Following our protracted discussion on conservatism and liberalism (for want of better labels)— and differing levels of willingness by adherents to validate the values of ‘The Other’ … by coincidence, here’s William F Buckley on what Andrew Sullivan calls ‘the Danger of Political Dogma’. From a brilliant article What William F. Buckley Would Think of Today’s GOP…
In his later years, Buckley believed that the Republican failures in Iraq stemmed from a … tendency to engage in ideological wishful thinking instead of hard analysis. He also cautioned against the tendency of conservatives to transform the cautious insights of supply-side economics, for example, into theological certainties, and to move toward ever more narrow and rigid definitions of doctrinal acceptability.
Fanaticism and obsession, he believed, ultimately represented a surrender of individual freedom. As the high priest of the conservative movement, Buckley had latitude to advance unorthodox proposals such as the legalization of marijuana without being condemned for apostasy, but he also sought similar indulgence for other conservative thinkers.
Above all, Buckley wanted conservatism to be a responsible and effective governing philosophy. He recognized that a movement that delegitimizes its opponents as Communists and traitors is doomed to be irresponsible and ineffective. He warned against conservative triumphalism and refusal to compromise. He had been mentored by Whittaker Chambers on the need to balance the ideal with the practical, and to strive for conservative advances that inevitably would fall short of utopia. To live, Buckley reminded conservatives, is to maneuver.
I recently saw someone refer to the ‘Dead Marxists’ game, where an historical figure’s ideology and philosophy are revised and either lauded or condemned (usually with extra cheese).
It’s easy to fall into the trap of lining up our historical ducks in a row to ‘support’ whatever POV one has of the historical figure. ‘Confirmation bias’ afflicts us all, making it difficult if not impossible to elude ‘what you see depends on where you stand’.
This is assuming we’re not talking about deliberate propaganda like Oliver Stone’s JFK, which poormastery referred to recently in our discussion about Watergate/Nixon.
Then there’s this (which I don’t subscribe to);
“History is bunk”
“History is more or less bunk. It’s tradition. We don’t want tradition. We want to live in the present and the only history that is worth a tinker’s dam is the history we made today.”
— Henry Ford, Interview in Chicago Tribune, May 25th, 1916
US automobile industrialist (1863 – 1947)
Personally, I’m intuitively more with;
Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it. – George Santayana
… but interpretation can be everything including the ‘What’s it all about Alfie?’ question.
I’ve tried to learn from history, but what it often teaches is that — at best — the decision makers are imperfect people working with imperfect information. Do they know their history? Well in Winston Churchill’s case, yes, in John F Kennedy’s case, yes. Two perfect examples of imperfect people.
A lot of history is the battle of ideology and resisting the trap of dogma that Buckley describes.
Some of us are looking for a way through — perhaps a way to co-operate … Jon Stewart’s Rally image of traffic merging like a zip – “You go, then I’ll go” resonated with me.
I am willing to acknowledge other people have values that don’t necessarily align with mine, and, like so-called ‘consensual crimes’ where there’s no victim, that’s a matter of ‘ain’t nobody’s business if they do’.
I know others don’t see it that way. Especially some good friends who see society disintegrating or spiritual warfare or ‘a battle of principalities and powers’ being waged and ‘moral standards’ as the battlefield. I don’t despise that point of view, it’s legitimate. But seeking to dominate and persecute or oppress someone else or a class of people because of dogma — religious, political, racial, sexual — seems to me to be futile, wrong and dangerous.
That’s what history teaches me.
Update: What can be conceived of as Buckley’s yardstick (‘Does this reduce individual freedom?’) is very useful.