If you fancy a break from Zimmerman analysis this weekend, Daniel Johnson of Britain’s Standpoint has some thoughts on the receding tide of historical consciousness. That’s to say, for most of the modern age an informed sense of the past was assumed to be an indispensable attribute of a civilized man:
The loss of such a temporal dimension has brought about a profound change in the outlook of the West: a loss of organic connection, not only with those who came before us, but with our place in the world.
That’s as true for the American Republic as it is for the British Empire. Mr Johnson references Macaulay père et fils. The latter’s famous 1835 “Minute upon Indian Education” helped make Greece and Rome, Haydn and Shakespeare as much a part of the curriculum in Bombay as in Birmingham – and is probably the greatest single reason why today’s Indian sub-continent is not like the Middle East, a crazy quilt of ramshackle sultanates and one-man psycho states. Many years earlier, Thomas Macaulay had given a speech to the Anti-Slavery Society founded by his father, the abolitionist Zachary:
“[Britain’s] mightiest empire,” he declared, “is that of her manners, her language and her laws; her proudest victories, those which she has achieved over ignorance and ferocity.”
As we see, alas, in Afghanistan and elsewhere, if you no longer really believe in your manners and your laws, it’s hard to win victories over ignorance: Technological superiority marches alongside civilizational confidence.
But a sense of history requires a certain consensus. In British and European schools, fast-changing demographics make more and more history problematic: Best to gloss over the controversial bits – the Crusades …and the Second World War (the Holocaust) …and the First (the collapse of the Ottoman Empire) …and who knows what else might give offence. As Orwell wrote, “Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.”