The Moral Arc

There’s a quote attributed to Martin Luther King that President Obama liked to use a lot – “The moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice”. It’s an inspiring saying
It’s also a platitude with no historical basis.
Kevin Williamson paraphrased it and made it much more accurate: “the moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward tyranny and oppression”.
I like to think about that on July 4; of all the people who have ever lived in human societies in the past 20,000 years, the vast majority, before and after July 4 1776 lived under one form of strongman, chieftain, divine-right monarch or capo or another (at least, those who weren’t living in hunter-gatherer tribes – who lived a life that was “nasty, brutish and short” under the even more merciless tyranny of nature).
The idea that humans could live under anything *other* than those circumstances had scarcely occurred before the Declaration of Independence; the idea that human rights were something one was born with, rather than endowed by a benevolent monarch, was vastly more revolutionary and threatening to the status quo than the beat-up little army that faced off against the British was.
And it still is. Most of Europe’s “democracies” *still* believe that rights are granted by the community, not one’s creator. Which means that when (not if) a government goes off the rails, those rights follow suit.
Today we – those of us who are paying attention – celebrate an idea that most Americans can’t possibly comprehend: the very fact that a free society (albeit one overrun with an authoritarian bureaucracy and an arrogant, entitled political class) exists at all, even in deeply imperfect (aka “human”) form, defies not only history, but human nature itself. In the history of humanity, it’s as rare as a blue tulip.
What Nietzsche called the “Will to Power” – the ascendance of those with the desire to be in control not only of themselves but those around them – has driven most of human history. The fact that our society has managed to tame that impulse – or at least channel into a form that doesn’t end with endless wars, beheadings, forced famines and reprisals, is nothing short of miraculous…
…and about as fragile as that blue tulip, if we’re not careful.
Which is why we need to demand more of our media (who’ve become largely impotent, cowardly tools of the establishment in recent years), and government (whose bureaucracy more and more serves its own future), and most of all ourselves; to not let Facebook shut us up, not let the modern day brownshirts disarm us, not let bureaucrats with the Will to Power sap our right to privacy, to demand that people who want to come to America actually believe in what America *means*, not just what it gives.
The moral arc of history is not your friend. The job of bending it back never ends.

5 thoughts on “The Moral Arc

  1. From the headstone of John Jack (1713 – 1773)

    this sums up the moral arc of the universe:
    God wills us free; man wills us slaves.
    I will as God wills; God’s will be done.
    Here lies the body of
    a native of Africa who died
    March 1773 aged about 60 years
    Tho’ born in a land of slavery,
    He was born free.
    Tho’ he lived in a land of liberty,
    He lived a slave.
    Till by his honest, tho’ stolen labors,
    He acquired the source of slavery,
    Which gave him his freedom;
    Tho’ not long before
    Death, the grand tyrant
    Gave him his final emancipation,
    And set him on a footing with kings.
    Tho’ a slave to vice,
    He practised those virtues
    Without which kings are but slaves.”

  2. Pingback: In The Mailbox: 07.04.18 : The Other McCain

  3. The pattern isn’t control by a strong man, it is control by an oligarchy or aristocracy.

  4. There’s always one strong man at the head of an oligarchy or aristocracy, the guy the rest of them are plotting to kill so they can be the strong man at the head of the oligarchy or aristocracy. Which is a good thing – the more time they spend fighting among themselves, the less time they spend trying to make the rest of us do things “for our own good.”

  5. It reminds me of the story of Israel in the Old Testament–repentance, faith, renewal, followed by forgetfulness, apostasy, slavery. The more we learn, the more we forget.

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