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.

– P

Update: What can be conceived of as Buckley’s yardstick (‘Does this reduce individual freedom?’) is very useful.