Weekly musings on the arts and current events.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Apocalypse Postponed

This month we did not witness the predicted rapture, but we did see the fall of some transgressors. From mere boors, like the braggart Arnold Schwarzenegger and the insufferable John Ensign, to monsters like the genocidal Ratko Mladic and the sanctimonious Osama Bin Laden, May brought a welcome breath of justice.

But justice can be a meager dish. None of these downfalls improves our lot. From none of them may we assume that successor culprits will be chastened. The propensity of megalomaniacs, once in power, to believe they are above common decency, remains undiminished. Indeed each of these four, along with dozens of other leaders recently disgraced, imprisoned, or eliminated, still has followers who believe in his virtue.

Tolstoy argued that the role of a leader, either hero or villain, tends to be overstated in our histories. It is not emperors and generals, but the efforts of the masses and the current of the times, mixed with chance and changes in the weather, that determine events. We should not believe that merely removing a foe or a hypocrite will thwart our enemies abroad or restore good governance within our shores. This lesson is especially pertinent today in the Middle East.

Our struggle is not against obnoxious individuals--that would be too easy-- but against much more formidable horsemen: ignorance, greed, hatred, and want.

The Four Horsemen by Albrecht Durer, 1498. This is the most famous of fifteen woodcuts that Durer published as a book called The Apocalypse. It may have been the first printed picture book published by an artist and it was a great success. Durer's Four Horsemen are, left to right, Death, Famine, War, and Conquest, or if you prefer, Pestilence. Note that one of the fallen beneath Death's pale horse wears a crown. Click on the picture for a closer look.


Ben Hardy said...

Medieval representations of 'Death' has been one of my favourite topics during my recent studies. Whilst describing Durer as 'medieval' may be pushing boundaries, he must have been influenced by the near contemporary church paintings of the Dance of Death, and possibly the Three Living and the Three Dead. Huizinga had this time, the late Middle Ages, as a morbid age, looking to death and rejoicing in its personification - and though I think he was influenced by the time he was writing (First World War) I think he also had a point.

DUTA said...


1. I totally agree with you that it's not the individual leader/hero/villain that we should struggle against. No individual is omnipotent on his own.

Take Hitler, for instance. He was a little nobody, a mediocre painter and like other mediocre people with some eloquence of speech, tried his luck in politics.

The blame should go to the members of the National Socialist Party that has spotted in him the right potential to serve their dirty plans and interests, elected him, surrounded him with advisors, forced the population to worship him...the rest is known.

2. I don't share your enthusiasm about the masses in the Middle East, not at all. These masses that are unable to feed themselves (demographic syndrome) without the help of the Western World, could easily get out of control and bring about great destruction in the whole region and beyond that.

I believe that the triumvirate Obama, Sarkouzzi, Calderon will be put on trial by history for:
a. their childish, totally irresponsile encouragement (not to say encitement)of the masses to go out in the streets , eliminate their leaders, and take whatever they think belongs to them.

b. their throwing out of the window of milliards of dollars belonging to their countries' budgets - to support these masses.

3. The use of white and black colours and of horses , make this woodcut by Durer look dramatically powerful.

We , humans, cannot foresee when and how the Apocalipse will disclose itself. We know, however, deep inside, that the world is in a big, unsolvable mess and it will eventually have to be destroyed and reset to its original form or to a better one.

Paula Slade said...

"Ignorance, greed, hatred, and want" - an excellent assessment for these turbulent and troubled times.

DUTA said...

I meant Cameron (the British PM) not Calderon. Sorry for the mistake.

TallTchr said...

Duta, I thought you meant Cameron, but wasn't sure. Also, you used the French, milliards, instead of the English, billions.

My point about the Arab uprisings is that changing their leaders may wind up making no difference. No rebels seems to have a popular agenda for reform, and there are many among them who simply want to double down on Sharia and anti-semitism. However, many of the leaders being assailed are loathsome murderers and no friends of Israel. Do you think Syria or Yemen could do worse?