Sunday, November 25, 2012

Standing Athwart the End of History, Yelling Stop

Admiring one's own writing is one of the least attractive of human activities, a sort of onanistic autovoyeurism.  But on the other hand, I've long felt that I should take all the admirers I can get: beggars can't be choosers and all that.  And in this case, there is the additional fact that it's needed since there is something I want to explain.

In an earlier post, I closed with a phrase that I rather liked: "Someone needs to stand athwart the end of history, yelling Stop."  Enough that I have -- temporarily -- added it to my masthead as a motto.*

The joke of the phrase requires that you know that William F. Buckley, in many ways the founder of contemporary American conservatism (and by any measure one of the crucial founders of it), in the inaugural editorial of his magazine The National Review, defined its mission thus: "It stands athwart history, yelling Stop, at a time when no one is inclined to do so, or to have much patience with those who so urge it."  The key phrase in that sentence -- "stand[ing] athwart history, yelling Stop" -- has come to be one of the central self-definitions of the conservative movement.**

So when I was talking about civil disobedience with regards to global warming, it occurred to me that what we desperately need now are people to stand athwart the end of history, yelling Stop.  I am far from alone in doing so -- and far, far from the loudest of voices doing so.  I can only dream of having a fraction of the impact in trying to stop the end of history that Buckley had in trying to stop history itself.  But since the phrase is there, I thought I'd make it my own.

(It also has another angle I like: it can be read also as a cri de coeur on the end of the humanities (history specifically, but the humanities generally) at our universities, and their decline in the culture.  In that sense, too, I'd like to stand athwart the end of history, yelling Stop.)

* And consequently removed the motto I previously had, "vilely determined to cheat the people of their rightful viscose", the explanation of which can be found in this post here.  I was sad to loose it, but decided I liked the new one sufficiently to replace it.  For now.

** It would probably be unkind to point out that stopping history in 1955 meant stopping the Civil Rights Movement, second wave feminism and the Gay Rights Movement, to say nothing of the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the cold war.  On the other hand, it's true, given what Buckley wrote and when he wrote it.   (And even if he didn't mean it about the Soviet Union & the cold war, he unquestionably meant it about the other three liberation movements.)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Well, this is rather late and all, but I stumbled across your blog while searching for stuff on Perec's A Void, and got interested enough to read more. When I saw this (already superseded) motto, my first thought was of Francis Fukuyama's The End of History, whose thesis always struck me as absurd. So another take on the motto is that you stand in opposition to that book and what it argues. Not a bad thing, I'd say. Enjoying your posts...