Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (1995)
History is the fruit of power, but power itself is never so transparent that its analysis becomes superfluous. The ultimate mark of power may be its invisibility; the ultimate challenge, the exposition of its roots.
When reality does not coincide with deeply held beliefs, human beings tend to phrase interpretations that force reality within the scope of these beliefs. They devise formulas to repress the unthinkable and to bring it back within the realm of accepted discourse.
The seventeenth century saw the increased involvement of England, France, and the Netherlands in the Americas and in the slave trade. The eighteenth century followed the same path with a touch of perversity: the more European merchants and mercenaries bought and conquered other men and women, the more European philosophers wrote and talked about Man.
Between the first slave shipments of the early 1500s and the 1791 insurrection of northern Saint-Domingue, most Western observers had treated manifestations of slave resistance and defiance with the ambivalence characteristic of their overall treatment of colonization and slavery. On the one hand, resistance and defiance did not exist, since to acknowledge them was to acknowledge the humanity of the enslaved. On the other hand, since resistance occurred, it was dealt with quite severely, within or around the plantations. Thus, next to a discourse that claimed the contentment of slaves, a plethora of laws, advice, and measures, both legal and illegal, were set up to curb the very resistance denied in theory.
Built into any system of domination is the tendency to proclaim its own normalcy. To acknowledge resistance as a mass phenomenon is to acknowledge the possibility that something is wrong with the system.
My moral turn to history may begin with this extraordinary capacity of liberals since at least the Enlightenment to feel good about themselves while history goes on its merry bloody way.
What is new today is not globalization as such—we are too late for that. Rather, what is unique to our times is the widespread awareness of global processes among increasingly fragmented populations. That awareness grows everywhere, largely because of the increase in both the size and the velocity of global flows. Capital, populations, and information move in much greater mass and at increasing speed. At the same time, most human beings continue to act locally.
Thus, we are witnessing the rise of what I call "a fragmented globality." World histories and local histories are at once becoming both increasingly intertwined and increasingly contradictory. The twenty-first century is likely to be marked by the speed and brutality of these contradictions.