Alexander Herzen: The frenzied anxiety, the exhausted satiety that lead to war
From My Past and Thoughts
Translated by Constance Garnett
For me there is something melancholy, tragic, in all this, as though the world were living anyhow, in expectation of the earth’s giving way under its feet, and were not seeking reconstruction but forgetfulness. I see this not only in the careworn, wrinkled faces, but also in the fear of any serious thinking, in the turning away from the analysis of the position, in the nervous thirst to be busy, to fill up the time with external distractions. The old are ready to play with toys, ‘if only to keep from thinking.’ The fashionable mustard-plaster is an International Exhibition. The remedy and the disease form a sort of intermittent fever centred first in one part and then in another. All are moving, rushing, flying, spending money, striving, staring and growing weary, living even more uncomfortably in order to keep up with progress – in what? Why, just progress. As though in three or four years there can be much progress in anything, as though, when we have railways to travel by, there were any necessity to drag from place to place things like houses, machines, stables, cannon, even perhaps parks and kitchen-gardens.
And when they are sick of exhibitions they will take to war and find distraction in the sheaves of dead – anything to avoid seeing certain dark spots on the horizon.
…They were like the parade-generals of the same period, the dandy martinets whose victories were won over their own soldiers, who knew every detail of military toilette, all the glitter of the parade, and never soiled their uniforms with the blood of an enemy. The courtesan-generals, jauntily ‘street-walking’ on the Nevsky, were crushed at once by the Crimean War…