Saturday, March 11, 2006

Keith Windschuttle comment

Keith Windschuttle is a new name for me. As best I can figure he is a former Continental Leftist turned latter-day revisionist historian writing out of New Zealand or Australia. Clearly very bright and well-read, he has a way with the Mother Tongue that only a favorite son of the Empire can boast. His name and the following quote came up in a comment thread I was reading yesterday. I'm not sure I like what he says, but I have to admit he says it awfully well. Get this...

The logic of relativism is taking Western academics into dark waters. They are now prepared to countenance practices that are obviously cruel, unnatural and life-denying, that is, practices that offend against all they claim to stand for.

To see how decadent these assumptions have become, compare today's relativism to the attitude that prevailed when the culture of the British people was in its ascendancy. Sir Charles Napier, the British Commander-in-chief in India from 1849 to 1851, signed an agreement with local Hindu leaders that he would respect all their customs, except for the practice of suttee. The Hindu leaders protested but Napier was unmoved:

You say that it is your custom to burn widows. Very well. We also have a custom: when men burn a woman alive, we tie a rope around their necks and we hang them. Build your funeral pyre; beside it, my carpenters will build a gallows. You may follow your custom. And then we will follow ours.

The moral rationale of cultural relativism is a plea for tolerance and respect of other cultures, no matter how uncomfortable we might be with their beliefs and practices. However, there is one culture conspicuous by its absence from all this. The plea for acceptance and open-mindedness does not extend to Western culture itself, whose history is regarded as little more than a crime against the rest of humanity. The West cannot judge other cultures but must condemn its own.

This is taken from a longish piece from his website. Good read, entertaining writing style and yes, I recommend a critical reading. It is the text of a presentation he made at a symposium last month. I was tempted to blog about it but forgot about it until this morning. The same snip popped up at The Is-Ought Problem, a Kurdish blog I came across a few days ago. He beat me to it.

Wikipedia link to Windschuttle.


Ian Kilbey said...

Hi, I stumbled on your site when searching for references to Keith Windschuttle. I am currently reading his book: “The Fabrication of Aboriginal History, Volume One, Van Diemen’s Land 1803-1847”.

He is apparently so blinded by the virtues of the British Empire that he would have us believe that during the above period the natives managed to kill 188 (he does like precise, “plausible” figures)British citizens while our side only managed to kill 120 of them. Considering our side had muskets (as opposed to the enemy’s spears) and were also in the process of wiping out thousands of kangaroos (not to mention the fabled Tasmanian tiger) I find his assessment of the calibre and motivations of our often tough, hard-bitten, early settlers "implausible".

Our present government likes the way his research has made us feel "relaxed and comfortable" about our history. Now it is easier for us to accept that aborigines often live in third world conditions with third world health statistics.

Hoots said...

Thanks for reading and commenting. Your take on Windschuttle is about the same as mine, a clever writer spinning history to some twisted purpose.

Here in the deep South where I grew up I often heard white people remarking how "our Negroes" were really happy and treated well by whites. Outside agitators stirring things up were the real problem.

Sadly, they believed it. Mr. Winschuttle would have been quite comfortable among them.