Present, Future & History

To try to make use of the past- to try to place a framework upon it – is to look in the wrong direction for answers. As Plato observed, the truth lies upwards in the heavens. We are better off imagining our future and carving it out of the ether than trying to mould it out of the misleading physical realities of the past. We see our past, as we see all falsehoods, through a glass darkly. The past is obscured by our cultural context and our search for the answers we already expect to find. We cannot learn from humanity’s mistakes because we cannot comprehend them and because humanity is too stained by sin and ineptitude to be worth taking any lessons from. Why conceive of utopia through a reading of the grubby realities of the French, Russian or Velvet revolutions? Why bother factoring in to our projects of social change the petty problems of dead people – with their silly flights to Varennes, their refusals to sack Washington, their untimely deaths, their squalid assassinations, their plots and counterplots and hairbrained schemes that landed them in the thick of it again – all historical accidents that are worth a laugh or a tear and nothing much more? The past is no use to us at all and that is fine. It is still worth a visit. But the future must be imagined and created afresh – again and again until no mistakes are undertaken at all. That is when history will finally stop and we will stop wasting our time looking for our answers within it.

Tim Stanley, History and Its Uses

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