Thursday, 21 June 2012

Should we *assume* the past was better than now, or worse?

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Given that humans are incapable of neutrality (at least with respect to matters that concern them), then they will always have the assumption either that the past was better than the present or the present is superior to the past.

Having established this assumption, there is room for variation over the degree of superiority, and its magnitude: e.g. the past was better than the present with a few specific exceptions, or the past was a lot or a little better than the present - and this varied in different times and places, and so on...

But there must be an assumption.

Having clarified this - then the assumption marks a cleavage point between political perspectives; because if we assume (or expect) the present is better than the past, then we assume (or expect) that things are getting better (the 'progressive' and Leftist assumption) - while if the past is worse than the present then things are getting worse (the reactionary assumption).

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12 comments:

JP said...

The basic purpose of Leftist history is to promote falsehood for political purposes -- i.e., that the past was vastly worse than the present, and therefore the Left's political program represents "progress" and "improvement".

A. M. said...

I think it's important to ask at what point in the past it was better. How about having the assumption that there are cycles of peaks and valleys corresponding to society's relative piety or impiety?

bgc said...

@AM - I'd agree there are peaks and valleys, but not cycles (that is a very recent notion, surely - wasn't it Vico who first thought this? - for a Christian, history is linear and unrepeatable.

A. M. said...

I meant cycles only in the sense of repeating spiritual patterns.

Nergol said...

I still fail to see why, Prof. Charlton, history must be linear and unrepeatable for a Christian. We agree that God created the world, and someday will end it. But how does that disprove the idea that the affairs of man contain historical cycles that are the result of our human tendency to make the same mistakes over and over again?

Cantillon Blog said...

Bruce - notion of a cyclical universe is at least in Vedic writings, and is very old indeed. And it is in Hesiod's Works and Days, so is not all that recent in the West.

Nergol said...

And, while I hate to keep harping on this, I refer you to Ecclesiastes 1:9 - “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.”

I think that's pretty consistent with an idea of cyclical history so far as the affairs of man are concerned.

bgc said...

@Nergol - yes but that was the Old Testament, the Old Covenant - this was changed by the work of Christ.

Nergol said...

@bgc Woah now - down this path lie demons.

First, just how much of the OT do you find to be invalidated by the ministry of Christ? Some of it? All of it? Should we feel free to simply ignore the OT entirely as something rendered out of date the day Christ was born? If what you say is true, why bother studying it at all?

Second, what specifically about the teachings of Christ invalidates this passage? And again, what specifically in the Christian worldview precludes the idea that the affairs of man run in cycles?

bgc said...

@N - It is the basic world view of the OT that has been superceded - *especially* that of Ecclesiastes - although naturally it still retains considerable relevance.

Anonymous said...

The past was worse in material terms and better in spiritual terms.

Denying that the modern man is a dwarf in spiritual (Christian) aspects is going against all evidence. But denying that we are better in material terms (for example, life expectancy) is impossible.

Since God created us with flesh and spirit (not only spirit is important, like in Buddhism or Hinduism), this is more nuanced than a steady decline, the way medieval thinkers thought the history of mankind goes. Of course, it is also different from the myth of progress that suffocates Western thought.

Without modern medicine I would have been dead at the age of 13. And I guess, Bruce, that you wouldn't want to live the way our ancestors did, exposing your kids to an early death.

You can still do it in some parts of the third-world and it's easy to relocate (I live in Central America). Believe me: it's not pretty.

Imnobody

bgc said...

@Imnobody "The past was worse in material terms and better in spiritual terms"

Yes, but what does this mean? There must be, always is, an assumption. What your phrase unpacks to is that the past is better than the present, assuming you believe in the reality of the spiritual.

It is not easy to find anywhere in the world that is in a spiritually healthy state if you are a Christian.