Which Past Did We Have? Does the Future Have A Future?

“The time form I am most interest in is the future as I will spend my whole remaining life in it.” Henry Ford The present does not exist. It is just the few seconds in which I drink my fifth glass of champagne, Pol Roger or Villiera preferred, the...

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“The time form I am most interest in is the future
as I will spend my whole remaining life in it.”

Henry Ford

The present does not exist. It is just the few seconds in which I drink my fifth glass of champagne, Pol Roger or Villiera preferred, the first bottle emptied is already history, the second to go still the future.

What is historical truth and can it serve as a fundamental for present and future creative  human activities, be they political or private, economic or artistic, for the benefit of coming generations? It is doubtful, as the German Baltic novelist and historian, Frank Thiess, wrote in his foreword to Tsushima, a novel about a maritime war [1], if an objective description of past events is possible.

No one has been present everywhere and no chronicler can do more than to use and to check the sources and materials according to their plausibility and presumed exactness. Often Weltanschaung, the ideology through which I tell myself how to look at the world, narrows the view and angle. Myths come in and strongly demand obeisance like the Voortrekker myth or the struggle myth. Written sources had been lost or deliberately destroyed as, often, in the moment of real change of power, witnesses are notoriously unreliable. Further then either the mass of sources or materials, especially hearsay and secondary sources, is so big that it cannot be reviewed anymore within a reasonable time, or the lack of sources is evident and suspicious. Subjective opinions, personal impressions and judgments based on a narrow range of knowledge obscure the matter. No hope exists to get a complete picture of events. The “whole truth” does not exist. Collecting pure facts is difficult enough, but evaluation is necessary and by evaluating I make choices, judgments and decisions about what was essential. The eminent German historian Ranke demanded that historians should describe events as “it has really been”. Impossible as the past becomes a myth or an assembly of different myths.

That is even more true if the past is demonized and watched through extremely ideologically-coloured spectacles. Then empty phrases, mostly politically correct ones, replace the honest, rational — not emotional — endeavour to describe and evaluate the past as exactly as possible. Emotional and ideologically-driven condemnation of a gone system do but should not replace or substitute rational analysis.

It is important to understand the essential [2] being of all the elements which characterize a past system and cannot be eliminated without losing or forfeiting the hard core of the matter.

The essence of communism, for example, is the despotism of enforced, artificial equality, the total disregard for the individual, values and traditions, the adoration of naked power, the bombastic belief in the possibility to remake and undo man and society, and the deep conviction that the past can be eradicated and a glorious future written on a blank slate.

To that, add a deep-seated inferiority complex and a pathological hate for all that is beautiful, straight, ordered and well-considered, and then you get nihilism a la Bakunin.

One of the consequences of those essentials is the total disregard for all kind of property rights. Destroying and annihilating and exterminating those rights and the bearers of the idea of those rights is therefore the logical way such politics are advanced. It is not ‘eating the rich’ but in reality starving the poor. All communist regimes showed us that the reds are incorrigible repeat-offenders. The only lesson we can draw is that not even the most stupid or impractical or horrible or destructive concept, one hundred times failed, saves against a next try. Therefore, well-armed citizens are necessary!

Political and economic systems may appear like a concave mirror [3] concentrating all beams on one point, with men working systematically through decades to build something valuable and lasting up, people not resting on their laurels, going on step by step, not discouraged by failures but motivated by even the tiniest successes, men who demand “learn and make it better” and only accept first-class endeavours or results, people who know how to critically evaluate results and above all themselves, men thinking of long-term gains not short-term profits, men only attracted to lasting structures and results, doing their duty, fulfilling duties before claiming nebulous rights, men able to put others on the right place, ready to accept independent opinions and inputs even criticism from subordinates. These are people who prefer to have no names but to create valuable structures and enterprises rather than cashing in on every day’s celebrity rent. “After a victory, fix your armour” is a Japanese proverb, and throughout the times we can recognize the ‘miraculous’ success of certain states or enterprises or systems within a few decades. No miracle, just intelligent discipline, industry, patience, foresight and trust and cooperation between a worthy elite and the nation.

Other systems are like a convex mirror, distributing the beams in all directions. Nothing is coordinated, people and elites are distrustful of each other, all rest on past laurels, corruption consumes substance and production, mediocrities fight the reformers with hate, character assassinations, intrigues, rumours and the whole vulgar arsenal of the petty-minded ones. Subservience, brown-nosing, spittle-licking, fear and empty aspirations are the prevailing sentiments and attitudes of the big number of underlings and sycophants occupying the public space. Men with honest aims, willing to work on meaningful reforms, incorruptible and with a clear and objective judgment are opposed tooth and nail with denunciations and slander; state capacities and resources are used for private gains, means and petty wars. “Yes men” are preferred, even if outright stupid or incompetent. Envy, wrongheaded ambition, laziness and fear prevail. Scoundrels earn millions to the detriment of the people, gain overnight fantastic jobs as underlings of some big-wigs, constructive initiatives decay in the morass of bureaucracy, the constructive-minded despair, emigrate or retreat into an ‘inner’ emigration and from below subversive forces nurture the hate of the people against the state and all its institutions. Cowards prevail, and taking responsibility is avoided at all costs. [4]

As Frank Thiess stated clearly: There is no absolutely perfect organization or political entity. Its value must be judged on how the (moral and material) energies of a nation are kept vivid and made most fruitful and productive. But absolutely wrong is every system which throttles creative initiative and destroys talents who could become historically significant if on the right spot and which prevents necessary actions as ‘certain circles’ would be not amused. [5]

If comparing these two systems sketched shortly al fresco we should ask ourselves if South Africa still has a choice and which future we will have or — better  — which future we creatively may be able to  build up.


1) The war of 1904/05 between Russia and Japan. Tsushima, the novel of a maritime war, Paul Zsolnay Verlag, Wien, 1956.

2) Thomas of Aquino, De ente et de essential

3) A symbolic picture made by Frank Thiess, ibid, p15f

4) Of course, this is a description of the last decades of the Tsarist system and not of South Africa as of today. I do not want to be accused of hate speech.

5) Ibid, p18f

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