Historical Repentance

One of the most difficult issues for any history student is the problem of context. Should we judge historical actors according to our own values, or do we need to take the views of the time into account?

There are problems with both choices. If we decide who is a ‘good’ person in accordance with twenty-first-century values- then the vast majority of people who have ever existed should be considered monsters. This clearly won’t do; accepting that most people in history are evil as a starting position is a mistake.

Whereas approaching the past with an uncritical eye, willing to forgive all historical misdeeds because ‘it was normal at the time.’ Does not represent a better alternative.

History is complex. The countless people that have passed away since humans started writing were individuals. They possessed hopes, dreams and desires. They are not cosmic dust, helpless victims of circumstance for us to pour scorn on. How we judge them is something we must consider. We must think about it carefully.

Writing in The Guardian this week the columnist Afua Hirsch wrote an article about feminism. At the end of her article, Hirsch made a remark about Emeline Pankhurst:

“We are all quoting Emmeline Pankhurst. Mention the fact that Pankhurst was a staunch imperialist, blind to the colonial exploitation of African women, however, and you stray outside acceptable feminism. Such feminism is still seen as threatening – and it may well take another 100 years to change that.”

For this Guardianista, the comment was probably a throwaway line. Yet it encapsulates everything that is wrong with the modern social justice movement. It reminds me less of a ‘political project’ and more of a modern iconoclasm. A spasm of anger aimed at destroying all historical symbols of racism and sexism.

It turns out that Hirsh also called for the toppling of Nelson’s column last year. What the social justice movement doesn’t understand is that iconoclasms have tended to be temporary, and extremely violent.

More Equal Than Others

Some interesting debate here recently on the correct libertarian response to feminism- here is my contribution.

In my view, the equality pursued by feminists is the same as that pursued by socialists. Both are based on the notion that, because we all share the same broad genus, human beings deserve to be valued identically.

Whist any rational person examining the world will swiftly conclude that all human beings do not have equal value, the socialist will see this and conclude that the reason some seem to have greater value than others is due to the inequalities perpetuated by capitalism and they seek to repair this by having the state impose equal value legislation. There is no logic to it but they believe that, if there were only equality of opportunity, there would eventually be equality of value.

Feminists ought to have an even greater problem selling their ideology because the clear biological differences between men and women have to be downplayed or ignored in order to justify their equality agenda. Males are generally more powerful physically than women and their brains are, on average, larger. (This is factually true but such is the strident nature of the feminist culture we inhabit that it feels somewhat criminal to mention it).

So as a result of physiological differences, men and women cannot compete against each other on a level playing field at sport and women tend to do less well at purely cerebral activities like chess or bridge. Yet although women cannot compete equally there is a strong agenda to have them rewarded equally. At Wimbledon, for example, women have achieved parity of prize money (despite apparently being considered incapable of playing the same number of sets!!!).

But despite the difficulties in justifying equality where there is a direct competitive measure, when this is taken away from the area of activity it becomes easier to ignore reality and blame inequalities on discrimination. So we hear arguments that the reason women have statistically done less well in any sphere of activity is for one of the following reasons.

1) They had to take time out to bear children.
2) Power in the organisation was already held by men so they were discriminated against for promotion.
3) They were handicapped by the gender roles assigned to them in childhood.

And of course the solution to the relative failure of women in public life is to tackle discrimination by the imposition of laws and positive discrimination quotas. There must be equal numbers of women and men in senior roles in political parties, in the Civil Service and in boardrooms. Selection should be made, not on merit, but on gender.

We have still to see the full results of such policies in action but it is unlikely they will be encouraging. Indeed, I think it is possible to trace the debilitating effect on the current Labour Party who have pushed positive discrimination and adopted women only shortlists for the last 15 years. In my view, all organisations would be well advised to avoid both positive and negative discrimination and make promotional appointments based on ability alone. And, in fact, if they are allowed to that is what they will do.

Socialism is much easier to oppose than feminism because most people are eventually persuaded by rationality and outcomes are more easily measurable. It is possible to study what happened in Eastern Europe or Cambodia in the last century and conclude that socialism is not the best way run a society if you want to make peoples lives better.

Whereas voicing opposition to the feminist hegemony is to deny that men and women have equal value. To do that is to invite accusations of bigotry and misogyny and, in the current climate that feminism has created in Western societies, there are not many willing to put their heads above that particular parapet.

OK shoot!