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

The Unthinking Christian’s Whig History

Gustave Dore: "Job Speaks with his Friends"
Gustave Dore: "Job Speaks with his Friends"

When you visit the edges of the Christian pseudo-intellectual world, you’ll come across some hilariously embarrassing fringe nuttiness. As a historian by training, I’ve encountered a good many interpretational frameworks, several of them really bad. As a Christian by faith, I’ve seen a plethora of these erroneous understandings hitch their wagons to religion. I had the distinct displeasure of spending an entire class having arguing over “providentialist” history and its antagonists (which is just about every historiographical school on the field). Take for example Peter Marshall, David Manuel, and Stephen Keillor, a veritable triumvirate of nincompoops.

Cover image of "The Light and the Glory"
The Light and the Glory by Marshall and Manuel

You would be wise to say, “Mr. Adulescens, it seems that your youthful vigor has gotten the better of you here. Where is your intellectual and Christian charity?” I can answer with confidence and frustration that hours upon hours of fruitless class discussion have caused me to conclude something quite revolutionary: that the most loving and kind thing to do is put down this academic mongrel. I label providentialist history as a “mongrel” since it could only have come to be in the Christian intellectual ghetto, with some crossbreeding of Rushdoonyite Reconstructionism, over-reaching Calvinism, and confident fundamentalism. In The Light and the Glory, Marshall and Manuel try to argue that God has special, unique plans for America as a nation (as if He didn’t for the other countries as well). Every step since Plymouth Rock has been a resolute march toward what could be a godly, free, virtuous, and Christian (read: Protestant) republic, full of wholesomeness and family values. Continue reading The Unthinking Christian’s Whig History