Gun-totin', Chronic-smokin' Hearse Initiator (ludickid) wrote,
Gun-totin', Chronic-smokin' Hearse Initiator
ludickid HISTORY!

That last post got me to thinking. Long ago -- 1980 I believe it was, long before Vanity Fair, before Spy Magazine even -- a young Kurt Anderson, fresh out of Harvard and a stint with the Lampoon, wrote an amusing book called The Real Thing. Long out of print, the book's worth seeking out at used shops; it's funny and insightful as well in its goal of discovering the ideal, quintessential examples of various things -- from beers to sitcoms to military weapons to law firms to preadolescent traumas to junk foods.

What put me in mind of it is the fact that it contains a chapter on the quintessential bad historical analogies. The leading candidate, if only from numbing overuse, is that such-and-such a current event is exactly like the fall of Rome, says Anderson. That analogy's tedious, constant misapplication is still very much with us over 25 years later, as Douglas MacKinnon's inept column proves. However, Anderson rejected it on the grounds that it was too easy: anyone can, and does, use it, and it's historically distant enough that it can't entirely fall flat on its face. So, in the end, he concludes, the ultimate in bad historical examples is comparing things to the latter days of Weimar Germany -- decadent, degraded, sunk in moral depravity, full of denial, economically shaky, and ripe for the plucking for some nascent future Hitler and his cronies.

I have to admit, it's pretty compelling as the sine qua non of bad historical analogies. My personal favorite is comparing things to the last days of the Byzantine Church, but that lacks both broad application and universal recognition. Certainly the favorite today is comparing things to the Second World War, with us in the place of the Allies and an endless succession of bogeymen (communists, homosexuals, Islamists, liberals, anti-globalization first-wave economists) in the place of the Axis; the appeal is obvious, since it casts us back to the last time we all pretty much agreed on a big war that was actually worth fighting, but the failure of these various enemies to assume Hitlerian proportions (not to mention our own failure to assume WWII levels of heroism and courage) lead the whole thing to fall apart. WWI analogies are much more apt, I think (moral confusion over the purpose of the war, substantial ideological differences between the allies, a villain who's not nearly as menacing or potent as he's made out to be, a general air of intolerance of dissent, and powerful economic interests urging on a war to stave off a massive debt crunch), but for obvious reasons, not nearly as popular.

So how's about you? What's your favorite bad historical analogy? Think about it.
Tags: junk

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