The Right Side of History

Sometimes I wonder how I would have responded to significant intellectual and social developments if I were alive when they were occurring. Would I have opposed the Catholic Church when it tried Galileo for heresy for believing our solar system revolved around the sun? Would I have embraced the Enlightenment ideals of reason and science? Would I have opposed slavery? Would I have rejected the United States’ isolationism of the 1930′s and seen the necessity of taking a stand against fascism? Would I have considered the Red Scare to be mass hysteria? Would I have supported the Civil Rights Movement?

I like to think my answer to all these questions would be yes, and not just because of self-flattery–although self-flattery is a significant factor. I tend to be skeptical, to distrust ideas based on faith, to disbelieve True Believers. Twenty years ago a former boss gave me The Emperor’s New Clothes as a holiday present–an apt gift, as I spent considerable time and effort poking holes in her pronouncements. It’s a good thing to recognize the inexorable social and intellectual forces. If the choice is between desperately hanging on to a disappearing past and understanding and dealing with society’s , I want to come to terms with the future.

We (finally) saw Steven Speilberg’s Lincoln, which focuses on Congressional enactment of the 13th Amendment, which banned slavery. Viewed through a modern lens we see the anti-Amendment arguments for what they were–unadulterated racism, with a frosting of state rights rhetoric that serves mostly to mask that slavery was our Civil War’s bedrock issue. Few Americans today would make the anti-Amendment arguments in the film’s naked terms. (Although many continue to embrace the state rights perspective–see, e.g. the Texas monument to the Confederacy at the State House in Austin:

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Romney’s abject toadying during the primaries to the Tea Party Taliban, Tax-Pledge Terrorists, and anti-progress ayatollahs, and various jaw-dropping far-right pronouncements throughout recent months, underscored that the is controlled by those denying the future and holding on to the past like grim death. In her column titled A Lost Civilization Maureen Dowd echoed this theme when she referred to the Republican Party as “the first civilization in modern to spiral the way of the Incas, Aztecs and Mayans.

The Mayans were right, as it turns out, when they predicted the world would end in 2012. It was just a select world: the G.O.P. universe of arrogant, uptight, entitled, bossy, retrogressive white guys. Just another vanishing tribe that fought the cultural and demographic tides of history.

Denying the existence of , and the role of human agency in , in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence1 . . .  asserting that creationism (by whatever name) is not faith-based religious doctrine but a valid scientific theory that should be taught in public schools alongside evolution . . . arguing that gun violence is caused by a variety of factors which do not include lack of regulation of firearms . . . urging the primacy of explicit religious belief as a criterion for public office . . . these beliefs are on the wrong side of history. How can one take the Republican  party seriously when it is in thrall to those who advocate such beliefs?

1. See, e.g. http://www.wunderground.com/resources/climate/928.asp

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  • Vince P.

    This is a very thought-provoking piece. As one of your post-grads, who revisits AFC from time-to-time, I couldn’t help notice a few parallels from history that are applicable to present day. “Unadulterated racism, with a frosting of state rights.” If you remove racism from the phrase and insert bigotry or disgust, it summarizes the legal argument against same-sex marriage.

    Spielberg downplays the modern political undertones used in Lincoln; and maybe he really did not intend for there to be any. Yet, I wonder if the Republicans of the early 21st century are concerned that history will view them in the same light as the Democrats of the late 19th century? They’ll have plenty of time to ponder that after the GOP’s demise. I can’t wait to see what lucky actor gets to take on the challenging role of Rick Santorum in that movie.

    • DavidRandall

      Approve.

      Vince, It’s good to hear from you. Thanks for thoughtful comment.

      David

      David Randall
      Senior Lecturer, Boston University School of Management
      Faculty Director, School of Management Honors Program
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      Boston, MA 02215
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      • Vince P.

        David, great to hear from you as well! It was interesting to read that you are removing the constraints from your blog and setting out to write more freely. I imagine that you’ll be much more satisfied with the material you churn out. It’s also inspiring for people like me, who want to write their own blogs but “don’t have the time.” If you can manage 16 credits and a family on top of your blog, then I certainly can find some time to get my thoughts onto the screen.

        Remember to contact me if you find yourself on the West Coast anytime soon. We have plenty of great bike trails in San Diego!

        Warm regards,

        Vince (or Vinny as you remember me; I’ve gone professional with my name, thanks to programs like the Jersey Shore.)