I was asked in a recent interview what ‘We’ – the interviewer was referring to small c conservatives – should do with the tide of historical revisionism currently sweeping Great Britain. My answer was that historical revisionism never really endures. Whatever the pressures and however much it costs us, we should continue to shine the light of truth; that the current peak in subjective irrationality shall inevitably pass, and someday soon.
I added that we should take a look at the USSR where we have a detailed account of Russian Communists’ daily atrocities and failures, despite the Soviets’ assassinations of truth-tellers, their best efforts to propagandise and to sweep potential discomfitures under the carpet. Vasily Grossman’s Life and Fate or Solzhenitsyn’s The First Circle highlight the topic of moral integrity in Soviet Russia – both survived the censors’ shredders. Memoirs illuminate as do oral testimonies, and there is no shortage of factual observation in the autobiographies of Soviet dissidents.
Sure, many of today’s Marxist revisionists no longer consider that the Soviet Union was socialist – instead, they propose, it was ‘capitalist and social imperialist’. But what sensible people are getting won over by that weird historical revisionism save gobby outliers like Owen Jones and Novara Media – the Marxists themselves – those few desperadoes among us who are forever in search of ‘true socialism’, especially if it brings in a few Patreon dollars?
‘Real socialism’ is a repeat car crash as everyone knows.
As I walked down Victoria Street after the interview, I wondered whether my answer had cut the mustard.
On the one hand, I was sure that it had:
I thought of Andrew Scott – known to most as Otto English (a Twitterer) – whose historical revisionism in the book he authored, Fake History, was so wonderfully eviscerated, and so soon after publication, on UnHerd by the historian Dominic Sandbrook:
“Perhaps I’m old-fashioned, but it strikes me that if you’re writing a book about “ten great lies” called Fake History, you probably ought to use your real name” – just the opening volley in a delightful annihilation by Sandbrook which is well worth the read.
Another positive development that sprung to mind was the pressure put on revisionist National Trust executives recently by the group Restore Trust. Restore Trust opposes what it describes as a “woke” agenda – including National Trust displays about slavery and historical figures – and has said it wants to steer the charity “back to its core purpose of looking after our heritage and countryside”. It has endorsed five candidates who are standing for election to its council. Most prominent among them is the former supreme court judge Jonathan Sumption.
When faced with historical revisionism, I reckoned that there would always be sound and proud Britons who will kick up enough of a fuss and make sure that any dodgy revisionists climb back into their box, therefore my original answer to the interviewer sufficed. In any case, the revisionists were so few in number that their revisionism was mere behavioural bilingualism restricted to the dinner tables of Islington and possessed universities where it would fester in a harmless but temporary conformity before dissipating in the wind.
As I passed by yet another lifeless card shop on Victoria Street where Jayem’s tobacconists once dwelt, my optimism began to fade. It occurred to me that sound people in our country might be a dwindling troop. Then, worse – fortunately from afar – I witnessed the horror of a Labour MP walking by in a grey suit and tie whilst sporting matching grey shoes.
If a man can be that oblivious to sartorial self-annihilation, I surmised, what prevents a posse of similarly peculiar, revisionist lawmakers from forcing our children into answering history exam questions with untruths for marks?
A flood of most horrible images including snapshots of Corbyn in a shell suit, Angela Rayner in a catsuit and Nick Brown in chaps fast polluted my mind. Dear God, Labour’s full of them, I remembered. How many months away from Education Secretary, Reichserziehungsminister Lloyd Russell-Moyle are we? When will the GCSE unit ‘The Rise of Nazism’ be reduced to mere interpretations of BDSM and leather fetishism? I felt a sweat coming on and was forced to take a deep breath of Westminster fumes – as foul post ULEZ as pre ULEZ, Mr Khan.
After further contemplation on the train home, I decided that my original answer was the correct one. You see, when you remove the emotion from fact finding, as truth does by its very nature, you are left with that residue which we still call facts. Historiography is never as easy to manipulate as the prevailing recorders and propagandists think it is at their time of prevailing. Truths have a nasty habit of resurfacing however much you try to conceal them. Records emerge which counter the revisions and expose their authors as frauds.
In today’s data-driven world where mirrors of mirrors exist and where there’s always an Alexa or CCTV camera at hand to record the reality, and a Dark Web to suck up data most humans never knew existed, the once cunning art of historical revisionism faces its greatest peril. Compliance Departments and annoying bloggers were never so widespread or pervasive. We live in a world of snoops and corroborators like never before, which presents us with big, new problems but stakes revisionists’ extinction, for they can no longer manipulate such a sea of facts.
Goethe wrote that “it is easier to perceive error than to find truth, for the former lies on the surface and is easily seen, while the latter lies in the depth, where few are willing to search for it” and perhaps he was right when in the nineteenth century important documents could be burned on ubiquitous hearths and primary sources were more easily lost – silenced forever by the tumult of war and political upheaval or in the binary swift upshot of a duel.
Today’s deepfakes, bots and social media storms may have some bearing on time-sensitive phenomena like election results or what appears in the pages of newspapers and news websites, but they are still provably fake. The fact is that technology is far more likely to expose truth than to bend it, thus dashing revisionist hopes. Edward Gibbon’s “Truth, naked unblushing truth, the first virtue of more serious history” shall, I believe, almost always conquer the efforts of truth-benders, from wherever they herald on the political plane. Yes, truth may take time to decipher and technology to decrypt but truth shall continue, eventually, to prevail in our history books, on the information signs of our great country houses, and as the key moral arbiter in our oft-peculiar world.
Dominic Wightman is a businessman and Editor of Country Squire Magazine.