Tuesday, December 20, 2011

"He Who Controls the Past, Controls the Future": Reconsidering Bill Whittle

There is a tendency among modern-day politicians to misuse and misinterpret history in order to advance modern political positions.  This isn't a good idea, no matter how worthy the position.    As historian Arthur M. Schlesinger told us in his book "The Disuniting of America," history is too often used as a weapon.  Using history as a weapon generally means misrepresenting history to justify modern day partisan politics. 

This was the meaning of Orwell's "1984" slogan, "He who controls the present, controls the past.  He who controls the past, controls the future."  If you control the interpretation of history, you can create heroes and villains and justify all sorts of political positions in the here and now.

Bill Whittle demonstrates this tendency (probably without realizing that he is doing so) in his recent Pajamas TV video  "A Voter's Guide to Republicans."  Whittle begins with a worthy objective, to disprove leftist claims that we Republicans are motivated by hate, are fascist and racist. However, he uses false history to support the moral purity of the Republican Party.

Bill Whittle is a conservative writer and commenter extraordinaire. I generally enjoy his expository writing and commentary on Pajamas TV. However, when it comes to Abraham Lincoln, the Civil War and the early Republican Party, he is not to be trusted. Whittle's false history in favor of Republicans claims that the early Republican Party of 1860 was anti-racist and committed to freeing the slaves.  It was neither.

The early Republican Party was dead-set against allowing slavery into the territories, those areas that had not yet become states of the union.  However, it wasn't a Republican belief in racial equality or modern-day morality that formed the basis of their anti-slavery sentiment.  The early Republicans hated blacks and didn't want them polluting the racial purity of these new territories.  Also, they understandably didn't want to compete with slave labor.  One of the first Republican Party platforms identified the Republicans as "the White People's Party."  The new territories were to be set aside for the benefit of the white race.  Early Republicans were hardly the great moral crusaders of the 19th century.  They were pretty much like most other white people of the time period:  highly prejudiced against blacks.  In this they were no better or no worse than mainstream America of the 1860's.

Now let me be clear:  when discussing the Republican Party of the 21st century, Bill Whittle is absolutely correct:  we are neither "racist" nor fascist nor motivated by hate.  However, how we got to this point has little to do with Abraham Lincoln or the Republican Party of 1860.

The truth need not be defended by falsehood.  As the late Vaclav Havel once said, "Lying can never save us from another lie."


RSS Ronald Reagan said...

I saw Whittle's video, and I agree that he (like many) exaggerated the moral righteousness and devotion to racial equality among Lincoln and the northern Republicans.

However, I'm not sure that things are simple one way or the other. Consider this post from the Grand Old Partisan http://grandoldpartisan.typepad.com/blog/2011/12/john-langston.html

It's hard for me to see how a supposedly anti-black party would've elected a black public official in 1855.

Stogie said...

RSS, the Republican Party was formed in 1854 and this man was elected in 1855? What makes you think he was a Republican? In any case, the man was elected to be the Town Clerk of the city in which lived...such offices are generally non-partisan.

Even if the man were elected by local Republicans (doubtful), then the election means very little. It was a local election of a very minor post, not a national election, and certainly not representative of the GOP as a whole.

Always On Watch said...

I almost didn't post that Bill Whittle video at my site because of the lies about Lincoln.

I am well aware that Lincoln, by our definitions in the 21st Century, would be labeled a racist and a white supremacist. This morning, I posted a comment to that effect at my web site, at the Bill Whittle video thread.

Lincoln has been glorified in part because he was assassinated, I think.

Stogie Jr said...

Great post Pop!

Like I have mentioned to you before, the Country ceased to be the Country envisioned by the founders, since the loss of the Civil War.

Teaching kids that the Civil War was fought over Slavery is a lie that covers the truth. Sort of like the outer chocolate on a candy bar.

If the South was guilty of Slavery then what does that make the North? When it comes to Slavery and the States, the North was the drug dealer, and the South was the addict.

I fear one day the entire war will not only be nothing but two paragraphs in American History books, but it will be written out completely.

The Griper said...

Lincoln is glorified for the simple reason that he won the war. the winner is always the writer of history.

Stogie said...

Griper, yes, I believe it was Schlesinger who said that written history is often little more than a set of self-justifying myths.

Anonymous said...

Is that all you guys can really hack up?

Stogie said...

Anonymous, yeah that's all.

Edward Anthony said...