Nostalgia and its discontents

We’ll say it controversially, but we think that nostalgia-that unquenchable longing for a former Golden Age-can be a drug as dangerous as heroin or alcohol. We have sat with grown men, once successful businessmen in their day, who pined: “if only we could get back to…….” To what exactly? Their own former self, now lost in a sea of beer and responsibilities? Or the State of the Nation then, before all these bloody people arrived, and they built a housing estate next to the Dog and Duck?

Just as pornography is in error for obviating the human relationships that surround sex, so nostalgia ignores an obvious truth. Whether History is made by economic forces or Great Men, these forces are multiple, confluent and in flux. Sometimes a particular coincidence at one place, at one time, may allow us some security and welfare for a while. The error is to mistake that moment for permanence, a Golden Age. If things at that time were so good, they would have surely lasted. They didn’t-so somewhere must have been foundations of sand.

Nostalgia is dangerous for individuals and nations. Charles Dickens gave us Miss Havisham in Great Expectations, endlessly mourning her lost wedding day. The Russian nation, or many of them, long for the lost dominion of the Soviet Empire. They forget the price in blood and hunger and terror that was paid to construct it. But other peoples remembered. They are teaching their former masters that lesson in price now.

Gently but inexorably, it will be necessary to prise nostalgics from their addiction, much as we do with smokers or gamblers. For us one of the most hopeful campaigns was Clinton‘s of 1992 with its campaign song, Fleetwood Mac‘s Don’t stop thinking about Tomorrow.[1] Even if the past was better, it’s gone, and the future is real and here, it said. Or are we now being nostalgic in turn?


#ussr #russia #ukraine #queen elizabeth 11 #great expectations #nostalgia #empire

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