For years I taught Grinnell students about the Russian Revolution. Once, with support from the Rosenfield Program, we even convened on campus a series of lectures on the subject, eventually brought together as a book. With the perspective that most of a century can give, students and scholars attempted not only to chart how the Russian Revolution happened, but also what it felt like. Each time I approached the political and social storm that the Russian Revolution became, I found myself wondering: In the days leading up to the 1917 traumas did people understand what was coming? Or did they, like most people most of the time, assume that tomorrow would be pretty much the same as today? 

During the current coronavirus shutdown, I find myself thinking about this subject again, not because I am worried about Russia’s future. No, I am thinking now about whether the United States stands on the brink of a cataclysm not unlike the one that visited Russia in 1917. Would we recognize the approaching catastrophe? Or would we be surprised?

Signs of the Times