January 5, 2009

Another version of the "end of history"

... What was going on in Peking in Caesar's time, or in Zambesi in Napoleon's, was going on on another planet. But melodic history is no longer possible. All political themes are entangled and every event that takes place immediately assumes a multitude of simultaneous and inseparable meanings.

The politics of a Richelieu or a Bismarck are lost and lose their meaning in this new environment. The ideas that they made use of in their schemes, the aims that they could advance to satisfy the ambitions of their people, the forces which figured in their calculations, all become of no import....

With effects so rapidly becoming independent of their causes, and even antagonistic to their causes, perhaps it will now be considered puerile, dangerous and insane to seek out events -- a habit essentially due to history and sustained by it. It is not that, in the meanwhile, there will no longer be events and monumental moments; there will be prodigious ones! But those whose function it is to await them, or prepare them, or to ward them off, will of necessity learn more and more to beware of their results. It will no longer suffice to combine the will with the ability in order to undertake some enterprise. Nothing has been more destroyed by the last war than the pretension to foresight.

-- Valéry, "Extraneous Remarks" (1927).

... Israel's assault on Gaza is only the most recent example that the world's politicians have been very slow learners.