Two Observations On Progress Today
Reason as hatred.— If disapproving of someone’s behavior, or disagreeing with his reasoning, is to be understood as an expression of hatred for the person, and if all hatred in turn may be regarded as violence, in the moral and perhaps legal senses, then all rational discussion or moral argument is effectively criminalized, and anyone who dares to express disagreement or disapproval of anyone’s preferences, actions, or wishes, is by definition a hater, an assailant, a criminal. Reason, deliberation, judgment, and simply having opinions (other than the opinion that one ought to have no opinions regarding others’ opinions) are thus universally discredited and outlawed.
History as Self-Esteem.— History, when taught as John Dewey said it should be taught, as Karl Marx said it should be taught, and as our public institutions, following those two masters of progress, do in fact teach it today, must be carefully grounded in self-protective assumptions, lest one stumble upon a dangerous doubt about, or inspiring alternative to, our ruling pieties. That is to say, the premises that (a) we know better, and (b) our most progressive beliefs are always certainties and never biases, must form the foundation of all historical education today, formal and popular. The assumption that we are certain, and hence must not be questioned, is the most basic tendency of ignorance, as Socrates observed by distinguishing himself as the wisest man in Athens on the grounds that although he, like other men, knows nothing, he, unlike other men, knows that he knows nothing.
This progressive foundation limits all study of history to nothing but the search for evidence of others’ difference from us, where difference means inferiority, ignorance, and immorality; or, occasionally, the search for others’ similarity to us, where similarity means precursory status, or faint early glimmers of truths we now understand more completely. That is, history today is valuable exclusively as a means of reminding ourselves that we are right, we are better, and we have nothing to learn from the past. In such an intellectual and moral climate, needless to say, there is no real reason to study history at all. Therefore, no one really studies it.