On the other hand, historical apologies are not in order

Posted by Helen Saturday, April 22, 2006

This is a posting for all those conservatives and historians of various denomination and, indeed, people who are interested in history and conservative ideas without practising the first or sharing the second, who are tired of apologies for the past.

Apologizing for the past is a particularly silly and unhistorical idea. (And, of course, two days after the anniversary of Hitler’s birth and on the day of the anniversary of Lenin’s it does occur to one that those of us who do not believe in utopias have very little to apologize for, anyway.)

One hears a great deal of sneering about the Whig theory of history that imposed a certain view, contemporaneous with the historians, on the past. That view showed the world developing in a certain way, towards a brighter future, as laid down by the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and its descendants.

Right, so we dismiss that view. But how much better is the one that says we must apologize for something our ancestors, who lived in different circumstances, whose actions were governed by different ideas did? There is a rather ridiculous posturing of one’s own superiority. We can see how wrong they were and we must apologize for it.

Oscar Wilde, not a conservative historian but a more interesting writer than many people will allow, put it much better in his The Critic as Artist:

“There is no essential incongruity between crime and culture. We cannot re-write the whole of history for the purpose of gratifying our moral sense of what should be.”
In any case, future generations will have very different notions of morality and they will discard our own self-regard as being inadequate.


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