"History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce."
That quote might very well be the most succinct reason why I feel that the study of history is the most important of all academic pursuits. One great historian named Jacob Burckhardt prophesied on the dawn of the 20th century that it would be the age of the 'terrible simplifiers'. His prediction of demagogic rule by leaders of profoundly pedantic persuasions was proven to be absolutely accurate. Many people like to think that we have learned from the horrid lessons of the 20th century, but such doesn't appear to be the case to mine eyes. President Bush is nothing if not a 'terrible simplifier'. Pretty much anyone who claims you can declare war on a noun is nothing but a shameless opportunist of the worst sort. The thing about such people is that their power lay in their ability 'to mobilize the collective subconscious' as Sebastian Haffner put it. His power isn't purely institutional, although that is a large part of it. It would seem that the 40 some odd years of scare propaganda from the cold war has now become systemic; fear is now as American as apple pie. All the war protests in the world won't accomplish anything but giving the government an all too easy opportunity to single out trouble makers and raise the spectre of social chaos that always helps to legitimize any authority. Despite some promising developments the 'terrible simplifiers' seem to be as popular as ever — Ahmadinejad, Bush, Chavez etc. They all play the same game. One that was a tragedy in the age of Hitler, but now just a pathetic farce that shows just how completely hopeless democracy can be when people are primarily concerned with themselves. The Age of the Individual seems to have institutionalized 'terrible simplifiers' into our world, to which I can only quote Erasmus' immortal words:
"Amongst the blind, the squinting rule".
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