Sunday, May 1, 2011


As an historian, I’m skeptical any time I hear someone say, “History shows us that...” or “one of the lessons of history is...”

History is a series of arguments about the past – it is not the past itself, and rarely does it offer us clear lessons.  Hindsight is not 20/20: if it were, we wouldn’t need historians. And when historians themselves do not agree about what the lessons of history are, how are we to know what lessons to derive from the past?  The problem seems insoluble.

I think that the lessons of history are of a more general kind. For instance, I believe that there is a remarkable uniformity to human behaviour over time, probably the result of our evolutionary endowment manifesting itself in a plurality of social circumstances. If there’s one general “lesson of history” to be learned in regards to tomorrow’s election, it’s this: when decent people surrender the political sphere, people who crave power will occupy it for them, and there are no shortage of hate-filled, venomous, cruel, crazy, stupid, and naive voters willing to hand it to them. Never, ever forget: Adolf Hitler was elected. How many times have you heard some pinhead begin an argument with a phrase such as, “Hitler went too far, but...”?

Decent people who actually think about complex issues are often paralyzed, by contrast, because they are so disillusioned by the infantile character of our political discourse. It is understandable that so many of them exercise their right to abstain.  But there is a difference between abstention, which is a considered position, and not voting because you couldn’t be bothered. 

From time-to-time, some of my more politically savvy students on the left tell me that voting is inconsequential. Do they really believe this? I always administer a simple test:  would they not protest, then, if voting rights were taken away or denied to certain groups, and we reverted to an era like the one depicted in the photo above?

Voting is, admittedly, only a small part of what it means to be politically active. But democracies function on participation, and voting is an important part of it. So, for any students who are reading (and I know that some of you are), consider your position, and then get out there and vote for the political party that is least likely to destroy our country in the next five years.

1 comment:

Graham Broad said...

This early update brought to you by the very, very rare opportunity to support a party leader who has written an actual book. Or read one, for that matter.