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Angel of History

Angel of History

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part of philosophy of history, still a work in progress
part of philosophy of history, still a work in progress

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Published by: Elizabeth Ann Kirchner on Apr 21, 2010
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Chapter 9 – The Angel of History The English have been working on their society a lot longer than any

that have followed, thereby changing things. No matter how hard the “followers” try, they cannot compete with the English-British because any imitation they do has no real effect on the world or brings about an entirely different outcome. Because of how groundbreaking the first one was. Once something has been done for the first time, it cannot be done again for the first time. He then says that just as revolution leads to nationalism, Marxism leads to capitalism and vice versa, these concepts are all inventions of people who should not be so surprised to find out that all these things are interconnected and will inevitably bring the other about. Even though various countries share the same ideas and views of nationalism, they are judged as being either behind or ahead of other countries simply due to the condition they have been left in by the previous regime. He also states that viewing countries as ahead or behind is simply a matter of perception and any one country can imagine itself to be behind or ahead of any other. He then states that the reason things like the French Revolution have not been wiped from human memory is due to the invention and distribution of print. This not only preserved its memory but also allowed people to learn from mistakes that had been encountered in order to make more adequate plans. The Bolsheviks were the first to successfully plan their revolution to avoid certain mistakes and had planned programs to supplement the transition from revolution to nation. He then states that a revolution in this time would not have been at all possible without proper/in-depth planning. When a “backward” country is pulled into the modern world suddenly, very few do well (but those who do, do very well indeed), with the poverty-stricken being stricken even further by poverty. Since nationalism has been watered down with constantly changing political theories, it can now be applied to anything that can be defined as a nation. (Modulation: to alter something to make it less strong, forceful or severe.) He then uses Viet Nam to give an example of the extreme changes in nationalism. Gialong asked Peking for permission to name his realm Nam Viet, which means Southern Viet. The emperor, Son of Heaven Manchu, denied that permission saying it had to be named Viet Nam, which means to the South of Viet. Viet was a place that had been conquered by the Han dynasty, so calling it Southern Viet would have legitimized that rule over the Manchu kingdom. Having to be called to the South of Viet gave Gia-long no more ties to the old realm. Gia-long and his people were not pleased with this perceived slight. At the time, neither the Chinese nor the Vietnamese officially adopted and used the name; the Chinese preferring “Annam” (which I think means south of nowhere) and the Vietnamese called their country Dai Nam which means the Great (or Imperial) South, thus disassociating themselves from any but a directional relationship to Nam. The fact that the name is now beloved shows how strongly nationalism can affect people. Comparing the Viet Nam of the 1930s to the Cambodia of the 1960s there are, mutatis mutandi ("with those things having been changed which need to be changed.") many

obvious similarities, including: a huge, illiterate, exploited peasantry (95%), miniscule working class (10%), fragmentary bourgeoisie (0.5%) and a tiny, divided intelligentsia (20,000 people). Their subsequent revolutions were carried off successfully because of their planning and establishing a sense of nationalism in their communities.

In Cambodia, as ruled by the Khmer, what is most important are the models of what revolutions have, can, should and should not, do. These models are based on the revolutions of France, Russia, China & Vietnam; basically the ones that have existed in a time that could adequately be written about and distributed to the people. Official nationalism was from the start a conscious, self-protective policy initially linked to the preservation of imperial dynastic interests. “Official nationalism” is something emanating from the state and serving the interests of the state first and foremost. Because all successful revolutionaries take over from an established state policy, that policy becomes most relevant in how it can be used in their service. Even after conquering the original rulers, the new leaders end up in the seats of their predecessors (capital cities, political hubs & holidays). They also inherit all the things the predecessor has done or was working on including all kinds of documentation, i.e. functionaries and informers, but always files, dossiers, archives, laws, financial records, censuses, maps, treaties, correspondence, memoranda, and so on. This effectively makes a new leader basically the same as the old one. A different hand is turning on the lights, but the light is still the same. Eventually, the new leaders begin to mess around and experiment with what their predecessors left behind. As the leaders become more comfortable with the things they have been left with, they become more skillful at using them and the more skillful they are, the more people become accustomed to seeing them in that way. Therefore the symbols of the previous rulers become the natural symbols of the new rulers; with little or no change, with the possible exception of a new coat of paint. The leaders inherit, but not so much the people. The same established procedures are carried on and until it is burdensome, the people generally don’t care about what does not concern them. This is why wars have to be waged in the language of self-defense, so that the people can be worked up into nationalism by protecting their land or way of life from those seeking to destroy them. Since the examples used, China, Vietnam & Cambodia are not unique; the pattern will probably repeat itself. These wars will most likely continue until a nation can view its own history with the eyes of a stranger – separating the truth from the belief and the practice from the preaching. Despite having claimed self-defense, any war boils down to the fact that “why should this ever have been started when both sides lost so much and many valuable people?" And in spite of the claim that this would be better for both of us, all you are doing is making the same pointless decisions and mistakes, just on a larger scale. Walter Benjamin wrote about the Angel of History.

History is an angel being blown backwards into the future. All catastrophes that have ever been are all that he can see. The angel wants to go back and fix things, but there is a storm blowing from Paradise which keeps propelling the angel backwards into the future. This storm is what we call progress. The angel, being immortal, will continue to see the destruction while we humans face a completely random future.

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