History as Tragedy and Farce: The Rise of Nationalism

Karl Marx famously began The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte by observing that Hegel “remarks somewhere that all facts and personages of great importance in world history occur, as it were, twice.”[i] Hegel, and by implication Marx, was wrong. The uniqueness of circumstance and the individuality of actor mean that history does not, and cannot, repeat itself. But sometimes historical conditions and attitudes do recur, albeit in modified forms. More arresting is Marx's comment that history repeats “the first time as tragedy, the second as farce.”[ii] Today the farce being played out in the United States is plain for all who care to witness it. The historic tragedy that the farce obscures is harder to discern, and portends the resurgence of conditions and attitudes that in the past have led to disaster.

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