|Apr/May 2001 • Miscellaneous|
Vladimir: We can still part, if you think it would be better.
Estragon: It's not worth while now.
Vladimir: No it's not worth while now.
Estragon: Well, shall we go?
Vladimir: Yes, let's go.
They do not move.
Waiting for Godot (end of Act I)
I. Most Important, Most Influential
The end of the Twentieth Century demanded momentous decisions. Books of the Century. People of the Century. Movies of the Century. Lists every conceivable sort. Top Athletes. Top Entertainers. Top News stories. (And to these had to be added ". . . of the Millennium" winners.) Of all the decisions, none created more smoke than Time magazine's "Person of the Century." Leading candidates, at first, were Hitler and Stalin; it must have relieved many to see that Albert Einstein had been selected.
This person of the century may be considered the most important person in the sense that we people of the twentieth century seem most preoccupied with this person (the events or developments initiated by this person), or may be considered the most influential in the sense that he made an impact beyond our regular understanding of importance. The dimension of the choice is analogous to what happens in sports for the Most Valuable Player Award: doesthe award go to the statistical leader or the one who helped the team reach a high level of winning? The former represents the most obvious choices; the latter takes more perspicacity. It may happen that both may fit the same person—and so it may be for Einstein: most important and most influential.
The Sports analogy, however, fits only for positive achievement and within the narrow limits of that particular sport. Person of the Century, well, that person has affected Life the most. Time, as a news organ, would be slanted to consider those people who have made news and grabbed headlines—even earned its previous "Man of the Year."
When the decision was made, it must have been difficult to justify. Why was this person the most important and influential? In a sense, the most interesting part of the decision would be to see what Time's editors and consultants deemed to be most important. Who and what Time feels to be important IS important to many people. Indeed, I might agree with their choice.
There's one catch.
Time's writers have tried to avoid mythologizing candidates—FDR gets this treatment—but it's odd that the man whose head of hair is an icon of "braininess" should be deemed uncategorically the greatest thinker as if the only thing that counted for great thinking was nuclear and quantum physics.
From the "Century" issue, Roger Rosenblatt in "The Age of Einstein" puts his importance another way: "Not because he personified brainpower—not because he was 'an Einstein'—but rather he demonstrated that the imagination is capable of coming to terms with experience." Maybe experience in the physical and spatial realm, but nowhere does Rosenblatt demonstrate the importance of the theory or man except in vague statements like the one above. He's more interested in rattling the cages of so-called moral relativists who have emulated Einstein's spirit and not the fullness of his ideas in destroying "absolutes."
The presumptuousness of Time's choice and runners-up has no limit, starting with its inherent belief that there's a shred of validity in its choice. The list-making itself contributes to a greater mythology that resides in people who accept pronouncements handed down from the selection committees. All the same, hurrah for Albert. We have the figurehead of thecentury.
* * *
Throughout 1999, as list after list was published in the newspapers and magazines, I hoped that Time would have the courage to announce that nobody deserved to be Person of the Century. Of course, many readers would have been disappointed, if not have completely despaired, over the prospect that this was a Century for Nothing. This would have been a sharp post-modern kind of judgment, a declaration of independence from the modern age. Luce's ghost (if not Charles Foster Kane's) would have come back to haunt the editors until their doom (relegating them to People magazine as feature editors). Yet the editors conceivably might have reasoned that there was no most influential or most important person, because the future's become too uncertain and the editors weren't sure who or what was important anymore!
But I write neither to praise nor bury the selection of Einstein. Nor do I wish to make a direct appeal for any theoretical candidates, pursue the apparently absurd notion that there wasn't a most influential or important person, or make a negative case against any and all candidates. But I might try one large and apparently negative claim which might be so absurd to be true (but unlike Quintillian's credo, you still can disbelieve).
Hence, my catch. Why couldn't I agree with any choice, even were I to favor the person as Time's most important?
Call it a suspicion or an improbably indelicate idea.
There should be no "Person of the Century" precisely because the Twentieth Century has not happened yet.
II. What is the 20th Century?
The Great Misfortune of the 20th century was the 19th's willfulness to persist and never end; the concentrated will power to prolong the life of the 19th century has kept it alive and, at times, strong. This will power, the antithesis to Nietzsche's will to power, was not the driving force for life to move, grow, and change, but an effort to live forever.
The 1888 Conference of Berlin symbolized European willfulness when it divided Africa into artificial territories convenient for modern Europe but dooming Africa to a modern nation-state configuration. This apotheosis of European imperialism (along with the French in Indo-China, English in India and Burma, and the Dutch in the East Indies) essentially accomplished two things:
1) the exploitation of resources to keep the 19th century alive with industry & invention & science & wealth (the trumpeted "potential" of the Internet has become an extension of this mentality);
2) exciting nationalisms and rivalries. But these developments also hastened the World Wars and broke Europe's will while Europe desperately clung to its resources, its lifeblood, at the expense of the colonies; the imperialistic framework seemingly collapsed.
The 19th century had loved the life it had become. Unlimited potential within science and technology alone seemed to transcend life's limitations—specifically, its greatest drawback: death. The 19th century's energies kept itself going. Just give it time to enrich all lives(with many exceptions)! Marxists, on the contrary, seemed to have discovered the key to History which would liberate everyone from the drudgery of history. Just give them time! Nationalism, meanwhile would free all peoples to discover their own individual destinies in the form of a nation-state. In addition, democracy would aid the building of these states, just as it had aided the United States and Britain. Science would free mankind from the shackles of nature (thus getting back to the original program: immortality). Give them time!!
Maintaining a minimum material empire spurred the forsaken 20th century's progresses and our personal attachments to gadgets and conveniences like television, computers, and cell phones. The people must be kept happy by a nation-state customer service! Progress, once the darling of 19th century life, would become the obsessive interest of the 20th, and progress became the slave of our affection for progress.
* * *
Willfulness beyond reasonable qualification.
The individual now glories in 19th century romanticism's quest for autonomy, fueled by science and invention, in opposition to the wretchedness and requirements of nature, society, and government. Paradoxically, in American history, we have relied on nature, society, and government to attain individual autonomy.
The materialism of the 19th century stored itself in 20th century man has inflated individual desires to Louis Quatorze proportions. We're all emperors; we want our own Versailles; we want to dominate and outlive Life! And as when empires lived on despite the better judgment of their rulers, the individual of the modern world knows he/she cannot continue at the present pace of consumption and luxury. Desire's atom has been split; individual fission has done the better job of devastation than that of the nuclear variety. Not a whimper comes from this capacity to satisfy our wants. The good life once had by a few, and desired by all, predominates so completely after science and industrialism had allied themselves in the 19th century, that there's no turning back. Or, to prevail with the thesis of this essay, there's no going forward—into the 20th century.
* * *
Previous ages have had obsessions; ours IS obsessive. Further, the obsessions have been institutionalized: economically, politiccally, techniccally. Germany represents the paradigm of obsession in the last 100 years. Willed into a nation-state by Bismarck and an empire by Kaiser Wilhelm II , Germany tried dominating Europe when empires were becoming obsolete (the Kaiser ignored the three hundred years of European history when no single land power could dominate Europe). When the Weimer democracy was lamely tried for fourteen years and failed, a dictatorship replaced it and Nazi Germany became the paradigm within the paradigm. Whipping a nation into a "race" mania that was extreme even among the most extreme nationalisms, Hitler tried to dominate Europe once again on the land! Hitler would have gladly annihilated everyone should he fail to reach his obsessive ends of Aryan superiority and Germany over all. When will the Germans learn? Then for the last part of the century, Germany was split between capitalist democracy and communism, a dualism imposed on the would by the greatest powers at the time.
There were few in Germany who opposed the willful goals at the beginning save one man, Friedrich Nietzsche. From The Birth of Tragedy (1870) to his last written work, Nietzsche Contra Wagner (1888), his works, like the real death of the 19th century, went unnoticed. When his voice was heard after his death, the words ("God is dead") shocked deeply; yet even more sharply he spoke of a cataclysmic end to a willful and nihilistic Europe. Nationalism and the dictatorship of the proletariat became the engines for European willfulness to which Nietzsche hoped to apply his therapeutic philosophy. Also, he understood our "model" nation, Germany, all to well, and much of his work is devoted to treating the German malaise.
Yet, so much (population; larger and larger cities; expanding middle classes which became the somber equilibrium for democracies) depended on the continuing of 19th century standards—namely, the dictatorship of the industrialists and the people against this dictatorship—that much of the 1900s has stood paralyzed before his philosophical works. Wrongly (if not fittingly) identified as a fascist and Nazi, and more so the grand philosopher of Power, Nietzsche became a literary fashion in the first half of the 1900s (in the works of Mann, Proust, Gide, Mencken). After Walter Kaufmann's seminal reassessment in 1950, Nietzsche became a philosopher to be reckoned with. However, residue of the older interpretations have persisted; most notably, Allan Bloom wrongheadedly claims that Nietzsche's philosophy destroyed the last two generations of university students in America. Even more persistently many writers and culture critics have wanted Nietzsche to be a force for the political Right and Left and have limited (very fittingly) the authority of his work within a 19th century frame.
* * *
The United States stepped into Germany's role after World War II but had a half-century to prepare. In the 1890s a great debate was stirred regarding the future of American overseas interests. In one corner, President Cleveland turns down a chance to grab Hawaii; in the other, Teddy Roosevelt (with a copy of Mahan's The Influence of Seapower in History in his back pocket). TR prevailed; it also helped that the cause of imperialism that the U.S. already subscribed to the necessary racial ideologies (hints of Germany). When the racism wore thin by mid-century, it was too late: as a country we were as committed, or more so, to using up the world resources so that we could continue to will the good life but in ways unfathomable to the 19th century. Later, we fought a colonial war in the very place where the French had tried to cling to its Empire; the fact that we weren't clinging to an Empire didn't make us less imperialistic. The American confusion over being imperialist but not ruling a world empire (a long with a lesser confusion by the Soviets) delayed the realization that we were less the bearer of the English legacy of democracy than a profligate European debaucher.
So how are we qualitatively different from the Germans? Our good intentions? Or the fact that we as a society don't mean to be vicious to anyone standing in the way of our progressive ways?
The leaders of our society have arrived at the point whence they must convince themselves in largely unreal proportions how they care about people and not about using people. The Germans were sold a brand of racist nationalism that became the very thing to live for—foreign sales, however, were not good and Hitler unsuccessfully tried to force this product on the rest of world (too many Stalin "grads" opposed it). America's current collective obsession dictates that at any given moment anyone can sell something to anyone else, best realized by T-shirts with "swatch stickers" on people's breasts and hats; in other words, we are being persuaded to seek 19th century materialist dreams-in-disguise.
* * *
The transition from obsession to paralysis in the 1900s began after the American-Soviet defeat of the fascist states. American confusion over its actual role in the world, how a nation exercised authority, precipitated the Cold War mentality and a seemingly perpetual nuclear madness. Exemplifying the American paralysis, and in a such a way to mitigate further a "waiting" metaphor, is Joseph Heller's Catch-22. The waiting comes in the form of the catches (which is really one catch). Yossarian wants to desert the Air Force after it has increased destructive missions over German targets in Italy. The more missions, the greater likelihood he'll be shot down. The Air Force has said, initially, thirty missions were necessary to get out, then increases it to thirty-five and forty. By the end of the novel, it's up to seventy missions. Through "catch-22," the Air Force immobilizes anyone seeking to leave the service (i.e., save oneself). The frustration mounts so much in Yossarian that he decides to go to Sweden, that is, he must get outside the bounds of the Air Force's rules. Only an "absurd" act is possible to break the endless cycle of waiting. No other way is possible. Moreover, Heller's book equates fascist tactics to those of the power elite in the Allied (American) governments. Many films and books (especially the film noir cycle in the late 1940s) made similar allusions, but Heller's carries this vision as the main theme, going against the grain of nearly everyone who spoke or wrote about World War II. The crusade against fascism begot another fascistic form! Moreover, the absurdity in the novel is directly connected to the waiting. Waiting for the time when "authorities" will say when it's time to act on your own. Otherwise, one takes on more missions and assignments and, before you know it, you're time has come and gone. And you'll wonder where the century went!
III. The Real and the Unreal Century
Compounding the problem of waiting for the 20th century is the not so slight question of when the century actually started or ended. The end of the numerical century (the 1900s) brought two interesting uncertainties: first, whether the next century began in 2000 or 2001; second, the potentially apocalyptic Y2K bug. One revolved around a quaint intellectual debate over the calendar; the other, a counterfeit computer problem (this shouldn't obscure the fact that the calendar debate was equally artificial but, at least, it's resolvable at a very small price tag, unlike Y2K!). Y2K served, though, to regenerate primal doubts about securing the future to one system (technological or political or economic); the lack or successful avoidance of disaster reinforced our bonds to computers, that is, regenerated the faith in the system. The calendar's uncertainty over the arrival of the next century also offered the delicate promise that another year for the twentieth century could have it avoid the embarrassment of not showing up.
Or was it simply too late? Or, just to compound the question of the 20th century never having arrived, had the century already ended? That is, do the 1900s, 1901 to 2000, necessarily constitute a numerical continuation of the 20th century or, under my hypothesis, the numerical continuation of the 19th!
This complication brings us to a distinction between two kinds of centuries. The Unreal century is the numerical century, Time's century, Time's measure for capturing periods of human activity within time. The way we are most familiar in dealing with the century. Unreal? If you will, abstract. Not extraordinarily inconvenient. Easily divided by decades. Not to mention significant associations to the number 100. It seems whole: 100%; 100 years as a milestone for the fullest human lifespan; 100 cents to a dollar; 100 on a test as a perfect score: 100 yards or meters as the distance to test the fastest human being; 100 degrees Celsius = the boiling point; 100 degrees Fahrenheit = hot frigging weather.
The completeness of the 100 year sequence, though, seems artificial contrasted to the human systems of periodicity mentioned below.
* * *
John Lukacs, for one, in his book, The End of the Twentieth Century (1992), devises a scale of dates for this and the previous centuries which deserves serious consideration because it gives us a way of pinpointing the real start and finish of the 20th century. He rewrites the duration of the centuries as follows:
the 20th: 1914-1989
the 19th: 1815-1914
the 18th: 1689-1815
the 17th: 1598-1689
the 16th: 1517-1598
Previous to the sixteenth, the margins become vague because the locus of the scheme resides in the rivalries among nation-states, as well as the start of the Protestant Reformation (Revolution). His century system depends on human politics and not mathematics, especially the politics of monarchical and national power relationships. The system reflects a reality that may or may not be palatable to all, just as the "millennia" reflect undeniable Christian historical realities. Superimposed on Lukacs' centuries, as well, is an increasing scientific orientation of the western world. Why Lukacs chose specific dates seems self-evident, and even were the "yearstones" debatable, I have not cited him to affirm or deny his scheme but merely to note the valid basis for distinct system of century counting.
It's refreshing to find only one of Lukacs' centuries, the 19th, one hundred years long. A human scale of events ignores pre-conceived ideas—and that's why there are so many scales! He notes that the word century "originally meant a military unit of 100 men," but by the early 1600s a new meaning of "100 years" was added marking "the beginning of our modern historical consciousness." To put aside the prevalent meaning of as 100 years, as I want to do, would theoretically start an incipient movement away from the modern. In effect, the 20th century could not begin until the modern (and the postmodern) as the domineering mode of style and conduct recedes.
Lukacs centuries bespeak the playing out of so-called large concerns, not that I'm overly concerned about those concerns; eventually disputes dissolve (for example, transubstantiation and infant baptism were life and death issues in the sixteenth century), but it's as if human interactions on this grand scale need the temporal space to be played out. The "large" concern of Revolution, subject of Out of Revolution: the Autobiography of Western Man (1938) by Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy, identifies the overriding design and drama for the last Millennium. Huessy develops the thesis that over the last 1000 years Europe sustained a revolutionary cycle, the last 500 turning on the Protestant, Puritan, French, and Russian Revolutions. He finds intrinsic parallels among these revolutions to events (before, during, and after) which turn on a human dynamic. One of his many suggestive patterns involves four actions by absolute political powers which suppressed dissent in the respective areas where the revolutions eventually broke out:
John Huss burned at the stake at the Council of Constance 1415
Luther's 95 Theses 1517
Thomas More tried and executed 1536/Cromwell raises an army 1642
Edict of Nantes revoked by Louis XIV 1685/Oath of the Tennis Court 1789
Decembrist Revolt crushed by Nicholas I 1825/Czar Nicholas II overthrown 1917
Huessy presents the facts to illustrate how the extreme suffocation of substantive human resistance to absolute authority will—in time—have aftershocks. When the revolutions come, other factors beside economic duress usually matter more, as DeTocqueville noted in his book on the French Revolution. Situations getting better, appeasing "the people," will not matter. In a way, the absolute ruler sets a tone that is both emblematic of his rule and can never be dismissed until it's too late.
Huessy's and Lukacs' arrangements extend from 81 to 126 years. The inexactitude of the timing may imperfectly reflect their beauty. Historians have trouble with this type of universal history because it infringes on their disciplines. The problem, however, has less to do with the academic territorial imperative than on perceptions of historical change. So-called metahistorians like Huessy discern the importance that time itself has one change, it's mutating process nearly invisible and differently dramatic than modern historical narratives. Out of Revolution is as much about the way time shapes human events as it is about revolutions; this theme is realized by the way Huessy narrates the sequence of revolutions in the second millennia: starting with the Russian and working backwards, to emphasize the time factor in history. His method dramatizes the Heraclitan view that changes in history and life are systematic and nearly invisible but they are constantly happening (an individual is not obliged to change as an existential imperative because one cannot escape this reality).
Another important human measurement of long periods of time is the Roman SAECULUM. The New Age. The celebration the Romans called the Secular Games. Three occurred respectively in 249, 146, and 44 BCE. The celebration recognizes the completion of an Era, yes, but the dates are as auspicious as those of Lukacs centuries. The first two came after wars against Carthage; the third during the year a comet was passing (and, coincidentally, the death of Julius Caesar). No matter how we date or delimit eras, there's no avoiding "great events."
Nor can one avoid the question: why approximately 100 years? What mechanism causes these apparent cycles? Can we begin to speak of such mechanisms in large populations and social units (hundreds of millions of people)?
Two American writers, William Strauss and Neil Howe, tried to answer these questions in Generations: The History of America's Future 1584-2069 (1991). Building on the work of historians, political scientists, sociologists, and philosophers, including Arthur Schlesinger Jr., Frank Klingberg, Samuel Huntington, Julian Marias, Karl Mannheim, and Jose Ortega y Gasset, Strauss and Howe examine American history broadly and have discerned four distinct generations repeating every 80 to 100 years. Generations then supports its metahistory with fine details culled from the prominent men and women of those generations and show how generations change (e.g., humans tend to correct for the perceived excesses of their elders; furthermore, generations are prone to raise children in a manner opposite to the way they themselves were raised; lastly, secular crises, like the Civil and the World Wars, and spiritual awakenings define and shape a generational cycle).
The book's cycles recall the groupings above by their approximate lengths.
Missionary (Idealist) 1860-1882
Lost (Reactive) 1883-1900
G.I. (Civic) 1901-1924
Silent (Adaptive) 1925-1942
The dates represent the births dates of a cohort or group born within these years who share characteristics and style. I've chosen this cycle, which the authors label the "Great Power" cycle, because those born into this period have managed the America of the 20th Century; the influence of the Great Power Generation runs approximately from the Spanish-American to the Vietnam War, roughly from 1895 to 1990. In relation to Lukacs centuries, Strauss and Howe's Missionary generation would begin play a major role in American life in the late 1890s and would reach its peak of power with the Progressive Presidency of Woodrow Wilson.The G.I. group above, born between 1901 and 1924 would be familiar to those who have read Tom Brokaw's The Greatest Generation, a book which does for this cycle what Time does yearly and (now) once a century, namely, bestow the honor of "generation of the cycle"! This generation is the same represented by Heller in Catch-22, heroic men, defeaters of fascism, but on a deeper level or order, who were unable to move forward and shake the 19th century imperatives and goals from modern society.
* * *
I have proffered the schemes above to show two things: periods of human history are finite, and these periods have Character, Missions, and Completeness. Whether you start the 20th century in the late 1800's or in 1914, this century has replaced willfulness, obsession and paralysis for firmer characteristics and an authentic Mission (has been bereft its true identity), and, despite the year 2000 celebrations, has lacked a sense of ending. I have suggested above, in my nomination of a 19th century figures to be "Man of the 20th Century," that the 19th century has been our greatest influence. The last 100 years have been defined within a chamber of waiting.
IV. Twentieth Century Man
I opened this essay eschewing the attempt to name a man or figurehead of the century. But I want to place before you another nominee, Jose Ortega y Gasset (1883-1955), because he better than most understood what the 20th century should have been.
The end of the modern world.
Thus, Ortega's self-descriptive line: "I am not modern but I am very twentieth century."
He lived through a substantial part of the 20th century, and is best known for two works: The Revolt of The Masses (1930) and "The Dehumanization of Art." (1926). The former casts Ortega in a timeworn elitist/ reactionary role and as anti-democratic, but only if you see the work as merely a condemnation of the mania of mass movements. In fact, he takes the elites to task for the European situation of the late Twenties and early Thirties. Moreover, Revolt is a philosophical work attempting to describe European reality in the era of rising fascist states. This is not to deny Ortega's elemental elitism; however, he is elitist in the sense that he believes the basic structure of human life is hierarchical. He would oppose "elitist" solutions to political problems just as he would castigate utopian solutions to the same problems.
The unknown Ortega, the philosophical and important Ortega, has cogently spelled out the limitations of individualism and objectivism in many works: Meditations on Quixote, Some Lessons in Metaphysics, Man And People, The Idea of Principle in Leibnitz and the Evolution of Deductive Thinking, and The Theme of Our Time. His philosophical and vital contribution, manifested by his key formulation: I AM MYSELF AND MY CIRCUMSTANCES neither denies individual autonomy nor society's prerogatives for stability. But it does modify the foundation by which we experience life.
The first "I" in his formulation announces that radical reality indeed is individual. Ortega states further that this radical reality derives from two sources: 1) the self, ego, the individual who experiences life (the perceiving part of ourselves, that is, what we think is true), and 2) the circumstances (time, place, sex, etc.) each individual finds him/herself. The implications are profound, especially for anyone claiming absolute authority (in morals, law, etc.). Ortega builds on and completes Nietzsche's critique of western civilization: Authority (will to power) vs. Authoritarianism (willfulness to power). Moreover, Life becomes the supreme value over an imposition of a supreme value by individuals or institutions (say, by those who want to will a Pro-Life perspective onto a society). In his work, The Theme of Our Time (1923—the same year Time was started) he writes: "The sole false perspective is that which claims to be the only one there is."
The Theme of Our Time, a key work in Ortega's canon and immensely helpful in rounding out the themes of this essay), opens with a chapter on "The Concept of Generations," stressing the importance of the "time" theme. Anticipating The Revolt of the Masses, he writes about the generation as a "dynamic compromise between man and individual" and "the most important conception in history. . .the pivot responsible for the movements of historical evolution." While I don't subscribe completely to Strauss and Howe's demarcations (22 years) of the generation, their book convincingly demonstrates Ortega's thesis and indicates a clearer understanding of real historical change. In addition, Ortega writes that each generation represents "a vital altitude at which existence is conscious, in a certain sense, of being determined." (p. 16) He starts Theme this way because his own generation's destiny is to focus on understanding the new reality: "The destiny of our generation is not to be liberal or conservative, but merely to put that ancient dilemma out of mind altogether" (21). Take one look at the political dynamic around the world and you'll see how far we are from the 20th century! The "theme of our time" then goes beyond timeliness to take in the doctrine of the point of view: "Every individual, whether person, nation, or epoch, is an organ, for which there can be no substitute, constructed for the apprehension of truth." Perception modified by time! Ortega then accuses his own generation, located at the gateway of the 20th century (Lukacs' 1914-1989 century), of not achieving its mission (19).
Ortega's generation's great task was to take the first steps away from "the political philosophy of the moment" which appealed to the "needs" of the people and move forward to a new revelation. When Ortega's generation finally moved into positions of leadership and power, however, it turned to fascist creeds for (lack of) inspiration, regressing mightily from any destiny, and bared the worst aspects of civilized life. A generation unable to live up to its mission (the group born in the 1880s) does what the generations living in the 1900s have done: falsified themselves, as do individuals, by living on a derivative level (the 19th as the 20th century's great misfortune). The "great" generations in the United States and the Soviet Union who defeated this fascist mentality were barely able to bring the 1900s back into the 19th century!
* * *
In the same book, as supplementary readings related to the main text, Ortega includes three works. The first, "The Sunset of Revolution," speaks about a new age dawning which can be recognized by the fact that "in Europe revolutions are a thing of the past" (100). It is important to note thatOrtega states that "revolutions are not constituted by barricades but by states of mind" (101). This helps to define further what the 20th century is, a state of mind: "The fact is that every revolution cherishes the entirely chimerical object of realizing a more or less complete utopia. The plan inevitably fails. (117)" Here, he announces a saeculum, that the Age of Revolutions is done, let a new age begin with a new set of beliefs, beliefs derived from reality and not utopian ideas.
The second reading deals with a world living in disillusion, i.e., a world having lost faith in previous regimes but not yet connecting to a new one. The demoralized (20th century) man:
1) loses all spontaneous faith and does not believe in anything that works along manifest or disciplined lines;
2) respects neither tradition nor reason, neither collectivity nor the individual;
3) has not sufficient strength in reserve to maintain a suitable attitude before the mystery of life and the universe. (133)
A concise portrait of humanity in crisis, unable to decide what to do, unable to listen to anyone to know what to believe is right, This is a humanity ripe to allow civilization fall into barbarism. This age turned to superstitious practices and the most absurd rites and the 1900s became "a dog in search of a master" (134).
The third essay, "The Historical Significance of the Theory of Einstein," Ortega anticipates, if not writes for Time itself, the reasons for the "Man of the Century" award. He recognizes the importance of Einstein's work in relation to all of life and the direction humans must take.
The Theory of Einstein is a marvelous proof of the harmonious multiplicity of all possible points of view. If the idea is extended to morals and aesthetics, we shall come to experience history and life in a new way. (143) Yet, this aspect of Einstein's theory weighs less if not at all on the Time "Century" committee, and the deep relevance of the theory remains hidden. Time's concern is to build a "Great Wall" to keep out the moral relativists and other post-modernists and, ultimately takes an anti-Einsteinian position in its desire for "absolute values." The doctrine of the point of view seems to be hidden. We have traversed the century seemingly making little or no ground.
Estragon: Shall we go?
Vladimir: Pull on your trousers.
Vladimir: You want me to pull of my trousers?
Vladimir: Pull ON your trousers.
Estragon: (realizing his trousers are down). True
He pulls up his trousers.
Vladimir: Well? Shall we go?
Estragon: Yes, let's go.
They do not move.
Waiting for Godot (end of Act II)
John Lukacs, The End of the Twentieth Century, New York: Ticknor and Fields, 1993.
Jose Ortega y Gasset, The Modern Theme, translated by James Cleugh, New York: Harper & Row, 1961.
Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy, Out of Revolution: The Autobiography of Western Man, Norwich, VT: Argo Books, 1969.
William Strauss and Neil Howe, Generations: The History of America's Future, 1584-2069, New York: William Morrow and Company, 1991.
Time Magazine, January 3, 2000.
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