Improvising History

In George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984, an official asks Winston Smith what he does. The answer? He “improvises history.” That is, Smith goes through old news reports and changes them to reflect attitudes and events more convenient to Big Brother.

The result instills a cultural and historical, as well as political, amnesia on society. Not knowing the facts, people accept the official line, even as it changes from day to day to fit whatever the powers-that-be find expedient or useful. Consistency is non-existent, and truth irrelevant.

Nor is this fictional. Orwell’s art imitates life.

The recent preliminary UNESCO resolution denying any Jewish connection to the Temple Mount (the location of the ruins of the Jewish Temple) in the city of Jerusalem (the capital city of ancient Israel) is a case in point. At first glance a completely ludicrous claim, it is disturbing to discover that only six countries — Estonia, Germany, Lithuania, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and the United States — opposed the resolution. Twenty-four member countries of the fifty-eight member UNESCO Executive Board voted in favor, twenty-six abstained, and two were absent. Australia has no board representation.

At second glance, however, denying the Jewish connection to the Temple Mount makes perfect sense. A truth, definition, or fact has become inconvenient to those who wield power, so it must be changed, and history improvised to supply something more useful to whatever agenda is being advanced.

The only surprise is that people are surprised. The modern world long ago abandoned any reliance on reason, and has gone completely with faith.

Not faith in traditional deities, of course. As Fulton Sheen observed, in the modern age God has been demoted in favor of what sociologist Émile Durkheim called a “divinized society”: Collective Man. Religion is a social, not a spiritual, phenomenon.

“The law . . . should favor ownership, and its policy should be to induce as many as possible of the people to become owners.”

Collective Man-God needs a visible presence. This is the State, what totalitarian philosopher Thomas Hobbes called a “Mortall God.” The essential social tool of the State becomes the master, and citizens the servant of Leviathan.

It is no coincidence that what passed for a philosophy in the Third Reich was termed “the Triumph of the Will.” Faith not grounded on reason ultimately degenerates into moral relativism, even nihilism. Anything goes; might makes right.

Nor is this confined to the Middle East or dictatorships of the recent past. It is heart and soul of today’s Culture of Death.

Politically, positivism is the prevailing legal philosophy throughout the world. The law is what the courts say it is, not what legislators or constituents intended.

Law is no longer reason (lex ratio), consistent with human nature, respecting essential human dignity, providing an institutional framework within which people develop and become more fully human. Law is now will (lex voluntas), a means whereby the powerful force their will on others and remake society into their own image and likeness.

Economically, moral relativism enslaves humanity to Keynesian economics. In the opening passages of his Treatise on Money, John Maynard Keynes declared that the State has the power to “re-edit the dictionary” and unilaterally alter the terms of any contract.

The solution? Pope Leo XIII gave his prescription to restore things to their proper places for people of all faiths: widespread capital ownership. As he said in Rerum Novarum, “The law . . . should favor ownership, and its policy should be to induce as many as possible of the people to become owners.”

One possibility for returning power to people is the “Capital Homesteading” proposal by the interfaith Center for Economic and Social Justice (CESJ), a think tank in Arlington, Virginia, U.S.A. The proposal makes more sense — and takes less effort — than improvising history.

 

Michael D. Greaney is Director of Research at the Centre for Economic and Social Justice