Killing in History

Following a debunking post on Che Guevara, John Quiggin made an interesting comment. “The orthodox history I was taught at school consisted largely of glorification of people who were pretty much identical to Che in all essentials (Alexander the Great, Richard the Lionheart, the Black Prince and so on). Admiration for such characters is a widespread human failing.”

Someone else said something very similar a generation or two ago. “There is no history of mankind, there is only an indefinite number of histories of all kinds of aspects of human life. And one of these is the history of political power. This is elevated to the history of the world. But this, I hold, is an offence against every decent concepton of mankind. It is hardly better than to treat the history of embezzelment or of robbery or of poisoning as the history of mankind. For the history of power politics is nothing but the history of international crime and mass murder (including, it is true, some of the attempts to suppress them). This history is taught in schools, and some of the greatest criminals are extolled as its heroes.”

For more of the same and cognate reflections on education, including the place of science in liberal education.

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cs
cs
2022 years ago

“There is no history of mankind, there is only an indefinite number of histories of all kinds of aspects of human life.”

This is pretty silly piece of dogmatism, if I may say so.

Rob
Rob
2022 years ago

Have to say that I agree with Chris on that one.

Robert
2022 years ago

I have to agree with Rafe and his idol on this one. Any attempt to distil a universal history of mankind is doomed to failure, as it can not possibly encapsulate every aspect of human experience.

cs
cs
2022 years ago

But you jump too far Robert. Admitting that the task of writing the history of humankind is ultimately impossible, or at least would be impossible to prove even if it was to be realised, can scarcely double-up to also serve as proof of that history not existing at all.

wen
wen
2022 years ago

I think George Eliot puts it beautifully (if you take ‘vision & hearing’as being analogous with history):

`If we had a keen vision and feeling of all ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrels’ heartbeat, and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence.’

(Middlemarch)

cs
cs
2022 years ago

Fair enough wen, but that the grass really does grow and the squirrel’s heart really does beat, we have little doubt, even for our want of hearing.

wen
wen
2022 years ago

Yes – absolutely agree, Chris! It’s the impossibility, not the existence — but that shouldn’t stop us trying… (& perhaps literature helps fill in the gaps that aren’t so readily, or conventionally, available to historians?)

cs
cs
2022 years ago

Literature does indeed help mightily wen, not least for its capacities to expand the range of human imagination and empathy. History is the most imperious of the humanities in its promise, but should be the most humble in its practice.

John
John
2022 years ago

It seems to me that the people most infected with a “grand vision” of his—tory are the ideologues behind the Bush administration.

With their American “light on the hill” exceptionalism and bringing “freedom”, “jesus” and “markets” to the non-christian, non-white “heathens” & “barbarians”.

John Forth