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Cheating The Prophets
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November 27, 2005, 01:15 AM
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In the latest online First Things, I see this quote from Europeana: A Brief History of the Twentieth Century by a Czech writer, Patrik Ourednik,

“And in 1989, an American political scientist invented a theory about the end of history, according to which history had actually come to an end, because modern science and new means of communication allowed people to live in prosperity, and universal prosperity was the guarantee of democracy and not the contrary as the Enlightenment philosophers and Humanists had once believed. And citizens were actually consumers and consumers were also citizens and all forms of society evolved toward liberal democracy and liberal democracy would in turn lead to the demise of all authoritarian forms of government and to political and economic freedom and equality and a new age in human history, but it would no longer be historical. But lots of people did not know the theory and continued to make history as if nothing had happened.”

That`s the 2005 version, but I always liked the 1904 version, from The Napoleon Of Notting Hill.

THE human race, to which so many of my readers belong, has been playing at children`s games from the beginning, and will probably do it till the end, which is a nuisance for the few people who grow up. And one of the games to which it is most attached is called, "Keep to-morrow dark," and which is also named (by the rustics in Shropshire, I have no doubt) "Cheat the Prophet." The players listen very carefully and respectfully to all that the clever men have to say about what is to happen in the next generation. The players then wait until all the clever men are dead, and bury them nicely. They then go and do something else. That is all. For a race of simple tastes, however, it is great fun.

The speed at which the last century moved means that many people didn`t have to die to see their prophecies made foolish; the classic case being Ted Kennedy`s 1965 prediction that

First, our cities will not be flooded with a million immigrants annually. Under the proposed bill, the present level of immigration remains substantially the same. . . . Secondly, the ethnic mix of this country will not be upset. . . . Contrary to the charges in some quarters, [the bill] will not inundate America with immigrants from any one country or area, or the most populated and deprived nations of Africa and Asia. . . . In the final analysis, the ethnic pattern of immigration under the proposed measure is not expected to change as sharply as the critics seem to think.