6. Harper’s Magazine: History As End
There are some articles I read for this column and immediately save a PDF. This was one of those articles.
History has always been political. Over the past few years, history has seemingly played a more prominent role in popular discourse, and while “every modern political movement makes some contact with history . . . the role of history today, especially within liberal discourse, has changed. Rather than mine the past for usable politics—whether as analogue, inspiration, or warning—thinkers now travel in the opposite direction, from present injustice to historical crime.” Today, “American conservatives, traditionally attracted to history as an exercise in patrimonial devotion, have in the time of Trump abandoned many of their older pieties, instead oscillating between incoherence and outright nihilism. Liberals, meanwhile, seem to expect more from the past than ever before. Leaving behind the End of History, we have arrived at something like History as End.”
This essay by Matthew Karp offers an overview of the discipline of American history, which is currently at an inflection point. He argues that “the past may live inside the present, but it does not govern our growth. However sordid or sublime, our origins are not our destinies; our daily journey into the future is not fixed by moral arcs or genetic instructions. We must come to see history . . . not as ‘what we dwell in, are propelled by, or are determined by,’ but rather as ‘what we fight over, fight for, and aspire to honor in our practices of justice.’ History is not the end; it is only one more battleground where we must meet the vast demands of the ever-living now.”
I was absolutely captivated by this read and sent it to many friends—and I’m sure we will discuss it at length in the coming weeks.