On the (Political) Epistemology of Drawing Historical Parallels. Why are Misleading Analogies so Attractive, while Real Historical Precedents are Frequently Ignored?

Predavanje je 7. studenog 2017. održao Jón Ólafsson na Europskom sveučilišnom institutu (EUI) u Firenci (sažetak u nastavku).







Sala degli Stemmi 1st Floor, V.Sa.


Dates: Tue 07 Nov 2017 15.00 – 17.00



The rise of Russia in the last few years has ignited a lively public discussion on the “new cold war”. The Russian president is also frequently compared to 20th century dictators and some of his actions, as well as Western reactions are explained in a context of past catastrophes. While historical comparisons can be useful and interesting, parallels of this sort are deeply flawed – and so is the rhetoric cultivated by Russian authorities claiming that there is a fascist dictatorship in the Ukraine and so on. Paradoxically, however, real historical precedents seem to be much less attractive in public discussion – media and social-media alike. The idea of “fake-news” and various forms of disinformation is an interesting example: While for any student of Soviet history – or 19th or 20th Century history in general, fake news is hardly new, in public discussion the abuse of social media for such purposes is sometimes treated as boding the collapse of Western civilization. In the paper I discuss this paradox and propose some explanations of it. I conclude with some reflection on the state of intellectual public discussion. I argue that even in the chaotic environment of propaganda based media, there is reason to belief that “truth-orientedness” of independent public instutitions, such as universities and media organizations, remains a powerful force, and that their importance has perhaps seldom been more than now.



Location: Sala degli Stemmi 1st Floor, V.Sa.
Affiliation: Department of History and Civilization
Type: Lecture
Organiser: Alexander Etkind (European University Institute)
Speaker: Jón Ólafsson (University of Iceland)