Saturday, August 28, 2010

My Dream These Days ...

... is the nightmare of 1848.

In that year, raw power and brute force defeated hope and courage. The Haves squashed the Have Nots because they had the money, the governments, and the militaries, and the Have Nots had not. The ruling nobility in Germany (as well as most other countries) used the military to crush the uprising, and destroy the movement for a liberal unified Germany with violent reprisals, driving thousands to immigrate to the Americas (including my ancestors).
The world really did become divided between winners and losers. Herbert Spencer would soon coin the phrase "survival of the fittest" ever afterward mis-attributed to Charles Darwin. Spencer meant that phrase not as a description of nature, but as a description of the world of industrial capitalism, a Hobbesian war of All against All for survival and domination.
Great novelists like Dickens, Thackery, and Edith Wharton would expose the savagery that lay just beneath the strict social decorum of the late 19th century. Beneath the public pronouncements of confidence lay private anxieties, including an abiding fear of the sullen and defeated poor.

There are times when in despair that I think that raw power once again defeats courage and hope right in front of me. What people worked so hard and suffered for, and for many generations, is being appropriated and emptied of all meaning. The victimizers now assume the role of victim, and once again, might makes right.

Ernest Meissonier, The Barricade, 1849

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