It’s always worth dipping into the vast archive of Zinn scholarship, but as the United States flirts with another war in the Middle East, as the presidential campaign raises fundamental questions about the kind of country we will become, and as the world confronts a potentially catastrophic environmental crisis, now is an especially good time to remember some of Howard Zinn’s wisdom.
If you ever wanted to see what the world might look like after the Tribulation, you could do worse than visit the Burren land on the Atlantic coast of Ireland. … the Burren has only rock, with thin soil in the cracks –a rippling moonscape of pale hills that stretches to the sea, with few trees to slow the screaming Atlantic winds. It’s lovely to visit, but living here would seem to us like being marooned on an alien planet, and raising children unthinkable.
As we move into a new year, and try to square 2017 in our rear view mirrors, it’s an opportune moment to contemplate how we avoid repeating the mistakes of the past, both recent and ancient. This week on Sea Change Radio, we get philosophical with Jeremy Lent, whose new book, The Patterning Instinct seeks to explain what has made us tick as a species over the millennia.
So, back to the main thread of my story: in weighing up capitalism’s historical record, it’s also necessary to reckon with the fact that capitalism has never confined itself to single national economies.
The stage is now set for the next scene in our whistle-stop tour – the emergence of capitalism. But first a quick aside. Enmeshed in a contemporary global capitalist economy as we are, it’s easy to read it back into history as some kind of inevitable culmination of past processes. But there’s no reason to think that our present was foreordained.
Tracking forwards now over the later middle ages in Europe, one story to be told is the slow erosion of the peasant autonomy that had characterised the ‘Dark Ages’ – not only by the growing power of local lords, but also of royal houses which increasingly brought aristocrats to heel under the aegis of centralised, proto-modern royal absolutist states.
We can abuse the land under our stewardship or take care of it. But the reality is that sooner or later someone else will be faced with that same task and deciphering evidence of our own passing.