Tuesday, 20 September 2005

Nice weekend in Paris

... a v cheap trip with me mum around her birthday. We headed over on the bus which was pleasant though long. Awful tour guide. Saturday went to the Louvre and saw some beautiful Michelangelos. Ma is a fan of the very early florentines, the amazing iconic stuff when they are just beginning to paint in three dimensions. I am more into the slightly later high renaissance but we both agree that at Venice it all gets a bit feeble.

Saturday night I see Viv and meet some friends of hers including the vivacious and mega-successful Elena who is an ex-World Banker. I miss the metro home and end up walking for hours through the banlieux of Northern Paris to the hotel. Yikes. Sunday we see Notre Dame and meet Viv again in a caff in front of the Sorbonne. Monday, back, another whopping trip but it gives me a chance to almost finish Shirer's Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. Shirer was a journalist, actually in Germany for a lot of the thirties, with a crackling prose style. The theme of the book is the cowardice of the people around Hitler - both nationally and internationally - and insofar as there is an explanation, at least for the Germans such as the generals who knew they were being led to destruction, he pins the blame on an inadequate political understanding. By understanding I don't just mean political science understanding, as in predicting who will do what, but also understanding of, say, the duties of a citizen or the dignity of man. (And actually these failures then lead the Nazis to make inaccurate predictions also: they cannot understand why, for example, Britain fights on rather than surrendering in 1940. It's a strong example for those who say that in social science, prediction requires understanding, and who therefore make a clear distinction between social and natural science.)

Perhaps Shirer's is a very American approach, but it basically chimes with the attitude of, say, Arendt, and contrasts strongly with the critical theorists who see fascism as the final expression of a social system - capitalism - and hence find rather little comfort in the triumph of the US. I think in this point the "politics" approach is more accurate.

As an aside: in history, I always gain insight from reading the "great" classic texts: professional historians' latest appraisals will change with the whims of academic fashion. Here at least, the judgment provided by an intelligent individual is more important than method, which may improve as the discipline progresses.