The Wrong Side of History

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The Wrong Side of History

Postby Michael » 13 Jun 2012, 15:36

Recently, on my blog, I wrote about the phrases "wrong side of history" and "right side of history", and how they are covers for fuzzy thinking. The phrases are used almost exclusively by progressives against conservatives. My wife told me she had read someone saying that Edmund Burke was on "the wrong side of history", and I recently encountered it in an opinion piece in the Guardian by David Wearing.

Here are my main conclusions:

Wearing and all who use the phrase "right side of history" make a bold, though by no means uncommon, supposition that history favors their morals. They are believers in the Idea of Progress. At least I sincerely hope that it is their morals that are determining their beliefs about the future, rather than vice versa. If the latter is the case then they would, back in the 1930's, have been talking about the need to support Germany in its resurgent militarism, or (later) the necessity of becoming Communist because it (was) the wave of the future.

It is a peculiar, though by no means uncommon, type of human psyche that needs to believe not only that something is good, but that it will inevitably turn out good, that the right shall always triumph over the wrong. I see no reason to believe that this is the case, though I of course hope that it is. I worry that people who must believe that good will triumph are the kind of people who would lose all faith in somethings being good if it could not triumph, that they are pure materialists about goodness, believing (though they would never admit it) that right and might are identical. Even worse than that, it leads to quietism, assuming that History (the replacement for God) will sort things out for the best, the natural counterpart of impotency in the face of events.

I was worried that the Spinoza quote I head the post with is a bit too oblique, but I think it still fits.

I thought of posting this under the Calling Things By Their Right Names thread, but thought it was a phrase so common, and so frequently thrown at conservatives by progressives, that it deserved its own thread.
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Re: The Wrong Side of History

Postby Caleb » 15 Jun 2012, 05:29

Michael: I think the phrase "right side of history" can be used meaningfully.

I think that first and foremost, a society needs to protect itself and ensure its own survival and standard of living. That is being on the right side of history, i.e. surviving through history.

I think supporting dictators in the Middle East and elsewhere has been a bad thing. Maybe it was necessary during the Cold War, but it was still a bad thing, both practically (in terms of its blowback) and morally.

However, the West is now in the process of hoisting itself by its own petard. If it promotes democracy, it risks Islamism spreading. If it restricts democracy, then it loses any sort of moral high ground, including amongst many in the West. Those are two ways in which entanglement in the Middle East in particular may cause existential threats to Western nations and culture.

The third way is that it may simply bankrupt the West. America has spent enormous amounts of money fighting wars over the past decade that have resulted in fragile peace at best. It simply can't afford to keep doing so, let alone to expand the project. This financial drain may lead to real existential crisis at home.

I actually believe that what the West needs to do is to sort out energy policy. Once that happens, it can let the Middle East do whatever it wants to itself. The West should then basically close its borders to the region (and also stop supplying any aid whatsoever) and if anyone from that region wants to cause problems in/for the West, respond with overwhelming force. That region would then be presented with a very clear choice economic choice: remain a barbaric hellhole (be on the wrong side of history) or get with the programme and modernise and civilise (be on the right side of history). As long as we keep giving them money for oil (something they haven't had to work for or use any ingenuity to get), we keep propping up stupid ideas. It's really just the welfare state writ large and international.
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