Originally published 05/23/2013
Sir David Cannadine, a professor of history at Princeton University, has taught at the University of Cambridge and Columbia University. His most recent book, The Undivided Past: Humanity Beyond Our Differences, has just been published by Alfred A. Knopf.When Saul Bellow was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, in 1976, he concluded his acceptance speech with these wise, generous, and tolerant words: "There is no simple choice between the children of light and the children of darkness." But a quarter of a century later, Bellow's fellow American, President George W. Bush, took a very different view, insisting that there was, indeed, such a straightforward choice between good and evil. "When I was coming up," he opined, "it was a dangerous world, and you knew exactly who they were. It was us versus them. Today we're not so sure who the they are, but we know they're still there." Here was a view of the world, of human association and of human nature, that assumes a polarized, Manichean division, built around collective identities that are internally coherent and homogeneous, and that are always latently or actually in conflict. The choice between them is, therefore, very simple and very clear.
Originally published 05/03/2013
The world, undivided. Image via Shutterstock.