Saturday, October 20, 2007

The horror of history

So much for the redemptive power of stories (see post below on Anne Frank.) Now, let's discuss the nature of history, and of man himself. This is a quote from Judith Shklar of Harvard University, writing about Jean-Jacques Rousseau in 1964:

By nature men are free, but left to their own devices they will inevitably enslave each other. Of all the "bipolarities" in the thought of Jean-Jacques Rousseau none is more striking than this tension between natural freedom and the spontaneous march to inequality and oppression in which all men participate. None aroused more conflicting reactions in his own mind. If men are the sole authors of their ills, and not the mere victims of some external force, be it original sin, a malevolent nature or a hostile environment, then there is always hope for self-iinprovement. On the other hand, if men were alone responsible for inventing and maintaining their own social misery, they could scarcely be expected to overcome conditions they had themselves chosen to create. One could hardly hope that those who had devised and imposed their own chains, would either wish, or know how to liberate themselves. If there was no need for cosmic fatalism, there was every reason to despair of mankind's own social powers. And indeed it was perfectly clear to Rousseau that every man left free to follow his own inclinations and every society allowed to pursue its inherent tendencies would repeat all the familiar errors of the past. I t was this conflict between possibility and probability that inspired all of Rousseau's works. A11 of them are attempts to show some way out of the horrors of history.

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