History matters. It matters a good deal. This is something that leftists have always understood, and it’s something that conservatives have consistently failed to understand. As Orwell pointed out in 1984 if you control the past you control the present. A sense of corporate identity, of national identity, is the product of history. If history can be manipulated then that sense of identity can be destroyed. More importantly perhaps, if our faith in out own history can be undermined then our sense of a shared positive identity evaporates.
This is what has happened to European history, and conservatives have allowed it to happen. Leftists have pushed the line, remorselessly, that the history of western civilisation is nothing more than a record of oppression, crime, victimisation, brutality, ignorance, superstition, cynicism and hypocrisy. Conservatives should have resisted this process and they have failed to do so. As a result the West is now paralysed, morally and spiritually, by its own history.
The irony of course is that the Left has a whole lot more to be ashamed of in its history, but leftists never ever apologise for their history. Stalin’s regime murdered tens of millions of people. Mao’s regime killed tens of millions of people. Pol Pot’s regime slaughtered millions of people. You would expect that it would be leftists suffering from a crippling paralysis as a result of their murderous history. But they don’t. It’s conservatives who are ashamed of their history.
Mention colonialism to a conservative and he will immediately start apologising. Mention anything connected with race to a conservative and he will immediately start apologising. Mention women to a conservative and he will begin apologising for the oppression of women. Mention Christianity to a conservative and he will apologise for all the supposed crimes of Christianity. Mention the Industrial Revolution to a conservative and he will apologise for sending children down the coal mines. Mention the possibility that things might have been better in the past and conservatives are reduced to abject terror that somehow they will be tainted by accusations of fascism – and of course they immediately start to apologise. Mention any historical event and the apologies will inevitably begin.
This mania has apologising has one obvious and certain result – it will be interpreted as an admission of guilt, an admission that every accusation leftists throw at western civilisation must be true. If the accusations were not true why would conservatives be apologising?
It is not necessary, and never was necessary, for conservatives to claim that western civilisation was perfect. Every human civilisation that has ever existed has had its faults and has done things that were less than admirable. That’s simply human nature. It is not necessary, and never was necessary, for conservatives to attempt to denigrate other civilisations. It is unnecessary and it is a huge tactical mistake – it comes across as both arrogant and defensive.
All conservatives ever needed to do was to counter the criticism levelled at the West by pointing out the West’s very considerable achievements. Europeans were the first people in history to outlaw slavery. Western society has, by comparison with every other civilisation in history, treated women remarkably well. Colonialism was in many ways an unfortunate and misguided experiment but on balance it did more good than harm. And almost everything that has made life relatively comfortable and pleasant has been invented by European men – without European men we would not have electricity, antibiotics, anaesthesia, sewerage, cars, trains, aircraft, recorded music, telephones and countless other things that no sane person would wish to live without. Without western civilisation the world have been denied Shakespeare, Bach, Mozart, the glories of Renaissance painting and countless other artistic treasures.
Creating a civilisation is nothing to apologise for. Life before civilisation was not only remarkably unpleasant, it was remarkably violent. As Lawrence H. Keeley points out in War Before Civilisation pre-civilised societies are infinitely more violent than modern western civilisation. Even the bloodbaths of the 20th century caused proportionately fewer deaths than occur in pre-civilised societies in the normal course of events. Which is of course another reason why it is mistaken to apologise for colonialism.
All conservatives have ever needed to do to win the history wars is to put the case for western civilisation. Instead of which they have chosen surrender and have given the victory to the Left by default.