The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same

Guess the year:

Murderous organizations have increased in size and scope; they are more daring, they are served by the most terrible weapons offered by modern science, and the world is nowadays threatened by new forces which, if recklessly unchained, may some day wreck universal destruction. The Orsini bombs were mere children’s toys compared with the later developments of infernal machines. Between 1858 and 1898 the dastardly science of destruction had made rapid and alarming strides…

No, that wasn’t a typo. “Between 1858 and 1898….” This quote is from Major Arthur Griffith, Mysteries of Police and Crime, London, 1898, II, p. 469. It’s quoted in: Walter Laqueur, A History of Terrorism, New Brunswick/London, Transaction Publishers, 2002.

Posted on October 10, 2008 at 12:30 PM20 Comments


Albatross October 10, 2008 1:18 PM

“Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it,” Santayana.

Of course, he had nothing to say about those who deliberately re-create historical conditions in order to profit from the situation, which is why we are now facing a SECOND Great Depression…

Eadwacer October 10, 2008 1:27 PM

Sometimes history doesn’t repeat itself. Sometimes it picks up a club and says “Weren’t you listening the first time?” — Pratchett

Clive Robinson October 10, 2008 3:00 PM

What gave the date away for me was “infernal machines” it was the expression used at that time for bombs with timing devices (and I guess it’s just as applicable these days).

On a slight side note as Bruce will know there is “a bit of a thing” at the moment in the U.K. and esspecialy London about gun crime.

Well a few years ago (actually nearly a quater of a century 😉 I had a young lady friend who was doing a degree at a London University. Part of it was investigating how the levels of violent crime and the attendent punishments had changed.

Well having gone through a considerable number of news papers from around that time I can tell you that gun crime was higher then than it is now, and the sentances handed down for non leathal results averaged about 18 months hard labour. The main difference was each case barely merited more than 1/2 inch of column space…

So some things are slightly better than a century and a half ago, but not by much….

Silly Ratfaced Git October 11, 2008 12:20 AM


I’ve heard that your having a media driven freakout about knife crime as well.

I don’t have the statistics, but I suspect that per capita knife incidents in the UK are probably about the same as they have always been. The media has decided to publish a story every time anyone waves a knife. If you know of any data on this, please point me to it.

In spite of my nym, I’m actually in the US.

rip October 11, 2008 7:51 AM

of course, the answer to terrorism is universal repression by simple minded authoritarians.
If everyone is surveiled and punished from birth, there is no possibility that anyone could grow up to become a protester or other form of terrorist. This of course would also require a lot of book burning, books that may have ideas that could incite someone to think differently, not necessary for the burners to read them and make decisions, just burn any book that may not aid repression and de education, not allowing the public to be trusted with ideas that incite individualism, anti groupthink. A perfect society, such as is now only seen at the sarah palin rallies.

crossbuck October 11, 2008 6:32 PM

This may actually end up more a second Panic of 1873 rather than a second Great Depression. I suspect it will be like both and neither. We have a big problem of running low on natural energy resources this time that didn’t even enter the picture the two other times. Along with warming, etc. There may be too many tough choices for humans to handle wisely.

Clive Robinson October 12, 2008 12:53 AM

@ crossbuck,

“There may be too many tough choices for humans to handle wisely.”

No, only for those who “chose to serve” as our executive.

You have to ask a simple but very valid question,

“Are the lunatics running the asylum?”

That is in a “free market economy” where success is based only on the amassing of wealth, those who’s only interest in doing this are most likley to succeed.

In essence the greater the risks you take the greater are the rewards, but so are the failiers. It’s effectivly a multiplayer zero sum game or if you prefer a “Pyramid Selling Scam”.

However to “realy succeed” your mentality must be such that you can compleatly disrigard the downside that for every major success there are multiple failiers of varying degrees.

That is the mentality required for success in a free market economy is getting on for socio/psycopath.

And this has been (to a limited extent) been confirmd.

Now as we know due to other human failings wealth buys influence and power. That is those “who chose to serve” have a different set of skills which are only marginaly rewarding (ie ego food). There a number of them who are therefor quite happy to accumulate wealth by renting out their skills to those who wish to influence them.

Now it does not matter what you chose to call it (lobbying / cash for honours / sleeze / pick your own name) it is basicaly detrimental to the welfare of the general populus.

However without a suitable reward system inovation generaly tends to fall by the wayside. Put simply the easiiest way to get a dog to do tricks is with food treats.

Humans being (supposadly) more complex creatures have a whole range of reward systems available to them.

However those who’s sole purpose in life is to accumulate wealth only understand the monetary reward system. And importantly they only respect people who are only interested in that reward system.

Unfortunatly they regard all other reward systems as being something they can convert to their reward system at an advantage to themselves. Simple examples of this are “empty job titles”, and asigning people work spaces adjacent to windows etc.

When another reward system gains prominance such that it “can’t be bought” or traded trouble starts. For instance look at Microsoft’s CEO Steve Ballmer’s assertions that open source practitioners are “cancers” “communists” etc.

When ridicule fails they then turn to those who “can be bought” to get their world view impossed on to those with the differing world view. Step up to the plate those “who chose to serve” with the most negotiable morals…

Eventually the pedulum swings to far in the direction of those who chose to buy / influance politicians to get their world view enforced on an unwilling populas.

However the degree to which it can swing is bassed on how well they can carry the populus along by guile or misdirection. The better they are at it the further the pendulum moves in their favour. But in the end either society changes or the pendulum comes back…

When it does come back you get an “economic readjustment” as a result. Unfortunatly the further the pedulum has swung away from the real societal norms the further and faster it comes back and the more the transition looks like a blood bath.  

Tom Welsh October 12, 2008 12:38 PM

I’ll see your quotation and raise you the following:

“The governments of the present day have to deal not merely with other governments, with emperors, kings and ministers, but also with the secret societies which have everywhere their unscrupulous agents, and can at the last moment upset all the governments’ plans”. – Benjamin Disraeli

At the end of the 19th century the terrorist threat (and they did use the word “terrorist”) assumed monstrous proportions, immensely greater than the actual handful of conspirators and bombers ever deserved.

Tim Ford October 13, 2008 6:30 AM

This subject does seem to have been very well forgotten by history. However, Joseph Conrad’s “The Secret Agent” is an excellent read and, whilst fictional of course, deals with many of the issues of those troubled times. It is also a great introduction to the magnificent works of Conrad.

rip October 13, 2008 9:13 AM

Thanks for that link Clive, very interesting although I had already known the broad outlines, it was very contemporary, in such things as the “treaty of friendship” with Laos, and the keeping of the khmer rouge in isolated forests by the vietnamese to justify the continued occupation. and the arming of the KR by thailand and the reagan administration. It really parallels the currnent status of forces talks in iraq, the keeping of osama for the bush justifications, The arming of the insurgents as a counterweight to the iraqi government etc. ‘le plus ca change, le plus sa mem chose.”

bob October 13, 2008 9:17 AM

@Emmanuel Pirsch: If I may expand on your observation-

I knew this was before (date/)… “(government blank-check root password/)” was not in the article 😉

date root pw
—— ———–
2001 terrorist
1991 children
1981 drugs
1971 inflation
1961 space
1951 communism
1941 fascism
1931 depression

J.D. Abolins October 13, 2008 12:34 PM


Nice starter list of decades & their buzzwords. Go back a few decades further to 1901 and “anarchists” would be on the list. with their “propaganda of the deed”.

Depending upon the geographic location, going back 500 years or so might have yielded among Europeans the word “saracens”.

Go back a thousand years or so, “norsemen” would be on the list for the English and other Western Europeans’ list as the major existential threat.

Each day or era has its own anxieties.

This is one of the benefits of reading histories and old accounts of then contemporary events, you get to see that so many of the new worries are not so new and, maybe, see some lessons for the present.

Bryan Feir October 14, 2008 10:04 AM

@J.D. Abolins:
Not to mention “Wobblies” for 1911… people keep forgetting that the 1950s were the second big Red Scare, the first one starting with the Wobblies and escalating after the Russian Revolution.

Korg June 17, 2010 7:50 PM

In the list of societal root passwds, let’s not forget “deadbeat dads”. Not sure of the exact years; sometime in the 1980s or 90s.

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