History’s Complexity Should Discourage Liberals’ Cheap Retroactive Morality

by Victor Davis Hanson // National Review Online


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9 thoughts on “History’s Complexity Should Discourage Liberals’ Cheap Retroactive Morality”

  1. Forgive me if I am wrong, but didn’t the African chiefs of the east coast arrange slave raids on the other tribes to ensure they had slaves to sell to the traders? And if those raids failed, didn’t they sell the less popular of their cousins and nephews to the slavers rather than miss out on the trade? Doesn’t that mean that most african-americans are descended from slave traders as well?

  2. Mohammad the Prophet of Islam was a slave owner.

    They even have a name for the Zulu annihilations, the Mfecane.

    Martin Luther King Jr. was a serial adulterer.

    JFK was a serial adulterer and an illegal drug user.

    Ghandi allowed his wife to die rather than let her get a shot of penicillin.


  3. Lawrence of Arabia.

    That quote of Malcolm LIttle {X] is most revealing.

    As normally quoted regarding the assassination of JFK: “the chickens are coming to roost” without the “I am glad” everything is ambiguous as to the approval or disapproval of Little. that full quote to include “I am glad” and it is not ambiguous. The man approved of the assassination.

  4. The whole narrative of white men running through the jungle to catch Africans for slavery is nonsense. The Europeans pulled up to slave ports, run by Arabs and supplied by Africans, which had existed for hundreds of years, and bought at auction alongside all the regular buyers. BTW, slavery in Africa is still going on, still run by the Arabs.

  5. This has been going on a long time, so “the sins of the father are visited on the son”.

    I always thought it very odd to see US Marines helping Iraqi citizens pull down Saddam Hussein’s statue. Here’s just a smattering of reasons.

    1. The state should never encouraged its citizens to riot and destroy things; the opposite in fact. Even if the statue was to be destroyed, all citizens should have been cleared away, and it should have been done as a formal organised act of the state, with proper machinery and proper clean-up (and metal recycling) afterwards. I felt the same about all the priceless antiquities in Baghdad. If those had been protected from the outset, it would have sent out a completely different message. People are not machines, and they do respond to Zeitgeist and remember who they are. Look what happened in Egypt.

    2. Yes, Saddam Hussein was a brutal dictator that committed genocide against the marsh Arabs and the Kurds, invaded neighbouring countries, and destabilised the whole region. But while he and the Baathist party were in control, you never got a whiff of Al Qaeda or ISIS. Under him the country was unified and it did develop to a well advanced and highly educated nation.

    But even ignoring any upside, I still don’t get it. How can any nation trash its history? Just by destroying the symbol you don’t erase the history. If a village from the Middle Ages has erected a statue of dying corpses after the Black Death, should we now destroy that statue so we can forget about it and pretend it never happened? Should we destroy all images of Pharoes and blow up the pyramids, because of their use of slave labour?

    Just like a marriage, the Iraqis I know have mixed feelings about the time under Saddam. But just like the good parts and the bad parts of a marriage, they did live through them, its part of their life, and they can even be proud of the fact that they survived it and even raised a family or graduated or built a factory or whatever. Destroying your history just doesn’t make sense.

    3. In fact, its the very contradictory and even negative symbols from the past, that are probably even more important to preserve. For example, given how awful Saddam Hussein was, it was probably better to keep the statue as a reminder not to let things regress back to dictatorship, but also remind us that it takes a strong man to keep demons like ISIS at bay. Given Jefferson’s slave owning, we probably need to be reminded ourselves how transient and self-contradictory moral certainties are, and retain a soupçon of humbleness and flexibility in our own attitudes. I could go on, but you get the idea.

    This all comes back again to Thomas Sowell’s Vision of the Annointed. In their desperation to find targets to vilify, the witch hunters will clutch at anything that helps raise them to the status of “Superior moral being”.

  6. When we were in Russia in 2012 we noted that no statues of Stalin were to be seen, nor red stars, but statues of Lenin were fairly common. An older Russian woman explained their retention because “nothing is more changeable than the past.”

    The current leftist attack on the history of the South is deplorable. It is bound to awaken separatist tendencies, dormant for 150 years.

  7. Anthony Mxyzptlk

    It may be a little too harsh to compare Montezuma to Hitler. Hitler was clearly mentally ill, but an eyewitness to the conquest of Mexico, Bernal Diaz del Castillo, states that Montezuma was a very pleasant, emotionally stable, likeable man with good political skills. However, he had the habit of plunging a knife into the chest of a sacrificial victim every day and considered it a religious duty. The Aztecs and other tribes in the area would only eat the arms and legs of the victims, however, not the main trunk of the body.

    The Aztecs also practiced human sacrifice in their temples, and never cleaned up afterwards, so the temples reeked hideously (by European standards), according to del Castillo.

    Mr. del Castillo’s book, Memoirs of Mexico, is available free of charge at Project Gutenberg.

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