The closing down of History

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GUY WALKER calls for a realistic view of humanity’s record

Earlier this year a Palace coup at the National Trust saw the Chairman, Tim Parker, helpfully defenestrate himself before the pursuing Imperial Guard did it for him. The revolting soldiery were later in hot pursuit, through the gilded corridors, of the Director-General, Hilary McGrady, overseer of an absurd National Trust slavery report. They had been entrusted with the fascinating educational resource of our concrete national history. Instead of preserving its precious stones like true custodians, in an access of intellectual vandalism, they had traitorously tried to recut them into conforming with the ephemeral taste for wokery.

This is an example of the tidy rationalistic minds behind modern technocracies regretting the fact that history did not arrange itself according to their orderly notions of perfect justice, resembling much more what W.H. Auden, in his 1969 poem, Moon Landing, called “the usual squalid mess called History”. Why should this be a truer description of what history is

The Tower of Babel probably never existed in reality but, the invention of a storyteller or a myth-maker whose genius should not be under-estimated, it is a wonderful symbolic encapsulation of the nature of the human realm. That realm consists of the undeniable fact of a variety of races, languages and cultures living alongside each other, often in competition.

As humans, in spite of the fact that many of our greatest pleasures such as eating, drinking and sex derive from the animal part of our nature, we like, as modern technocrats, to flatter ourselves that we are somehow ‘above’ or transcend that animality. Of course we don’t. The anally retentive, retrospective rationalists demand perfect manners and reassuring orderliness in the relations between human races and cultures. However, it is hard to deny that this fallen, sublunary human sphere contains more than an element of the Darwinian evolutionary that we are familiar with observing in animals.

Because of this, sooner or later in the squalid mess called History cultures inevitably emerged with greater vigour, confidence, and technical and military capacity. Little caring for prissy rules about good manners and seldom consulting handbooks of rights etiquette, these cultures found it almost impossible to prevent their vigour spilling over into neighbouring territories. This happened countless times with, to name but a few in the full catalogue, the Assyrians, various Chinese dynasties, the Mongols, the Romans, the Huns, the Aztecs, the Incas, the Ottomans, the Benin, the Zulu, and, more recently, the British, Belgian, French, German and Italian. To have expected such incursions not to have happened in the thousands of years of human history is to be ludicrously fastidious and legalistic. It would be like asking the weather to be well-behaved. Indeed, if you subtract the imperial there is practically no human history left.  

In addition, one could easily argue that, in spite of the infringements of perfect ‘after you’ politeness, ‘compassion’ and thoughtfulness such over-flowings represent, the Darwinian effect also showed the good side of evolution – the propagation of vigour, refinement and civilisation. At the risk of sounding like a Monty Python sketch, it is true that Europe was left with excellent road and irrigation systems by the Romans, and India inherited useful technology and rail, communication, administrative and legal systems from the British. We should, perhaps, then, not rail at the fact of empire but look at the nature of particular empires. It might have been more pleasant to be subjugated by the British than by Darius’s Persians or Attila’s Huns, for example. 

Why is it that the modern “Justice Warriors”, who bully the likes of the management of the National Trust into assuming such ridiculous attitudes, have such unreasonable expectations of human history? Perhaps it is because, ironically lacking in historical self-awareness, they are unaware that, curiously, they were born into a distinctive modern technocracy whose self-flattering and comforting idea – that it can control and order the nature of reality – they share. They do this in spite of the fact that we have seen such ideas tested to revealing destruction in recent years in the failure of Big Data to predict economic and political outcomes and in the inability of ‘The Science’ to achieve cognitive harmony on subjects like climate change and COVID. Such visions, born out of control freakery, usually prove inadequate.  

Justice Warriors, consciously or not, take for granted that human conduct can be arranged according to platonic ideal of perfect kindergarten thoughtfulness that exists nowhere on earth except in the imagination of a tiny remnant of virtual aunts or in the legal libraries of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva. There is a difference between noticing that things are not platonically ideal, and expecting such perfection to be easily accessed or imposed on earth. One wonders also whether, were such a finicky, paternalistic vision to be achieved, we would all be grateful for it. 

We can only conclude, then, that the modern rationalistic justice warrior has absurd expectations of humanity. He or she, taking for granted that he or she adheres scrupulously to it, thinks everyone should live up to a notional, managerial standard. The past too has somehow to be dragooned into inoffensive moral antisepsis in order to make it presentable in polite company. To understand how unrealistic this is we have only to look at the subject so close to the hearts of Justice Warriors: justice. In the real world, justice systems are imposed in order to fight a rearguard action against the excesses of human nature, to provisionally hold a line and put markers down – not to impose a perfect reign of justice of a kind that we might envisage as existing only in heaven itself or on a hopeful “protocol” somewhere. We are making the best of a bad job just as we do by resorting to democracy, “the worst form of government except for all the others” as Churchill put it. 

Auden, who enjoyed sex and cooking, was notorious for his slovenliness and poor personal grooming, so was well qualified to speak of squalid messes. Perhaps the mentality of the modern justice warrior is that of someone with a version of OCD whereby they compulsively attempt to wash both the present and history clean in order to make it perfect according to a neurotic vision they have. They haven’t learned to accommodate the truly human, or to realize where it is that they find themselves. Fortunately, our squalid human history contains many redeeming visions of heaven and perfect justice; it is only sane to believe that they just aren’t here.