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Monday
Apr192010

What exactly is “the wrong side of history”? (Part 2)

I want to clear something up from last time.  I meant what I said and I said what I meant.  But I acknowledge that “there is no right side or wrong side of history” sounds very close to something that it is not.  To someone unfamiliar with how these two phrases have been deviously weaseled in to our language, it sounds like I am a moral relativist.  To the untrained ear, it sounds like I am one of those people who believes that no one’s reasons for doing anything in history (or now) should be judged…or that every system for deciding right from wrong is equal, including those systems that purport that no human behavior is ever really particularly wrong or particularly right.

I am not a moral relativist.  I mentioned I occasionally make judgments in history.  I believe that “morally right” and “morally wrong” are accurately applied to some aspects of history.  I agree with that.  I believe that history contains people who do good things, even heroic things; and that it contains people who do bad things, even villainous things.  But I just ask that we stick to our traditional judgments of “morally right” and “morally wrong,” which do not (of necessity) have Marxist assumptions behind them.

I think my readers are bright enough to get it, no matter their academic specialty or interests.  To speak of a “side of history” (whether “right” or “wrong”) implies that history is ultimately “going somewhere” inevitably.  That is the Marxist bit.  Conservatives who use these Marxist phrases have in the past argued to me that they can use them, and either (1) not thereby imply that history is inexorably “going somewhere,” or (2) not actually borrow from Marxist thinking, which they claim to detest.  But they are wrong on both counts.  To speak of a “side of history” (whether “right” or “wrong”) does both unavoidably.  And looking critically reveals that any talk of a “side of history,” whether “right” or “wrong,” says more about the speaker’s or writer’s assessment of the present and hopes for the future, than it says about the past.  The Right needs to get this through its head sooner or later, because Leftist blather about the “right” and “wrong” sides of history, lends fake moral weight to ideas that could in fact be without merit.

Leftists are not normally ashamed of an association with Marxism, and they understand perfectly well they are employing Marxist terms when they say “right side” and “wrong side” of history.  So they do not argue with me as much on the propriety of the usage.

It just disappoints me that hardly anyone on the Right is thinking critically about these phrases and their origins.  So how did Karl Marx conclude that history had an inevitable direction?  In a sentence, he did it by picking and choosing from the philosophy of Friedrich Hegel and then putting his own spin on it.  What did Hegel believe about the inevitability of certain outcomes in society?  That is massively challenging reading, and I put that down as soon as I was no longer getting a grade for it…not because I automatically concluded Hegel was wrong, but because it was just far too difficult for me.

I am just asking people on both sides not to bring up history where history does not belong.  Don’t invoke history when it is clear your concerns are the present and the future, not the past.  History is my friend, and when I hear people, no matter their politics, spread rumors about it that are false, I will defend it.

Thanks for reading.  Comments are welcome.

Jared

Being on 'right side of history' won't help case (Nick Baldock, a former opinion writer for the Yale Daily News)

The wrong side of history? (Jay Ambrose at www.sitnews.us)

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