“People will not look forward to posterity who never look backward to their ancestors.”
Dave Griffey at Daffey Thoughts muses as to how conservatives and leftists view the past and the present:
Or not, depending on your point of view. A basic difference between a more progressive spin on America and a more traditional spin is that progressives tend to believe America can be a great nation despite the evils of its past, while traditionalists tend to believe that America has been a great nation despite the evils in its past. Likewise, those who swing to the Left tend to see the changes happening as positive, while those who are more conservative will obviously see many changes as negative, especially if they’ve changed important characteristics of their society. That Americans are divided along political lines over wanting America the way it used to be or not shouldn’t be surprising. Nor should we assume that when people say they want the past, that they necessarily want the evils of the past. An interesting, but hardly surprising, survey.
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Most contemporary leftists have been brought up in “black armband” history, which views the past as a tool to wield in contemporary ideological battles. Many of them have learned their American history purely from such ghastly texts as the late Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States which look at American history as merely a tale of evil oppression and the few brave souls who fought against it. Such ideological fairy tales have nothing to do with true history. Go here to read a critique of Zinn from the left.
When that bold, bad man, in Carlyle’s phrase, Oliver Cromwell wished to have his portrait painted he told the artist: Mr. Lely, I desire you would use all your skill to paint my picture truly like me, and not flatter me at all; but remark all these roughnesses, pimples, warts, and everything as you see me, otherwise I will never pay a farthing for it.
Hence the expression, “warts and all”. True history attempts to do this. Stephen Vincent Benet in his short story The Devil and Daniel Webster, in the speech of Daniel Webster to the jury of the damned, got to the heart of how American history should be viewed by those of us who love this country:
weapons, he’d fall into their power; he knew that, though he couldn’t have told you how. It was his own anger and horror that burned in their eyes; and he’d have to wipe that out or the
case was lost. He stood there for a moment, his black eyes burning like anthracite. And then he began to speak. He started off in a low voice, though you could hear every word. They say he could call on the harps of the blessed when he chose. And this was-just as simple and easy as a man could talk.