History is Teleological

In December 1931 a British politician crossing Park Avenue in New York between Seventy-sixth and Seventy-seventh streets around ten-thirty at night looked in the wrong direction and was knocked down by an automobile—a moment, he later recalled of a man aghast, a world aglare: ‘I do not understand why I was not broken like an eggshell or squashed like a gooseberry.’ Fourteen months later an American politician, sitting in an open car in Miami, Florida, was fired on by an assassin; the man beside him was killed. Those who believe with Spencer and Engels that individuals make no difference because substitutes are ‘sure to be found’ (Engels) might well ponder whether the next two decades would really have been the same had the automobile killed Winston Churchill in 1931 and the bullet killed Franklin Roosevelt in 1933. Would Nevil Chamberlain or Lord Halifax have rallied Britain in 1940? Would John N. Garner have produced the New Deal and the Four Freedoms? Suppose, in addition, that Lenin had died of typhus in Siberia in 1895 and Hitler had been killed on the western front in 1916. What would the twentieth century have looked like now?

Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. Cycles of History quoted in Guinness, p. 33

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