Comment 108741

By Selway (registered) | Posted February 05, 2015 at 01:01:07 in reply to Comment 108723

Yes it's true that it can be easier to judge with hindsight and there is a danger there. After all, we were not obliged to make the choice in the given circumstances, so we don't know what we ourselves would have done. It is self flattering to be morally superior while remaining untried. But is it really the case that standards vary from age to age, and that therefore the judgement of the present on the past is invalid? I certainly don't think that is true. We are all born into circumstances that we did not make, and don't get to choose between good and bad; only between the least bad. In order to choose for the best, we have to know what that is, which means we seek knowledge of the details of all the circumstances in order to make that best choice. (This is pretty much what RTH is about, setting aside the oceans of emotion that also get spilled here.)So one problem of historical judgement is to reconstruct past circumstances, and ask who knew what and when did they know it. Then there are other difficulties. The concept of responsibility varies, according to whether we have the means to address the circumstances we find, and according also to our understanding of who is "our own." Then there is the problem of our unfreedom, of our urge to do and say just what others are doing and saying, even if there is no immediate price to be paid for dissent. This is really what is meant by the "standard of the times". Some always resist but many do not. This is an undeniable political fact. But. As was pointed out in the Timothy Stanley article, there was lots of strong dissent at the time from Macdonald's views on Chinese enfranchisment and immigration. Similarly with Macdonald's handling of aboriginal issues. Macdonald decided early on that aboriginals could not be allowed to enter his grand new country as they were, and a great deal of evil followed from that. Obviously there is lots more to be said about all this, but we would certainly exceed everybody's patience if we tried to do it here.

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