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Sunday, July 31, 2011

A Land Without History

"In a land without history, whoever furbishes the national memory, coins the concepts and interprets the past will win the future."

Michael Sturmer

Tell me who you are and I can tell you how you see the past. That vanishing country falling away behind us. Are we on the way up or the way down? Are we better off than we were four years ago, or forty or four hundred? Is this the best of times or the worst of times? The answer lies inside you. It is defined by your values. For some capacitive touchscreens and infinite channels mean a brighter future. For others, the values of home and family, dignity and country, that were lost matter more than the swipe pass and the digital swoosh.

The furniture of America's national memory has been slowly and stealthily moved out and replaced with new sleek and modern styles. History has been altered, twisted and turned to the purposes of the planners of our brand new future. The battle for the past is also the battle for the future. And he who defines the past, has a lock on determining what the future will be. It is not just the technical debates over laws and spending bills that matter, but the much larger cultural debate over who we are. If we cede that debate, then we give up everything. And the spending bills will pass anyway and the legislative machine will grind on without fail.

Ideology depends on that narrative of progress. America defined it as the progress from duty based central government to rights based self-government. Communism as the journey from feudalism to capitalism to communism. For Islam, it is a march backward to recapture the glory days of the Caliphate. For China it is a technocratic empire without emperors. The journey from the past to the present shows where you are going. It shapes the expected attitudes that people think they are supposed to have.

The Chinese and the Russians do not spend a great deal of time agonizing over Mao or Stalin. Mao was another Emperor and Stalin another Czar. They killed a great deal of people, but that is what emperors and czars have always done. What matters is that they made China and Russia great. Had the Nazis won or at least fought World War II to a stalemate, it is highly probable that the modern German would feel the same way about Hitler. Yes he may have gone too far, but he made Germany great.

That is what control of the historical narrative means. Take the worst monsters who ever lived, and fit them into a historical narrative so that they appear to be part of the pattern, and their deeds become nothing special. And take the greatest heroes and place them so that they appear to cut across the grain of history and they become monsters who subverted the natural course of events for their own greed and power. The deeds of their enemies are laid at their doorstep. Their life stories become myths to be exposed and torn down. This has been done and is being done to us right now.

Take the chief argument against Israel. It isn't human rights, because even its worst critics when backed up against a wall with a fact based test are forced to admit that it has superior human rights to those of neighboring countries. But those countries are part of the grain of history. Israel however cuts against the grain of history. It is colonial, it is imperialistic, it is all those Marxist buzzwords which mean that it should not exist. A Muslim country where the law is a man with an axe is part of the proper narrative of history. But Israel is an abomination, a crime against the inevitable trajectory of history. And all the troubles of the region and the world can be laid at its doorstep... because it is unnatural. Its unnaturalness disturbs the entire world order. And will go on disturbing it until it is destroyed.

But it doesn't end there. America is unnatural too. A colonialist state. And all nation states are unnatural really. Arbitrary borders cutting across cultural lines, impeding migration and communications. History is against them. They must go.

"Our hopes must be placed on the young. We must win the youth if we are to win the future."

Vladimir Lenin

"If we want to win the future... then we also have to win the race to educate our kids."

Barack Obama

"As we strive to achieve our main slogan, "Win the youth, over, win the future", we should also do our best to cut off these sources of strenght and growth from our rivals."

Saddam Hussein

We live on the cusp of a wave that is the present. Ahead of us is the shore of the future. Behind us the ocean of the ever-shifting past. History has its facts, but what we have are perspectives. These perspectives become the stories that inform who we are and what we are about. They give birth to the meaning we assign to age old symbols. They tell us what we should be fighting for. Anyone who can take that away from us, can also destroy us. Or remake us in their own image.

Children are the most vulnerable to it. The communal memories nurture the child, telling him of his place in the continuity of his people's history. That is why all repression begins with the repression of culture and memory. Bans on education, the criminalization of languages, national symbols and non-state schools. A sophisticated totalitarian state replaces their educational system with a centralized one aimed at destroying their specific identity and replacing it with a larger one. Indoctrinating them with the values and attitudes of the state. A less sophisticated one is content to allow them to be ignorant.

To create a land without history, you begin with the children. The adults always have history. It may be bad history, mangled and worn. But it is still there. No, it is the children who can be transformed into the cut off point between one generation and another. Some regimes will forbid the transmission of cultural memories from adults to children, but ours are wiser than that. They simply teach the children to despise adults and dismiss all they have to say as outmoded bigoted foolishness.

A culture that values only youth and mocks age and experience is completely vulnerable. It creates a land without a history. And its rulers can govern a populace no longer able to recognize old mistakes and ancient follies. It has no history. It has no national memory. There are symbols which the rulers interpret any way they please. And then there is no more people. Only the eternal and endless youth, and the euthanasia needle of mercy for anyone who isn't willing to act young anymore.

For the blank youth in a land without history, there is no past except as a scrambled mess of tropes, images and symbols to be combined and recombined in the way that amuses them best. There is only the wide open future. A future that is at once hopeful and hopeless. Ahead revolutions beckon. Each revolution excites them, and then fails, hardening them. They are told over and over again that the future belongs to them. But at some point they are forced to realize that in truth nothing belongs to them. Not the past. Not the present. And most certainly not the future.

"Maybe nothing is really bad, since I am convinced that we will win the future."

Abbie Hoffman

Historical inevitability. The conviction that WE WILL WIN THE FUTURE. It makes the difference between victory and defeat. An advancing army is worth far more than a retreating army of twice its size. The difference is in morale. In expectation. A retreating army expects to be beaten. An advancing army expects to win.

Map that analogy onto countries and ideologies. Consider how conservative political parties act in almost every country. As if they expect to be beaten. They expect it because they lost that sense of historical inevitability. The Goldwater campaign challenged Democratic voting blocs with, "In your heart you know he's right". Today most conservative parties 'know' in their hearts that the left is right. They quibble with their tactics and nitpick the implementation, but they have come to agree on the basic ideas.

In the US and the UK, the Republicans and the Tories are willing to agree to every one of the left's cultural agendas, as long as they're allowed to make some cuts in the budget. In Israel, Netanyahu is doing a fantastic job on the economy, while arguing that he should be allowed to carve up Israel on the installment plan, not in one lump sum. Imagine if after the Battle of Saratoga, the American colonies had agreed to go back under King George III's rule, as long as George Washington was made Finance Minister with the authority to review the books. We won't need to worry about the cultural war or restoring some sense of purpose to the nation, once we've trimmed 11 percent off the expendables budget.

This is the species of absurd madness we are dealing with here-- because even when they win elections, conservative parties act like losers, determined to prove that they aren't the bad guys. That they are tolerant, decent and generous. Good losers in short.

That is how occupying armies who have lost their sense of place and purpose behave. It is how people who live in a land without history act. They will fall for anything, because no matter how many times they invoke God and Country, these seem like pale things to them against the illusion of historical inevitability spun by the cultural dominance of their foes. Even when they win, they act like losers, because they have been convinced that they are doomed to lose. That the currents of history run against them. They will wage the occasional pitched battle and then run away.

There is only one thing that will stop this, and that is reclaiming the cultural narrative. Reclaiming it forcefully and vigorously with no apologies. Making it clear that we are the future. That our current is the tide of history, and they are stranded on the shoals of a lost cause. That is the message that genuinely great conservative leaders have sent. But even they often lacked the confidence of their rhetoric. While we may speak of the current, we all swim in a sea polluted by the propaganda of the other side's worldview and assumptions. The future may be our shore, but first we have to change the current. Our culture is our current. Our history is our tide. Their goal is to completely unmoor the future from the past. Ours is to close the circle once again.


  1. Is this a political view or a philosophical one Sultan? If it is political I am sure you realize that especially Judaism harbors indeed the intrinsic political philosophy that it has to fight agains windmills you describe in the name of G'd the creator of all (included the windmills) We believe and sense it's the only right thing to do even if we stand all alone but we can not prove that we are right and the world time upon time wants to prove us wrong.
    If your entire article is more based upon a philosophical thought you have to consider the concept that we can not even be sure if reality exists at all, or that all is an illusion of a mind if even such in itself is not an illusion because in the light of eternity nothing temporary, especially our minute life span as a species can have any meaning.


  2. In Israel, Netanyahu is doing a fantastic job on the economy, while arguing that he should be allowed to carve up Israel on the installment plan

    I see you don't live here in Israel, where the left has been driving the whole country crazy for weeks now with protests about prices aimed to bring down Netanyahu. No one even seems to be speaking out against the assumption that government is supposed to take care of you from cradle to grave.

  3. Anonymous1/8/11

    Upon re-reading my comment I realised that the train of thought your article triggered in my mind and which I wrote down bears only very indirectly and hardly visible to others a correlation to your column. Please accept my apologies,

  4. Irwin Ruff1/8/11

    "It is a nation that shall dwell in solitude and not be reckoned among the nations."
    There is also a midrash that explains "Avraham ivri" (usually taken as Avraham being from beyond the river) as meaning that Avraham stood on one side and all the other nations were on the other side.

    Judaism is different from every other religion or philosophy, but it is not meaningless because of that.

  5. fsy, I'm aware of it. I'm also speaking objectively. Israel has come through the global economic crisis fairly well

    Irwin, and Judaism is based on history. Its own story of coming into being.

  6. Congratulations on a great piece! It summarizes the key societal trends. Here is my only comment. Even though the Left has been quite successful in promoting its agenda, it will lead to a major catastrophe. I believe that eventually the people will reject that path. That's what happened to the now-defunct USSR and its global ambitions 20 years ago.

  7. Anonymous1/8/11

    fsy, are you surprised? Israeli's, imho, should be 100% behind Netanyahu. But it matters not whether you live in Israel, the U.S., wherever. The left is the left.

  8. I'm not surprised, I was just pointing out that Netanyahu is not only being attacked on the foreign-policy front.

  9. tenquid1/8/11

    "For the blank youth in a land without history, there is no past except as a scrambled mess of tropes, images and symbols to be combined and recombined in the way that amuses them best."

    Brilliant! Could that be the source of the vacuousness I see in our young ones?

  10. dave s2/8/11

    Here in England this denial of historical truth is everywhere. We are ,according to the new wisdom , a nation that in the last 1000 years has been made by endless waves of immigrants.
    I ask always- who were they and where did the come from.?
    All I get in reply is incoherent babbling verging on rage.
    Challenged with reality they cannot face it. To justify the present immigrant invasion the past has to be falsified.
    We have to teach our children and grandchildren the truth.

  11. civil westman2/8/11

    People of the erstwhile USSR raised cynicism to an art form in an attempt to preserve a shred of sanity. Among their aphorisms: In the Soviet Union, the past.... is hard to predict.

    Our 'educational' elite has wholeheartedly gone down the same path, quite successfully, it seems. I am rereading Bork's "Slouching Towards Gomorrah." He repeatedly uses the word, 'bleak.' The same word pops up to me as I devour the latest knish.

    Thank you, Daniel, for your incisive, sober and painful writing. Had the internet existed in the 1930's there would have been some, such as yourself and your readers, who would have clearly seen what was coming. Unfortunately, modern technology so leverages the power of few to kill many, that the toll of WWII may pale in comparison to the human tragedy which is about to befall us. Imagine, if you will, a new Dark Age replete with WMD's.

  12. thank you

    there was no internet, but there was an extensive body of journalism in Europe, on a scale that dwarfs the modern blogsphere... some people did see what was coming


  13. Unfortunately, modern conservatism has been relegated (by its adherents) almost strictly to the realm of economics. It is no longer seen as a moral movement that informs our economics, but a materialist movement which can supposedly survive any and all attacks by the left, because eventually, the absolute laws of economics (two plus two equals four) must prevail. All moral debate becomes prohibited.

    The left may very well win the future because the right has left the playing field.



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