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The Distant Past: On the Political Use of History

Noting the loss of the meaning of history through which Marxism-Leninism and - more generally - democratic thought ‘had claimed to provide democratic optimism with the guarantee of science’, Frangois Furet concluded Le passe d ’une illusion by stating that ‘the idea of another society has become practically impossible to imagine ... Here we are, condemned to live in the world in which we live!’1 And then he added:

If capitalism has become the future of socialism, if the middle-class world is to take over from that of the “proletarian revolution”, what will happen to this assurance about time? The inversion of the canonical priorities is undoing the way ages interlock on the road of progress. History again becomes a tunnel that mankind enters in darkness, not knowing where its actions will take it, uncertain as to its destiny, deprived of the illusory security of a knowledge of what it is doing. Bereft of God, the democratic individual sees the divinity of history trembling on its foundations at this century’s close ... In his mind, this threat of uncertainty goes hand in hand with the outrage of a foreclosed future.2