Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Quote of the day

This passage from Harold J. Berman's Law and Revolution popped into FLG's head today. He cannot remember if he's ever posted it before:
It is the hallmark of the great revolutions of Western history, starting with the Papal Revolution, that they clothe their vision of the radically new in the garments of a remote past, whether those of ancient legal authorities (as in the case of the Papal Revolution), or of an ancient religious text, the Bible (as in the case of the German Reformation), or of an ancient civilization, classical Greece (as in the case of the French Revolution), or of a prehistorical classless society (as in the case of the Russian Revolution). In all of these great upheavals the idea of restoration -- a return, and in that sense a revolution, to an earlier starting point -- was connected with a dynamic concept of the future.

It is easy enough to criticize the historiography of the revolutions as politically biased and, indeed, purely ideological. This, however, is to impose on revolutionaries the standards of objectivity asserted by modern historical scholarship, which is itself a product of its time and has its own biases. Moreover, it is important to recognize that the revolutionaries were perfectly aware that they were reinterpreting the past and adapting historical memories to new circumstances. What is significant is that at the most crucial turning points of Western history a projection into the distant past has been needed to match the projection into the distant future. Both the past and the future have been summoned, so to speak, to fight against the evils of the present.


Miss Self-Important said...

Cribbed from Arendt.

Anonymous said...

Not unlike Confucius, who also claimed to be reclaiming a virtuous and lost past. dave.s.

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