ve already got a healthy stack of books to work my way through. Hopefully accompanied by some more glorious sunshine and a decent drink, but this is England, after all.
The French Revolution — G. Lefebvre
The Classical World — R.L. Fox
Late Victorian Holocausts — M. Davis
The Blood Never Dried — J. Newsinger
Wicked Company — P. Blom
The Age of Revolution, Capital, Empire — E.J. Hobsbawm
On History — E.J. Hobsbawm
How To Change The World — E.J. Hobsbawm
Why Marx Was Right — T. Eagleton
The Stranger — A. Camus
The Communist Manifesto — K. Marx & F. Engels[Again]
Trotsky: The Prophet Armed, Unarmed, Outcast — I. Deutscher
And on a lighter note: How I Escaped My Certain Fate — S. Lee
No prizes for guessing what my degree’s going to be in…
Ted Kennedy’s eulogy for Bobby Kennedy, from June 8th, 1968.
A fantastic speech, and truly haunting, especially in its prescience and relevance to today’s politics and politicians; not just in the United States.
Beneath it all, he has tried to engender a social conscience. There were wrongs which needed attention. There were people who were poor and who needed help. And we have a responsibility to them and to this country. Through no virtues and accomplishments of our own, we have been fortunate enough to be born in the United States under the most comfortable conditions. We, therefore, have a responsibility to others who are less well off.
[…] Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.
[…] Moral courage is a rarer commodity than bravery in battle or great intelligence. Yet it is the one essential, vital quality for those who seek to change a world that yields most painfully to change. And I believe that in this generation those with the courage to enter the moral conflict will find themselves with companions in every corner of the globe.
[…] My brother need not be idealized, or enlarged in death beyond what he was in life, to be remembered simply as a good and decent man, who saw wrong and tried to right it, saw suffering and tried to heal it, saw war and tried to stop it.
Those of us who loved him and who take him to his rest today, pray that what he was to us and what he wished for others will some day come to pass for all the world.
As he said many times, in many parts of this nation, to those he touched and who sought to touch him:
“Some men see things as they are and say why.I dream things that never were and say why not.”
In the early morning hours of that March 3rd, 1992, Rodney King was subjected to vicious assault at the hands of four white police officers at the side of a highway in Los Angeles. He told the Guardian, 20 years later that:
“It was like being raped, stripped of everything, being beaten near to death there on the concrete, on the asphalt. I just knew how it felt to be a slave. I felt like I was in another world.”
When the officers who beat him for no reason other than the colour of his skin were acquitted, despite video evidence of the more than fifty times the officers had hit King with their batons, King became a symbol of — and a victim of — the continuing and endemic racism in America.
Though he struggled with alcoholism and the repercussions of the assault, he famously asked, at the height of the violence in Los Angeles “Can’t we all just get along?”.
The Manuscripts of Timbuktu: For Centuries it was taught that Africa & Africans had no written history, literature or philosophy (claiming Egypt was other than African). In this picture we see 1 million manuscripts that were found in the many Libraries of Timbuktu/Mali covering , according to Reuters “all the fields of human knowledge: law, the sciences, medicine,”. Some of the Manuscripts date back to the 13th Century. This is but one example of written word in Africa which is the most culturally and ethnically diverse continent on the planet. Click here for more below for more information on: The Ancient Libraries of Timbuktu / Examples of Ancient African writing systems
Felt the need to put this back on my blog after waking up this morning to ghastly music wailing through someone’s cheap PA system and the discovery that my street was one of the many streets that had been covered in bunting, tables, chairs and pasta salad. I knew it was going to be bad, but I don’t think I was prepared for how embarrassing it was.
In his seminal analysis of British nationalism and the monarchy, The Enchanted Glass, Tom Nairn beings by asking the rather pertinent question (especially in the light of today’s events): ‘Are we all mad?’ I suspect that the typical response from republicans during the Jubilee to all this Royalism, pageantry, and standing in the rain to watch a psuedo-antique boat sail past, is to answer in the affirmative. I certainly wonder what causes apparently sane grownups to bedeck their houses, cars and streets with bunting and to eat pasta salad in the street.