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When Things Fall Apart

LONDON – All over the world today, there is a sense of the end of an era, a deep foreboding about the disintegration of previously stable societies. In the immortal lines of W.B. Yeats’s great poem, “The Second Coming”:

“Things fall apart; the center cannot hold
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world…
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity…
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?”

Yeats’ wrote those lines in January 1919, two months after World War I ended. He instinctively felt that peace would soon give way to even greater horrors.

Almost 50 years later, in 1967, the American essayist Joan Didion chose Slouching Towards Bethlehem as the title of her collection of essays on the social breakdowns of the late 1960s. In the 12 months following the book’s publication, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy were assassinated, inner cities across the United States exploded in riots and French student protesters began the rebellion that toppled President Charles de Gaulle a year later.