In his 1852 essay, “The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte,” Marx recalls a saying from Hegel, “that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice.” Marx adds, “He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.”
Often forgotten, Marx follows with an equally telling observation: “Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past.” He warns, “The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living.” That nightmare defines 21stcentury U.S. politics.
In 1873, Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner published The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today, a popular work that satirized the greed and political corruption of the modern era. The term “gilded age” stuck, signifying a period lasting from the 1870s to 1910s. It epitomized the rise of a new class of capitalists, the “robber barons,” who promoted innovation with shady business scams that fostered corporate tyranny.