It became fashionable in the late nineteen eighties, and almost de rigeur in the nineteen nineties to patronize the people of 1929. A host of new, flashy telehistorians and political commentators reduced the past to simple forks in the road of history.
If only Hitler had been stopped at the Rhineland, they wrote, or if only Stressemann had not died, or if only the Smoot-Hawley tariff had not been passed, or if only the US had joined in with the 1919 Treaty of Versailles.
The if onlies proliferated, and in part they were marketing exercises. There's nothing wrong with that. However, they missed both the vital interlinkage of the disaster of the early twentieth century and one other critical fact.
The men (and few women) of business, the common sense people of the time, thought that there were overwhelming arguments to do what they did. They would have thought that it was our perspective that was deranged, given what seemed logical at the time.
Very often, it is the underlying assumptions of life that matter, not the daily perception or arrangements of facts. Those assumptions, the socially represented tramlines of thought, are what Rudyard Kipling contrasted with the 'copybook headings'. He had a sense of what was always right and what was inevitable that deepened after the disaster of world war one, but that was always there. It fitted with the voice and worldview of the working class Tommy-soldier that he channelled so well.
So it is deeply worrying to me that in the past few years we have put in place the conditions for some awful calamity. A vast amount of excess money in global markets. A denigration of manufacturing. An insane competition for disappearing oil. An attachment to fatuous and diversionary theories of global warming. A new anti-semitism. A security and populist driven push for a trade war, the latest manifestation of which might see the EU and US in a trade war over the insane idea of visas for all those overflying the USA.
If only that were all. The mix of basic pathologies and surface toxins grows by the day. The destruction of communities by capitalism and of individual liberty by surveillance and the remains of the welfare state. The emergence of an East Asian currency and trade bloc with very different legal norms. The demographic collapse of Europe, and the normalisation of euthanasia and abortion. The end of Democracy as we know it. The genesis of arcs of instability alongside a recrudescent Islamism; and an utterly superficial media class which spends most of its time not reporting things.
Tragically, all of these things have obvious, workable solutions that are not beyond the wit of anyone of goodwill and moral strength to deal with. So why do our politicians and media get them so wrong?
It's all very well humming All Along the Watchtower in your sleeping and waking head and making yourself feel like you're planning a safe cultural D-Day against a dangerous minority of religious nutters from your armchair or desk like the neoconservatives and their ilk do. It's quite another to wake up and see the reckoning that might come, and how common sense would lead us nightmare like to its lair in Kosovo, or Persia, or Taiwan, or the bond markets.
I pray we get through. The picture is of course that of the Oath of the Horatii by Louis-David. What better way to round off a weekend when demands flew thick and fast to pledge absolute loyalty to a monolithic legal state?