The Turning Point of the Revolution: Or, Burgoyne in America

The Turning Point of the Revolution: Or, Burgoyne in America

The Turning Point of the Revolution: Or, Burgoyne in America

The Turning Point of the Revolution: Or, Burgoyne in America

Excerpt

FACE to face with the riddle of history, man takes refuge in metaphors. Unable to grasp the laws which govern the rise and fall of societies, he finds himself tempted to simplify these complex events by means of parallels drawn from the shorter and more obvious sequences of nature or even of his own handiwork. So he will sometimes compare the activity or the decline of a human group to the speeding-up or slowing-down of a machine. Such a simile may serve for an administrative department or other narrow cross-section of social life; to apply it to any complete and rounded community is to make one's self ridiculous. Again you will often see attempts to illustrate history by means of the lives of individuals or even of plants. So men will say that such and such a nation is young and growing, whereas another is old and therefore in decay. Here the absurdity is less, for in dealing with living things we begin to meet with intricate and subtle forces whose true nature escapes us. Nevertheless the comparison is still absurd. As a great man of our own generation has said, to say that Spain is growing old is like saying that Spain is losing all her teeth. The fact is that while some Spaniards are losing their teeth other little Spaniards are getting now ones! For great sweeps of history the least ambitious, and therefore perhaps the least unsatisfactory, metaphor is that of waves or tides.

The eighteenth century was a period of slack water and of calm. After the prolonged convulsions attendant upon the loss of religious unity in the West, men naturally desired order and repose. The constructive forces of our society . . .

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