One lesson from January 6th: Karl Marx had it backwards
In 1852 Marx published his famous remarks about history repeating itself: “Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.” (The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte)
The opposite is often true: the first time as farce, the second time as tragedy. For example, Adolf Hitler in 1923 led the “Beer Hall Putsch” in Munich. His plan was to seize the Bavarian state government and then march to Berlin. Police blocked the path of 2500 or so Nazi supporters heading toward the Bavarian Defense Ministry. Most of the marchers were unarmed, and police killed sixteen of them.
Hitler escaped that day by crawling along the pavement, but police arrested him two days later and he spent a year in prison, where he wrote what became the Nazi bible, Mein Kampf (“My struggle”). In 1933 Hitler became Germany’s chancellor and by November 8, the Beer Hall Putsch’s tenth anniversary, had dictatorial powers.
First farce, then tragedy. On January 6, 2021, a mob of 2000 or so Trump supporters invaded the U.S. Capitol. They were as ineffective as the Nazis ninety-eight years earlier. Some chanted “Hang Mike Pence” and others equated Nancy Pelosi with Jezebel and wanted to defenestrate her, but rioters didn’t get their hands on any lawmakers. A few in the mob were armed, and Capitol Police killed one invader, but overall the insurrection was so farcical that Trumpists could claim it really wasn’t one.
First farce, then tragedy. In November, Megyn Kelly on her Sirius radio show predicted that if Donald Trump is jailed in 2024, “the country’s going to burn.” Tucker Carlson responded, “Speaking of violence, that’s what you’re gonna get . . . If you leave people no alternative, then what do you think is going to happen?” These media leaders are giving people on the extreme right a license to kill. Mediacrats of the left will say similar things If Trump is elected. A subsequent Trump crackdown would lead to more violence.
A top-down political solution seems unlikely: The hollowed-out Republican and Democratic establishments seem unlikely to save us by finding better candidates. Nor should we expect bottom-up movement: On the screens that now rule us, anger sells. Other alternatives exist—among them, prayer.