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The Weekly Winston: The Problem of Scale

I’m in the throes of preparing a student lecture for next week on the theme of what Churchill regarded as the central challenge of the 20th century–the problem of scale, i.e., whether events and social trends were escaping the conscious control of individuals.  As he put in in The World Crisis,  “One rises from the study of the causes of the Great War with a prevailing sense of the defective control of individuals upon world fortunes.”  (Emphasis added.)  He offered a more sweeping summary in My Early Life:

The character of society, the foundations of politics, the methods of war, the outlook of youth, the scale of values, are all changed, and changed to an extent I should not have believed possible in so short a time without any violent domestic revolution. . .  I wonder often whether any other generation has seen such astounding revolutions of data and values as those through which we have lived.  Scarcely anything material or established which I was brought up to believe was permanent and vital, has lasted.  Everything I was sure or taught to be sure was impossible, has happened.

 

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