Why The Left are Getting it Wrong on History.

The events that transpired in the wake of the Charlottesville atrocities have sparked a wave of hyperbole across the USA. Public statues have been the focus of this upheaval. Several monuments have been defaced across the United States by radical activists. America and indeed the western world’s relationship with our past in under considerable strain. But why is tearing down monuments and rewriting history books only the preserve of the radical few?

Rather than getting upset or producing a long social media tirade against these actions. I set myself the mission of trying to understand why some individuals are so determined to remould our relationship with history.

My first stop was the Black Lives Matter movement’s website. On their principles list, I found many things that I agree with; celebrating differences between communities, helping Black American’s stay out of prison, encouraging empathy between communities etc. Yet there were other areas that I thought were out of place.

This case was indicative of what I found throughout my journey. What the ‘left’ currently stands for is generally quite difficult to ascertain. Of the campaign groups I looked at, very few had straight forward goals. I found it hard to believe that the membership of these social movements was fully on board with the lofty ideals of their organisers. I struggle to imagine that most Black Americans think that ‘cis-gender privilege’ is an issue of the utmost concern to them.

This highlighted to me the reason why the left is getting it wrong on history. The rhetoric coming from groups like Black Lives Matter alienate most people they claim to represent. The positive things left-wing intellectuals promote get lost in an ocean of unintelligible waffle.

We only need to look at academia to understand where this issue originates.

It is no secret that many academics are left-wing. This is true in Britain as well as America. While the shopping revolution has been busy transforming the west since the 1980s. Left-wing academics have been busy in their offices. Scribbling away next to their first editions of Dialectic of Enlightenment and The Affluent Society.

Historically we occupy interesting times. Never before has such a large proportion of the population received higher education (around 20% apparently).  While the numbers of graduates have increased, the role of ‘the academic’ has changed considerably. It is hard to imagine a fledgeling university graduate today producing a weighty tome of thought-provoking polemic in the way that Joseph Schumpeter or Bertrand Russel used to. Young PhD students these days are consigned to producing ‘micro-histories’. The Role of Bone China in Revolutionising Working Class Houses in 1820s Newcastle for example. More ambitious enterprises are given over to senior academics.

It is not surprising that as areas of research become obscure. The general population pay less attention to what these left-wing academics are talking about.

As new ideas spring up, they are usually promoted by an enthusiastic vanguard before being absorbed by the public at large. When one thinks about the 1960s. It is hard not to imagine Hippies taking psychoactive drugs at Woodstock and dancing in a circle. This image ignores the many millions of people who lived through the 60s without abandoning their shoes or resorting to polygamy. What millions of people did, however, was incorporate the aspects of Hippie culture they found acceptable into their lives. Perhaps donning a tie dyed headband or buying a Bob Dylan record.

Similarly, during Mao’s Cultural Revolution, there were the extremists who waved their little red books and spied on their family members. Yet, even with the backing of a brutal dictator millions of Chinese did not abandon Confucian culture lock stock and barrel.

I believe the people defacing statues are a small but determined band of radicals. While their actions may attract support online. The impact of their revolutionary edge will be dulled by the demands of popular approval. While many on the left revel in the militancy of their comrades. They forget that many people do not share or comprehend their beliefs.

The way that many left-wing radicals have framed their positions in this debate misjudges what most disadvantaged Americans actually want.  My search for understanding took me to a discussion about structural white supremacy in Baltimore. It became clear to me that the panel did not mirror the desires of the people they claimed to represent.

The regular African Americans appeared to want a fair deal from the government. I absolutely agree that current levels of public spending are way too high. However, it is not unreasonable that under the existing system people get equal treatment from the state.

While the participants on the video waxed lyrical about ‘dismantling structural oppression and building a redistributionist society’. What the individuals on the ground seemed to desire was the same capacity to consume and go shopping that their fellow Americans possess. It is easy for the left to make discontent with the current state of affairs look like the precursor to the October Revolution. What I found was that people simply wanted a more equitable slice from the same pie. Not a bigger pie.

The left-wing activists I came across combined the desires of ordinary Americans with untoward Marxist drivel.

In the aftermath of the Charlottesville riot. It became clear to me that having a debate about whether known Confederate generals who fought for slavery on display in public parks might be worthwhile. Perhaps they belong in a civil-war museum instead? As one African-American man suggested.

Some on the left see history as an exercise in cultural flagellation that needs to happen in order embrace multiculturalism. They ignore that multiculturalism is already happening. It can and does exists without rewriting our past. I agree that history should not be a celebration of the past as much I believe it should not be a universal condemnation.

By telling ‘white people’ that history should be an act of collective repentance while Black History Month should be celebrated is insulting and alienating. People are not cosmic pawns of historical forces. The past needs to be something we can all access, not just Marxist university PhD students.

Left-wing intellectuals have a strong academic tradition. I believe that the left as it stands is retreating into an ivory tower, and that is why millions of people are scratching their heads every time they open their mouths.

 

  11 comments for “Why The Left are Getting it Wrong on History.

  1. Paul Marks
    Aug 21, 2017 at 3:18 pm

    “Black Lives Matter” is a Marxist “front” organisation – in that it is not “up front” with its Marxism, but it is Marxist controlled.

    Much of the education system and media is dominated by Marxist ideas (especially of the Frankfurt School of Marxism) essentially by the spreading of assumptions (rather than formal agents) as suggested by the Italian Marxist Gramsci (independently of the Frankfurt School). The Marxist left have achieved something close to a “cultural hegemony” in the United States and other Western nations – at least in terms of the universities and “mainstream” media (especially the entertainment media – Hollywood and so on). With a few hold-outs such as Hillsdale College in Michigan.

    Does this mean we should be on the side of the Nazis? Of course NOT.

    The correct position (on the riots and so on) is “a curse on both your houses”.

    • Aug 23, 2017 at 9:33 am

      The rhetoric on both sides is indeed troubling. I can only hope that people will look back on this time as a dark chapter in our recent history and vow ‘never again’.

      Despite the fierce words of some prominent activists, I am more optimistic than many Americans. It is my sincere belief that minority communities in the USA do not want to overturn the existing state of affairs, they merely want the same opportunities as their white neighbours. This is what the current evidence suggests anyway…

  2. Ken Ferguson
    Aug 21, 2017 at 4:44 pm

    On their principles list, I found many things that I agree with; celebrating differences between communities

    Really? You are a cultural relativist?

    In my view the celebration of the diversity of communities is one of the greatest causes of pain and conflict. Forget communities- think individuals free from historical and cultural bonds.

    • Richard Carey
      Aug 25, 2017 at 8:31 pm

      “Forget communities- think individuals free from historical and cultural bonds.”

      How is this going to work? Your conception of the individual is shaped by history and culture, as is the language you use. An individual freed from historical and cultural bonds would be a lonely savage.

  3. Richard Carey
    Aug 25, 2017 at 8:22 pm

    What the leftists want is to burn everything down.

  4. Ken Ferguson
    Aug 30, 2017 at 6:18 am

    Your conception of the individual is shaped by history and culture

    Yes of course, but it doesn’t mean it’s a good thing!!

    As a child I was taught to hate the English and celebrate Bannockburn. In my community Roman Catholics were perceived as barely human. As an individual I now have more nuanced views on these matters- I have freed myself from those historical and cultural bonds. I think that’s a good thing and have no wish to take on the bonds of others. For example I have no plans to convert to Islam or even to join a political party.

    “Celebrating the differences between communities” reinforces community values and ultimately results in conflict.

    • Richard Carey
      Sep 12, 2017 at 5:16 am

      “I have freed myself from those historical and cultural bonds.”

      These make up only a tiny fraction of the historical and cultural bonds into which you were born and raised, and most of it you have not freed yourself from, such as the English language.

  5. Paul Marks
    Oct 24, 2017 at 10:12 pm

    Individuals “free” from culture and history would be brute beasts – savage animals.

    That does not mean that their are not universal and objective moral principles – there are and we can find them and choose to act upon them. But one can not have fully functioning people without a culture – and that culture includes history.

    That does not mean that one would have sided with Robert E. Lee and “Stonewall” Jackson – personally I would have made the same choice that the Virginian General George Thomas made (not to “turn his coat” – to keep wearing the blue one). But that does not mean that I do not respect Robert E. Lee and “Stonewall” Jackson.

    Indeed, up to recently, nearly everyone respected them – yes Lee did not free his last slaves till 1862 (exactly in line with the will of his father in law – that said the slaves were to be freed in five years after his death, the man died in 1857) and “Stonewall” owned slaves – and taught them to read and write (for which he could have been sent to prison in Virginia).

    Slavery is wrong – and perhaps killing more half a million people (out of a population of only about 30 million in the United States at the time – think-about-that, that 600, 000 dead is an even bigger number if one remembers how few Americans there were at the time) is justified to end it. But one can not just dismiss everyone who was wrong about not-ending-slavery-right-now. To dismiss Lee and Jackson means to dismiss the entire ancient world as well – as Cicero, Cato the Younger, Marcus Aurelius….. were all slave owners (although I would argue that their slave owning was not consistent with the ideals they taught).

    The Civil War is more important than all other American wars put together – the death rate alone should tell people that, and the destruction in the South was almost total (no family was spared death – and cities and towns and farms were burned). One can not understand America without understanding the Civil War – and reducing it to the level of goodies in blue and baddies in grey will not do.

    Although I do wish that Southerners (and others) would remember how many hard fighters from the South wore blue not grey.

    Even the Hatfield verses McCoy feud was not really over a pig or a fence – it was over a man, a young member of the McCoy family who came home to Kentucky wounded from the war – and was murdered.

    That young man wore blue in the war. And that was not unusual for the Commonwealth of Kentucky (totally Southern culturally) – after all it was the Confederacy that invaded Kentucky (1861) which is why the Commonwealth of Kentucky declared for the Union. So many men from Kentucky wore blue – just as many wore Gray. In places such as Kentucky and what became West Virginia, Tennessee, and Missouri (and even as far south as Jones Country Mississippi – see “The Free State of Jones”) it really was a “Civil War” (men who knew each other, indeed were kin, – killing each other) not just a “War Between The States”,

    People do not need to less about the period – they need to know more.

  6. Julie near Chicago
    Oct 30, 2017 at 8:12 pm

    Very good, Paul. :>)

    • Paul Marks
      Oct 31, 2017 at 5:55 pm

      Thank you Julie.

  7. Paul Marks
    Oct 31, 2017 at 6:02 pm

    And now the left are going after the Founding Fathers (exactly as predicted – including by Donald Trump) – even the memorial to where George Washington worshipped in Church.

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