Friday, March 15, 2013

World Historical Figure

Kimberly White/Reuters
In its coverage of the death of Hugo Chavez the Times used the following statement from Javier Corrales, a professor of political science at Amherst as the quote of the day: “In regimes that are so person-based, the moment that the person on which everything hangs is removed, the entire foundation becomes very weak because there was nothing else supporting this than this figure.” (“Chavez Dies, Leaving Sharp Divisions in Venezuela,"NYT, 3/5/13) This is the theory of Hegel’s “world historical figure” par excellence. Under this idea there would have been no Third Reich without Hitler, no Gulag without Stalin or, for that matter, no modern day India without Gandhi. The latter is belied by the fact that while Gandhi plainly played a huge role in helping his people to achieve independence, his spirit is scarcely visible in a country where the right wing Hindu, Baratiya Janata party plays such a huge and regressive role in the country’s inflammatory religious and racial politics today. Under this theory the killing of Osama Bin Laden as documented in Zero Dark Thirty is the equivalent of a manichean fairytale, like the Knights of the Round Table where the forces of light conquer darkness. As a litmus test it will certainly be interesting to see what new forms of political life are spawned in the petrie dish of post-Chavez Venezuelan politics. But what about the individual as an expression of historical forces? What about history as a pressure cooker in which idealogues appear at the moment when the cup runneth over. Wasn’t National Socialism a franchise, as much a Leninism, and even the pacifism of Gandhi which found itself on the stage of American history in the person of Dr. Martin Luther King? History might be handed to great men or women on a platter, but without a mountain of circumstance (which inevitably defies the will of any single individual), there would be no revolution, right, left or center.

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