Thursday, June 12, 2014

On the wrong side of history

This phrase is increasingly popular among social liberals (although conservative pundits occasionally use it). It's equivalent to other idioms like "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em."

I doubt liberals who use this phrase really think about the logic behind it. 

i) To begin with, it's a recipe for amoral pragmatism. Back the winning side, whichever side that might be. Do social liberals really believe that? What if the Supreme Court reversed Roe v. Wade. Would they switch sides on the abortion debate? 

ii) There's also the quality of a self-fulfilling prophecy. You can make something a lost cause by premature surrender. Sometimes you create the outcome by prejudging the outcome, then adapting to the imagined outcome. 

iii) The motto is tautologous. History is whatever happens, for good or ill. Better for some and worse for others. In that sense, there is no right or wrong side of history. 

By that logic, whoever won the last war is on the right side of history. When whoever won the last war loses the next war, that suddenly puts him on the wrong side of history–unless the next reversal. Outcomes oscillate. 

iv) The culture wars don't have decisive winners or losers. Both sides gain ground and lose ground. 


  1. The phrase commits an obsolescence fallacy that assumes that just because something is older it must be antiquated, obsolete and outdated. Nazi ideology in Germany during the 1930s was new, novel and en vogue but that didn't make it right. The phrase also assumes a progression and development in history from worse to better. But that itself presupposes an objective moral standard by which to compare things to be "better" or "worse." Christianity has such a standard while most non-Christians don't (even theoretically). If there is no such standard there could be progress and so rather than the "right" or "wrong" side of history, there's only the latter side of history. But that's irrelevant.

  2. Whenever someone uses this phrase to me, I point out that predicting cultural trends is notoriously difficult. Additionally, there's nothing under secularism that guarantees any sort of historical outcome. It's not as if secularism believes a benevolent power is guiding all of history to a certain end.

    1. Matthew,

      On one of my blogs you asked:

      "If it's okay with you AP, I might go ahead and add some of these to the Triablogue Master Index."

      Sure, No problem. I don't own those links. ;-)

      It's not as if secularism believes a benevolent power is guiding all of history to a certain end.

      Exactly. Many secularists often take for granted that things are and will always continue to get better socially. They often have that same assumption when it comes to evolutionary development. For all they know, humans may evolve to become much lesser intelligent primates or rat like creatures. This is often referred to as "devolving" or "devolution." But again that assumes one can determine what progress is. On secuarlism there's no reason to assume evolution to higher intelligence is better than evolution toward non-intelligence or an inanimate state. Given materialism, things just are, without any transcendent value or evaluation. Life and sentience could just as easily be (arbitrarily) considered abnormal since most of material reality is is inanimate.

  3. Good point