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Power and History

1.1 It seems that in periods of peril, confusion, and division, the best policy would be clear and direct communication.

1.2 However, modern societies do not explicitly make such accommodations. Indeed, the very idea of modernity is based on linguistic sleights and ironic jabs.

1.3 I can’t think of another period whose scientists, philosophers, and political tacticians were so concerned with their position in time that their very identity became synonymous with the name they gave that period.

1.4 In fact, my reified use of the term “period” gives me away as one of those people.

1.5 When one’s values become the center of the universe, survival dictates that one works against the universe’s collapse upon itself.

1.6 However, the nature of that work, because its object is both historically singular and dependent on its predecessors for its form and purpose, is anything but direct, clear, and widely understood.

1.7  Power is, then, a precious thing, and its survival depends on largely invisible mechanisms.

2 . . . In a good society, the job of the historian, and of others, is to shine a light into dark corners and make reasonable descriptions of what they see.  It is the job of everyone else not to mimic or flatter those descriptions–nor to condemn the messenger–but to test those descriptions with their own reasoning, to have a conversation about their reasoning, and to make that conversation a central part of their education.  For a good society is good only if the many become conscious practitioners of “the social,” as distinguished from unconscious practices that legitimize “the powerful.”

3. I suppose that a very interesting question to ask is whether or not the latter may be used to effect the former.


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