Shakespeare’s missing lines are still relevant

The playhouse manuscript, Sir Thomas More, has been called “an immensely complex palimpsest of composition, scribal transcription, rewriting, censorship and further additions that features multiple hands” (Van Es 2019). One of those hands was Shakespeare–and that has contemporary relevance.

The authoritative Arden Shakespeare text (edited by John Jowett 2011) renders a passage from Shakespeare’s Scene 6 as follows (this being Thomas More speaking to a crowd of insurrectionists in opposition to Henry VIII):

What do you, then,

Rising ’gainst him that God Himself installs,

But rise ’gainst God? What do you to your souls

In doing this? O, desperate as you are,

Wash your foul minds with tears, and those same hands,

That you, like rebels, lift against the peace,

Lift up for peace; and your unreverent knees,

Make them your feet to kneel to be forgiven.

Tell me but this: what rebel captain…

But the last two lines had been edited by another of the play’s writers (“Hand C”), deleting the bolded lines Shakespeare had originally written,

Make them your feet. To kneel to be forgiven

Is safer wars than ever you can make

Whose discipline is riot.

In, in to your obedience. While even your hurly

Cannot proceed but by obedience.

What rebel captain….

What has been effaced away by the deletion is, first, the notion that contrition is itself a kind of war and a safer war, at that.

According to the Arden Shakespeare, “The act of contrition might be described as wars because the former rebels would enlist themselves in the struggle of good and evil, and would fight against their own sin of rebellion.” However, in either case—contrition or rebellion—obedience is required. In fact, nothing was less safe than rebellion whose “discipline is riot”. What has also been effaced, in other words, from Shakespeare’s original passage is a clear accent on contrition and peace over continued upheaval.

But lack of contrition by those involved in the formulation and implementation of highly criticized policies is precisely what we have seen and are seeing today.

No global leader is contrite about their woeful handling of the pandemic (speaking of “Wash…those same hands”). No US president has been contrite about the 2002 Bush Doctrine and its entailed Iraqi War. For to prioritize contrition in these matters would mean refocusing obedience from battle to a very different struggle in securing peace and security, a mission in which our ministries of interior and defence are notably inferior.

Principal sources

Sir Thomas More (2011), ed. John Jowett (Arden Shakespeare, third series. Bloomsbury, London)

Van Es, B. (2019). Troubles of a glorious breath. TLS (March 22)

A different take on The Great Confinement (longer read)

Jim:     …the presentation was an eye-opener, Professor. . .

Prof:    Call me Peter. And thanks for the intro and help in setting up…

Jim:     Sure thing. . . Dick, are you coming. . .

Dick:   I’ll stay behind.

Jim:     Professor…

Peter:  Peter.

Jim:     Peter, ah, this is Dick. . .

Dick:   Jim, I’ll handle my own introductions. Thanks.

Jim:     [Turns to Peter] Maybe catch you the next time you’re in the area. . .

Peter:   Right. [Jim leaves.]

[Dick and Peter are about the same age, though both older than Jim. They look at each other, almost say something, but Peter returns to repacking his briefcase. The room quiets and the audience senses things are about to begin.]

Dick:   Well. . .Peter [as if testing the word], you don’t really believe that drivel of a presentation, do you?

Peter:   You came in late, didn’t you. . .Dick?

Dick:   Early enough to catch the guff about rapid population growth exceeding the earth’s carrying capacity. You’re scaring the shit out of …well, almost everyone.

Peter:   It’s pretty obvious that population growth is doing just that.

Dick:   Obvious to everybody but me, you mean.

Peter:   Obvious to everyone. [Closes the briefcase and looks about to leave]

Dick:   You know what I think is going on? The real problem is experts like you generalize too soon too much.

Peter:   “Generalize“?

What, you don’t believe the evidence? You don’t believe greenhouse gases are increasing and climate change disruptions are here to stay and worsen? You don’t believe loss of biodiversity and species extinctions are racing ahead, urban sprawl is metastasizing, waste and pollution out of control?

[More agitated]

. . .That there are just too many people consuming too many things? That global population growth is too fast, that violence and environmental conflict are on the rise everywhere? That what we need more than anything else is to reduce population growth in developing countries and per capita consumption levels in this, our so-called developed world. We went through The Great Confinement and people died all over the place. Did you miss that? You don’t believe the rest? None of it?

Dick:   The Gloomy Scenario. You do it so well:

Quote. Population is bounding forward and without limits; the most rapid growth rates are in the poorest countries; natural resources are exploited and destroyed at ever expanding rates; the gap between rich and poor is wide and widening without stop; technology has fueled overconsumption and environmental degradation; and degradation everywhere continues to accelerate, be it congestion, poor sanitation, or the destruction of ecosystems, fields, forests or fisheries; humans have irreversibly changed conditions for the worse; and, last but certainly not least—right?—disease, conflict, nationalism and worse are burgeoning. Unquote

Peter:   Read my lips: Quality-of-life-is-declining. What do you call the travesty of being confined, all over the world?

But you already know all this. . .

[It’s obvious by this point that there’s much more going on in this exchange, given its intensity.]

Dick:   There it is again: generalizing. For you it’s snap-easy to leap to the global. You guys [Peter looks at him sharply] talk about “global population,” “global CO2,” “global greenhouse gas emissions” “global markets,” and “global pandemics”. Once at the global, it’s the easiest thing for you to homogenize human beings into equalities like per capita statistics and death rates…

Peter:   And your point?

Dick:   If the global has any meaning, it’s exactly the level of analysis where you cannot generalize. The global must–right? by definition?–include all the differences that make up the world and because of that, things have to be too complex to be known with any kind of certainty at such an overarching scale.

Peter:   Repeat: Your answer?

Dick:   If you want answers, start with those really-existing cases where more people mean a better environment, where more people mean less disease, less poverty, less inequality, where more people mean. . .

Peter:   You can’t generalize from a few site-specifics!

Dick:   That is my point: Nor can you generalize either. The global is too full of difference to generalize.

Peter:   So your “answer” is that every time reduced population growth and per capita consumption and globalized disease control are advocated, you find a ready opposite with which to counter? Every example of ours is matched by one of yours?

Dick:   I have no Answers, or at least the big-A ones you lot keep talking about.

My guess is that if you started with all the differences out there before you did anything like abstracting, you’d find many more cases where reduced population growth and per capita consumption and globalized disease control can’t be the solution—and it is precisely these counter examples you and yours don’t talk about.

Peter:   That’s no help, and here too you know that. Start with differences? Which ones?

At this rate, you’ll end up telling us it’s impossible to identify the ones that matter. That way, you don’t need to tell us what will happen if rapid population growth isn’t halted or per capita consumption reduced or what to do to avoid the next Great Confinement. When do we get really worried, as you keep adding to your list of differences? When the earth is suffocating under the weight of 10 billion people? 15 billion? When?

Dick:   There’s no such thing as the earth’s carrying capacity [makes quotation marks in the air with his fingers]. Which one of the hundred so expert estimates are you going to choose as the carrying capacity of the entire earth? And even if you did, there is the techno-managerial elite to regulate to that number?

Worse yet, look what’s happened since the Great Confinement! Supposedly reputable ecologists and experts who wished for an estimate of 7 billion or less now saying, see I told you so, the earth is purging itself of the excess! Just like 19th century veterinarians wishing more rinderpest to reduce Africa’s “overstocking”…

Peter:   We’re million miles apart. What exactly is your point?

Dick:   That things are not what they seem to you. That there are no answers. [Pause]

There’s just. . .right here right now… [at a loss for words, he looks away from Peter]

Peter:   Don’t patronize me. Anyone listening today knows I’m not locked into totalizing answers. What do you want from me? Continually repeating myself…

Dick:   You don’t want to see it, do you?

Peter:   Spare me the condescension. . .

Dick:   No, I mean, Peter, why are you always in a future? Why aren’t you here, with that view [points to the window], in this instant?

Peter:   I am here. I am the one living in the present. We may see the same view, but I’m the only one who wants to ensure it’s there to see. At any time. Your navel-gazing means before we know it it’ll all be gone, not just over, but gone.

Dick:   Who’s “we”, bwana?

Peter:   We—you, me, every—

Dick:   You and me?

Peter:   . . .everyone.  Almost everyone knows we can’t continue using up Nature’s capital. Everywhere cries out for setting limits, for stewarding our resources. . .

Dick:   Stewardship! God, nothing is safe from that gaze. Stop a rocket from leaving earth, and it means you’re stewarding outer space!

There’s nothing you guys say you can’t manage, or at least try to, because there’s nothing that you guys aren’t responsible for stewarding, nothing, anywhere, no matter how far away. “We have no alternative!” you shout.

Talk about delusional. Talk about confinement! Just another garden-variety imperialism…

Peter:   Excuse me, but where were you during the Great Confinement? Haven’t you learned by this point? Repeat, we can’t continue on as we have been doing—and if you want to call that imperialism, capitalism, colonialism, bullshit, be my guest! We can’t go on abusing the planet this way. We have to love it and that means setting limits. . .

Dick:   . . .limits on love?

Peter:   [As if he can’t believe what Dick just said]

. . .when everything cries out for setting limits, safe limits, critical thresholds, establishing carrying capacities, accepting the very real risks that have to be balanced against the so-called benefits of new technologies etcetera. Rangelands, forests, wetlands, that sea over there. Every indicator of sustainability and health is a flashing red light, and here you’re BABBLING as if none of this matters in your version of here and now.

Dick:   You see complete disaster where I see unfinished business.

Peter:   Whatever has this to do with saving the planet?

Dick:   Everything. We can’t save it, because there’s no such planet to save at the level you’re talking about.

Peter:   Christ, what a recipe for despair…

Dick:   Not despair. If we can’t find meaning in what remains, are you telling me you and the others’ll do a better job of finding meaning in the future. . .

Peter:   Just postmodern scholasticism.

Dick:   Not really. “Saving the planet” has meaning only because it’s never possible to finish the task.

Peter:   This is getting nowhere. . .

Dick:   Sure this is getting us somewhere. It means it’s up to us to decide which unfinished business we want to give meaning to.

[Pause] Like any relationship.

Peter:  Everything has always had to be personal for you, on your terms. We can’t generalize, you say. We have to stay specific, you say. When all you’re saying is, I like tea. You like coffee. And there’s the end of it.

Dick:   So you’d still like me to believe.

Peter:   [Long pause, as if finally deciding something] OK, Dick.

What are you really trying to say?

Go on, what is all this to-and-fro about?

Dick:   You know. You knew from the minute we started talking, the minute I showed up in this room…

Peter:   I don’t.

Dick:   You do.

Peter:   No.

Dick:   It has to be your way, like always?

Peter:   You have no solutions, no answers, only opinions, personal views.

Dick:   “Only”?

Peter:   [Pause] What’s the upshot, Dick?

Dick:   Hah! “up-shot-dick”.

Peter:   [Avoiding the obvious] What are you trying to say?

Dick:   Oh, Peter.

Peter:   What.Are.You.Saying—-

Dick:  [Says nothing, and then]

So. . .let’s talk about the anger.

Peter:   Will you PUHLEESSE keep to the point!

Dick:   QED: Anger.

Peter:   Anger?

Dick:   . . .and its flip side, hurt.

Peter:   And you’re not angry. No anger behind all this of your “here and now”?

Dick:   So, we’re both angry and not talking about it.

Peter:   What’s left to say?

Dick:   Ok, Peter, ok.

But try to meet me half way this time around.

Peter:   Your stakes and mine in all this aren’t the same. If they ever were.

Dick:   Try to meet me halfway.

Peter:   Which means?

Dick:   [Realizing Peter is not going to budge]. Ok, your way, Peter.

But enough of the ABSTRACTIONS!

Peter:   [The longest pause of both yet.]

Half way? OK.

When I walked in today, I half hoped you’d be in the room. And when I didn’t see you, I thought, What a fool I’d been to think I could try this. I must have been crazy.

[Another long pause]

…and while we’ve been arguing just now, I wondered for a moment, What would we be saying to each other instead?

Dick:   Me?

…I wanted to come up and cup your face in my hands and say, “When do we kiss? Now, later. . .never?”

Peter:  Hah!

Dick:   I won’t give up my fantasies.

Peter:   You’ve always been crazy for happy endings.

Dick:   That’s bad?

Peter:   Where’s the reality?

Dick:   Love protects reality.

Peter:   Even when the reality then was “Good-bye, Peter”?

Dick:   [Smiling for the first time in the play] That was then!

[Pauses] You know, Peter, no one can put his arm around you [Dick puts his arm around Peter’s shoulder, moves closer] and say [taps Peter’s chest], “You know, Professor, you really are right and have been all along!”

You know that.

[They face each other and Dick slides his other arm onto Peter’s shoulder, moving closer]

Peter:   Your addiction to happy endings. . .

Dick:   Happiness? That too is confined to the mess.

Speaking of crazy, [Dick places his forefinger on Peter’s lips] you always said my mouth was your perfect fit. . .

Peter: Hmmm. So, all the rest we’ve talked all about is left to “Until then if not later”?

Dick: Until then if not before.


A grammar of policy analysis

Graduate students in public policy analysis and management will have come across an idealized sequence for undertaking individual policy analyses: first we define the problem, then we assemble the evidence, then we analyze it, then we specify and evaluate options, then we select a preferred one and make our recommendation. This idealized sequence, or something like it, is cast in the present tense.

My experience is that practicing analysts prefer their idealized sequence to be markedly not in the present tense:

Having completed the analysis, I wrote the memo to recommend changes.

The past gerund indicates a completed analysis, a hope that stands in sharp contrast to real-world policies that seem to be in persisting incompletion—also a very different kind of “present tense” than the one in policy schools. The practicing analyst’s sequence functions to situate analysis within a context that has existed and continues to do so outside the present tense of “we-do-this-and-then-do-that.” It makes explicit—it insists—that “having done the analysis and written our memos” assumes an ongoing outside authority without which there wouldn’t be analysis.

More, the infinitive, “to recommend,” introduces the promise that our memo will be dealt with, albeit outside our control but within a context of which we analysts are part. Indeed, the point of the past gerund/past tense/infinitive formulation is to make clear that, “objectively speaking”, analysts in the present are not to blame for anything like the real-world incompletion all around us.

The point? The gap between the two idealized sequences looks a lot like the gap between the beliefs we say we hold versus the ways we say we practice those beliefs. In neither case need the professed beliefs or practices be the ones we actually hold and undertake. The idealized grammar of policy analysis is like the sundial that marks the sunny hours outside, while we make and take time very much otherwise the second we leave the garden and enter the vestibule.

Principal source

Moretti, F. (2013). The Bourgeois: Between History and Literature. Verso: London and New York

Wicked problems

Scholars criticize the notion of “wicked problems,” arguing that more nuanced sets of terms for complex policy problems are required than the originating “wicked” and “tame” dichotomy. Fair enough, but good enough? Such differentiation may actually reinforce a “there” that still isn’t.

The crux is the intractability associated with wicked problems from the start. “By now we are all beginning to realize that one of the most intractable problems is that of defining problems (of knowing what distinguishes an observed condition from a desired condition) and of locating problems (finding where in the complex causal networks the trouble really lies)” (Rittel and Webber 1973). Again, note the subsequent contribution distinguishing the “more or less” in problem intractability.

That, though, isn’t what worries me about the association with intractability. It’s the narrative discrepancy in commonplaces like “wicked problems are seemingly intractable problems” or “wicked problems seem to be [or “are considered to be”) intractable.”

The implication is that we may be misperceiving them as (more or less) intractable when in fact they aren’t. Then again either something is intractable–more or less, if you wish–or it isn’t. There is no “seems” or “seemingly” about it, once you have defined intractable. At some point then, wouldn’t misperceptions start being dispelled? So, is it misperception or not? Or what?

An answer is that there is an intertext at work that allows such different statements—texts—to be held without being contradictory at the same time. Literary and cultural critic, Michael McKeon (1987/2002), identifies one such intertext:

Genre provides a conceptual framework for the mediation (if not the “solution”) of intractable problems, a method for rendering such problems intelligible. The ideological status of genre, like that of all conceptual categories, lies in its explanatory and problem-“solving” capacities.

This is to say that “the genre of the novel is a technique to engage epistemological and socio-ethical problems simultaneously, but with no particular commitment than that.” To put McKeon’s argument in my terms, the early English novel became its own genre when exemplary novels of that time were characterized in both context and content by complex and at times conflicting positions. Intractability appeared not only as the novel’s subject matter but also in the intermixed conventions of how these matters can be raised.

My view is that the literature on wicked problems is part and parcel of this writing genre. This literature’s content is not only about the intractable, but also its governing context is as historically tangled and conventionalized as that of the English novel. Masses of complexity take center place in wicked problems both by virtue of context and content (akin here to “force and field,” respectively). Even were the notion of wicked problems to make singular sense, that lucidity would betray the complicated context as to what we take to “make sense” in these times and places.

I am not saying wicked problems are fictitious (even so, there is the well-known phenomenon of truth in fiction). Rather, I am saying that pinning wicked problems exclusively to their substance (i.e., wicked problems are defined by the lack of agreed-upon rules to solve them) misses the fact that the analytic category of wicked problems as such is highly rule-bound (i.e., by the historical and social conventions to articulate and to discuss such matters).

How so? Return to the scholarly literature’s attempt to differentiate “wicked” and “tame” problems into more nuanced categories. Doing so is like disaggregating the English novel into romance, historical, gothic and others. That is, such a differentiation need not problematize the genre’s conventions. In fact, the governing conventions may become more complex for distinguishing the more complex content, thus reinforcing the genre as a vesseled intractability. Conventions structure the world so as to make wicked problems possible.

So what? If wicked problems are to better addressed, altogether different conventions and rules—what Wittgenstein called “language games”—will have to be found under which to recast these. . . . well, whatever they are to be called they wouldn’t be “intractable,” would they?

Until such recasting, we are, I think, left somewhere between “Though to/hold on in any case means taking less and less/for granted…” and “to lose/again and again is to have more/and more to lose…” (Amy Clampitt’s lines from “A Hermit Thrush” and Mark Strand’s lines from “To Begin”). By necessity, the search for a “more or less” (in)tractable becomes one of “more and more” or “less and less.” The granularity of our existing policy scenarios–“the devil is in the details!”–remains the starting point.

Principal sources

On wicked problems, start with: Rittel, H. and M. Webber (1973). “Dilemmas in a general theory of planning.” Policy Sciences, 4, 155–169.

On genre, see: McKeon, M. (1987/2002). The Origins of the English Novel, 1600-1740. 15th Anniversary Edition. The Johns Hopkins University Press: Baltimore and London.

On intertext, see: Riffaterre, M. (1990). Fictional Truth. The Johns Hopkins University Press: Baltimore and London.

Related blog entry: “Complexity is the enemy of the intractable.”

Table of key entries

Most Important: “What am I missing?,” “Complexity is the enemy of the intractable,” “Power,” “Interconnected?,” “I believe”

Recasting big policy issues: “Poverty and war,” “Healthcare,” “Second thoughts on income inequality,” “Surprising climate change,” “In a failed state,” “Revolts,” “A colossal inheritance,” and Longer Reads (below)

More recastings: “Policy narratives,” “Recastings #1,” “When the light at the end of the tunnel is the tunnel,” “Loose ends, #3,” “Public Policy Analysis, c.1970 – c.2020: In Memoriam?,” “Sound familiar? Here’s why.”

Not-knowing and its proxies: “Seeing unknowns,” “Inexperience and central banks,” “Managing inexperience,” “Difficulty at risk and unequal,” “By way of distraction…”

Ignorance and uncertainty: “When ignorance does more than you think,” “Optimal ignorance,” “Uncertain superlatives,” “Stopping rules and contested regulation”

Risk, resilience and root causes: “A new standard for societal risk acceptance,” “Three easily-missed points on risks with respect to failure scenarios,” “Risk criteria with respect to asset versus system scenarios,” “Half-way risk,” “Central role of the track record in risk analysis,” “Resilience isn’t what you think,” “Root causes,” “Frau Hitler, again,” “With respect to what?”

Infrastructures: “The real U.S. infrastructure crisis,” “Innovation,” “Take-home messages,” “Who pays?,” “When high reliability is not a trade-off,” “The market failure economists don’t talk about,” “When ignorance does more than you think,” “Catastrophizing cascades,” “Healthcare,” “Interconnected,” “Stopping rules and contested regulation,” “Achilles’ heel of high reliability management”

Environment: “Nature,” “Tansley’s ecosystem,” “Eco-labelling recasted,” “European Union Emissions Trading Scheme, Scenes I and II”

Catastrophe and crisis: “Catastrophizing cascades,” “Jorie Graham’s systemcide,” “The shame of it all,” “Next-ism,” “The future is the mess we’re in now”

More mess, good and bad: “A different take on the traffic mess,” “Happiness: The mess,” “Who pays?,” “Misadventures by design,” “Loose ends, #2,” “Top-of-the-list thinking,” “Take-home messages”

Betterment and good-enough: “Betterment as ‘yes-but’ through ‘yes-and’,” “It’s better between the James brothers,” “Good-enoughs,” “Good-enough dreamers,” “Professional, amateur, apprentice; Or, As good as the fingernails of Manet,” “‘at sea,’ ‘from on high’”

Economism: “Economism,” “Keep it simple?,” “Loose ends,” “When high reliability is not a trade-off,” “Short and not sweet,” “The missing drop of realism,” “The market failure economists don’t talk about”

Longer Reads: “Ammons and regulation,” “The next Constitutional Convention,” “Recalibrating Politics: the Kennedy White House dinner for André Malraux,” “Blur, Gerhard Richter, and failed states,” “A consultant’s diary”

Something less complex?: “Why this blog?,” “Red in tooth and claw,” “What kdrama has taught me”

A colossal inheritance

Under what conditions is it a good thing that one’s beliefs, attitudes and values are not realized as believed, expressed or held? The immediate answer is when those beliefs, attitudes and values are wrong, and this indeed is the charge sheet against the authoritarian personality and totalitarian mind.

The matter is complicated when the opposite of good is good intentions. We probably have just as many cases of good ideas going disastrously wrong as we have of wrong leading to more wrong.[1] Think here of the charge sheet against an utopianism of the perfectibility of humans.

But to believe the latter means explaining how good-in-thought leads to bad-in-practice. In an important sense, it doesn’t matter if you have an utopian or authoritarian mentality. When the world in which action takes place is full of inadvertence (“not resulting from or achieved through deliberate planning”) and contingency (“subject to chance”), it is hardly surprising that difficulty and inexperience come to the fore and work against fulfilling your wishes and dreams.

It’s hard work to implement, operate and manage above and beyond the wants you have. No wonder that the present’s future and the origins of the future’s actual present differ so markedly. Yes, one’s intentions give meaning to one’s actions, but there’s all manner of inadvertent, contingent meanings in the balance.

I am not saying that what happens is in spite of our intentions. Rather, just as war, pandemic and economic precarity create their own contingencies, so too the monumental wreckage of intention—good and bad—creates its own difficulties and inexperience. This mess is constantly unmaking a stable present, or if you want, making a complex one where unrealized wishes and unfulfilled dreams criticize everything that happens instead.

To leave it at that, though, is too negative. The actual challenge remains, in the words of David Alff (2017, 8), one of “demonstrat[ing] how to think with the past’s inadvertent posterity in the moment it tried to build an unknowable here-to-come that we used to viewing [only] through hindsight.” That is: Yes, of course, there is a gap between the past’s future and the present actually realized, but that tells us little about what to do at the rock-face of present difficulty, inexperience and hardship for the here-to-come.[1]

Which would be a banal observation were it not for its first-order implication: We improvise with what’s at hand, or accept failure as an avant-garde in order to reinvent ourselves later on, or we do both. The latter is always an option.

Principal sources

Alff, D. (2017). The Wreckage of Intentions: Projects in British Culture, 1660 – 1730. University of Pennsylvania Press: Philadelphia, PA.

Philippe Parreno, artist, on the ontology of the avant-garde in: DADA: One Hundred Years On. The Art Newspaper (accessed online on February 24 2020 at

[1] This puts to mind Phillip Roth’s rant from American Pastoral (1997, 35):

You get [people] wrong before you meet them, while you’re anticipating meeting them; you get them wrong while you’re with them; and then you go home to tell somebody else about the meeting and you get them all wrong again. Since the same generally goes for them with you, the whole thing is really a dazzling illusion empty of all perception, an astonishing farce of misperception. And yet. . .It’s getting them wrong that is living, getting them wrong and wrong and wrong and then, on careful reconsideration, getting them wrong again. That’s how we know we’re alive: we’re wrong.

[1] It’s important to recognize just how much a prejudice this “reliance on hindsight” is in a world of not-knowing, inexperience and difficulty. Hindsight is a superstition about superior intelligence, in this case our having afterwards a clear way to seeing what now, after the fact, really does matter. Angela Carter, the late novelist, is refreshingly honest on this point: “If you told any sane person in the mid-eighteenth century what the Industrial Revolution would bring in its wake, the kind of human misery it would cause, and how the culmination of it all would be in a nuclear weapon, they’d have said ‘Smash the looms!’ Yet the possibilities of my life are entirely predicated on the products of the Industrial Revolution. . . . But I would probably have said ‘Smash the looms’, too” (quoted in an interview accessed online on April 14, 2018 at

Sound familiar? Here’s why.

His ghastly lack of proper education, his imperfect mastery of the German language, especially of written German, and his complete disregard of logic, were patent. No well thought-out document ever came from his pen, merely vague directions. He fought shy of committing himself. By his order, minutes of conversations were as a rule withheld from the other party. Conferences were bound to break down over his monologues. It was exceedingly difficult to obtain decisions … If made, they were mostly unclear, leaving scope for arbitrary interpretations … and there was no appeal. The “Führer” has decided; to resort to him once more would be blasphemy … No adviser could gain permanent influence. Hitler’s reactions could be skilfully manipulated by “news,” but the explosive effect could not be gauged beforehand. A fairly good memory for facts and figures enabled him to bluff even experts … His violent diction and the tone of his voice intimidated … A smatterer in everything, he was an expert in bluffing. “This last half-hour, while I was resting, I invented a new machine-gun and a contrivance for bridge-building, and composed a piece of music in my head,” he once intimated to a late companion from Landsberg prison, who was duly impressed … He had not the patience to read a lengthy document, but claimed to know Clausewitz by heart. And he often got away with it.

(Erich Kordt, a key foreign affairs official in the Third Reich, quoted in full from an edited 1948 review of Lewis Namier, historian, of Kordt’s Wahn und Wirklichkeit, reprinted in the TLS, November 29, 2019: 38.)

–We’d do better, poet Seamus Heaney said, approaching contemporary politics “at an angle,” as Heaney did through some of his own translations.