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More Wittgensteinian Readings

“The truly apocalyptic view of the world,” wrote Ludwig Wittgenstein, “is that things do not repeat themselves. It is not absurd to believe that the age of science and technology is the beginning of the end for humanity; that the idea of great progress is delusion, along with the idea that the truth will ultimately be known; that there is nothing good or desirable about scientific knowledge and that mankind, in seeking it, is falling into a trap.”

World War II is the dominant paradigm of an apocalyptic event in our consciousness, from which an inference may be drawn that mankind has some residual aversion to slavery. Otherwise our forefathers would not have struggled, choosing instead to surrender and live, happily or unhappily – muttering to themselves, perhaps, “Are even the freest of men ever happy anyway?” – in a global Reich forever after. Yet how strong that aversion is in real terms, and how powerful a motive for any kind of action in this age of radically relativized values, is by no means clear.

The war Hitler unleashed on the world was a war for which Germany had not been prepared. Stalin, for one, had been refusing to believe that any military strategist would be so irresponsible as to invade a country of ten time zones without antifreeze for the tanks or winter clothes for the troops, and consequently was himself unprepared for the Nazi invasion.

“Things do not repeat themselves,” however. The storm whose clouds have been gathering over Europe is not an atmospheric disturbance presided over by a mercurial war god. This time round, Mars is wearing a lab technician’s spotless white coat, and the “science and technology” at his disposal spell “the beginning of the end for humanity” in all earnest.

Provided, of course, that the end for humanity is equated with universal slavery of the kind our forefathers fought to forestall. Because if it isn’t, and if slavery is already universally perceived as the abiding condition of mankind rather than as the apocalyptic abyss of Wittgenstein’s thesis, then all is well, my remarks are irrelevant, and we should all tend our gardens for what little time is yet allotted us by our strategically minded, responsible, patient conquerors.

The quasi-ballistic, complex-trajectory, variable-speed  missiles of the Russian rocket complexes Iskander-M, deployed last week at Kaliningrad, formerly Königsberg, have all of Lithuania, half of Latvia, half of Poland, and a part of Sweden within range.  Experts testifying before the French Senate have concluded that “Ces missiles présentent une particularité. Ils volent dans l’atmosphère, en dessous de 60 à 70 kilomètres, et lorsqu’ils rentrent dans les couches denses de l’atmosphère, à 25 ou 30 kilomètres, ils acquièrent une capacité manoeuvrante qui les rend quasiment impossibles à intercepter.” Basically, Iskander’s stealth missiles are invulnerable to any defensive means at the disposal of NATO armies and so, even if armed with conventional, rather than nuclear, warheads, are there to make a mockery of any prospect of resistance to Russian aggression. In last week’s post I quoted a Lithuanian who I thought was a suicidal pessimist when he said that, if invaded by Russia, what his country needed was to hold out “until NATO arrives.” It turns out the man is a giddy optimist.

And so, was Wittgenstein wrong, and things do repeat themselves? Is universal slavery, as the last world war has shown, not on the cards for mankind? Can we not get out of it again, like we did last time, with only 48 million lives to the worse? And should we not, then, simply go on tending our gardens for what little time is yet allotted us?

Andrei Navrozov

Andrei Navrozov, born in Moscow, lives in Palermo and is European editor for Chronicles.  The former publisher of the Yale Lit, he is a widely published author and translator.  His Italian Carousel: Scenes of Internal Exile was published by Peter Owen Publishers.

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