Tuesday, March 29, 2016

The Last Chapter

In the last post I left Lévi-Strauss stranded in the Brazilian jungle.  In fact, he did not end his book there, but allowed himself a diversion in the last chapter to talking about the state of relations between France and its southern and eastern colonies in the mid-1950s.  He lamented the fact that French culture had not perceived the opportune moment for a thorough self-examination that might avert the looming international disasters of those times.  The suggestion made by Lévi-Strauss was that France should offer full, unrestricted citizenship to the 25 million people living under colonial administration.  To support his argument he cited the brave example of the U.S. which had opened its borders a century earlier to permit the entry of millions of the poorest, often uneducated masses of immigrants; and he pointed to the great benefits which such a decision had yielded.

With the wisdom of hindsight we can now look back to see that Lévi-Strauss' hopes were far too late in their expression.  By the mid-'50s there was no turning back possible in the face of the independence movements in Algeria and Vietnam.  Sadly, we can also now see clearly how the political leadership in the U.S. would show itself to be just as blind to the dangers as the French, abandoning its post-war recovery to pursue a disasterous rerun of the French colonial experience in Vietnam.  And, then, unbelievably, to go on to another decade of the same thing in Iraq.

And, now, Europe and the U.S. are again shutting their borders and ensuring more and bigger violent confrontations that some attention to history might have avoided.  No one can say we haven't been warned.

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