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Bei allen Zerstörungen, läßt sich aber immer eins behaupten: weil uns die Ökonmie der Weltgeschichte im großen dunkel bleibt, wissen wir nie, was geschehen sein würde, wenn etwas, und sei es das Schrecklichste, unterblieben ware. Statt einer weltgeschichtlichen Woge, die wir kennen, wäre wohl eine andere gekommen, die wir nicht kennen, statt eines schlimmen Unterdrückers vielleicht ein noch böserer.
Nur soll deshalb kein Mächtiger sich zu entschludigen glauben mit dem Wort: »Tun wir’s nicht, so tut’s ein anderer,« womit jede Art von Verbrechen gerechtfertigt werden könnte. (Solche halten eine Entschuldigung übrigens auch meist nicht für nötig, sondern finden: »Was wir tun, schlägt ja eo ipso zum Glück aus.«)
Notwithstanding the many disruptions, one thing can be maintained with certainty: because the economics of history remain largely cloaked, we never know what would have transpired had some development – perhaps even the most terrible – been avoided. Instead of the historical balance which we know, another might have come, which we don’t know – in the place of a terrible repressor, perhaps one who is still more evil.
However, no person of power should be able to excuse his excesses simply by saying: “If I hadn’t done it, then another would have,” a phrase which could be used to justify any crime. (Such people by the way generally consider an excuse entirely unnecessary. They feel that “what we do will turn out for the best in any event.”)
–Jacob Burckhardt, Weltgeschichtliche Betrachtungen ch 6, “Über Glück und Unglück in der Weltgeschichte” (1897)(S.H. transl.)
More from Scott Horton:
Six Questions — October 18, 2014, 8:00 pm
Nathaniel Raymond on CIA interrogation techniques.
I recently spent a semester teaching writing at an elite liberal-arts college. At strategic points around the campus, in shades of yellow and green, banners displayed the following pair of texts. The first was attributed to the college’s founder, which dates it to the 1920s. The second was extracted from the latest version of the institution’s mission statement:
The paramount obligation of a college is to develop in its students the ability to think clearly and independently, and the ability to live confidently, courageously, and hopefully.
Let us take a moment to compare these texts. The first thing to observe about the older one is that it is a sentence. It expresses an idea by placing concepts in relation to one another within the kind of structure that we call a syntax. It is, moreover, highly wrought: a parallel structure underscored by repetition, five adverbs balanced two against three.
Percentage of Britons who cannot name the city that provides the setting for the musical Chicago:
An Australian entrepreneur was selling oysters raised in tanks laced with Viagra.
A naked man believed to be under the influence of LSD rammed his pickup truck into two police cars.
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“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”