Forbidden Fruit

Forbidden Fruit –
Counterfactuals and International Relations
By Richard Ned Lebow
Princeton University Press – £19.95

In the third chapter of this compelling, cogitative book (‘Franz Ferdinand Found Alive: World War I Unnecessary’), Richard Ned Lebow quotes the distinguished British historian F. H. Hinsley as having said: ‘’If the Sarajevo crisis had not precipitated a particular great war, some other crisis would have precipitated a great war at no distant date.’’

Such words will no doubt have triggered resounding debate amid the countless corridors of power and counterfactuals of yore; the sort of which, the author may well have been addressing in his opening gambit: ‘’[…] counterfactuals must be considered one more tool to help us make sense of our chaotic and unordered world, where knowledge sometimes has the effect of accelerating disorder.’’

Might it be said or at considered, that these are among the most philosophically brazen words ever put together. For if such be the case, then perhaps religion isn’t so much the opium of the masses, as the continuity of the masses; whilst the various bouts of book burning down the ages, have invariably proven to be a complete, hideous waste of time.

Forbidden Fruit- Counterfactuals and International Relations, Lebow places numerous literary cats (all angular and anguished) among numerous bespoken pigeons (all definite and diligent), so as to detonate an altogether other reasoning – not previously taken into account. For instance, would the First World War have been averted – had the aforementioned Franz Ferdinand and his wife not been murdered? Would The Cold War have ended the way it did – had Ronald Reagan been killed by Hinckley’s bullet?

Much preponderance is brought to bear upon such anchored trajectory of (over analyzed) debate. With regards the first dilemma, Lebow writes: ‘’The scholarly literature on World War I is disproportionately devoted to its underlying causes; proximate causes are given short shrift and generally considered unproblematic. Is this emphasis warranted? Was a European war really inevitable? Could the twentieth century have unfolded differently?’’

Even more illuminating, is the importance and the subjugation of the arts within the counterfactual minefield. In ‘Making Sense of the World,’ the author chooses to play devil’s advocate in relation to history, by declaring: ‘’[…] Aristotle argued that fiction – by which he meant all forms of poetry, including tragedy – was superior to history, which merely described events, because it had the power to order them in abstract ways and thereby convey deeper truths […]. Modernist writers, among them Joyce, Pound, and Eliot, insisted that no era had a monopoly on experience, understanding, and wisdom and that recovery of the past was essential to human fulfilment. They embraced poetry as the appropriate vehicle toward this end. Nietzsche went a step further and insisted that art and music spoke a truth that went beyond words and had the potential to free people from the tyranny of logic.’’

There is a tort, and severe shortage of such translucent thinking amid much of today’s historical, philosophical dogma. Indeed, if only the powers that be were to embrace the truth of poetry, art and music.

If nothing else, Forbidden Fruit shows how, through counterfactual, alternative thinking, a resounding acknowledgement of the arts can be achieved. And were its promotion to actually take place, Lebow hints at the degree to which society would surely gravitate towards a (more) gentler ethos. Which in and of itself wouldn’t be a bad thing.

David Marx


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