Sunday, February 06, 2005

"Wrong Side of History" - Worst Phrase Ever

Whenever you read the blogosphere, there's certain terms or phrases that you'll see over and over. While I'm not great fan of the very overused term - "meme", the one that really gets my goat is "wrong side of history".

This is a favorite of the Right, as in, "Democrats are on the 'wrong side of history'", particularly in terms of Iraq, but I've seen it for gay marriage and Social Security too.

Let's think about what this phrase means.

In the present time if you are on the "wrong side of history", you are either:

1. Acting in a way contrary to historical precedent


2. In a position today because a past event created a situation that left you on "the wrong side of history."

Apply this to Iraq. It's a current event, so the second definition is out. It would be appropriate to say, "Native Americans are on the wrong side of history" because "history", as in European colonization, left them in a lessened position relative to their pre-event status.

We're stuck with the first definition. The historical record in this country in a law of occupation to institute democracy isn't good - it's Vietnam. If you go to Iraq and think it's not going to go according to an extrapolation of history, you're betting against history. In this case, the Right is actually on the "wrong side of history" because things appear to be going well in Iraq.

Now, if Iraq goes well and we're a few years down the road (and the present is "history", not the "present"), the Right could say to Democrats - "You WERE on the 'wrong side of history'". If it negatively impacts Democrats at that time, like in my Native American example, you could say, "Democrats ARE on the 'wrong side of history'"

I'm not doing this just to pick on the Right. This was a favourite of Bill Clinton and it's also a NYT favorite - it just doesn't make any sense. and it's often used out of the proper context because it sounds cool.

I guess it's better than "meme", so I won't complain too loudly.


Blogger Leftist Wonk said...

There is a historical context for rhetoric of being on the "side of history," and the right's use of old Marxist phraseology is ironic and a bit funny.

19th century thinkers (pre-postmodernist) were obsessed with "discovering" laws of nature and the inherent teleology of history. To the Christian, history is endless cycles, ended only by Armageddon; enlightenment philosophies (ideologies?) say history is onward and upward, i.e. "progress" as an inevitable, and always upward process. Marx's biggest failing as a philosopher is this enlightenment disease: an addiction to "scientific" laws. Thus, when a Marxist would state that something was consigned to the "dustbin of history" they really meant it. Thus, for the Right to now refer to something as being on the wrong side of history is a bit funny -- although I suspect that older right winger's are purposefully alluding to Marxism and using the phrase with tongue-in-cheek irony. As to young Rightists, well, they are as smug as Commie true believers back in the day . . .

4:47 PM  

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