The Past is Never Dead. It’s Not Even Past.

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

One of my favorite trends I have spotted in reading history is when an author skillfully makes an allusion to current events without once making any explicit reference to contemporary circumstances. Or perhaps I am just reading too much into things, but try this quote on for size from the opening chapter of Max Hastings’ book Catastrophe 1914: Europe Goes to War:


‘A Feeling that Events Are in the Air’

1 Change and Decay

One day in 1895, a young British army officer lunched in London with the old statesman Sir William Harcourt. After a conversation in which the guest took, by his own account, none too modest a share, Lt. Winston Churchill-for it was he- asked Harcourt eagerly, ‘What will happen then?’ His host replied with inimitably Victorian complacency: ‘My dear Winston, the experiences of a long life have convinced me that nothing ever happens.’ Sepia-tinted photographs exercise a fascination for modern generations, enhanced by the serenity which long plate exposures imposed upon their subjects. We cherish images of old Europe during the last years before war: aristocrats attired in coronets and ball gowns, white ties and tails; Balkan peasants in pantaloons and fezzes; haughty, doomed royal family groups.

Only a man or woman who chose to be blind to the extraordinary happenings in the world could suppose the early years of the twentieth century an era of tranquility, still less contentment. Rather they hosted a ferment of passions and frustrations, scientific and industrial novelties, irreconcilable political ambitions, which caused many of the era’s principals to recognize that the old order could not hold. To be sure, dukes were still attended by footmen wearing white hair powder; smart households were accustomed to eat dinners of then or twelve courses; on the continent duelling was not quite extinct. But it was plain that these things were coming to an end, that the future would be arbitrated by the will of the masses or those skilled at manipulating it, not by the whims of the traditional ruling caste, even if those who held power strove to postpone the deluge.

Sound vaguely familiar?

7 Responses to The Past is Never Dead. It’s Not Even Past.

  1. Robin says:

    What precisely is the point of this post? Yes we know there were clueless Victorians and Edwardians. What is your contemporary and explicit point from that quote?

  2. matthewladner says:

    It’s not explicit or even contemporary given that the book was published in 2013. Let’s just say reading a book about a group of high and mighty buffoons who plunged their nations into chaos is a bit disquieting.

  3. Greg Forster says:

    The coming apart we are experiencing today is only the long-delayed out-working of the crackup then. Read ch. 1 of Paul Johnson’s Modern Times, then on top of the political, economic, philosophical, scientific and artistic dissolution he describes, add religious dissolution as well. It’s a testament to the striving of those who held power that the deluge was postponed this long.

  4. Greg Forster says:

    If you had lugged it during any home or office moves in that time, you wouldn’t be unsure whether you had it. Thing ways a ton.

    • sstotsky says:

      Can readers of this blog engage in a conversation/dialogue about how a country gets trustworthy high school exit tests and college admission tests? We have a crisis in education looming, as more and more parents are beginning not to believe whatever they are told by their state DoEs and the USED.

      • Tim says:

        The bad news? A lot of the Times-Union’s content, including this piece, is paywalled.

        The good news? It is impossible to tell where NYSUT’s arm ends and where Fred LeBrun’s puppet hole begins, so with that in mind, readers of this blog can likely guess what they are missing.

        Most of the parents who opt out in New York State are doing so to protect their economic interests. Either they are teachers themselves (or people who work in related fields, such as the state’s comical oversupply of teacher preparation programs), or they are concerned about their property values. If you don’t believe me, you can look up how many people were opting out just a few short years ago when ELA and math proficiency rates approached 80 and 90%, respectively. Hint: you could have easily fit all of them on the 5:11 to Port Washington.

        New York State public school parents want tests that are fair, transparent, of a reasonable length, and actually connected to what their child was taught. We don’t want insane amounts of test prep or for music, movement, art, and recess to be sacrificed to the ELA/math gods. We do, however, want someone other than our child’s school and teachers to assess how our children are doing. After all, that’s pretty much exactly what the swells at the highest-end progressive private schools insist upon:

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