Sunday, April 05, 2015

[Books] The Mirror of Yesterday

I have been slowly working my way through The World of Yesterday, by Stefan Zweig, an Austrian writer from the early twentieth century who had suffered a decline in notoriety, but has recently been given attention because Wes Anderson stated hisbooks to be very influential on his creation of The Grand Budapest Hotel. It is a remarkable book for many reasons, and I'll review it in full soon. For now, let me just give you an extended quote:
"In its liberal idealism, the nineteenth century was honestly convinced that it was on the direct and infallible road to the best of all possible worlds. The people of the time scornfully looked down on earlier epochs with their wars, famines and revolutions as periods when mankind had not yet come of age and was insufficiently enlightened. Now, however, it was a mere matter of decades before they finally saw an end to evil and violence, and in those days this faith in uninterrupted, inexorable 'progress' truly had the force of a religion.

Science, the archangel of progress, had worked all these miracles. Social welfare was also proceeding apace; from year to year more rights were granted to the individual, the judiciary laid down the law in a milder and more humane manner, even that ultimate problem, the poverty of the masses, no longer seemed insuperable….Sociologist and professors competed to make the lives of the proletariat healthier and happier--no wonder that century basked in its own sense of achievement and regarded every decade as it drew to a close as the prelude to a better one."
In my middle-aged pursuit of understanding the validity of our societal faith in cultural progress, have I not said almost exactly the same things in describing us (although probably not as eloquently)? Tell me if that does not sound like something I've written in the last couple of years. It shines a light on much of what I have been thinking and feeling about progressivism: that it is not new but must delude us that it is for it to hold. More next month, but I just felt like I had to offer a little taste.