“Don’t you want to be on the right side of history?”
“You don’t want to be on the wrong side of history!”
Suddenly people who haven’t cracked a history text voluntarily in ages are concerned about being on the “correct” side of history. I’m seeing the phrase “right/wrong side of history” everywhere lately. Of course we know what the topic is: voting for Obama.
Months ago I heard the phrase issue out of the mouth of an old boyfriend whom I’ve known for over twenty-five years. He called me because he wanted to hear the actual reasons that I was not supporting Obama without having to read this blog—or at least he claimed to want to hear them. It was a fruitless conversation during which few of my reasons received a full hearing. (Listening was never his strong suit.) The question about the level of my desire to be on the correct side of history is the one useful thing that stuck in my head about the conversation.
In response to the question, I was about to rhetorically ask “who cares” when Old Boyfriend ended his unsuccessful efforts at proselytizing. (Actually his phone died and I assume that he has though better of calling back.)
Who indeed does care about being on the “right side of history?” I don’t. But I’m wondering how this thing-of-alleged-importance got placed on the list of desires which the average American citizen is supposed to hold. I began to wonder about the origin of the phrase and idea(s) behind it. Who was the first to think that this particular choosing of sides was important and why?
I had no luck with the phrases “right side of history” and “wrong side of history” searching with Google, even though—judging by the number of results--both seem to be one of those phrases which has become worn out from overuse by professional and amateur pundits, right, left and indifferent.
But finally, with an intuition kick-started by a breakfast of hotlinks and scrambled eggs, I inserted the name “Marx” into the search field. Jackpot.
The concept of a right side of history is derived from Marxism, and it is founded on the belief that there is a forward advance toward a socialist future that can be resisted, but not ultimately defeated. But does anyone believe this anymore? Does anyone take seriously the claim that the present state of affairs will be set aside and a wholly new order of things implemented in its place, and that such a transformation of the world will happen as a matter of course?Jay Ambrose (March 28, 2006):
What does it mean to say someone is on the wrong side of history? Something like this, as best I can tell: History is moving discernibly and inevitably in a uniform, progressive, good direction, and if you hold to ideas or purposes contrary to that direction, you will find yourself more or less discarded, left by the wayside, a fossil of an era that was happily wiped out.It’s fascinating to note how Marxist phrases and concepts have been getting floated into the main of communication. And I’m more nervous that Ambrose is about them—especially when people use these “persuasion” tools without knowing what they mean. But I'm betting that, by now, Mr. Ambrose is nervous as well.
Though my scouting about indicates conservatives may use the expression as often as leftists, it clearly has deep roots in the thinking of Karl Marx, who supposed there was an economically determined class struggle the consequences of which were clearly predictable. [SNIP]
I am not saying equal misery will derive from the mere use of an expression about being on history's wrong side, but I do think that the assumptions buried in the phrase are treacherously fallacious and that bandying it about frequently could help inculcate them.
ON THE WRONG SIDE OF HISTORY was Toledo's Joe the Plumber who had the "bad luck" to be outside when History swept through his neighborhood.