The Great Ironies of History

Professor Ann Althouse asks, “By the way, what are the great ironies of history? I've never seen that top 10 list.” That's a good web community project if I ever saw one. But first, we have to figure out what kind of irony is relevant here.

The most common idea is the difference between intention and outcome when trying out great experiments, like the minimum wage hurting low income families. Another form was made famous by Socrates, where one acts ignorant in order to induce another to make statements that can be shown to be ignorant. For the most part, irony is assumed to be saying one thing and meaning another.

I would expect great historic ironies be based on intentions and outcomes, as politics is fraught with people that say one thing and mean another. So what would be the greatest of these?

Let me try one: UN General Resolution 181, otherwise known as the 1947 UN Partition Plan, intended to put an end to the Arab-Israeli conflict by creating the State of Israel. Instead it has been a focal point for continual unrest in the middle east. It lead immediately to the 1948 Arab-Israeli War and further conflicts ever since.

Or, perhaps, we should poke more at the comic ironies of history, for example The Prince by Nicolò Machiavelli, intended to be a satire but taken seriously by far too many people.

History must be full of ironies, what are the greatest ones?

Josh Poulson

Posted Thursday, Apr 26 2007 11:55 AM

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There are 2 comments on this entry.

In keeping with the Mid-East theme I offer this one. In 1947, if you called an Arab a Palestinian he would have taken great offense to it - as you would have insinuated he was a “Jew”.


Posted Thursday, Apr 26 2007 03:25 PM

Great irony of history: if the Hungarians hadn't had two-thirds of their country stolen from them by means of "the right to self-determination," all those folks in East Timor wouldn't have stood a chance...

Russ Mitchell

Posted Thursday, Apr 26 2007 04:45 PM

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