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Whitewashing History

From Ben Shapiro at National Review, We Can’t Erase History — Or Simplify It

History is important only if we recognize that it isn’t some sort of Punch-and-Judy drama to be acted out with puppets in black hats and white. Most human beings throughout human history have stood with an evil of some sort or another. FDR, whom leftists embrace, interned the Japanese and turned Jews away from America’s shores during the Holocaust. JFK reportedly attempted to turn Sammy Davis Jr. away from his inaugural gala because Davis was dating a white woman. Bill Clinton drafted “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and did nothing during the Rwandan genocide. Barack Obama opposed same-sex marriage until it became inconvenient to do so, and he stood by while Bashar al-Assad murdered tens of thousands of his citizens. Should all of their names be wiped from buildings? Or should we teach history as it actually happened, with all of its ugliness and all of its bravery?

Leaving names on buildings, and flags in churches, and statues on campuses isn’t about honoring those names, flags, and statues. It’s about recognizing the past, which is brutal and complex. Doing so reminds us that our present isn’t too clear-cut, either, and that anyone approaching current events with the smooth self-assurance of ultimate virtue simply hasn’t been judged by history yet.

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Recouping Dignity

The concluding paragraphs of Deirdre McCloskey’s Bourgeois Dignity- Why Economics Can’t Explain The Modern World:

Yet innovation, even in a proper system of the virtues, has continued to be scorned by many of our opinion makers now for a century and a half, from Thomas Carlyle to Naomi Klein. At the behest of such a clerisy we can if we wish repeat the nationalist and socialist horrors of the mid-twentieth century. If we imagine only the disruptions of a pastoral ideal, and reject the gains from innovation, we can stay poor shepherds and dirt farmers, with little scope for intellectual and spiritual growth. If we worship hierarchy  and violence and the nation, we can hand our lives over to the military-industrial industrial complex. If we abandon economic principles in our worrying about the environment, we can revert to $3 a day, and live in huts on a hillock in the woods by Walden Pond, depending on our friends in town to supply us with nails and books. Now in the early twenty-first century we can even if we wish add for good measure an anti-bourgeois religiosity, as new as airplanes crashing into the World Trade Center and as old as the socialist reading of the Sermon on the Mount.

But I suggest that we don’t. I suggest instead that we recoup the bourgeois virtues, which have given us the scope, in von Humboldt’s words, to develop the highest and most harmonious of our powers to a complete and consistent tent whole. We will need to abandon the materialist premise that reshuffling and efficiency, or an exploitation of the poor, made the modern world. And we will need to make a new science of history and the economy, a humanistic  one that honors number and word, interest and rhetoric, behavior and meaning.

Deirdre N. McCloskey. Bourgeois Dignity: Why Economics Can’t Explain the Modern World (Kindle Locations 6041-6050). Kindle Edition.

HKO

Ms. McCloskey brings a new perspective to economics and economic history.  She advocates that the math of economics be tempered with the study of the humanities to understand the development on the modern world. Her book brings history, religion, rhetoric and literature to bear on our most critical questions.

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Wholes Apart

From a book review of Conserving America? by Patrick Deneen- review by Micah Medowcroft-  Trump Didn’t Kill Conservatism in The Wall Street Journal:

In our republic, argues Mr. Deneen, a conception of men “not as parts of wholes, but as wholes apart” has dissolved the ties and relationships that are the traditional essence of society. What began in the Constitution as a mandate for government to protect rights and individual freedoms has evolved—reflecting our desire for ever-increasing autonomy and self-definition—into a mission to sever us from our natural contexts of place and family. Alienation and an increasingly expanding state are our destiny, Mr. Deneen fears, “unless we recover a different, older, and better definition and language of liberty.” We must, argues Mr. Deneen, cultivate the virtues needed to find freedom within the limits of human nature and the natural world. That means returning self-government to local communities when possible. It may also mean, he suggests, a greater sensitivity to preserving the environment than classical liberalism typically permits.

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Classical and Progressive Liberals

From a book review of Conserving America? by Patrick Deneen- review by Micah Medowcroft-  Trump Didn’t Kill Conservatism in The Wall Street Journal:

The two dominant alternatives to this fixation on the present are progressivism’s focus on the future and what Mr. Deneen refers to as “nostalgism,” which “dons rose-tinted glasses in its high regard for a perfected past.” Consider, for example, the way many Republicans talk about the Reagan era. Or even the notion of “making America great again.” Such nostalgism animated much support for Mr. Trump this past year, and progressivism is easy to identify on the far left. But according to Mr. Deneen, in American politics both sides are actually liberals: classical liberals, often misnamed conservatives in the post-Cold War world, and progressive liberals. The classical liberals seek “a society of ever more perfectly liberated, autonomous individuals,” particularly in economic matters. The progressive liberals seek to build a society of “ever more egalitarian members of the global ‘community.’ ” The author believes that classical and progressive liberalism are “different sides of the same coin.”

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The Enlightenment Made Flesh

 “Unfortunately for Britain- and fortunately for America the generation that emerged to lead the colonies into independence was one of the most remarkable group of men in history-sensible, broad-minded, courageous, usually well educated, gifted in a variety of ways, and long-sighted, sometimes lit by flashes of genius.  It is rare indeed for a nation to have at its summit a group so variously gifted as Washington and Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Adams. And what was particularly providential was the way in which their strengths and weaknesses compensated each other, so that the group as a whole was infinitely more formidable that the sum of its parts. They were the Enlightenment made flesh, but an Enlightenment shorn of its vitiating French intellectual weaknesses of dogmatism, anti-clericalism, moral chaos, and an excessive trust in logic, and buttressed by the English virtues of pragmatism, fair-mindedness, and honorable loyalty to each other. Moreover, behind this front rank was a second, and indeed a third, of solid, sensible, able men capable of rising to a great occasion.  In personal qualities, there was a difference as deep as the Atlantic between the men who led America and Britain during those years, and it told from first to last.  Great events in history are determined by all kinds of factors, but the most important single one is always the quality of the people in charge; and never was this principle more convincingly demonstrated than in the struggle for American Independence.”

from A History of the American People by Paul Johnson – Harper Collins 1997