May 23, 2009
I just though I’d mention two books I recently finished reading.
Legacy of Ashes: the history of the CIA by Tim Weiner. You kind of get the impression that we’d be better off if the CIA had never been created.
The Pursuit of the Millennium by Norman Cohn. It’s about radical groups in the middle ages that thought the end of the world was about to happen. You might be thinking “who cares,” but it’s actually pretty topical. This is in the conclusion, talking about Fascism and Communism:
Between the revolutionary eschatology of the later Middle Ages and modern totalitarian ‘ideologies’ there is of course one obvious difference. Where the former borrowed the language of Judeo-Christian prophecy, the latter have drawn upon nineteenth-century speculations in the fields of history, biology, and sociology. A naive and explicit supernaturalism has been replaced by an orientation which is secular and which moreover claims to be scientific. In reality, however, the racial theory adopted by National Socialism was wholly unscientific and the simplified version of Marx’s teaching known as Marxism-Leninism (formerly Marxism-Leninism-Stalinism) is hardly less so. Beneath the pseudo-scientific terminology one can in each case recognise a phantasy of which almost every element is to be found in phantasies which were already current in medieval Europe. The final, decisive battle of the Elect (be they the ‘Aryan race’ or the ‘proletariat’) against the host of evil (be they the Jews or the ‘bourgeousie’); a dispensation in which the Elect are to be most amply compensated for all their sufferings by the joys of total domination or of total community or of both together; a world purified of evil and in which history is to find its consummation — these ancient imaginings are with us still.
In other worlds, all the “progressive” nonsense we here today was already being spouted back in the middle ages. I never realized it went back that far.