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Monday, March 28, 2022

Empire And Imperial Rule–High Civilization And Today’s Low Culture Of Historical Revisionism

Reformism and Revisionism are the two memes which best describe 21st century America.   The past  is nothing but a sorry history of oppression, imperialism, and war.  The empires of Greece, Rome, Persia, India, China, and Britain were nothing but courts of privileged, autocratic rule, stopped only by revolution and the guillotine.  Their legacy is only one of feudalism, slavery, and excess; and the modern age continues to suffer the consequences of their rule. America today, say revisionists, has still not expunged the traces of racism, monarchism, and perpetual greed. 

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Yet, despite the desecration of ruled peoples, the aggrandizement of wealth and power, marauding armies, autocratic churches and their clerical enforcers, there are still those who insist on the greatness of empire and who look to  the art and culture of the Italian Renaissance, the philosophical and moral foundations of Ancient Greece, Imperial China, the Guptas, Ashoka and the Mauryan court, or the laws and civil codes of Britain for inspiration.

The myopic insularity of revisionists – their insistence on viewing history only through the deconstructionist lenses of race, gender, ethnicity, and progressivism – prevents a more comprehensive view of European and Asian empires and high culture and civilization they created. Since all previous empires have practiced slavery, they are ipso facto historical pariahs.  Slavery, the most inhuman and innately evil human institution dictates historical appraisal.  Any civilization which practiced slavery is necessarily and irremediably corrupt; and every other cultural attainment is by infection, corrupt.  Slaves built the pyramids, Athenian temples, the gardens of Persepolis, the imperial palaces of Mandarins and shoguns; and as such they can be looked at only as products of inhumanity and ignorance.

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The reigns of the Sun King, Henry VIII, Qin Shi Huang, Meiji, Xerxes, and Cyrus were all patriarchal.  Women were either courtiers or concubines, chattels for reproduction and show.  They were insignificant and supernumerary, without importance.  They left no mark on history except as footnotes as the mother of kings. No civilization with such disregard for women, which enslaved them and used them for the pleasure of men can be regarded with any respect.  Patriarchy and misogyny like racism ipso facto denies any cultural legitimacy.

The untold wealth of these empires, derived from brutal territorial conquest, the spoils of war, and on the back of the oppressed – regardless of its investment in architecture, art, palaces, and monuments – is necessarily tainted, an example of pre-capitalistic concentration of wealth for the benefit of the few and at the expense of the many.

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To most observers such historical myopia is surprising.  Although politics and political philosophy always color and distort perception – or at the very least provide its foundation – the current refusal to look at history through any lens other than the current, politically correct one is more narrow and ignorantly restrictive than of any political movement in recent history.  Other political reformists have learned from the past – without understanding the historical antecedents of current events one cannot trace their roots to see how deeply embedded they are, how extensive, and how pervasive.  They have focused on cause and effect, investment and result, intention and consequences within a structured context.  Blanket condemnation of an historical era based on presumption of universal guilt is useless and irrelevant.

There is an adolescence about today’s progressivism – a mix of political testosterone, youthful exuberance, and American utopianism, a perfect storm of limited vision and emotional excess.  Righteousness simply feels good. A broad sweep of the historical brush is consistent with simple beliefs and simple conclusions. 

This simplicity makes belonging much easier, camaraderie within the big tent happier.  A movement based on intellectual premises, complete with inconsistencies and philosophical debate cannot cohere as completely as one with singularity of purpose and vision. It is enough to believe that past societies were irremediably corrupt to associate with other believers; enough to wear the badge of membership.  Race, gender, ethnicity! is a battle cry, an emblem, a banner.  It is its own liturgy, doxology, and article of faith.

it is no accident that today’s progressivism has been compared to religious fundamentalism.  Evangelical Christians need only to believe that Jesus is their personal savior to be saved.  They do not need the fol-de-rol of the Catholic Church, the doctrinal mysteries of the trinity, the insights of Athanasius, Clement, or Polycarp.  They do not need the intellectual foundations of the Church, the writings of Aquinas and Augustine, the teachings of Paul, or the Renaissance popes.  Progressives are no different.  Their belief is even simpler than that of Protestant fundamentalists – they do not even need an intermediary like Jesus.  Belief is its own prophet and its own disciple.

Image result for Images Clement of Alexandria. Size: 186 x 105. Source: www.christianitytoday.com

Traditional liberalism is a history of cause, purpose, and idealism; and the current vogue is no different. Many older liberals cut their teeth on civil rights and the war in Vietnam; but once those causes lost traction, they were quick to embrace new ones.  Race, gender, and ethnicity as part of ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusivity’ has filled the moral void and gave them a renewed voice in the name of social justice and moral rectitude.  Global warming soon followed, and progressives found ways to fold race, gender, and ethnicity all under its umbrella.  If any one issue were to luff, there would be many other to take up the slack.

There has always been a move to simplicity in progressivism, a kind of stasis, a tendency toward an undisturbed level of thought, a folding in of similar or allied causes, an uncritical blending of ideas which demand no analysis.

Political optimists feel that collective human action can indeed bring about a better, more just, and more equitable world.  Man is indeed perfectible, and the only reason that greed, venality, and untamed ambition still exist in the world is because the most righteous among us have not done enough. Human society is progressing as surely as the soul of the faithful Hindu is evolving over time and many incarnations before finally reaching nirvana.  It is no surprise that these political idealists resemble evangelicals who also believe that with right behavior we can all enter paradise.  For evangelicals this ascension is to the right hand of God.  For progressives it is to a secular utopia.

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Conservatives believe that man, society, and human nature have not changed since we came down from the trees.  We are as aggressive, territorial, self-protective, and self-interested as ever; but these innate traits can be positive as well as negative.  Without ambition and the desire for wealth, power, and influence there would be no great civilizations.  Ever since the first primitive communities were formed, human societies have regulated the most extreme forms of human expression and taken advantage of the leadership and vision of the strongest and most able. The economic market with its countervailing forces and laws of supply and demand is but one example of this characteristic. All aspects of life – whether in the family or nation -  are governed by issues of power, dominance, and the acquisition of wealth and resources. The individual is either pitted against other individuals or joined together with them for collective advantage; but no higher moral value involved.

The juggernaut of reformism still has inertia and has become no more nuanced or complex than it ever was.  ‘Race’ has never been a social, historical, and economic marker but an icon and a meme.  ‘Race’ means white oppression and nothing more.  It is not meant to invite analysis of the reasons why the persistent dysfunction of the inner city, the continuing need for affirmative action, the seemingly never-ending flow of public monies with little demonstrable result, an objective look at the degree to which white perceptions influence black performance, and a hundred other legitimate appraisals of race in America.

Gender – homosexuality, transgenderism, sexual ‘abuse’, and the glass ceiling – is no different.  The word implies male oppression and goes no further – no nuance, no in-depth insights into sexual dynamics, marriage, or relationships. ‘Gender’ is a meaningless concept for all but the most idealistic political reformists.

When will it all end? ask Americans hammered every day with news about race and gender, subjected to sensitivity workshops, and seeing their freedoms of expression and speech censured.  For them simplicity of motive is not only not enough, it is ignorance at its worst, a dumbing down of discourse, and an autocratic presumption of right and wrong.  

Censure, revisionism, and the cancel culture cannot last much longer.  Americans have had enough, are tired of sanctimony, the lionization of minorities, and the arrogant dismissal of the civilized past.

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