Edited by Lars Magnusson and Jan Ottosson
Chapter 1: Path Dependence versus Path-breaking Crises: An Alternative View
1. Path dependence versus pathbreaking crises: an alternative view Bo Stråth THE ANGEL OF HISTORY There is a famous interpretation by Walter Benjamin of Paul Klee’s painting of Angelus Novus or The Angel of History as Benjamin conceptualizes him. The Angel gazes with a wide-open mouth and extended wings on the heap of the ruins of History. A strong wind blows from Paradise and prevents the Angel from closing its wings, or from coming closer to the past at which it gazes. The wind drives the Angel unceasingly, with its back towards the future. According to Benjamin, this wind, which began in Eden, is what we call progress. Klee’s painting and Benjamin’s interpretation have provoked many comments (cf. Niethammer, 1989; Stråth, 1991, pp. 132–3). The landscape that the Angel sees, driven into the future with its back ahead, changes continuously. Can the journey of the Angel through this landscape be conceptualized as path dependency? In a certain sense yes, because there is no way it can escape its connection to the past. However, the question is whether the ruins of History constitute a path. Is there a pattern or some organizing principle in the landscape? Or is all in a chaotic heap of ruins? These questions have occupied historians since the Enlightenment. The Enlightenment philosophers believed in rationality and in the progress of History conforming to law. Few were on this point more consequent than Hegel when he mapped the movement of Reason through history. Hegel’s influence...
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