Environmental devastation may be coming—indeed, may be upon us—and that fact may be irreversible. But a planet riven with religious intolerance, political disunity, and avoidable wars will fall prey to the worst effects of that devastation far more quickly and to a far greater extent than will a planet that has at long last decided to make common cause for the mutual good. Europe in the early Dark Ages did not learn this lesson, and it is arguable, again, that—given the centuries-old ways of warlike or merely dissolute life that had been developing among the barbarian tribes and the Romans—any single event can be chosen, the reversal of which would have forestalled the horrors to come, or that any one leader can be selected, whose survival (or death) would have meant a similarly changed set of ensuing circumstances. Hard times were approaching, and could not be stopped; but had they been faced together, could their effects at least have been mitigated? Can they, in the modern era?
Lapham’s Quarterly, Winter 2008
Photo: Dresden, c. 1946