Education and the World’s Confusion

Students need to understand that the world and history and the mood of the moment are always a “confusing swirl,” as experience shows, and that implies the present intersection of world/history/mood is also such a confusing “opaque windshield.”

Take the example of Europe after World War I. Mussolini leaves his position at the left-wing paper Avanti! (English: “Forward”) and founds the bellicose Il Populo d’Italia (English: “The People of Italy”), which is nationalist and warlike.

Avanti! was an Italian daily newspaper, born as the official voice of the Italian Socialist Party, published since 25 December 1896. It took its name from its German counterpart Vorwärts, the party-newspaper of the Social Democratic Party of Germany. Il Populo d’Italia, was an Italian newspaper which published editions every day with the exception for Mondays founded by Benito Mussolini in 1914, after his split from the Italian Socialist Party.

Mussolini was a complete tactical opportunist and his profound flip-flops indicate that “the winds” of mood and opinion were capricious and somewhat blind to its own twists and turns.

Take the case of the (later) famous anti-fascist Arturo Toscanini, the great music conductor. His trajectory is non-linear and as “jumpy” as Mussolini’s, going the other way:

“From the start Fascism was an eclectic movement and in its early days in 1919 it attracted a number of people who, including some, such as the great conductor Arturo Toscanini, who soon became its most determined opponents.”

(James Joll, Europe since 1870: An International History, Penguin Books, 1976, page 266)

Toscanini ran as a Fascist parliamentary candidate in Milan (1919) and this is a clue as to the tremendous disorientation in the wake of World War I.

In 1983, the outstanding Hebrew University scholar, Professor Sternhell, wrote Ni droite ni gauche. L’idéologie fasciste en France, which was translated to English three years later under the title, Neither Right nor Left: Fascist Ideology in France. The title of this classic by Sternhell—“neither right nor left”—captures via its very title, the indeterminate fusion and hodge-podge quality of modern ideologies. If they’re neither right nor left, where are they?

We could say there’s a deep pattern: World War I (yielding communism and fascism and Nazism) and then World War II (with atomic weapons and Auschwitz) and the Cold War have all left very disorienting legacies and since people in 2022 are legatees of these three wars, outlooks are very foggy. As the world becomes extremely confusing, people react accordingly and veer from mood to mood and opinion to opinion.