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[Xmca-l] The Angel of History

In this 1994 interview with Eric Hobsbawm, Michael Ignatieff tries to get
Hobsbawm to take the position that no "radiant future" could ever have
justified Stalin's "liquidation of the kulaks" and the Holodomor. Hobsbawm
has three responses.

a) It's not a historical question; it's a purely academic one (nice
distinction!). The thing about history that a historian always remembers is
that the people doing it don't actually know how it all turns out.

b) Why do people never ask if World War II was "worth it", seeing as how
ten times as many people died in the war as died in the camps or even would
have died in the camps? (Arno Mayer wonders if Hitler would have even
resorted to the "Final Solution" had the Russians simply surrendered.) This
is essentially Ulvi's point, although Ulvi sometimes obscures it by
indulging in "But what about-ism").

c) Walter Benjamin's angel of history is facing the wrong way. Have a
listen at about 15:17.


Now, you might think that c) conradicts a). After all, the Angel of History
is facing the wrong way and sees only the desolation and debris created by
progress precisely because the Angel, like the people who are doing
progress, don't actually know how it is going to turn out.

But of course Benjamin assures us that the view of the Angel of History is
precisely a synoptic one; like a man born blind and deaf who is asked to
describe an elephant on a turntable as it rotates. It turns out that when
we do this experiment with the congenitally blind and deaf, we get a more
accurate picture of the elephant than we do with people who can see and

David Kellogg