History, totally destroyed
Like many top intellectuals the world over, I’ve been thinking about the shape of history itself. Spurred on by the emergence of unexpected events and personalities onto the world stage, I have been cogitating deeply on the questions of where we’ve been and where we’re heading.
The world-historical confrontation between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, which may well proceed from verbal to actual Armageddon, demands a new understanding of history: It has all, undeniably and inexorably, been leading up to this.
North Korea demands that we oust the “lunatic” who governs us or face “the abyss of doom”, while our own dear leader characterises Mr Kim in historically significant tweets as a “madman” on a suicide mission whom we will “totally destroy.”
As all top intellectuals know, Hegel argued that history, in its essence, is the coming-to-selfconsciousness of the Absolute; Marx said that it is the dialectical unfolding of the material conditions of production; Michel Foucault pointed out that it is a succession of “epistemes” (roughly, a body of common shared beliefs), each inscribing its own regime of power; Francis Fukuyama claimed it was over; and Jean Baudrillard said it never actually happened in the first place.
Before these theories emerged, it was the Great Man view of history that dominated the field. “The history of the world is nothing but a biography of great men”, wrote Thomas Carlyle. Or as Ralph Waldo Emerson had it: “It is natural to believe in great men. We call our children and our lands by their names. Their names are wrought into the verbs of language, their works and effigies are in our houses.” On this view, the drivers of history are not races or classes or nations, but particular military geniuses, messiahs, kings, dictators, inventors, captains of industry, artists and saints. The Great Men swaggered onto the stage one after another, each capturing and conquering the Spirit of the Age. You will notice, of course, that the Great Man theory involved no women. This made perfect sense to the men writing the theory of history.
But the true test of philosophies of history is history itself. I suggest that the Great Man Theory, though already battered by Marxism and feminism, isn’t likely to survive the historical dialectic between Mr Trump and Mr Kim. These phenomena suggest the need for a completely fresh account of history itself, a new theory that is almost certainly my ticket to a long-anticipated MacArthur “genius” grant. Or it would be, if I could settle on a name for it.
According to your mood, it might be termed the Jackass Theory of History, the Howling Mediocrity Account, the Colossal Bungler Hypothesis or the Blockhead Conjecture. US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson writes in to suggest the Moron Theory, but this is insensitive towards those with intellectual disabilities.
We must now reckon with this fact: Human history is the bumbling-about of self-deluded and incompetent doinks. Surely you are not going to deny that. It is nothing so much as a series of pratfalls by inept leaders and the suckers who follow them towards doom. Their incompetence is a historical force in the lives of each and all of us.
The world-historical confrontation between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, which may well proceed from verbal to actual Armageddon, demands a new understanding of history.