Memory and Gratitude

Editors note: This article was submitted for publication in our canceled June 1 issue, just after Memorial Day. We bring it to you now with our apologies.

***

This past Monday was Memorial Day. This holiday has its roots in American history following the Civil War; it was generally celebrated as “Decoration Day,” a day to place flowers and flags on the graves of fallen soldiers. Consequently, The Department of Veterans Affairs states that Memorial Day “commemorates the men and women who died while in the military service.” 36 USC § 116, the legislation establishing Memorial Day as a national holiday, states that on that day, the President is to issue a proclamation:

(1) calling on the people of the United States to observe Memorial Day by praying, according to their individual religious faith, for permanent peace;

(2) designating a period of time on Memorial Day during which the people may unite in prayer for a permanent peace;

(3) calling on the people of the United States to unite in prayer at that time; and

(4) calling on the media to join in observing Memorial Day and the period of prayer.

The assumed proper response to the commemoration of our honored war dead, according to this legislation, is to unite in prayer for peace. The true celebration of Memorial Day goes far beyond being “rhetorically proximate to justifications for more war” or just another “awareness” campaign. Memorial Day depends on memory. Continue reading Memory and Gratitude

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