The More Things Change, The More They Stay The Same

Far be it from me to paint a rosy picture of the future. Indeed, I do not think we should be justified in using any but the most somber tones and colors while our people, our empire, and indeed the whole English speaking world are passing through a dark and deadly valley.

-Winston Churchill

Among students of history, there is a belief in some circles that all of human history, from ancient Sumeria until now, is simply the manifestation of a continuous cycle of similar events playing themselves out throughout different time periods and in different locations.

While this idea is dismissed by the majority for a multitude of reasons, I would like to explore this concept in an attempt to see if there are any historical references we can use to try to make sense of the chaos and commotion of the present days, days that seem to many to be spiraling out of control quicker and quicker.

But in order to do this, we must first discover an appropriate historical period to use as a reference. Fortunately, we need not go backwards hundreds or thousands of years, for an appropriate parallel can be found in Europe in the year 1919.

It is a year glossed over by most history books, for one war was recently ended and the next one was nearly two decades distant, but a closer inspection reveals this year to be pivotal in the events that had yet to pass.

The Great War had ended the previous year and the peace process was still in its infancy, but the (somewhat) victorious powers of France, Great Britain, and the United States were all united by a single goal: Germany must pay a steep price for her aggression in the hopes of preventing a similar conflict in the future.

The Americans, who had never been directly attacked by the Germans, wished only for a magnanimous peace that would prevent another global conflagration. The English sought the same, but were also harboring more than a little resentment at the amount of British and allied blood spilled by German bullets. But the French knew only hate.

The best and most fertile parts of their country were now ruined, perhaps forever, and the amount of lives lost defending their country meant that they were sorely lacking the manpower needed to effectively rebuild it. Combine this with a long running antagonism towards the Germanic peoples, the French people and government would accept only one thing.

Punishment.

And thus it was to this end that when the final treaty was signed, it was unquestionably harsh. The “Carthaginian peace”, as it was called by John Maynard Keynes, required the Germans to reduce the size of their army between all its branches from several million to just less than 300,000. Combine this with the modern equivalent of nearly $450 billion dollars in reparations payments, and it was a recipe for disaster.

Around this same time, there were two (basically) brand new political ideologies that were sweeping across the world. One was a leftist movement called “communism” that believed in a socioeconomic order structured upon common ownership of the means of production, amongst other things. The other was a rightist philosophy of authoritarian ultranationalism fundamentally opposed to the tenants of communism called “fascism.”

These competing ideologies both began to take root in Germany after the fall of the post-Kaiser government called the Viemar Republic due to economic collapse, amongst many other factors. This would eventually lead to bloodshed as supporters of each side came into conflict that grew more sharp every year.

I tell this story for several reasons, but there is an underlying and important commonality between then and now.

Look at the American political spectrum today. It would not be too great of a stretch to say that at no other point in modern American politics (save for the years leading up to and including the Civil War) have the two sides been as far apart as they are now. With each successive election cycle, the right has moved further right, away from more traditional Reagan/Bush conservatism while the left, especially amongst the youngest segments of the electorate, has moved towards a populist quasi-socialist viewpoint.

The point of this article is not to make a case for one side or the other; it is simply to explore what this means for American politics (and, by extension) the world as a whole.

Just like in post World War 1 Germany, we are once again faced with two starkly different and fundamentally opposed ideologies that are drowning out more traditional moderates and sweeping them away in identical tsunamis of passion and fervor.

A simple look at the most recent general election results tells the observer all they need to know. Especially on the right, where the constituents were faced with a choice between nearly half a dozen traditional conservatives and a populist businessman pushing an agenda that many observers (including this one) called fascist, based simply upon the rhetoric of the campaign.

They chose the rhetoric.

On the left, the choice was between a classic establishment democrat or a wildly popular self proclaimed “Socialist” pushing a radical agenda that would fundamentally upend the current structure of America, especially socially and economically.

And despite rampant corruption, voter purges, electronic voting machine “glitches” and a host of other “irregularities”, this populist was still able to win very nearly half the vote in the primary in addition to having positive polling numbers against any one of the conservatives in a theoretical general election.

Desperate times call for desperate measures, and both sides were offering (if not exactly willingly) their version of that prescription.

And that’s exactly where the voters went.

Far to the left, far to the right.

And as we all know, these two sides are no closer today than they were back in 2016, and are probably even further apart than at any point previously.

Just like Germany.

Now, just like then, the general public, as a whole, are beginning to feel that their leaders no longer serve them as capably as they could or perhaps even once did. Just like then, bitterness, resentment, and anger are beginning to take root on both sides of the spectrum. And just like then, neither of these two ideologies are going away anytime soon.

So what are we to do?

It must first be understood that no single person, or perhaps even group of people, can ever stop the inevitable march of progress or history as it unfolds. Thusly, the goal should not be to seek a return to the days before the rise of these philosophies, but to find some way for the two to coexist without senseless violence and bloodshed (the beginnings of which we are already witnessing).

For to late hate, division, and aggression rule the day is never a wise course for any civilization, but especially so for an America already saturated with firearms and people willing to use them.

There should be an honest attempt at reconciliation of differences before resorting to combat.

-Jimmy Cater

 

 

 

 

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