Monday, June 16, 2008

Getting on History's Wrong Side

Erstwhile conservative columnist Armstrong Williams wants us to know that he finds himself sorely tempted to vote for Barack Obama:

“I don't necessarily like his policies; I don't like much that he advocates, but for the first time in my life, history thrusts me to really seriously think about it," Williams said. "I can honestly say I have no idea who I'm going to pull that lever for in November. And to me, that's incredible.” (“Faced with first major black candidate, black conservatives consider voting for Obama”).

That’s incredible to me, too. But let’s not kid ourselves that it constitutes “seriously thinking about” anything. Not when a man with considered conservative principles votes for a candidate whose positions so impossibly contradict his own, and tries to claim he’s being compelled to put him in power by the “thrusts” of history.

Conservatives believe deeply in studying history, and in taking its lessons seriously. But we know the difference between history and destiny. We let history tell us what happened and help us perhaps understand why. We don’t let history tell us what to do. Belief in free will excludes such a view of history. That’s why the late William F. Buckley could say conservatism “stands athwart history, yelling Stop, at a time when no one is inclined to do so, or to have much patience with those who so urge it.”

In one of my favorite passages of John Le Carre, his protagonist asks the East German librarian he’s falling for if she believes in God. “I believe in history,” she answers back. And the protagonist, a British spy during the height of the Cold War, has to laugh cynically at himself for having fallen in love with a Communist.

Liberals take a different view of history, one in which free will and human achievement play less of a role, if any, compared with blind forces pushing humanity (or nowadays, The Planet), towards Progress. Especially is this so on the Left’s Marxist extreme (the extreme to which Obama belongs). Like Le Carre's East German party member, history is something to be believed in, like a god, but an impersonal, evolutionary, steamroller kind of a god, rolling inexorably toward a predetermined outcome.

Implicit in this theory of history is that if you don’t go with it, you get run down. That's why it's good to stay on the right side of history, the side that's running down, rather than the side getting run down.

From the French Revolution, to the Third Reich, to Maoist or Stalinist Communism, to Pol Pot, people predicting how the future must be, and then pretending that “history” demands we all help the world go there, have led to the world’s worst running over of people on the wrong side of history.

I’m not saying Armstrong’s a Communist. Nor am I saying that fervently desiring the country elect a black President is comparable to China’s Cultural Revolution.

It's not the desire for a black President that troubles me. It's the conviction that this particular person must be President--whether he's fit to be or not--because he's black, which proves "history" has selected him for the role.

There's no deity named History commanding us to elect Barack Obama as President.

Whether Barack wins or loses, history will continue. (I'm personally inclined to believe that if he's elected, American history may not continue as much longer as otherwise).

Putting it another way, history doesn’t need our help. Like ecology, whenever we try to help it along, we usually make things a lot worse.

Let's leave history out of it. We should just do the right thing, for the right reasons, and history will take care of itself.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This boggles the mind...
I thought conservatives were smarter than this.