“Soft despotism is a term coined by Alexis de Tocqueville describing the state into which a country overrun by "a network of small complicated rules" might degrade. Soft despotism is different from despotism (also called 'hard despotism') in the sense that it is not obvious to the people."

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Time travel and history adjustment.

Would you kill this child?*

June 23, 2009

The great time travel test

Daniel Finkelstein Timesonline

If you could travel back in time and intervene at one moment in history what would you do?

That was Michael Gove’s question in yesterday's Times, and one I’d now like to pinch for Comment Central.

“My own hunch”, writes Gove, “is you could avert the need for all of the above if you got between Gavrilo Princip's bullet and Archduke Franz Ferdinand. Almost all the miseries of the last century can be traced to the greatest civilisational catastrophe of all time - the First World War.

“There was a madness abroad in Europe in 1914, as the new Tate Modern exhibition of the war-worshipping Italian Futurists reminds us. Prewar Europe was a uniquely liberal and civilised place. And it was all swept away, in a ceremony of blood that ushered in eight decades of oppression.”

“So I'd wrench the gun out of Princip's black hand. And this is where the argument begins. I defy readers to think of a better use of a rent in history's tapestry. What's your answer to the Time Travellers' Test?”

Times writers give their own answers to his proposition below. But how about you? Would you assassinate Hitler? Catch a bullet for John Lennon? Ensconce yourself in the grassy knoll?

David Aaronovitch

Michael Gove seems to think that had the Archduke not been killed by Princip (and one should point out how nearly he wasn't) then the First World War would not have happened.

I wonder. Lenin's return to Russia is a better bet, though it was his second that year, and he might have kept returning, so the real need was to remove him permanently from the scene, which seems to be precluded by the terms of this discussion.

So I think we have to go with Von Stauffenberg's placing of his bomb on the wrong side of a solid table divide, thus saving Adolf from a certain death. That really was bad luck.

Oliver Kamm

The prudent course for the time traveller is to land in the French Legislative Assembly in time for the declaration of war on Austria on 20 April 1792, and refute with the benefit of hindsight the promise made by Jacques-Pierre Brissot and other republican deputies that victory would be easy.

The war was disastrous and it set off a virulent search for enemies of the revolution (which was stimulated by the inflammatory counter-revolutionary manifesto of the allied commander-in-chief, the Duke of Brunswick).

The consequences were catastrophic not only in the numbers of dead but also in the precedent thereby set for unconstrained actions of the revolutionary state. The brutality of the Bolshevik Revolution 125 years later was prefigured in this.

Libby Purves

I'd go back even further than Michael Gove and make repeated visits to un-invent guns.

People who kill people should have to get close enough to feel their breath and look them in the eye. Fewer would be willing to do it.

Graham Stewart

The French Revolution had disastrous consequences for Europe at the time and sowed the seeds of ideological thought that were eventually reaped in the totalitarian horrors of the twentieth century.

The revolution might never have happened if the French exchequer had not been bankrupted by Louis XVI's decision to declare war on Britain during the American Revolution. Louis was persuaded down this calamitous course by his Foreign Minister, the Comte de Vergennes.

My role in time travel would have been to demonstrate to Vergennes that for all the gain of poking George III in the eye, his actions would not only bring down the French monarchy, create anarchy and ensure the Napoleonic Wars, but also turn the thinking of the Enlightenment into a curse.

Although I admit this does raise the supplementary question - what would have happened if, denied French help, the American colonists had lost their fight with Britain?

Daniel Finkelstein

While tempted to intervene between the moment when Michael Gove wrote the word "civilisational" and the time when it appeared in The Times, or just before John Terry took his penalty against Manchester United in the Champions League final, advising him to take a different run up, I fear these would be frivolous uses of a wonderful power.

David would like to have moved Von Stauffenberg's bomb. I think we can do better than that. I feel it would be worth a throw of the Time Travellers' dice to have landed in the 1920s and killed Hitler in a glassing fight outside a beer hall.

Now, this might not have prevented the Holocaust. But actually I think there is a good chance that it would have done

* A photo of Adolph Hitler as a child.


  1. I'd party on for a week or so, acting calm, cool and collected, then have a focus group to come up with what the teleprompter tells me to say.
    That and a deep tan, who knows, I might pass for the Messiah.

  2. Can't remember the context, but this reminds me of a story I heard yesterday about someone that had fooled most of the people most of the time being caught out under fire when he grabbed a small child to use as a human shield.

    Wonder if that would bother the MSM in any way if Barry came up with an emotion free politically correct explanation?

  3. First off, I'd have to be careful not to do anything that would prevent my own conception.

    I don't know. I've been pretty lucky. Survived a War. Made a few bucks. Pissed off a lot of bucks. Had fun.

    Got two great kids. Grandson. So far. I love my wife.

    Hell with it. I'm leaving well enough alone.

  4. Over a million Iranians in CA, mostly in LA.
    Corsy says there's lots of good broadcasting going into Iran from LA.

  5. Subsidies for Electricity Production by Generating Fuel, FY 2007

    You might have to look twice to find petroleum and natural gas. I did.

    Mat, are you out there? Mat? Mətušélaḥ ?

  6. His charge ran out.
    It'll only take 3 hours to top off the Energizers.

  7. A Graphical representation of the cost/benefit ratios would be impressive.

  8. A bar chart that size? T'would reach to the moon. Forget a piechart. You'd not be able to see the oil sector.

    Maybe something on semi-log paper?

  9. It was noted the other day, that if the Iranian security forces did not crack. If the Army or police did not join the revolution, it'd fail.

    Certainly is not rocket science, figurin' that out. Do not even need to be nuclear capable.

    The twitter revoltion, analogous to the polls that showed Dewey beating Truman. The polling, done by phone, did not question those that could not afford landlines, back in the day. Skewing the resulting reality to the extent that Truman won.

    Hell, I still remember the "party line" phone system we had at the house in Poconos.

  10. Maybe a picture of two logs laid out on two strips of Toilet Paper to represent Solar and Wind would get the point across.

  11. We're not all engneers, ya know.

  12. Did you see Whit's cite about the poor folks missing from the revolution, 'Rat?

  13. Gorbie's downfall was carried to the World by Fax Machines.

  14. Thise protesters, like the folks in the salons of NYCity, jist did not 'know' a single soul that voted for the winner, of the election. Thus assuring that electoral fraud had to be the only answer to the 'reactionary' winning.

    Natural human reaction, to election results that one dislikes. As was the case in FL, 2000, when calls of fraud were in the air. Or PA in 2008, by the 'other' side of the electoral fraud coin. Here in the US.

  15. Yes, doug, which is why I made the comment.

  16. I'm always giving your creativity too much credit.

  17. Poconos are Hopi Territory, right?

  18. So the free media market, in the US, CA to be exact, is fulfilling the propaganda role that some would promote for President Obama and the Federals.

    Not having faith, enough, in the free media market to do enough in the cause of liberty.

    While there is not a lot, really, that the US government can do overtly to impact the situation, in Iran. Increased Presidental rhetoric will not bring change to Iran, beyond what we've already seen.

    No one amongst the Federals wants to cross the next phase line, with Iran, that much is evident from the historical record of the past thirty years.

    A boogieman in the desert is worth so much more, domesticly, than a free and prosperous Iran.

  19. The Poconos are the hill country, in northeasten PA, doug.

    Some, there, called 'em mountains.

    They ain't seen the Rockies.

  20. Yeah, I just wondered when your family was there.

  21. We had a second home there, while my dad worked for the Rockefellers, in NYCity.

    Summer and winter, the house was at the top of the ski run, at a place called Arowhead Lake.
    They had priced the lots in correlation to the distance from the Lake, so the top of the mountain was at the low end. We could ski from the porch, down the road to the slopes, then down to the "lodge".

    Had a tow rope system. Did not snow a lot, but when it did, we were there. Summertime, had mini-bikes with Briggs & Stratton 5hp engines to buzz around the community.

  22. '67 through '71, we had that place.
    The 'main' residence being in either in Rye, NY or Westin, CT during those years.

  23. The had a sports car course somewhere around there didn't they?

  24. Pocono International Raceway, they were building it at the end of that era. May have been another track there, previously.

  25. Your youth prepared you well for the rigors of Ft Lost-in-the-Woods. So pleasant there in the summer and fall.

  26. We got to march down to the Ranges on the Beach from Ord.
    Beats the heat.

  27. I drove through there a few times before they closed Ord down. Looked like a big sandbox.

  28. Never thought about what they did with it.
    We had concrete Barracks.
    Good bet they were razed and replaced by McMansions.

  29. Berlusconi denies paying for sex. Well that is a damn lie. Every man alive knows there is no such thing as free sex. They get you coming or going, so to speak.

  30. As I recall, there were anarchists raising holy hell in the late 1800's and early 1900's. Huge change was already in the air before Ferdinand was shot and I admit that WWI is a senseless puzzle to me. You look at that carnage and are hard pressed to understand why. How history might have changed without Ferdinand's death is anyone's guess. My sense is that the assassination merely acted as an accelerant. It was a little gasoline thrown on a fire which eventually was going to burn long and hot one way or another.

    History is not an isolated event but a continuum with one event acting on the next. Like the butterfly wings...

    Time is finite, with a beginning and an end.

  31. This AP writer is saying the Supreme Leader, Khamenei may have been weakened.

    Retributions will most certainly follow as Khamenei and Company seek to dispel speculation that they're weak and wounded.

  32. Miller read a different version of the story about the Govt Making the parents of boy who was killed pay a $3000 fee to get the body.
    Miller's version said they called it a fee for the bullet!

    The account I read didn't call it that, but they are sweethearts, whatever the case.

  33. 4 Members of Iranian Soccer team banned from playing for life.
    ...they wore green armbands in the last game.

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