Friday, April 9, 2010

Revisionist History

Greg, a social studies teacher at Rhymes With Right, has up a very good post on a particular bugaboo of mine dealing with those who would warp history by evaluating historical acts in terms of modern ethics and mores. It happens all of the time in the retelling of history, but is most obvious every year when Columbus Day and Thanksgiving come around. This from Rhymes With Right, discussing revisionism in the context of several recent events, including Confederate History Month in Virginia and the priest scandals:

I have, time and again, been confronted with precisely that question in recent days. Looking back at the events of the past, there are those who wish to judge individuals and their actions based upon the morality of 2010, as if those standards are universal and eternal. Little consideration is given to the fact that moral standards have changed – that which was deemed morally licit or legally just might not be viewed as such today.

Consider the recent dust-up over the Virginia declaration of Confederate History Month. Now I have no problem commemoration of the Civil War – indeed, as a social studies teacher I would like to see a greater focus on historical study and commemoration of historical events because of the historical illiteracy that afflicts our society. Personally, I’d prefer that April be declared Civil War History Month rather than Confederate History month, to honor and commemorate those on both sides who fought (and often died) in defense of their principles and their conception of our nation’s founding principles as contained in the Declaration of Independence. But for Virginia – home of the Confederate capital and site of most of the major battles of the conflict – to focus on the Confederate side does not offend me. But some have taken grave offense at the commemoration, based both upon the defense of slavery that was a part of the Confederate cause and the assertion that the Confederate cause was one of “sedition and treason”. And yet most Americans in the immediate aftermath of the war recognized that those who fought for the Confederacy did so for reasons that transcended slavery and that both the Union and the Confederacy were espousing legitimate views on the nature of the American experiment. After all, the Declaration of Independence itself is premised on the right of “one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another.” Yet to the modern sensibilities of a certain segment of the American populace, one which usually argues against an ethnocentric imposition of contemporary American values on other cultures, there is a peculiar desire to re-judge that earlier era by today’s standards and declare any different interpretation to be evil rather than simply incorrect. After all, those who fought on the Confederate side were, by the lights of the time in which they lived, patriots. . . .

Do read the entire post.

1 comment:

Tim D. said...

Interesting. Who decides that what was "okay" back then is now "not okay," or vice-versa? How is it that an act can be "wrong" in one period and "right" in another? Of this I am curious.

I mean, how do we know that abortions will still "be wrong" in 20 years? Maybe something will change between now and then. Maybe it already has? I mean, abortion was considered "wrong" in the past, but these things change, right?