Friday, December 8, 2006

grand illusions?

President Lincoln, addressing the nation at Gettysburg in 1863, said:

Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure.

Four score and seven years ago, W. B. Yeats, addressing the English speaking world, shortly after the first great European civil war of 1914-18 in the poem, Nineteen Hundred And Nineteen, said:

We pieced our thoughts into philosophy,
And planned to bring the world under a rule,
Who are but weasels fighting in a hole.

It was certainly very foolish (to say the least) to think that we could bring Iraq under the rule of democracy, and dedicate itself, without a civil war, to the proposition that all men and women are created equal.

The religious wars of the 16th and 17th centuries made the modern secular, democratic state possible.
It is beginning to look as if the great wars of our time were driven, way down deep, by religious or quasi-religious passions. Religion is splitting Iraq into warring factions and religiously based prejudices may be one of the reasons why democracy—conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal—is such a hard sell in so many parts of the world.

Now we have to face the possibility that democracy, so conceived, can only thrive under the relatively benign conditions that have prevailed since the last ice-age. If we humans resemble religious weasels fighting in a hole, now, what'll the world be like when the balance of nature turns against us?

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