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The Rotten Heart of Western Politics

Skepsikyma
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12/22/2015 10:02:12 PM
Posted: 11 months ago
In my opinion, the chief delusion that grips the West, and which leads to so much oppression, both abroad and at home, is Whig historiography. While discarded in academic circles after the World Wars dashed its major premises on the rocky shoals of reality, Whig historiography has lived on, in America at least, in the education system and political discourse.

At its heart, Whig historiography is founded on the idea that the history of the world has been a natural progress towards liberal constitutional government. That, left alone, political situations will naturally resolve towards ever increasing liberty and enlightenment. There are several problems with this theory, namely anachronism, presentism, and an overall twisting of history into a 'good guy' vs. 'bad guy' narrative. This has resulted in things like Macauly's appalling conviction that the English oppression of places like India was 'glorious' because the natives were being pulled in the direction of progression towards this perceived zenith. This, in the present day, is applied to the Middle East, where decades of violence, despair, and poverty coupled with the rise to prominence of fanatical Islamic sects are swept under the rug because the area is being 'brought into the 21st century' or we are 'spreading democracy'.

Whig historiography is also very much present in scientific history, especially the tiring and amateurish 'New Atheist' interpretations of the past, which assume present knowledge of conflicts which, while clearly resolved in this era, were not resolved at the time of the conflict in question, and paint villainous moustaches on historical figures who 'stood in the way of progress'. Anyone who has taken more than a cursory look at the Middle ages knows precisely how far off the mark they are, to the point where their version of history almost become a religion in and of itself.

You've all probably encountered this particularly insidious delusion numerous times. If you are a conservative, the non-arguments 'don't stand in the way of history', 'join the 21st century', and general mockery probably ring a few bells. If you are a liberal, the opposition's ridicule over the idea that ignoring civil liberties like the right to privacy or habeas corpus could lead to further abuses is at the heart of Whiggish interpretations: under their 'spread the Good News' doctrine, it is not possible for us to take a step back. If progress is simply a forgone conclusion, then criticism of present actions can always be dismissed as wrongheaded and even rooted in paranoia.

In reality, there is no 'apex' of civilization. Civilizations exist in flux, engaged in perpetual power struggles, and transform according to the needs and pressures of the time at which they existed. History is immensely diverse, and its value as a discipline is a study in alternatives, as a repository of examples broad enough to encompass thousands of years and the span of the globe. By restricting that to a simplistic narrative centered around the English constitution, we in effect put out our own eyes and blissfully slide into self-imposed, self-congratulatory delusion.
"The Collectivist experiment is thoroughly suited (in appearance at least) to the Capitalist society which it proposes to replace. It works with the existing machinery of Capitalism, talks and thinks in the existing terms of Capitalism, appeals to just those appetites which Capitalism has aroused, and ridicules as fantastic and unheard-of just those things in society the memory of which Capitalism has killed among men wherever the blight of it has spread."
- Hilaire Belloc -
UtherPenguin
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12/22/2015 10:41:56 PM
Posted: 11 months ago
At 12/22/2015 10:02:12 PM, Skepsikyma wrote:
In my opinion, the chief delusion that grips the West, and which leads to so much oppression, both abroad and at home, is Whig historiography. While discarded in academic circles after the World Wars dashed its major premises on the rocky shoals of reality, Whig historiography has lived on, in America at least, in the education system and political discourse.

At its heart, Whig historiography is founded on the idea that the history of the world has been a natural progress towards liberal constitutional government. That, left alone, political situations will naturally resolve towards ever increasing liberty and enlightenment. There are several problems with this theory, namely anachronism, presentism, and an overall twisting of history into a 'good guy' vs. 'bad guy' narrative. This has resulted in things like Macauly's appalling conviction that the English oppression of places like India was 'glorious' because the natives were being pulled in the direction of progression towards this perceived zenith. This, in the present day, is applied to the Middle East, where decades of violence, despair, and poverty coupled with the rise to prominence of fanatical Islamic sects are swept under the rug because the area is being 'brought into the 21st century' or we are 'spreading democracy'.

Whig historiography is also very much present in scientific history, especially the tiring and amateurish 'New Atheist' interpretations of the past, which assume present knowledge of conflicts which, while clearly resolved in this era, were not resolved at the time of the conflict in question, and paint villainous moustaches on historical figures who 'stood in the way of progress'. Anyone who has taken more than a cursory look at the Middle ages knows precisely how far off the mark they are, to the point where their version of history almost become a religion in and of itself.

You've all probably encountered this particularly insidious delusion numerous times. If you are a conservative, the non-arguments 'don't stand in the way of history', 'join the 21st century', and general mockery probably ring a few bells. If you are a liberal, the opposition's ridicule over the idea that ignoring civil liberties like the right to privacy or habeas corpus could lead to further abuses is at the heart of Whiggish interpretations: under their 'spread the Good News' doctrine, it is not possible for us to take a step back. If progress is simply a forgone conclusion, then criticism of present actions can always be dismissed as wrongheaded and even rooted in paranoia.

In reality, there is no 'apex' of civilization. Civilizations exist in flux, engaged in perpetual power struggles, and transform according to the needs and pressures of the time at which they existed. History is immensely diverse, and its value as a discipline is a study in alternatives, as a repository of examples broad enough to encompass thousands of years and the span of the globe. By restricting that to a simplistic narrative centered around the English constitution, we in effect put out our own eyes and blissfully slide into self-imposed, self-congratulatory delusion.

Whig historgraphy: The White Man's Burden a under new name and face.
"Praise Allah."
~YYW
Skepsikyma
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12/23/2015 12:05:00 AM
Posted: 11 months ago
At 12/22/2015 10:41:56 PM, UtherPenguin wrote:

Whig historgraphy: The White Man's Burden a under new name and face.

Precisely. And the fact that so-called liberals cannot see that this is, in effect, what their policy towards the Middle East, Eastern Europe, and Asia amounts to is staggering to me.
"The Collectivist experiment is thoroughly suited (in appearance at least) to the Capitalist society which it proposes to replace. It works with the existing machinery of Capitalism, talks and thinks in the existing terms of Capitalism, appeals to just those appetites which Capitalism has aroused, and ridicules as fantastic and unheard-of just those things in society the memory of which Capitalism has killed among men wherever the blight of it has spread."
- Hilaire Belloc -
dylancatlow
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12/23/2015 12:05:29 AM
Posted: 11 months ago
The prevailing view is that humanity's general trend has been one of progress, not that such progress is unstoppable, irreversible and perfectly linear. That theory is obviously untenable and I don't know of anyone who actually advocates it. But that has nothing to do with the idea that there are various stages of societal development and that societies have made progress at different rates, or that some societies are more desirable than others in their current form. One would have to be incredibly pessimistic to think we are no better off today than in the past, or that the people living in places like Sweden are no better off than the people living in places like China.

I also disagree with the idea that people are not open to criticism of our current situation (I'm referencing the sentence: "If progress is simply a forgone conclusion, then criticism of present actions can always be dismissed as wrongheaded and even rooted in paranoia"). In fact, criticizing our current situation is the only thing most people seem to care about. If you ask conservatives and liberals what they think about the future, most say that we are heading in the wrong direction, but for different reasons. Example: http://www.whio.com... Most people tend to have a romantic view of the past, and are overly pessimistic of the present and future (this applies even at the level of individual life histories). Steven Pinker documents this in his book The Better Angels of Our Nature, which I highly recommend to anyone interested in this topic.
dylancatlow
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12/23/2015 12:08:47 AM
Posted: 11 months ago
That's not to say that we shouldn't be careful not to inflate the positive aspects of our culture and downplay the positive aspects of other cultures, which is kind of the de facto behavior of most people, but that doesn't mean we have to subscribe to some kind of cultural relativism in order to be moral people.
Skepsikyma
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12/23/2015 12:16:27 AM
Posted: 11 months ago
At 12/23/2015 12:05:29 AM, dylancatlow wrote:
The prevailing view is that humanity's general trend has been one of progress, not that such progress is unstoppable, irreversible and perfectly linear. That theory is obviously untenable and I don't know of anyone who actually advocates it. But that has nothing to do with the idea that there are various stages of societal development and that societies have made progress at different rates, or that some societies are more desirable than others in their current form.

It still runs into the same problem: the entire concept of 'progress' is antithetical to any real analysis of history. It still runs in to anachronism, presentism, and the 'good'/'bad' paradigms which distort the actual facts of the matter after the fact. There is a reason that this form of analysis was abandoned wholesale by historians; Butterfield absolutely eviscerated it in the 30s, and it never mounted any sort of defense and recovered.

One would have to be incredibly pessimistic to think we are no better off today than in the past, or that the people living in places like Sweden are no better off than the people living in places like China.

Why would that require pessimism?

I also disagree with the idea that people are not open to criticism of our current situation (I'm referencing the sentence: "If progress is simply a forgone conclusion, then criticism of present actions can always be dismissed as wrongheaded and even rooted in paranoia"). In fact, criticizing our current situation is the only thing most people seem to care about. If you ask conservatives and liberals what they think about the future, most say that we are heading in the wrong direction, but for different reasons. Example: http://www.whio.com... Most people tend to have a romantic view of the past, and are overly pessimistic of the present and future (this applies even at the level of individual life histories). Steven Pinker documents this in his book The Better Angels of Our Nature, which I highly recommend to anyone interested in this topic.

I never claimed that everyone is against criticism, only that such criticism can be deflected, especially by the media and political classes, by appealing to this fiction that 'backsliding' to any real degree is inevitable.

You're confusing 'pessimism' with 'serious consideration of the collapse of liberal institutions'. Someone could see us 'heading in the wrong direction' because the income gap is widening, or because Christians are leaving the faith, or because they see a war on the horizon. That doesn't extend to entertaining the fact that the right to a free trial or free expression might be curtailed in the future.
"The Collectivist experiment is thoroughly suited (in appearance at least) to the Capitalist society which it proposes to replace. It works with the existing machinery of Capitalism, talks and thinks in the existing terms of Capitalism, appeals to just those appetites which Capitalism has aroused, and ridicules as fantastic and unheard-of just those things in society the memory of which Capitalism has killed among men wherever the blight of it has spread."
- Hilaire Belloc -
Skepsikyma
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12/23/2015 12:17:34 AM
Posted: 11 months ago
At 12/23/2015 12:08:47 AM, dylancatlow wrote:
That's not to say that we shouldn't be careful not to inflate the positive aspects of our culture and downplay the positive aspects of other cultures, which is kind of the de facto behavior of most people, but that doesn't mean we have to subscribe to some kind of cultural relativism in order to be moral people.

It has nothing to do with morality, it has to do with accurately assessing past events instead of living in some sort of delusional universe where geopolitical struggles are the equivalent of Lord of the Rings.
"The Collectivist experiment is thoroughly suited (in appearance at least) to the Capitalist society which it proposes to replace. It works with the existing machinery of Capitalism, talks and thinks in the existing terms of Capitalism, appeals to just those appetites which Capitalism has aroused, and ridicules as fantastic and unheard-of just those things in society the memory of which Capitalism has killed among men wherever the blight of it has spread."
- Hilaire Belloc -
Skepsikyma
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12/23/2015 12:42:43 AM
Posted: 11 months ago
From Butterfield's aforementioned essay:

"The primary assumption of all attempts to understand the men of the past must be the belief that we can in some degree enter into minds that are unlike our own. If this belief were unfounded it would seem that men must be for ever locked away from one another, and all generations must be regarded as a world and a law unto themselves. If we were unable to enter in any way into the mind of a present day Roman Catholic priest, for example, and similarly into the mind of an atheistical orator in Hyde Park, it is difficult to see how we could know anything of the still stranger men of the sixteenth century, or pretend to understand the process of history-making which has moulded us into the world of today. In reality the historian postulates that the world is in some sense always the same world and that even the men most dissimilar are never absolutely unlike. And though a sentence from Aquinas may fall so strangely upon modern ears that it becomes plausible to dismiss the man as a fool or a mind utterly and absolutely alien, I take it that to dismiss a man in this way is a method of blocking up the mind against him, and against something important in both human nature and its history; it is really the refusal to a historical personage of the effort of historical understanding. Precisely because of his unlikeness to ourselves Aquinas is the more enticing subject for the historical imagination; for the chief aim of the historian is the elucidation of the unlikeness between past and present and his chief function is to act in this way as the mediator between other generations and our own. It is not for him to stress and magnify the similarities between one age and another, and he is riding after a whole flock of misapprehensions if he goes to hunt for the present in the past. Rather it is his work to destroy those very analogies which we imagined to exist. When he shows us that Magna Charta is a feudal document in a feudal setting, with implications different from those we had taken for granted, he is disillusioning us concerning something in the past which we had assumed to be too like something in the present. That whole process of specialized research which has in so many fields revised the previously accepted whig interpretation of history has set our bearings afresh in one period after another, by referring matters in this way to their context, and so discovering their unlikeness to the world of the present day.

It is part and parcel of the whig interpretation of history that it studies the past with reference to the present; and though there may be a sense in which this is unobjectionable if its implications are carefully considered, and there may be a sense in which it is inescapable, it has often been an obstruction to historical understanding because it has been taken to mean the study of the past with direct and perpetual reference to the present. Through this system of immediate reference to the present day, historical personages can easily and irresistibly be classed into the men who furthered progress and the men who tried to hinder it; so that a handy rule of thumb exists by which the historian can select and reject, and can make his points of emphasis. On this system the historian is bound to construe his function as demanding him to be vigilant for likenesses between past and present, instead of being vigilant for unlikeness; so that he will find it easy to say that he has seen the present in the past, he will imagine that he has discovered a "root" or an "anticipation" of the twentieth century, when in reality he is in a world of different connotations altogether, and he has merely tumbled upon what could be shown to be a misleading analogy. Working upon the same system the whig historian can draw lines through certain events, some such line as that which leads through Martin Luther and a long succession of whigs to modern liberty; and if he is not careful he begins to forget that this line is merely a mental trick of his; he comes to imagine that it represents something like a line of causation. The total result of this method is to impose a certain form upon the whole historical story, and to produce a scheme of general history which is bound to converge beautifully upon the present - all demonstrating throughout the ages the workings of an obvious principle of progress, of which the Protestants and whigs have been the perennial allies while Catholics and tories have perpetually formed obstruction. A caricature of this result is to be seen in a popular view that is still not quite eradicated: the view that the Middle Ages represented a period of darkness when man was kept tongue-tied by authority - a period against which the Renaissance was the reaction and the Reformation the great rebellion. It is illustrated to perfection in the argument of a man denouncing Roman Catholicism at a street corner, who said: "When the Pope ruled England them was called the Dark Ages".

The whig historian stands on the summit of the twentieth century, and organized his scheme of history from the point of view of his own day; and he is a subtle man to overturn from his mountain-top where he can fortify himself with plausible argument. He can say that events take on their due proportions when observed through the lapse of time. He can say that events must be judged by their ultimate issues, which, since we can trace them no farther, we must at least follow down to the present. He can say that it is only in relation to the twentieth century that one happening or another in the past has relevance or significance for us. He can use all the arguments that are so handy to men when discussion is dragged into the market place and philosophy is dethroned by common sense; so that it is no simple matter to demonstrate how the whig historian, from his mountaintop, sees the course of history only inverted and aslant. The fallacy lies in the fact that if the historian working on the sixteenth century keeps the twentieth century in his mind, he makes direct reference across all the intervening period between Luther or the Popes and the world of our own day. And this immediate juxtaposition of past and present, though it makes everything easy and makes some inferences perilously obvious, is bound to lead to an over-simplification of the relations between events and a complete misapprehension of the relations between past and present."
- Herbert Butterfield -
"The Collectivist experiment is thoroughly suited (in appearance at least) to the Capitalist society which it proposes to replace. It works with the existing machinery of Capitalism, talks and thinks in the existing terms of Capitalism, appeals to just those appetites which Capitalism has aroused, and ridicules as fantastic and unheard-of just those things in society the memory of which Capitalism has killed among men wherever the blight of it has spread."
- Hilaire Belloc -
000ike
Posts: 11,196
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12/23/2015 1:04:33 AM
Posted: 11 months ago
At 12/22/2015 10:02:12 PM, Skepsikyma wrote:
In my opinion, the chief delusion that grips the West, and which leads to so much oppression, both abroad and at home, is Whig historiography. While discarded in academic circles after the World Wars dashed its major premises on the rocky shoals of reality, Whig historiography has lived on, in America at least, in the education system and political discourse.

At its heart, Whig historiography is founded on the idea that the history of the world has been a natural progress towards liberal constitutional government. That, left alone, political situations will naturally resolve towards ever increasing liberty and enlightenment. There are several problems with this theory, namely anachronism, presentism, and an overall twisting of history into a 'good guy' vs. 'bad guy' narrative. This has resulted in things like Macauly's appalling conviction that the English oppression of places like India was 'glorious' because the natives were being pulled in the direction of progression towards this perceived zenith. This, in the present day, is applied to the Middle East, where decades of violence, despair, and poverty coupled with the rise to prominence of fanatical Islamic sects are swept under the rug because the area is being 'brought into the 21st century' or we are 'spreading democracy'.

Whig historiography is also very much present in scientific history, especially the tiring and amateurish 'New Atheist' interpretations of the past, which assume present knowledge of conflicts which, while clearly resolved in this era, were not resolved at the time of the conflict in question, and paint villainous moustaches on historical figures who 'stood in the way of progress'. Anyone who has taken more than a cursory look at the Middle ages knows precisely how far off the mark they are, to the point where their version of history almost become a religion in and of itself.

You've all probably encountered this particularly insidious delusion numerous times. If you are a conservative, the non-arguments 'don't stand in the way of history', 'join the 21st century', and general mockery probably ring a few bells. If you are a liberal, the opposition's ridicule over the idea that ignoring civil liberties like the right to privacy or habeas corpus could lead to further abuses is at the heart of Whiggish interpretations: under their 'spread the Good News' doctrine, it is not possible for us to take a step back. If progress is simply a forgone conclusion, then criticism of present actions can always be dismissed as wrongheaded and even rooted in paranoia.

In reality, there is no 'apex' of civilization. Civilizations exist in flux, engaged in perpetual power struggles, and transform according to the needs and pressures of the time at which they existed. History is immensely diverse, and its value as a discipline is a study in alternatives, as a repository of examples broad enough to encompass thousands of years and the span of the globe. By restricting that to a simplistic narrative centered around the English constitution, we in effect put out our own eyes and blissfully slide into self-imposed, self-congratulatory delusion.

I'm finding it difficult to tease out a coherent argument from this (which may, perhaps, be my fault). Are you saying that history has no direction, no net movement toward the modern constructs like nation-states, democracy and capitalism -- that conditions in pre-modern history could have led to other forms of social organization just as readily as they led to the ones listed? (In which case, I think I would disagree, and we can have a productive discussion about that) Or is your argument normative, with an admission that what exists now follows inexorably from its historical antecedents, but that we should not assign any positive value to those present constructs nor assign negative value to whatever opposed their fruition in the past?

In either case, though I disagree, but it would help me consolidate my response if you could clarify what exactly your argument is attacking.
"A stupid despot may constrain his slaves with iron chains; but a true politician binds them even more strongly with the chain of their own ideas" - Michel Foucault
Skepsikyma
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12/23/2015 1:13:41 AM
Posted: 11 months ago
At 12/23/2015 1:04:33 AM, 000ike wrote:
I'm finding it difficult to tease out a coherent argument from this (which may, perhaps, be my fault). Are you saying that history has no direction, no net movement toward the modern constructs like nation-states, democracy and capitalism -- that conditions in pre-modern history could have led to other forms of social organization just as readily as they led to the ones listed? (In which case, I think I would disagree, and we can have a productive discussion about that) Or is your argument normative, with an admission that what exists now follows inexorably from its historical antecedents, but that we should not assign any positive value to those present constructs nor assign negative value to whatever opposed their fruition in the past?

In either case, though I disagree, but it would help me consolidate my response if you could clarify what exactly your argument is attacking.

It's a statement on historiography: that, in order to understand your past, it is incredibly deleterious to look at it with a constant reference to the presence, because you will begin to pick out lines of causation which aren't actually there. I'm holding that history has less to do with trying to root out moments of our present's 'origin' and more do with studying how the past became the present, starting from the perspective of the past and moving forward, taking into account everything which happened, why it happened, and in what context it happened.

You seem to be looking for a statement on determinism or something, which has nothing to do with my argument. I'm talking about the proper methods of historical analysis here.

If the world is deterministic, then history is a futile exercise to begin with and questions of historiography are moot.
"The Collectivist experiment is thoroughly suited (in appearance at least) to the Capitalist society which it proposes to replace. It works with the existing machinery of Capitalism, talks and thinks in the existing terms of Capitalism, appeals to just those appetites which Capitalism has aroused, and ridicules as fantastic and unheard-of just those things in society the memory of which Capitalism has killed among men wherever the blight of it has spread."
- Hilaire Belloc -
000ike
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12/23/2015 1:20:23 AM
Posted: 11 months ago
At 12/23/2015 1:13:41 AM, Skepsikyma wrote:
At 12/23/2015 1:04:33 AM, 000ike wrote:
I'm finding it difficult to tease out a coherent argument from this (which may, perhaps, be my fault). Are you saying that history has no direction, no net movement toward the modern constructs like nation-states, democracy and capitalism -- that conditions in pre-modern history could have led to other forms of social organization just as readily as they led to the ones listed? (In which case, I think I would disagree, and we can have a productive discussion about that) Or is your argument normative, with an admission that what exists now follows inexorably from its historical antecedents, but that we should not assign any positive value to those present constructs nor assign negative value to whatever opposed their fruition in the past?

In either case, though I disagree, but it would help me consolidate my response if you could clarify what exactly your argument is attacking.

It's a statement on historiography: that, in order to understand your past, it is incredibly deleterious to look at it with a constant reference to the presence, because you will begin to pick out lines of causation which aren't actually there. I'm holding that history has less to do with trying to root out moments of our present's 'origin' and more do with studying how the past became the present, starting from the perspective of the past and moving forward, taking into account everything which happened, why it happened, and in what context it happened.

You seem to be looking for a statement on determinism or something, which has nothing to do with my argument. I'm talking about the proper methods of historical analysis here.

If the world is deterministic, then history is a futile exercise to begin with and questions of historiography are moot.

Forgive me, but I still don't quite understand. What exactly is the difference between " trying to root out moments of our present's 'origin'" and "studying how the past became the present"?

And what instances can you identify of anyone actually doing the former as opposed to the latter?
"A stupid despot may constrain his slaves with iron chains; but a true politician binds them even more strongly with the chain of their own ideas" - Michel Foucault
Skepsikyma
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12/23/2015 1:33:40 AM
Posted: 11 months ago
At 12/23/2015 1:20:23 AM, 000ike wrote:
At 12/23/2015 1:13:41 AM, Skepsikyma wrote:
At 12/23/2015 1:04:33 AM, 000ike wrote:
I'm finding it difficult to tease out a coherent argument from this (which may, perhaps, be my fault). Are you saying that history has no direction, no net movement toward the modern constructs like nation-states, democracy and capitalism -- that conditions in pre-modern history could have led to other forms of social organization just as readily as they led to the ones listed? (In which case, I think I would disagree, and we can have a productive discussion about that) Or is your argument normative, with an admission that what exists now follows inexorably from its historical antecedents, but that we should not assign any positive value to those present constructs nor assign negative value to whatever opposed their fruition in the past?

In either case, though I disagree, but it would help me consolidate my response if you could clarify what exactly your argument is attacking.

It's a statement on historiography: that, in order to understand your past, it is incredibly deleterious to look at it with a constant reference to the presence, because you will begin to pick out lines of causation which aren't actually there. I'm holding that history has less to do with trying to root out moments of our present's 'origin' and more do with studying how the past became the present, starting from the perspective of the past and moving forward, taking into account everything which happened, why it happened, and in what context it happened.

You seem to be looking for a statement on determinism or something, which has nothing to do with my argument. I'm talking about the proper methods of historical analysis here.

If the world is deterministic, then history is a futile exercise to begin with and questions of historiography are moot.

Forgive me, but I still don't quite understand. What exactly is the difference between " trying to root out moments of our present's 'origin'" and "studying how the past became the present"?

And what instances can you identify of anyone actually doing the former as opposed to the latter?

The Herbert quote gives a great example: the Magna Carta. Whig historiography looks at it as a precursor to Western Liberal government (the past defined in reference to the present) and then begins to make moral judgements about the people surrounding it. The reliable historical analysis, on the other hand, sees it as a feudal document intended for a feudal society, driven by feudal considerations with no mind towards any sort of liberalism. And when you look at the actual scholarly discussion about the Magna Carta today, and the discussion of it in the public sphere, there is a huge gulf of understanding because of this historiographical breach. The public is still pulled, for the most part, into the view that this was a step on the road to progress, and as such have no understanding whatsoever as to the document's actual historical significance. Professional historians, on the other hand, have dispensed with such references for almost a century at this point and view the document in complete context.

Another example is the Protestant Reformation. Seeing it as a 'step on the road' to religious freedom is a common, Whig historiography inspired point of view. But, to anyone who has read more then ten pages of history concerning the actual events of the Reformation, this is a painfully ill-informed opinion. The Middle Ages are another example. These are all subjects in which the professional opinion has long been revised in light of new evidence and new arguments, while the generally accepted 'historical story' woven by Whig historians a century ago is still taught in public schools, still accepted by the wider population, and still regurgitated in popular 'history' books written almost exclusively by non-Historians. The result is almost complete historical illiteracy on a massive scale coupled with total oblivion as to the degree of our societal ignorance.
"The Collectivist experiment is thoroughly suited (in appearance at least) to the Capitalist society which it proposes to replace. It works with the existing machinery of Capitalism, talks and thinks in the existing terms of Capitalism, appeals to just those appetites which Capitalism has aroused, and ridicules as fantastic and unheard-of just those things in society the memory of which Capitalism has killed among men wherever the blight of it has spread."
- Hilaire Belloc -
YYW
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12/23/2015 1:39:54 AM
Posted: 11 months ago
At 12/22/2015 10:02:12 PM, Skepsikyma wrote:
In my opinion, the chief delusion that grips the West, and which leads to so much oppression, both abroad and at home, is Whig historiography. While discarded in academic circles after the World Wars dashed its major premises on the rocky shoals of reality, Whig historiography has lived on, in America at least, in the education system and political discourse.

At its heart, Whig historiography is founded on the idea that the history of the world has been a natural progress towards liberal constitutional government. That, left alone, political situations will naturally resolve towards ever increasing liberty and enlightenment.

We know that the contention that governments will naturally progress towards liberal constitutional government is false... for obvious reasons. Even "liberal" and "constitutional" governments become progressively more authoritarian over time. The only thing that can be reasonably said is that "institutional powers tend to serve the interests of the institution." And, where the institution is the government, and the government's interest is in expanding and solidifying its power... well what's going to happen is pretty obvious. The government is going to expand and solidify it's power.

*shocked face*

...the Middle East, where decades of violence, despair,

Let's be clear about why the "decades of violence and despair" exist: Western efforts to 'expand democracy'. When I say "expand democracy," though, I am of course being highly sarcastic, by paying homage to the bipartisan line that Republicans and Democrats have both asserted since the end of WWII.

The Middle East was all well and good, in large part (even Afghanistan, although there, before WWII) before the West got involved. Even the notion of 'which country is a democracy' versus which country is not a democracy, turns on the extent to which (at least with respect to the United States' classification of that country) a country abides by US trade interests. That has been the case, pretty much, since the end of WWII.

and poverty coupled with the rise to prominence of fanatical Islamic sects are swept under the rug because the area is being 'brought into the 21st century' or we are 'spreading democracy'.

Well, fanatical Islam didn't have to even come into prominence at all. The only reason it ever took off was to weaken the Soviets after WWII (i.e. the United States funded Islamic radicals to create trouble inside the USSR). And now, the result of doing that has been, more or less, what followed.

Whig historiography is also very much present in scientific history, especially the tiring and amateurish 'New Atheist'

New atheism is dumb. That's really all that needs to be said about it.

Civilizations exist in flux, engaged in perpetual power struggles, and transform according to the needs and pressures of the time at which they existed.

Indeed.

History is immensely diverse, and its value as a discipline is a study in alternatives, as a repository of examples broad enough to encompass thousands of years and the span of the globe. By restricting that to a simplistic narrative centered around the English constitution, we in effect put out our own eyes and blissfully slide into self-imposed, self-congratulatory delusion.

But we have to piece together a coherent narrative of human civilization!!!!! (roflmao)

Yes, it's all very dumb. And the way we teach history is also very dumb. "Great man" theories of human history are just idiotic on their face... but yeah, a guy like me (i.e. one of those radical people who really cares about the facts) isn't going to get hired to write textbooks for McGraw Hill, or any of the other whore companies out there who do the same thing.
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HououinKyouma
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12/23/2015 1:57:46 AM
Posted: 11 months ago
At 12/22/2015 10:02:12 PM, Skepsikyma wrote:
In my opinion, the chief delusion that grips the West, and which leads to so much oppression, both abroad and at home, is Whig historiography. While discarded in academic circles after the World Wars dashed its major premises on the rocky shoals of reality, Whig historiography has lived on, in America at least, in the education system and political discourse.

At its heart, Whig historiography is founded on the idea that the history of the world has been a natural progress towards liberal constitutional government. That, left alone, political situations will naturally resolve towards ever increasing liberty and enlightenment. There are several problems with this theory, namely anachronism, presentism, and an overall twisting of history into a 'good guy' vs. 'bad guy' narrative. This has resulted in things like Macauly's appalling conviction that the English oppression of places like India was 'glorious' because the natives were being pulled in the direction of progression towards this perceived zenith. This, in the present day, is applied to the Middle East, where decades of violence, despair, and poverty coupled with the rise to prominence of fanatical Islamic sects are swept under the rug because the area is being 'brought into the 21st century' or we are 'spreading democracy'.

Whig historiography is also very much present in scientific history, especially the tiring and amateurish 'New Atheist' interpretations of the past, which assume present knowledge of conflicts which, while clearly resolved in this era, were not resolved at the time of the conflict in question, and paint villainous moustaches on historical figures who 'stood in the way of progress'. Anyone who has taken more than a cursory look at the Middle ages knows precisely how far off the mark they are, to the point where their version of history almost become a religion in and of itself.

You've all probably encountered this particularly insidious delusion numerous times. If you are a conservative, the non-arguments 'don't stand in the way of history', 'join the 21st century', and general mockery probably ring a few bells. If you are a liberal, the opposition's ridicule over the idea that ignoring civil liberties like the right to privacy or habeas corpus could lead to further abuses is at the heart of Whiggish interpretations: under their 'spread the Good News' doctrine, it is not possible for us to take a step back. If progress is simply a forgone conclusion, then criticism of present actions can always be dismissed as wrongheaded and even rooted in paranoia.

In reality, there is no 'apex' of civilization. Civilizations exist in flux, engaged in perpetual power struggles, and transform according to the needs and pressures of the time at which they existed. History is immensely diverse, and its value as a discipline is a study in alternatives, as a repository of examples broad enough to encompass thousands of years and the span of the globe. By restricting that to a simplistic narrative centered around the English constitution, we in effect put out our own eyes and blissfully slide into self-imposed, self-congratulatory delusion.

There are a number of problems with your post but I'll settle on this one:
"the chief delusion that grips the West, and which leads to so much oppression, both abroad and at home, is Whig historiography."

I really have to ask how you can possibly think that this historiography dominates our lives when, as dylancatlow pointed out, everyone thinks that society is going to the dogs to the point that we have arrived at an ahistorical assessment of our society as being on the precipice of a calamity and people think that we are facing unprecedented horrors "both abroad and at home".

I can't remember the last time I heard any politician or professor or pundit answer the question: "what is the future going to be like?" with anything but pessimism. The conservatives think that we are abandoning all moral values and restraint and launching ourselves upon a hedonistic journey that will end with the collapse of civilization, while the liberals think that every western society is suffused with racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, add-whatever-you-want-phobia and that basically the world is being run by fascist capitalist vultures.

Furthermore, I don't know of any sensible person who has looked at the situation in Western Asia or China or Russia and said, "well, doesn't that look like it's going well."

Reading your OP--which is very vague and ambiguous--I really don't know what you are talking about. I don't think this is even what you want to talk about, or at least what you mean to address.
"Here the ways of men part: if you wish to strive for peace of soul and pleasure, then believe; if you wish to be a devotee of truth, then inquire." F. Nietzsche.

"Freedom is always freedom for the one who thinks differently." R. Luxemburg.

"The principle of the masochistic left is that, in general, two blacks make a white, half a loaf is the same as no bread." G. Orwell, paraphrase.

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000ike
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12/23/2015 1:59:59 AM
Posted: 11 months ago
At 12/23/2015 1:33:40 AM, Skepsikyma wrote:
At 12/23/2015 1:20:23 AM, 000ike wrote:
At 12/23/2015 1:13:41 AM, Skepsikyma wrote:
At 12/23/2015 1:04:33 AM, 000ike wrote:
I'm finding it difficult to tease out a coherent argument from this (which may, perhaps, be my fault). Are you saying that history has no direction, no net movement toward the modern constructs like nation-states, democracy and capitalism -- that conditions in pre-modern history could have led to other forms of social organization just as readily as they led to the ones listed? (In which case, I think I would disagree, and we can have a productive discussion about that) Or is your argument normative, with an admission that what exists now follows inexorably from its historical antecedents, but that we should not assign any positive value to those present constructs nor assign negative value to whatever opposed their fruition in the past?

In either case, though I disagree, but it would help me consolidate my response if you could clarify what exactly your argument is attacking.

It's a statement on historiography: that, in order to understand your past, it is incredibly deleterious to look at it with a constant reference to the presence, because you will begin to pick out lines of causation which aren't actually there. I'm holding that history has less to do with trying to root out moments of our present's 'origin' and more do with studying how the past became the present, starting from the perspective of the past and moving forward, taking into account everything which happened, why it happened, and in what context it happened.

You seem to be looking for a statement on determinism or something, which has nothing to do with my argument. I'm talking about the proper methods of historical analysis here.

If the world is deterministic, then history is a futile exercise to begin with and questions of historiography are moot.

Forgive me, but I still don't quite understand. What exactly is the difference between " trying to root out moments of our present's 'origin'" and "studying how the past became the present"?

And what instances can you identify of anyone actually doing the former as opposed to the latter?

The Herbert quote gives a great example: the Magna Carta. Whig historiography looks at it as a precursor to Western Liberal government (the past defined in reference to the present) and then begins to make moral judgements about the people surrounding it. The reliable historical analysis, on the other hand, sees it as a feudal document intended for a feudal society, driven by feudal considerations with no mind towards any sort of liberalism. And when you look at the actual scholarly discussion about the Magna Carta today, and the discussion of it in the public sphere, there is a huge gulf of understanding because of this historiographical breach. The public is still pulled, for the most part, into the view that this was a step on the road to progress, and as such have no understanding whatsoever as to the document's actual historical significance. Professional historians, on the other hand, have dispensed with such references for almost a century at this point and view the document in complete context.

I hope this doesn't come off as obtuse ... but why can't it be both a feudal document and a precursor to liberal government (when viewed in retrospect)?

It just seems like you're trying to nail down something very tenuous. So there are objective facts about how the Magna Carta functioned and was understood when it was created -- I think it's fair to say that anyone who studies it (I haven't) would be informed of those facts. But then there's the interpretation regarding its place within the subsequent liberal political evolution in Britain, and more generally the West. That seems more subjective, not really something that can be shown as being definitively true or false. It seems reasonable to introduce competing interpretations of the document and its place in political history (i.e. existing in addition to the whig interpretation), but it sounds like you're taking it farther than that, and that's what I don't understand.
"A stupid despot may constrain his slaves with iron chains; but a true politician binds them even more strongly with the chain of their own ideas" - Michel Foucault
000ike
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12/23/2015 2:04:09 AM
Posted: 11 months ago
At 12/23/2015 1:57:46 AM, HououinKyouma wrote:

Reading your OP--which is very vague and ambiguous--I really don't know what you are talking about. I don't think this is even what you want to talk about, or at least what you mean to address.

okay, good... I definitely had that same impression. The OP seemed like it was constructed with the intent of expressing a general sentiment than really advancing a clear and precise argument.
"A stupid despot may constrain his slaves with iron chains; but a true politician binds them even more strongly with the chain of their own ideas" - Michel Foucault
Skepsikyma
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12/23/2015 2:15:51 AM
Posted: 11 months ago
At 12/23/2015 1:57:46 AM, HououinKyouma wrote:
There are a number of problems with your post but I'll settle on this one:
"the chief delusion that grips the West, and which leads to so much oppression, both abroad and at home, is Whig historiography."

I really have to ask how you can possibly think that this historiography dominates our lives when, as dylancatlow pointed out, everyone thinks that society is going to the dogs to the point that we have arrived at an ahistorical assessment of our society as being on the precipice of a calamity and people think that we are facing unprecedented horrors "both abroad and at home".

I can't remember the last time I heard any politician or professor or pundit answer the question: "what is the future going to be like?" with anything but pessimism. The conservatives think that we are abandoning all moral values and restraint and launching ourselves upon a hedonistic journey that will end with the collapse of civilization, while the liberals think that every western society is suffused with racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, add-whatever-you-want-phobia and that basically the world is being run by fascist capitalist vultures.

As you can see, I've already responded to Dylan's criticism by pointing out how it isn't relative in the slightest, and nobody has explained how it is in light of my response. Pessimism =/= skepticism towards 'backsliding' in terms of fundamental liberal institutions. There's really nothing to address, as I'm not talking about 'pessimism' at all but about a fundamental misunderstanding about how history functions.

Furthermore, I don't know of any sensible person who has looked at the situation in Western Asia or China or Russia and said, "well, doesn't that look like it's going well."

Reading your OP--which is very vague and ambiguous--I really don't know what you are talking about. I don't think this is even what you want to talk about, or at least what you mean to address.

I'm talking about the fact that, when someone said 'we're bringing democracy to Iraq', just about every American citizen cheered because they saw that as progress. There was no real assessment of the historical situation of Iraq, of demographics, the surrounding geopolitical situation, etc. I'm talking about the fact that 'Israel is the only modern democracy in the Middle East' is considered a potent argument. The Israeli situation is much more complicated then 'they're more progressive, therefore better.' This is an underlying assumption which is fed to people enrolled in public education, which is echoed in the media. It leads to miscalculation and misapprehensions on a massive scale. In a democracy, that is an incredibly bad thing.
"The Collectivist experiment is thoroughly suited (in appearance at least) to the Capitalist society which it proposes to replace. It works with the existing machinery of Capitalism, talks and thinks in the existing terms of Capitalism, appeals to just those appetites which Capitalism has aroused, and ridicules as fantastic and unheard-of just those things in society the memory of which Capitalism has killed among men wherever the blight of it has spread."
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Skepsikyma
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12/23/2015 2:25:04 AM
Posted: 11 months ago
At 12/23/2015 1:59:59 AM, 000ike wrote:
At 12/23/2015 1:33:40 AM, Skepsikyma wrote:

The Herbert quote gives a great example: the Magna Carta. Whig historiography looks at it as a precursor to Western Liberal government (the past defined in reference to the present) and then begins to make moral judgements about the people surrounding it. The reliable historical analysis, on the other hand, sees it as a feudal document intended for a feudal society, driven by feudal considerations with no mind towards any sort of liberalism. And when you look at the actual scholarly discussion about the Magna Carta today, and the discussion of it in the public sphere, there is a huge gulf of understanding because of this historiographical breach. The public is still pulled, for the most part, into the view that this was a step on the road to progress, and as such have no understanding whatsoever as to the document's actual historical significance. Professional historians, on the other hand, have dispensed with such references for almost a century at this point and view the document in complete context.

I hope this doesn't come off as obtuse ... but why can't it be both a feudal document and a precursor to liberal government (when viewed in retrospect)?

Because the latter is a complete fiction. It wasn't a precursor. Those lines of causality which don't actually exist, despite being perceived? This is one of them.

It just seems like you're trying to nail down something very tenuous. So there are objective facts about how the Magna Carta functioned and was understood when it was created -- I think it's fair to say that anyone who studies it (I haven't) would be informed of those facts. But then there's the interpretation regarding its place within the subsequent liberal political evolution in Britain, and more generally the West. That seems more subjective, not really something that can be shown as being definitively true or false. It seems reasonable to introduce competing interpretations of the document and its place in political history (i.e. existing in addition to the whig interpretation), but it sounds like you're taking it farther than that, and that's what I don't understand.

My point is that this interpretation is one which nobody is competent to make. I'll let Herbert Butterworth speak for me again, as he puts it devastatingly well:

"If we could put all the historians together and look at their total cooperative achievement, they are studying all that process of mutation which has turned the past into our present. And from the work of any historian who has concentrated his researches upon any change or transition, there emerges a truth of history which seems to combine with a truth of philosophy. It is nothing less than the whole of the past, with its complexity of movement, its entanglement of issues, and its intricate interactions, which produced the whole of the complex present; and this, which is itself an assumption and not a conclusion of historical study, is the only safe piece of causation that a historian can put his hand upon, the only thing which he can positively assert about the relationship between past and present. When the need arises to sort and disentangle from the present one fact or feature that is required to be traced back into history, the historian is faced with more unravelling than a mind can do, and finds the network of interactions so intricate, that it is impossible to point to any one thing in the sixteenth century as the cause of any one thing in the twentieth. It is as much as the historian can do to trace with some probability the sequence of events from one generation to another, without seeking to draw the incalculably complex diagram of causes and effects for ever interlacing down to the third and fourth generations. Any action which any man has ever taken is part of that whole set of circumstances which at a given moment conditions the whole mass of things that are to happen next. To understand that action is to recover the thousand threads that connect it with other things, to establish it in a system of relations; in other words to place it in its historical context. But it is not easy to work out its consequences, for they are merged in the results of everything else that was conspiring to produce change at that moment. We do not know where Luther would have been if his movement had not chimed with the ambitions of princes. We do not know what would have happened to the princes if Luther had not come to their aid.

The volume and complexity of historical research are at the same time the result and the demonstration of the fact that the more we examine the way in which things happen, the more we are driven from the simple to the complex. It is only by undertaking an actual piece of research and looking at some point in history through the microscope that we can really visualize the complicated movements that lie behind any historical change. It is only by this method that we can discover the tricks that time plays with the purposes of men, as it turns those purposes to ends not realized; or learn the complex process by which the world comes through a transition that seems a natural and easy step in progress to us when we look back upon it. It is only by this method that we can come to see the curious mediations that circumstances must provide before men can grow out of a complex or open their minds to a new thing. Perhaps the greatest of all the lessons of history is this demonstration of the complexity of human change and the unpredictable character of the ultimate consequences of any given act or decision of men; and on the face of it this is a lesson that can only be learned in detail. It is a lesson that is bound to be lost in abridgement, and that is why abridgements of history are sometimes calculated to propagate the very reverse of the truth of history. The historian seeks to explain how the past came to be turned into the present but there is a very real sense in which the only explanation he can give is to unfold the whole story and reveal the complexity by telling it in detail. In reality the process of mutation which produced the present is as long and complicated as all the most lengthy and complicated works of historical research placed end to end, and knit together and regarded as one whole."
http://www.eliohs.unifi.it...
"The Collectivist experiment is thoroughly suited (in appearance at least) to the Capitalist society which it proposes to replace. It works with the existing machinery of Capitalism, talks and thinks in the existing terms of Capitalism, appeals to just those appetites which Capitalism has aroused, and ridicules as fantastic and unheard-of just those things in society the memory of which Capitalism has killed among men wherever the blight of it has spread."
- Hilaire Belloc -
Skepsikyma
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12/23/2015 2:40:56 AM
Posted: 11 months ago
At 12/23/2015 1:39:54 AM, YYW wrote:
We know that the contention that governments will naturally progress towards liberal constitutional government is false... for obvious reasons. Even "liberal" and "constitutional" governments become progressively more authoritarian over time. The only thing that can be reasonably said is that "institutional powers tend to serve the interests of the institution." And, where the institution is the government, and the government's interest is in expanding and solidifying its power... well what's going to happen is pretty obvious. The government is going to expand and solidify it's power.

*shocked face*

You crazy conspiracy theorist! Put on your tinfoil hat!

...the Middle East, where decades of violence, despair,

Let's be clear about why the "decades of violence and despair" exist: Western efforts to 'expand democracy'. When I say "expand democracy," though, I am of course being highly sarcastic, by paying homage to the bipartisan line that Republicans and Democrats have both asserted since the end of WWII.

The Middle East was all well and good, in large part (even Afghanistan, although there, before WWII) before the West got involved. Even the notion of 'which country is a democracy' versus which country is not a democracy, turns on the extent to which (at least with respect to the United States' classification of that country) a country abides by US trade interests. That has been the case, pretty much, since the end of WWII.

That can't be true! We're giving them democracy! That makes us the good guys!

Well, fanatical Islam didn't have to even come into prominence at all. The only reason it ever took off was to weaken the Soviets after WWII (i.e. the United States funded Islamic radicals to create trouble inside the USSR). And now, the result of doing that has been, more or less, what followed.

We also backed the Saudis because Sharif Hussein wouldn't play ball with us.

New atheism is dumb. That's really all that needs to be said about it.

Yep.

But we have to piece together a coherent narrative of human civilization!!!!! (roflmao)

Yes, it's all very dumb. And the way we teach history is also very dumb. "Great man" theories of human history are just idiotic on their face... but yeah, a guy like me (i.e. one of those radical people who really cares about the facts) isn't going to get hired to write textbooks for McGraw Hill, or any of the other whore companies out there who do the same thing.

Yeah. One of the things which Butterfield pointed out, which I thought was great, was that things like this can be reduced down to a dogged refusal by those who analyze history to actually think about history.

"In reality the historian postulates that the world is in some sense always the same world and that even the men most dissimilar are never absolutely unlike. And though a sentence from Aquinas may fall so strangely upon modern ears that it becomes plausible to dismiss the man as a fool or a mind utterly and absolutely alien, I take it that to dismiss a man in this way is a method of blocking up the mind against him, and against something important in both human nature and its history; it is really the refusal to a historical personage of the effort of historical understanding. Precisely because of his unlikeness to ourselves Aquinas is the more enticing subject for the historical imagination; for the chief aim of the historian is the elucidation of the unlikeness between past and present and his chief function is to act in this way as the mediator between other generations and our own."
"The Collectivist experiment is thoroughly suited (in appearance at least) to the Capitalist society which it proposes to replace. It works with the existing machinery of Capitalism, talks and thinks in the existing terms of Capitalism, appeals to just those appetites which Capitalism has aroused, and ridicules as fantastic and unheard-of just those things in society the memory of which Capitalism has killed among men wherever the blight of it has spread."
- Hilaire Belloc -
000ike
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12/23/2015 2:50:52 AM
Posted: 11 months ago
At 12/23/2015 2:25:04 AM, Skepsikyma wrote:

But there's a distinction between asserting that the Magna Carta was key to the etiology of modern liberal institutions (that their existence is in any way causally dependent on the Magna Carta) and asserting that it exists within an evolving historical trend (with its precise causal role a matter of debate).

What you just quoted cautions against the former, but seems permissive of the latter. It's one thing to say that tracing precise causes across such vast temporal distances and among innumerable variables is futile ... but it's something else to say that it's impossible to identify modern institutions at their incipience, or to identify coherency, patterns, evolution, and historical continuity into the present. When one views the Magna Carta as a precursor to liberal government, that interpretation can be understood, not as a precise statement of causality, but as a recognition of some continuity in historical developments. What's wrong with that? Your quote doesn't argue that anything is wrong with that, and your posts hitherto have made no distinction between the two analytic perspectives I just described.
"A stupid despot may constrain his slaves with iron chains; but a true politician binds them even more strongly with the chain of their own ideas" - Michel Foucault
Skepsikyma
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12/23/2015 3:09:26 AM
Posted: 11 months ago
At 12/23/2015 2:50:52 AM, 000ike wrote:
At 12/23/2015 2:25:04 AM, Skepsikyma wrote:

But there's a distinction between asserting that the Magna Carta was key to the etiology of modern liberal institutions (that their existence is in any way causally dependent on the Magna Carta) and asserting that it exists within an evolving historical trend (with its precise causal role a matter of debate).

What you just quoted cautions against the former, but seems permissive of the latter. It's one thing to say that tracing precise causes across such vast temporal distances and among innumerable variables is futile ... but it's something else to say that it's impossible to identify modern institutions at their incipience, or to identify coherency, patterns, evolution, and historical continuity into the present. When one views the Magna Carta as a precursor to liberal government, that interpretation can be understood, not as a precise statement of causality, but as a recognition of some continuity in historical developments. What's wrong with that? Your quote doesn't argue that anything is wrong with that, and your posts hitherto have made no distinction between the two analytic perspectives I just described.

Because the only distinction between them lies in the softness of language. The quote clearly makes the case that we can understand causation within a generation, but that further than that we lose the thread. I agree with that. Want to talk about the effects of the Concordat of 1516 on the Reformation? Sure. How Zwingli's movement influenced Calvin? Why not. But to trace any of those to the advent of religious freedom is an act of hubris.

I honestly don't see how the point is lost. One generation influences the next, and that generation influences the one after that. The further removed you become from the original generation, the more assumptions you have to make which are beyond our human capacity to verify. If I'm talking about the 21st century, I look to the 20st for causes and trends. Looking before that is just nonsensical.
"The Collectivist experiment is thoroughly suited (in appearance at least) to the Capitalist society which it proposes to replace. It works with the existing machinery of Capitalism, talks and thinks in the existing terms of Capitalism, appeals to just those appetites which Capitalism has aroused, and ridicules as fantastic and unheard-of just those things in society the memory of which Capitalism has killed among men wherever the blight of it has spread."
- Hilaire Belloc -
000ike
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12/23/2015 3:25:24 AM
Posted: 11 months ago
At 12/23/2015 3:09:26 AM, Skepsikyma wrote:
At 12/23/2015 2:50:52 AM, 000ike wrote:
At 12/23/2015 2:25:04 AM, Skepsikyma wrote:

But there's a distinction between asserting that the Magna Carta was key to the etiology of modern liberal institutions (that their existence is in any way causally dependent on the Magna Carta) and asserting that it exists within an evolving historical trend (with its precise causal role a matter of debate).

What you just quoted cautions against the former, but seems permissive of the latter. It's one thing to say that tracing precise causes across such vast temporal distances and among innumerable variables is futile ... but it's something else to say that it's impossible to identify modern institutions at their incipience, or to identify coherency, patterns, evolution, and historical continuity into the present. When one views the Magna Carta as a precursor to liberal government, that interpretation can be understood, not as a precise statement of causality, but as a recognition of some continuity in historical developments. What's wrong with that? Your quote doesn't argue that anything is wrong with that, and your posts hitherto have made no distinction between the two analytic perspectives I just described.

Because the only distinction between them lies in the softness of language. The quote clearly makes the case that we can understand causation within a generation, but that further than that we lose the thread. I agree with that. Want to talk about the effects of the Concordat of 1516 on the Reformation? Sure. How Zwingli's movement influenced Calvin? Why not. But to trace any of those to the advent of religious freedom is an act of hubris.

I honestly don't see how the point is lost. One generation influences the next, and that generation influences the one after that. The further removed you become from the original generation, the more assumptions you have to make which are beyond our human capacity to verify. If I'm talking about the 21st century, I look to the 20st for causes and trends. Looking before that is just nonsensical.

The distinction is not semantic...they're conceptually distinct. One perceives the Magna Carta as eventuating modern liberal institutions, and the other simply incorporates the Magna Carta into a historical trend, allowing its precise causal threads to remain ambiguous. Even if the Magna Carta did not, in truth, effect anything identifiable as liberal government or providing for liberal government, that second analytic perspective still allows us to understand it as a component of that evolution (whether it's causally disconnected and independent or not).

This really is an important distinction, because it seems that the argument you're advancing simply caricatures whig historiography -- treating it as purporting more than it actually does.
"A stupid despot may constrain his slaves with iron chains; but a true politician binds them even more strongly with the chain of their own ideas" - Michel Foucault
Vox_Veritas
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12/23/2015 3:32:42 AM
Posted: 11 months ago
Well said. I'd like to add a Christian perspective to this, though.
In the Christian religion there is the belief that the Universe was, is, and always will be ruled by an omnipotent being (I.e. God). Democracy probably will not be the dominant form of Government in the Christian idea of Heaven, provided that it exists. This by no means means that on Earth Christians must or should become authoritarians; human rulers are subject to corruption and imperfection. But they should understand that in the end democracy will not be the highest form of Government; if Christians become dogmatic in their belief in democracy then when the time comes to submit uncompromisingly to the will of God they may have trouble accepting the reality of the situation.
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000ike
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12/23/2015 3:33:29 AM
Posted: 11 months ago
I should say that it caricatures modern interpretations of such historical documents and events as the Magna Carta.

Whig historiography (which I did have to look up in order to know what you were talking about) seems more concerned with a deterministic account of historical developments, as they approach modern liberalism in the West. And I'll note that this is part of the reason why I was confused with your argument. What you're currently arguing regarding causal complexity is not clearly featured in the OP.

But that's really all beside the point. Insofar as difficulties in etiological analysis across centuries is the argument you're defending, that's the argument I'll continue to address.
"A stupid despot may constrain his slaves with iron chains; but a true politician binds them even more strongly with the chain of their own ideas" - Michel Foucault
stealspell
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12/23/2015 4:38:04 AM
Posted: 11 months ago
At 12/23/2015 12:16:27 AM, Skepsikyma wrote:
You're confusing 'pessimism' with 'serious consideration of the collapse of liberal institutions'. Someone could see us 'heading in the wrong direction' because the income gap is widening, or because Christians are leaving the faith, or because they see a war on the horizon. That doesn't extend to entertaining the fact that the right to a free trial or free expression might be curtailed in the future.

Someone's always going to see us 'heading in the wrong direction'. That's called diversity of opinion which will exist till the end of time. Pessimism means always viewing life in a negative light. Of course, politically, people are going to focus on the issues rather than the accomplishments. That's typical of the media, politicians, the public, etc. The entire political sphere revolves around solving problems not praising accomplishments. In the grand scheme of things, of course we've made progress because we've reduced the suffering in the world, just taking one example, slavery. Surely that can be counted as progress.
Yassine
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12/23/2015 6:17:51 AM
Posted: 11 months ago
At 12/22/2015 10:02:12 PM, Skepsikyma wrote:
In my opinion, the chief delusion that grips the West, and which leads to so much oppression, both abroad and at home, is Whig historiography. While discarded in academic circles after the World Wars dashed its major premises on the rocky shoals of reality, Whig historiography has lived on, in America at least, in the education system and political discourse.

At its heart, Whig historiography is founded on the idea that the history of the world has been a natural progress towards liberal constitutional government. That, left alone, political situations will naturally resolve towards ever increasing liberty and enlightenment. There are several problems with this theory, namely anachronism, presentism, and an overall twisting of history into a 'good guy' vs. 'bad guy' narrative. This has resulted in things like Macauly's appalling conviction that the English oppression of places like India was 'glorious' because the natives were being pulled in the direction of progression towards this perceived zenith. This, in the present day, is applied to the Middle East, where decades of violence, despair, and poverty coupled with the rise to prominence of fanatical Islamic sects are swept under the rug because the area is being 'brought into the 21st century' or we are 'spreading democracy'.

Whig historiography is also very much present in scientific history, especially the tiring and amateurish 'New Atheist' interpretations of the past, which assume present knowledge of conflicts which, while clearly resolved in this era, were not resolved at the time of the conflict in question, and paint villainous moustaches on historical figures who 'stood in the way of progress'. Anyone who has taken more than a cursory look at the Middle ages knows precisely how far off the mark they are, to the point where their version of history almost become a religion in and of itself.

You've all probably encountered this particularly insidious delusion numerous times. If you are a conservative, the non-arguments 'don't stand in the way of history', 'join the 21st century', and general mockery probably ring a few bells. If you are a liberal, the opposition's ridicule over the idea that ignoring civil liberties like the right to privacy or habeas corpus could lead to further abuses is at the heart of Whiggish interpretations: under their 'spread the Good News' doctrine, it is not possible for us to take a step back. If progress is simply a forgone conclusion, then criticism of present actions can always be dismissed as wrongheaded and even rooted in paranoia.

In reality, there is no 'apex' of civilization. Civilizations exist in flux, engaged in perpetual power struggles, and transform according to the needs and pressures of the time at which they existed. History is immensely diverse, and its value as a discipline is a study in alternatives, as a repository of examples broad enough to encompass thousands of years and the span of the globe. By restricting that to a simplistic narrative centered around the English constitution, we in effect put out our own eyes and blissfully slide into self-imposed, self-congratulatory delusion.

Subarashi desu ne!

- I have two ideas I'd like to add:

1. The duality of deconstruction/perpetuation of the cycle of civilisation. Basically, every society when it passes through a cycle of civilisations is subject to forming its identity, which consists of denying a part of its history & embracing the other part. Thus, the best & most permanent formed identities are those for which the denied past is truly detached. Point being, the new Civilisation (Western) was built on a denial of its old history & embracing it new history. The dangerous part about this is the fact that such an identity, to persevere, must constantly deny the old & embrace the new. It must perpetuate its present just so it can deconstruct it again in the future. This creates a sort of, as you come to realise, a delusional perception of the present in relation to the past. Basically, New.Is.Better!

2. The apparent success of western nations. You have to admit, it's hard to argue against a successful proposition, no matter how absurd it is. From a reasonable perspective, sure. But, humans are emotional creatures, & most of them are moronic ignorants. They are not gonna follow another idea while the one seems already successful. This also creates the delusion of 'authority' & 'moral supremacy' over the apparently unsuccessful, while in reality it's no more than contemptuous subjugation. Basically, Successful.Is.Right.
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EndarkenedRationalist
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12/23/2015 5:17:43 PM
Posted: 11 months ago
The Magna Carta was a precursor to liberal democracy because the latter - while it cannot reasonably be said that it would never have occurred without that document, it cannot reasonably said it would have occurred either, as to make a judgment would require knowledge of an alternate timeline - was shaped by it. It was not intended as one, as I know no serious educator or historian who claims as much.

Progress is change plus value. People who value liberty will call its arrival progress. People who value communism, anarchism, etc will call its arrival progress. Whether or not it is progress - I suppose I will hold that it is - I would argue a liberal and free government is superior to a fanatical and authoritarian one (eg, the West versus the Middle East).
Yassine
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12/23/2015 6:30:52 PM
Posted: 11 months ago
At 12/23/2015 5:17:43 PM, EndarkenedRationalist wrote:
The Magna Carta was a precursor to liberal democracy because the latter - while it cannot reasonably be said that it would never have occurred without that document, it cannot reasonably said it would have occurred either, as to make a judgment would require knowledge of an alternate timeline - was shaped by it. It was not intended as one, as I know no serious educator or historian who claims as much.

Progress is change plus value. People who value liberty will call its arrival progress. People who value communism, anarchism, etc will call its arrival progress. Whether or not it is progress - I suppose I will hold that it is - I would argue a liberal and free government is superior to a fanatical and authoritarian one (eg, the West versus the Middle East).

- I would argue that a Caliphate is superior to a Western government.
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EndarkenedRationalist
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12/23/2015 7:31:33 PM
Posted: 11 months ago
At 12/23/2015 6:30:52 PM, Yassine wrote:
At 12/23/2015 5:17:43 PM, EndarkenedRationalist wrote:
The Magna Carta was a precursor to liberal democracy because the latter - while it cannot reasonably be said that it would never have occurred without that document, it cannot reasonably said it would have occurred either, as to make a judgment would require knowledge of an alternate timeline - was shaped by it. It was not intended as one, as I know no serious educator or historian who claims as much.

Progress is change plus value. People who value liberty will call its arrival progress. People who value communism, anarchism, etc will call its arrival progress. Whether or not it is progress - I suppose I will hold that it is - I would argue a liberal and free government is superior to a fanatical and authoritarian one (eg, the West versus the Middle East).

- I would argue that a Caliphate is superior to a Western government.

You're free to make that argument, though I couldn't possibly agree.
Yassine
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12/23/2015 9:41:46 PM
Posted: 11 months ago
At 12/23/2015 7:31:33 PM, EndarkenedRationalist wrote:
At 12/23/2015 6:30:52 PM, Yassine wrote:
At 12/23/2015 5:17:43 PM, EndarkenedRationalist wrote:
The Magna Carta was a precursor to liberal democracy because the latter - while it cannot reasonably be said that it would never have occurred without that document, it cannot reasonably said it would have occurred either, as to make a judgment would require knowledge of an alternate timeline - was shaped by it. It was not intended as one, as I know no serious educator or historian who claims as much.

Progress is change plus value. People who value liberty will call its arrival progress. People who value communism, anarchism, etc will call its arrival progress. Whether or not it is progress - I suppose I will hold that it is - I would argue a liberal and free government is superior to a fanatical and authoritarian one (eg, the West versus the Middle East).

- I would argue that a Caliphate is superior to a Western government.

You're free to make that argument, though I couldn't possibly agree.

- Well, you just have to make your argument, & I mine, & see whose is superior, don't we.
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