There are two anti-historical ways of looking at the past. The first, which we have allowed ourselves to accept for some time now, is that of the politics of inevitability, according to which history can only move in one direction: liberal democracy. Convincing ourselves of this, we lowered our defences, and paved the way for the very regimes that we had convinced ourselves would never be able to return. This type of politics is like a self-induced coma: once accepted, we are convinced that the story was indeed inevitable and, therefore, no longer relevant; that nothing can really change, and that chaos is sooner or later absorbed by a self-regulated system.
The second is that of the politics of eternity, which does look to the past, but does so in an egocentric way, devoid of any concern about the real facts. There is a desire to go back to past times, even though they were actually disastrous, or never actually existed in the first place. Brexit is an example of this, in that it was the product of the desire of one group of people to return to a British nation that never really existed: from the British Empire, Great Britain transitioned straight into becoming a member of the European Union.
If we don’t analyse history properly, it will be easy to move from an already ingrained type of politics based on inevitability, to a politics of eternity, from inertia, because we think that progress is inevitable, and continuing to do nothing, because we think that history moves in continuous and repetitive cycles.
The only thing capable of interrupting these mechanisms is history itself: history affords us the opportunity to glimpse patterns and warning signs, and thus act responsibly. It never repeats itself in exactly the same fashion, but it can forewarn and instruct subsequent generations.
Referring mainly to the United States, the author provides 20 lessons selected from events occurring in the twentieth century, adapting them to the circumstances of today. He argues that regimes, such as fascism and communism, were born in response to globalisation, and the inequalities (either real or perceived) that it created, and the apparent inability of democracies to deal with them.