A Reminder of History

“To articulate the past historically does not mean to recognize it ‘the way it really was’ (Ranke).  It means to seize hold of a memory as it flashes up at a moment of danger.  Historical materialism wishes to retain that image of the past which unexpectedly appears to man singled out by history at a moment of danger.  The danger affects both the content of the tradition and its receivers.  The same threat hands over both:  that of becoming a tool of the ruling classes.  In every era the attempt must be made anew to wrest tradition away from a conformism that is about to overpower it.  The Messiah comes not only as the redeemer, he comes as the subduer of the Antichrist. Only that historian will have the gift of fanning the spark of hope in the past who is firmly convinced that even the dead will not be safe from the enemy if he wins.  And this enemy has not ceased to be victorious.”

Walter Benjamin (1921) ‘These on the Philosophy of History’

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