Between Past and Future: The Revolutions of 1989 and Their Aftermath

Between Past and Future: The Revolutions of 1989 and Their Aftermath

Between Past and Future: The Revolutions of 1989 and Their Aftermath

Between Past and Future: The Revolutions of 1989 and Their Aftermath

Synopsis

This text reflects upon the ten years since the collapse of communism in Central and Eastern Europe and looks at what lies ahead for the future. It addresses issues such as liberal democracy and its enemies and modernity and discontent.

Excerpt

Agnes Heller

With the exception of the moments of our birth and our death we are always “between past and future”. Our acts are not only oriented toward the future, they are also motivated by an image of the future; recollection is not only oriented to the past, it is also motivated by the image of the past. Since one acts in the present and recollects from the present, recollection is also motivated by the image of the present and of the future, and action by the recollection of the past. There is a commonplace that— contrary to many other commonplaces—is blatantly untrue; that is, the commonplace that the past is necessary because it cannot be changed, only recollected, and that the future is free, for one can shape it according to one’s choice and will. This commonplace is the application of positivist conceptions of nineteenth-century natural sciences to history and to the human condition in general. It is based on the identification of causal determination and necessity, on a tautology that claims that if sufficient reasons existed for something to happen, it happened by necessity, and if something happened, there were always sufficient reasons for it to happen. Still, it could have happened otherwise, and in this sense it was not necessary, for the determining causes are normally entirely heterogeneous. They are like dice thrown from unrelated dicecups. Human will and determination are also dice of a particular dicecup of a particular throw. Moreover, past events could not only happen otherwise, but they are also constantly changed, since every act of recollection modifies them. One can tell the same story in a thousand different ways.

And what about the freedom of the future? This is as questionable as the necessity of the past. True, the future is free insofar as it cannot be recollected. It is open, for many dicecups still wait to be thrown, among them the cup that is governed by human will and decision. Still, there are dicecups from which the dice have already been thrown. These cups entail the general conditions for the future of the present: for example, that a person has been thrown by the accident of birth in such-and-such a . . .

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