There are lots of strange paradoxes in the current frenzied liberal dissection of past sins.
One, a historic figure must be near perfect in all dimensions of his or her complex life to now pass progressive muster. That Jefferson is responsible for helping to establish many of the cherished human rights now enshrined in American life apparently cannot offset the transgression of having owned slaves.
Two, today's moral standards are always considered superior to those of the past. Ethical sense supposedly always improves with time.
However, would American society of 1915 have allowed a federally supported agency such as Planned Parenthood to cut apart aborted fetuses to sell infant body parts?
Three, the sins of the past were hardly all committed by racist, sexist, conservative white men.
Under the new morality, should we not also condemn the Aztec king Montezuma as a Hitler-like war criminal? No society prior to the Nazi Third Reich had so carefully organized and institutionalized the machinery of mass death that each year executed tens of thousands of sacrificial human captives from conquered neighboring tribes. Perhaps
The Zulus are often portrayed as saintly indigenous people, brutally colonized by rapacious British imperialists. That's not quite the whole story. Earlier in their pre-British history, the Zulus'
Applying the morality of the present in crude political fashion to ferret out the supposed race, class and gender immorality of the past is a tricky thing. Picking saints and sinners can boomerang in unexpected ways.
Will Democrats now also damn America's most openly racist president since the pre-Civil War era -- the liberal saint
Wilson successfully led the U.S. in World War I, tried to organize a global
Should we therefore wipe away any mention of "The Warren Court" or Roosevelt's New Deal? Or do history's liberal sinners alone win special exemption from today's liberal witch hunters?
Should we regard civil rights advocate Malcolm X as unworthy of attention, or instead as a complex historical persona?
By present ethical standards, was Malcolm more than just a convicted thief and avowed Communist who dismissed
The architect of Planned Parenthood was the feminist family planner
The past is not simplistic "gotcha" melodrama in which we convict figures of history by tabulating their sins on today's moral scorecards.
Instead, history is tragedy. It is complex. Moral assessments are dicey. With some humility, we must balance past and current ethical standards, as well as the elements of the good and the bad present in every life.
And we must avoid cheap, politicized moralizing that often tells us more about the ethics and ignorance of today's grand inquisitors than the targets of their inquisitions.