Fools of history
In the last little while it’s been hard avoiding making comments on what’s happening on the national scene. It’s been disorienting, messy, with the president shifting opinions at the flick of a light switch and the master puppeteer Vladimir Putin smirking with satisfaction in the background.
Stand back a few meters and the scene changes. What we are seeing is what the historian Hannah Arendt calls ‘the fools of history’ playing their part on history’s stage, and badly. The fools of history are players who act their tragi-comic roles onstage, instruments of the idea they can trick the mechanisms of history to work their way. There’s an ‘eternal’ part they forget is at work; the part where whatever machinations one might think works forever and ever, whatever scheme one might concoct; one plays that role at a distinct disadvantage on history’s stage.
Losers lose in the end. Winners win because their wins are improvements to humanity’s lot. Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump will end up on the ‘dustbin of history’ along with their coterie of sycophants, toadies, and bootlickers following them to certain doom. The ‘dustbin’ is actually more the swirl of a toilet being flushed than a garbage heap, but the dustbin metaphor is history’s image not this writer’s.
History proves unkind to knaves and fools, relegating them to ultimately tragic roles when attempting to subvert her will. If History can be a goddess, she is an implacable one. She is Liberty at the Barricades of Paris, flag in hand, leading at the head of her followers. She is the anonymous anarchist woman with rifle at the ready in the streets of 1936 Barcelona.
Her followers hear the call of necessity. The fools of history are either deaf or deceived by tinny noises in their heads and their own lust for power, or greed and stupidity. They become history’s laughingstocks, fated to squalid ends or mocking footnotes in her books.
Trump and Putin are such players. Their interests, selfish and venal, are like those of so many petty dictators, the tin pot rulers and third raters who grasp at the baton of power only to be undone by its allure. The problem is they stand on a stage where one false move, one bad decision can propel millions to their doom. They are wholly inadequate to the task at hand. History will not remember them kindly.
That is, of course, if like the story of the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, they can be stopped before the damage they create becomes too great or irreversible.
The world shouldn’t be a stage for such players. They should be running scams in the back alleys of Shanghai, penny-ante card games in the Bronx, or thugs rolling drunks in the stews of Soho. They’re not history’s first class material.
Somewhere out there is perhaps another Nelson Mandela, Abraham Lincoln, or a Mahatma Gandhi, maybe even another Gautama Buddha. History often makes such people appear when we have greatest need for them.
We are in what one writer calls ‘a new Dark Age’. Oh yes, it’s full of glitter and technological wizardry, but it’s ultimately false and deceptive if it allows us to be distracted by a Vladimir Putin or the mockery of Donald Trump.
Great momentum and effort is needed to solve the predicament the world is in at the moment. Humanity will be judged by if and how it manages to extricate itself from the world’s current woes. Shoving the likes of Putin and Trump off the world stage could be considered a good beginning. They’re best preserved in the books as the fools of history.
Dave Wylie’s life and work experience runs the gamut from newspaper editor to carpenter to grant writer to boat builder with lots of other work wedged in-between. Wylie currently is president of a management company that oversees an elderly housing complex and president of the local historical society. He resides in Madawaska.