In the Core Course of our Masters program, we explore the question, “what’s modern, about modern history?” It’s broken up into 4 themes which are taught by 3 different professors. The first set of seminars explored the Historiography of Modern History and History in general and the second, current seminar, has explored history through Nationalism.
This week we gave a presentation based on an article by Prasenjit Duara entitled, “Transnationalism and the Challenge of National Histories.” It is from Rethinking American History in a Global Age, Thomas Bender, editor. Among other things, he warns against the use of history to promote ultranationalism and encourages a study of history that does avoids using the current evolutionary borders as limits or guidelines to historical research ie. British History, American History, Modern Germany, etc. He cites several examples in China and the Mexican border that show how history cuts across borders and must, to be truly understood, be examined locally.
In his Chinese local example, he shows how two different regimes in China plus Japan all used a folk history to promote different ends. He argues that this is part of the tension that exists between modernity and tradition–a Marxist argument that has been passed as fact. The Fascist regime in Japan and the Marxist and Fascist regimes he refers to in China most assuredly bent the history to establish their legitimacy as governors of Japan and China respectively. This does not, however, necessarily mean that an either/or dichotomy exists between tradition and modernization.
The Unites States, unlike those Chinese and Japanese governments, does not suppress alternate histories. We have, collectively, been forced to come to terms with the ugliness of our history–treatment of native peoples, slavery, women, etc., have all been incorporated into our history and collective memory. Despite these scars of history, we continue to embrace the good traditions of our past while looking forward to continued modernization. Such is the case in democratic, pluralistic societies.
We’ve linked to One Cosmos a couple of times in the past, and do so again here because of the light he sheds on this tension between tradition and modernization.
How do you tie free trade, progressivism, the tradition of the religious right, and scientific revolution into one post? Like this:
But what to do about it? The paradox, or â€œcomplementarityâ€ at the heart of the modern conservative movement is the tension between tradition, which preserves, and the free market, which relentlessly destroys in order to build. While individual conservatives may or may not contain this tension within themselves, the conservative coalition definitely does, with the â€œreligious rightâ€ on one end and libertarians and free marketeers on the other. People wonder how these seeming opposites can coexist in the same tent, but the key may lie in their dynamic complementarity, for freedom only becomes operative, or “evolutionary,” when it is bound by transcendent limitations — which, by the way, is equally true for the individual.
The ironically named progressive left is an inverse image of this evolutionary complementarity. This is because it rejects both the creative destruction of capitalism and the restraints of tradition. Therefore, it is static where it should be dynamic, and dynamic where it should be static. It is as if they want to stop the world and â€œfreeze frameâ€ one version of capitalism, which is why, for example, they oppose free trade. While free trade is always beneficial in the long run, it is obviously going to displace some people and some occupations. It is as if the progressive is an â€œeconomic traditionalist,â€ transferring the resistance to change to the immament realm of economics instead of the spiritual realm of transcendent essences.
I know this is true, because it is what I used to believe when I was a liberal. For example, I grew up at a time when most people worked for large corporations that gave their employees generous pensions and health benefits. As such, it seemed “natural” or normative. In reality, this was just a brief phase of American capitalism, lasting from the mid-1950â€™s through the 1970â€™s. But backward looking progressives act as if this aberration was â€œin the nature of things.â€ They have a similar attitude toward factory jobs in heavy industry, as if we could somehow go back in time and preserve these high-wage, low-skill jobs.
But while the progressive is thoroughly backward looking with regard to economics, he is the opposite with regard to the spiritual realm. For him, mankind was basically worthless until the scientific revolution, mired as he was in myth, magic, and superstition. Rather, the only reliable way to understand the world is through the scientific method, which has the effect of throwing overboard centuries of truly priceless accumulated spiritual wisdom. It literally severs man from his deepest metaphysical roots and ruptures his vertical continuity. In reality, it destroys the very possibility of man in the archetypal sense — i.e., actualizing his “spiritual blueprint.”
A new kind of man is born out of this progressive spiritual inversion. Yesterday we spoke of castes and of â€œspiritual DNA.â€ Progressives, starting with Karl Marx, waged an assault on labor, eliminating its spiritual significance and reducing it to a mindless, collective â€œproletariat.â€ You might say that the left honors labor in the same way they honor the military: both are losers.
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