Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. The more it changes, the more it’s the same damned thing. (The word “damned” is my personal correction of a lapse by the French author who coined the phrase.)
We live in turbulent times and it’s easy to succumb to the Chicken Little response and run around flapping our arms about the end of the world. It probably is ending, but the good news—if you can call it that—is that it has ended before, many times.
I’ve been on a World War One kick, reading a wide range of books about that most senseless of all the senseless wars that have ever been fought, and just to show you that Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr knew what he was talking about when he coined the aphorism above, I will give you, without comment, two quotes applicable one-hundred years ago, today, tomorrow, and one-hundred years from now.
The first is by Robert Graves and comes from his original, unexpurgated memoir, Goodbye to All That, primarily (though not entirely) about his experiences in the trenches of World War One:
“I was at Harlech when war was declared; I decided to enlist a day or two later. In the first place, though only a very short war was expected—two or three months at the outside—I thought it might last just long enough to delay my going to Oxford in October, which I dreaded. I did not work out the possibilities of being actively engaged in the war. I thought it might mean garrison service at home while regular forces were away. In the second place, I entirely believed that France and England had been drawn into a war which they had never contemplated and for which they were entirely unprepared. It never occurred to me that newspapers and statesmen could lie.” [Emphasis mine.]
The second quote is from professor and literary critic Gary Saul Morson’s introduction to Tattered Banners, a memoir of the Russian aristocracy and its post-revolution diaspora by Colonel Paul Rodzianko, the son of General Paul Rodzianko and Princess Marie Galitzine, heir of the fabulously wealthy Stroganoff (or Stroganov) family:
“Bolshevik cruelty was to increase more than Rodzianko could have imagined. In the twentieth century, Russia became an object lesson in what happens when intellectuals with a revolutionary ideology proclaiming they alone have the moral truth seize power.” [Emphasis mine.]
As I said, applicable then, applicable today, applicable tomorrow.