Saturday, August 18, 2007

on barbarism...

The barbarism of the 2-year-old ballerina who does not wish to eat her rice is, upon reflection and when the "event" is over, amusing.

Other barbarisms are not. I am reading Night of Stone: Death and memory in twentieth-century Russia, by Catherine Merridale. I'm only to the great famines of 1932-1933 that murdered an estimated 5-7 million peasants in the Ukraine and Kazakhstan. That leaves another 67 years of the 20th-century left to kill. Literally.

Once again, what strikes me is the ordinariness of the men/women who engineered the conditions that led to the famine. Stalin was not mad. His followers were not some aberration on the stage of human history. Just bumbling ideologists who plunged their country from one barbarism to another. I am as capable of such barbarism as they.

Here is a civilized man's take on barbarism. Evelyn Waugh in a reflective mood:

"Barbarism is never finally defeated; given propitious circumstances, men and women who seem quite orderly will commit every conceivable atrocity. The danger does not come merely from habitual hooligans; we are all potential recruits for anarchy. Unremitting effort is needed to keep men living together at peace; there is only a margin of error left over for experiment however beneficent. Once the prisons of the mind have been opened, the orgy is on. … The work of preserving society is sometimes onerous, sometimes almost effortless. The more elaborate the society, the more vulnerable it is to attack, and the more complete its collapse in case of defeat. At a time like the present it is notably precarious. If it falls, we shall see not merely the dissolution of a few joint-stock corporations, but of the spiritual and material achievements of our history."

4 comments:

Jacques said...

"We are all potential recruits for anarchy." So true. If you have the stomach for more twentieth-century barbarism after you finish that book, To the Edge of the Sky by Anhua Gao is an excellent account of similar atrocity in China...

Erika Ahern said...

I'm not sure I'll have stomach left by the end of this book. I've actually had to give it a break--I'd been thinking too many dark thoughts. That's the melancholic coming out!

John S. said...

Nice. Where is the Waugh quote from (I think I've read it)?

But how does one literally kill off a number of years?

Erika Ahern said...

Oh, dear, Waugh's a poet.

The quote was in the "introduction" of "Counterpoints," ed. by Roger Kimball and Hilton Kramer. I don't know where originally...