Education and the Historical Swirl: Part II

We concluded Part I on this topic with the following comments which we wish students to incorporate into their educations, irrespective of the major, field or concentration:

The gold standard itself, dominated from London led to intricate problems: Golden Fetters: The Gold Standard and the Great Depression, 1919-1939 (published in 1992) by Barry Eichengreen, the leading historian of monetary systems, shows the downstream pitfalls of the gold standard.

In other words, the de facto emergence of Britain/London as the world commercial and policy center and the relation of this emergence to empire and international tensions and rivalries, means it is very problematical for any country to steer a course other than staying in tandem with British moods and ideologies, such as free trade. Any country by itself would find it difficult to have a more independent policy. (Friedrich List of Germany, who died in 1846, wrestles with these difficulties somewhat.) The attempts to find “autonomy and autarky” in the interwar years (Germany, Japan, Italy) led to worse nightmares. The world seems like a “no exit” arena of ideologies and rivalries.

The “crazy dynamics” and the semi-anarchy of the system, which continues to this day and is even worse, means that policy-making is always seen through a “dark windshield.”

History in the globalizing capitalist centuries, the nineteenth and the twentieth, is a kind of turbulent swirl and not a rational “walk.”

Here’s a bizarre but necessary comment on this sense of turbulent and surprising swirl propelling history forwards and backwards and sidewards at the same time:

The historian, Barry Eichengreen (mentioned above), is a distinguished analyst of world monetary systems at U.C. Berkeley and perhaps the leading expert today on the evolution of such systems.

From movies such as Shoah and Last of the Unjust by the great filmmaker Claude Lanzmann, we know that Barry Eichengreen’s mother was Lucille Eichengreen, a Jew born in Hamburg, Germany (1925) and deported to the Łódź Ghetto in Poland during World War II. She survived through many miraculous accidents and contingencies, then wrote about her experiences.

We get a deeper insight into “the way of the world” by seeing that the Holocaust itself has as a backdrop the anarcho-craziness of the world. The Fascists and Nazis were jumping from the “frying pan into the fire” by imagining that world conquest and world-murdering could “stop the world.” They and their favored populations could “get off” and step into a racial dreamworld. They were taking today’s concept of “gated community” and applying it to the “racial community” (Volksgemeinschaft, in German).

This led to the phenomenon depicted in Goya’s famous aquatint: The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters.

The perceived madness of the world and the madness of leaders that this perception leads to have never been analyzed together.

The fact that the behavior of world leaders could be “crazy like a fox” (half-insane, half-opportunistic, or Machiavellian “clever”) is a complicating factor or twist from Mussolini until today.

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.