This dictatorship of the present has been enabled by around thirty years of material abundance and relative peace following the conclusion to the Cold War. As John Keegan, the military historian put it, Britain and American can afford our universalist idealism and our fantasies of a benevolent world united and ameliorated through commerce, given our good geographical fortune of being separated from continents by bodies of water. We can forget that the tides of history have pulled whole cultures under in violence and war, instead indulging in an imagined progressive history, moving ever upwards towards ever greater enlightenment and prosperity.
Our leaders, if they deserve the name, have forgotten the lessons of history, because they do not know history. They do not know the fate of nations and peoples. They are ignorant of the importance of the landscape of the world and the moral landscape of the heart, and how the interplay between the two shapes the destinies of civilisation. It is not to engage in nostalgia for a vanished age that never existed to reckon with the fact that those who governed us in the past were well aware of life’s tragic nature, of the reality of necessity and the ultimate goal of the avoidance of anarchy, its own form of tyranny. Our leaders in the 19th and up to the mid-20th centuries had been baptised in the fires of historical experience and therefore knew that the maintenance of right order, in accordance with the good, true, and beautiful, was the precondition for any liberty. Utopian, romantic ideas of universal rights, spreading democracy and natural freedom were dangerous in their unbounded idealism, leading nations and government astray in the quest for moral perfection.
History never ended, in the sense Francis Fukuyama meant it. Hegel, and his disciple Alexander Kojeve, were both wrong in discerning a direction to human History that would see the creation of the perfect liberal democratic regime and state of being in our world. History is the story of the deeds men and women do and accomplishments achieved together as clans, tribes, cities, empires, and nations. It is a story that will only end at the end of all things. Awareness of the living past reminds us that our lives are part of the weave of time, stretching back across the years, our own lives and the actions we take adding the threads that continue into the future.
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