Stealing History to Steal the Nation | Juan P. Villasmil “JP. Ballard”
In the last few years, anti-historical activists have engaged in a war to destroy the exceptionalist interpretation of the American story. They have reduced American heroes to monsters, American cohesive ethos to vacuous platitudes, and the well-founded desire to protect America’s mores to the irrational impulses of a privileged class. From the controversial 1619 Project to the removal of Theodore Roosevelt’s statue, revisionism has taken over the streets—and the classrooms. For us to fight back, we require not only the bravery of historians but the strength of everyday Americans that are willing to comprehend why a universally interpreted story that fosters unification is necessary—a history that we own and a history that owns us.
We are intrinsically associated with our history; without it, meaning is ungraspable. We belong to what created us—from our genetic makeup to the surnames we carry on generationally. Such unavoidable reality produces inherent loyalty. We are our families, and we will protect them. Thus, we cannot have a brother in an abstract sense without him being our brother concretely. Experience cannot erase the metaphysical weight of history from existence, but what can change is how we respond to it. Although we are predisposed to love what is ours, just like an alcoholic dad who abuses his child, the respect that exists for those who gave us life can perish. Such occurrence is counternatural, and only the infliction of pain, resentment, and hatred can impulse one into a war against their history. Once that occurs, one’s perception of that past as evil embraces abandonment, and ultimately, a demonstrably weak replacement.
What is happening in the United States at large is not much different. We are inclined to believe in our mutual goodness, but ill-intentioned ungrateful deconstructionists are not. They want us to observe America through a self-deprecating lens. Only then can they push for the transcendental change that most do not desire. They are not wrong when criticising the glorification of historic characters when narrowly-assessing their personifications today. But instead of seeking to demystify, they want to replace myths. They dislike the ubiquitously perceived greatness in the reading of our past, and wish to replace it with its diametrical opposite. One would think that the self-proclaimed truth-tellers would want to add more nuance to discussions on character and possibly expand on the sins present throughout the nation’s development. Such demands wouldn’t be met with intense opposition. The difference is that instead of digging for the truth, their mission is editorialising the past with clear ideological intentions.
The selective nature of history is inescapable. Thus, when parts of our history are taught with mysticism, we ought to understand why it occurs. For Thomas Jefferson, the teaching of civic virtue went hand-in-hand with the success of the republic. For Plato, a myth of civic identity was crucial to enhance the citizenry’s care for their republic. For Nietzsche, the awareness of where we come from gives us a sense of union with our surroundings, antiquarian history, which pushes us into an expression of meaning that supersedes the limits of our individuality. For Burke, the heritage of successive generations provide reasonable and civilised citizens with crucial civil and social instincts. For Machiavelli, Hobbes, and Rousseau, the fundamental need for the propagation of widely-shared civic virtues—through a common history—took central roles in their writings.
The list of philosophers who thought that a positive interpretation of a state’s history was required for the nature of the state to persevere could carry on for pages. The cross-ideological message is clear. National history is more than the accumulation of old facts; it is the all-encompassing catalyst of virtue. When those with prejudices against the backbone of the nation shriek about bias—and willfully ignore theirs, it is revealed that their priority is the replacement of the values, traditions, and institutions that those informed by the common good reading of our past are inclined to want to preserve.
“[The] attitude of humility before the breadth of knowledge mankind has accumulated, and before the even greater breadth of the unknown, is the beginning of wisdom.” — Scalia Speaks: Reflections on Law, Faith, and Life Well Lived | Antonin Scalia
Justice Scalia precisely described, with Tocquevillian influences, how the generational passing of our forefather’s reason, despite formidable obstacles, is responsible for our accumulated wisdom. Therefore, encouraging the appreciation of that civic heritage is necessary. Progress and conservation are not inherently good or evil. It all depends on where we want to move forward— and where we do not. Progress must stem from cognizance and conservation from humility. When change is incentivised by those without any semblance of appreciation for our past, it should come as no surprise when their change destroys more than what it builds. This leads to why the purposeful teaching of American history wroughts our moral fiber and serves as the only antidote to the chaos of forgetfulness.
If academics were solely calling for polished facts, then when judging men for their situational equally distributed sins, they would judge them for their greatest or worst deeds, which are what make them figures to begin with. They would compare them to other men of their generation. This never translates into excusing evil, rather, the boundary between historic figures engrained in national memory and the individual behind the figure should always be well-defined. Statues of Thomas Jefferson were not erected because he owned slaves; they were erected because he wrote the Declaration of Independence. Schools named after Martin Luther King Jr. were not built because he laughed at a woman getting raped; schools carry his name because he led the Civil Rights Movement. In its most basic form, this is the conservative nature of legacies. The praisal of faulted men of the past is internationally perceivable, but only in the United States can one see such immense desire to fight against it.
In our hemisphere, Chile’s O’Higgins owned slaves, Brazil’s Tiradentes owned slaves, and Venezuela’s Bolivar did so too. Still, from Augusto Pinochet to Hugo Chavez, the legacies of national heroes were integrated into their platforms and never fought against. From fascists to communists, the founders are remembered gratefully. There are always problems with the misattribution of ideological positions to civic heroes, but painting them as evil is another level. If all of the men that initiated the national project were evil, what does that reflect on the documents they wrote, the principles they espoused, and the institutions they established. The logical conclusion to such short-sighted prescription undoubtedly leads to why everything they left must be evil as well. This is the intended consequential effect of a previously unseen large-scale attack on the essence of our nation.
What drives their aggressive criticism of our story is nothing more than the repudiation of its impact. Times have evolved, but the principles enshrined in the American Constitution and exemplified by our heroes have penetrated civil society for centuries. That common history is what breeds cohesion in a nation as diverse as the United States, and if it is absent, expect her to fall into tribalism—and beg for reestablished unifying values. Meanwhile, expect those who love this nation to defend her history because without it, there is nothing left to conserve. It is easy to destroy what took time to build, but it is virtually impossible to reconstruct it. This is the primordial danger of an insatiable compulsive progressivism. So, expect us to oppose it with courage.