You've found Father McKenzie. But are you really looking for Eleanor Rigby?

Monday, May 10, 2004

WERE THERE NO CROWL AVAILABLE TO HIRE AS FACT-CHECKERS? Interesting book review (link requires paid subscription) by David A Bell in The New Republic (17 May 2004) which opens with the following observation:

"In his Foundation trilogy, Isaac Asimov imagined a future civilisation in which the social sciences attain such sophistication that it becomes possible accurately to predict the future. A group called the “psycho-historians” apply the techniques to the Galactic Empire in which they live, and find, to their horror, that it will soon collapse. So they create a secret organisation to carry out strategic interventions in the course of events – not to halt the collapse (it is too late for that), but to accelerate the rebirth of order and civilisation out of a new Dark Ages. For a time, the organisation carries out its plan with complete success. But then disaster strikes, in the form of a human mutant called the Mule, who uses sinister telepathic powers to carve out a new empire of his own. The psycho-historians initially react with consternation to this creature, whom they have failed so completely to foresee or to explain. It takes several hundred closely plotted pages for them to regroup, and to set the course of history back on its predetermined path.

I often think that modern historians react to Napoleon Bonaparte in much the way that Asimov’s psycho-historians do to the Mule: as a freak of nature, endowed with sinister and superhuman powers, who fits into few accepted categories or theories..."

The interesting thing, however, is that Napoleon's rise was predicted -- by Edmund Burke, who wrote the following in 1790 and who died in 1797, years before Napoleon rose to power in 1799:

"In the weakness of one kind of authority, and in the fluctuation of all, the officers of an army will remain for some time mutinous and full of faction until some popular general, who understands the art of conciliating the soldiery, and who possesses the true spirit of command, shall draw the eyes of all men upon himself. Armies will obey him on his personal account. There is no other way of securing military obedience in this state of things. But the moment in which that event shall happen, the person who really commands the army is your master – the master (that is little) of your king, the master of your Assembly, the master of your whole republic".

[From Reflections on the Revolution in France]

So Burke did one better than Hari Seldon and his psychohistorians. Score one for truth over fiction in the strangeness stakes.

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