The 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall has a lot of people thinking existentially, and their insights illuminate some interesting aspects of how we think about the past and future.
First, check out this fascinating op-ed in today's NY Times by Ross Douthat. He asks why aren't we celebrating our victory more, and then points to a deep seated need for people to feel under threat in order to spur moral behavior.
"Twenty years later, we still haven't come to terms with the scope of our deliverance...we keep returning to the idea that liberal society is just as vulnerable as it was before the Berlin Wall came down...These paranoias suggest a civilization that's afraid to reckon with its own apparent permanence. The end of history has its share of discontents - anomie, corruption, "The Real Housewives of New Jersey." And it may be that the only thing more frightening than the possibility of annihilation is the possibility that our society could coast on forever as it is - like a Rome without an Attila to sack its palaces, or a Nineveh without Yahweh to pass judgment on its crimes.
Humankind fears judgment, of course. But we depend on it as well. The possibility of dissolution lends a moral shape to history: we want our empires to fall as well as rise, and we expect decadence to be rewarded with destruction. Not that we want to experience this destruction ourselves. But we want it to be at least a possibility - as a spur to virtue, and as a punishment for sin."
In another NYT op-ed, Slavoj Zizeklooks at the desire -- not all brought on by nostalgia -- for people in former Eastern Block countries to revive communism. The reason? 'It's a dream world, Neo.'
"Why were the old ghosts resuscitated in nations where many young people don't even remember the Communist times?...It is because, many believe, we are not really in capitalism: we do not yet have true democracy but only its deceiving mask, the same dark forces still pull the threads of power, a narrow sect of former Communists disguised as new owners and managers - nothing's really changed, so we need another purge, the revolution has to be repeated...On the search for justice, they will have to start from scratch. They will have to invent their own ideologies. They will be denounced as dangerous utopians, but they alone will have awakened from the utopian dream that holds the rest of us under its sway."