Sunday, December 09, 2012

The tyranny of analogy

Sometimes we are not the prisoners of history, but of the stories we tell about it. We take highly specific situations and try and understand them through historical analogies, many of which are neither appropriate or even good history. This is the theme of a long and stimulating piece on the Eurozone by Antony Beevor, who gives few conclusions but asks some interesting questions.

At the moment there is a cliché doing the rounds about the conditions in Greece comparing them to the Weimar Republic. Leaving aside the curious notion of looking for precedents in German rather than Greek history, it is a completely different situation, both domestically and internationally. The analogy is tempting because of the current political instability, deflationary economics and the rise of the far right, though at this stage in an economic crisis the Nazis were getting 37% of the vote, not Golden Dawn's 7%. This is not being complacent, the situation is indeed dire, it is just that it does not help to try and understand it by reference to the Second World War.

 I certainly do not agree with everything Beevor writes but this is spot on, "reinforcing failure through obstinacy has always tended to turn a crisis into a catastrophe." And continually referring back to World War II is a way of dealing with the wrong crisis, the one we had rather than the one that exists now.

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