Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Unwarranted Apologies

Letter in the Toronto Star, January 21, 2014

By declaring John A. MacDonald as "racist," the writers of an op ed have fallen into the error of "presentism" -- judging the past by today's standards. Some today may consider the actions of Sir John A. racist. We do not know if that was the case 150 years ago.

In her book, The Uses and Abuses of History, historian Margaret MacMillan asks, "Is it healthy for societies to apologize for things that were done in different centuries and under different sets of belief?"

She cautions, "It is all too easy to rummage through the past and find nothing but a list of grievances."

Sir John was a person of his time. Judge him only by the standards of that time.
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"One should not demand that past epochs conform to current prejudices, and thus commit the sin of excessive 'present-mindedness,' distorting the past by forcing it into a mould of recent construction."
     Roland N. Stromberg
     European Intellectual History since 1789

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Was it necessary 2007 for a tribe in Papua New Guinea to apologize for eating missionaries in the 19th century?

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