The anti-cuts march & history

Though nothing is certain, it is hard to imagine that today’s march (26.3.2011) will be recorded by history as a turning point. This might be because though some of the questions are right, we are looking for answers in the wrong place. In particular, most of us know by now that national governments are largely powerless.

The anti-cuts March 26.03.2011

Whether the administration is Conservative, Labour or a coalition, we were facing savage cuts. Nor are we fooled by the way in which the ‘sides’, with less skill and maturity than football teams, blame one another for the horrific debts that the financial meltdown, caused by the global system, has brought upon us all.

This is the basis of the disillusionment with politics. MPs expenses scandals merely provided a moment in which we could reveal the strength of rage. Nor are we comforted by displays of self-righteous morality when north African despots turn the weapons that we have supplied against their own people.  The Falkland War may have saved Mrs Thatcher; David Cameron and William Hague clearly hope that the Libyan campaign will strengthen their status as players of world class.

From time to time, we vent our vexation on the media and the concentration of power by the Murdoch empire which provides so much of our news and entertainment (increasingly, the two become virtually interchangeable.) But we are insatiable for new stimuli, especially stories of devastation or imminent disaster: today our attention is directed to

Floods in Pakistan 2010

Libya and Syria, while concerns about Japan – an earthquake, a tsunami and a potential nuclear meltdown – recede; and we have already almost forgotten the earthquake in New Zealand, the fires and floods that swept Australia, the terrible scenes in Pakistan and Indonesia and Haiti, whilst those who were headlines two, three or four years ago still strive to rebuild their shattered lives.

Perhaps we need a stronger and more long-lasting historical perspective which enables us to deal with the present without being emotionally swept by one event after another in this chaotic fashion?

These ideas are confirmed by reading Heschel’s The Prophets, particularly the chapter on ‘history’, where Heschel, once again, overturns our normal mode of thinking. ‘By history’, he writes, we do not mean ‘the dead past but the present, in which past and future are interlocked.’ [174] Each of us, individually, is therefore not only present at and in history – we also create it. Nor is this only personal or family history but the history of our times. Our presence or absence at today’s march is a part of history. The choices we make are of importance and affect the future.

As he researches the writings of the prophets, particularly their refutation of the false prophets who speak in the name of God but without truly being inspired by Him, [429] Heschel asserts as central prophetic values the rights of the poor and needy against the rich; justice against power; truth against falsehood. But he goes much further. The key values, enunciated by the prophets in the name of God, such as pity, compassion, love and justice are built into the very being of creation.

Since the prophets spoke not just to Israel but to all peoples, and since the God who inspired them had ‘formed the world from its beginning,’ the teachings which they imparted were directed towards God’s hope for a new history for humanity. ‘History to us is the record of man’s experience; to the prophet, it is a record of God’s experience.’ [172]

This does not suggest that we can see in history, along with Hegel, the simple progressive unfolding of a path towards enlightenment and peace. As human beings, we are, most of us, too much in love with power, celebrity, material values and too scared of righteousness and justice to help achieve the necessary transformation. The forces of inertia around us and within us are so great and that is why many people are attracted to today’s march: something, anything is better than doing nothing.

Remembering the time when Heschel wrote, the horrors he had witnessed, the hope that he maintains through his reading of the prophets is extraordinary. Though there is suffering, though there are no straight historical paths, a promise of peace is given, ‘When nation shall speak peace unto nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.’ In magnificent poetic language, the prophets see through and beyond the present and lift our eyes into a future which is also here and now – but, most of the time, we are simply insufficiently aware.

Perhaps, for some, this is precisely the purpose and best possible outcome of the march. To walk through the streets of London, some in family groups, joyously, in hope, recognising that another way  is possible. Just for fun,  it’s good to watch The Young Conductor to uplift our spirits Maybe it’s just necessary to realise that this has little to do with present day politics.


One Response to “The anti-cuts march & history”

  1. jeffreynewman Says:

    Re-reading this, particularly noting the (wonderful) video ending, I’m reminded of Nero fiddling while Rome burnt….

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