Macaulay, Whig Historian

All hated Whiggery; but what is Whiggery?
A levelling, rancorous, rational sort of mind
That never looked out of the eye of a saint
Or out of drunkard’s eye. All’s Whiggery now,
But we old men are massed against the world.
—W. B. Yeats

Outside Thomas Bramwell Welch’s “unfermented wine,” surely Whig History remains the foulest invention of the 19th century. What is this treacherous human construction? According to historiographer and hipster conservative sensei Herbert Butterfield, Whig History is a historical narrative that paints the past as march toward inevitable enlightenment and inexorable progress. The present is the standard and justifies the past. Those parties, men, and (much over-estimated) “forces” in history that champion or prelude the Whiggish ideal of democratic government, liberalized personal freedoms, and scientific accomplishment stand as undeniable heroes; those which oppose this movement towards progress must be understood as authoritarian villains intent on accumulation of power, superstition, and widespread ignorance.

Although the case against this approach has already been made with incisive scholarship, I will try to make a quick if insufficiently thorough rebuttal before moving on. Whig history ignores the multiple failures and uncertainties of science and technology in particular and the potentialities inherent in human choices in general. This progressive historiography also suffers from a chronological snobbery: what is new and present is invariably better than what was past. The present is the political, moral, and even spiritual gold standard from which we “objectively” judge other men, women, and their institutions. Continue reading Macaulay, Whig Historian

Check Your Humanity at the Gate of Walden Two

Walden Two
by B.F. Skinner
Hackett Publishing, 2005 (1st ed. 1948)
320 pages, paperback, $10.95

Inspired by a long tradition of utopian narratives, in Walden Two sociologist B. F. Skinner used the tale of a model community to explore how his dream of a science of “behavioral engineering” might be applied to form a more peaceful and harmonious society. As in Francis Bacon’s The New Atlantis, which I also review in this issue, the scientific element in Walden Two is science fiction. Such a science does not actually exist in the form in which it is depicted, at least not when the book was written. Nevertheless, within his story Skinner maintains more of a pretense of the actual existence of a behavioralist community, going so far as to have his characters discuss how “Walden Two” is not a “utopia” because unlike the imaginary republics of More, Plato, and Bacon, it actually exists. This is not only, as I will show, a bad book, but is a badly-written book. Sometimes this aspect makes it more entertaining than the author intended. Continue reading Check Your Humanity at the Gate of Walden Two