Time for some lessons in British history—from the Frenchby Chris Patten / April 24, 2012 / Leave a comment
What do you mean, “If?” All its more extreme critics know that the BBC already rules the world. So as chairman of this Trotskyist conspiracy, sedulously dedicated to a Stakhanovite work plan to undermine western civilisation, my dominion is already assured.
But just in case you don’t buy this deranged version of events, let’s imagine that the “if” is for real, and that my dynasty doesn’t open its account until next Monday. What can you expect of Patten’s world rule?
An early capitulary will be issued from my south-west London bunker introducing a prohibitive tax on the ownership of Chelsea Tractors by those who only ever use their 4×4 SUVs for driving on tarmac roads. A few Saturday mornings ago, driving to the local farmers’ market in my suburb (where else would I be going?), I counted 26 of these wretched environmental criminals in the space of about a mile. “From Playground to Stomping Ground” as the Toyota Sequoia advertisement used to put it. So from SW13 kerbside to scrap heap.
But the most serious early change will be the establishment of the global history commission. We will assemble the best historians from around the world and set them to work looking at the way history is taught in countries other than their own.
Thucydides wrote that history was philosophy teaching by examples. The trouble is that we tend to choose the examples that suit our own tribal narratives and versions of events. So most communities and nations are encouraged to forget the things they should remember and remember a skewed account of things they should forget. Bad history can therefore become the servant of bad politics, for example the sort of identity politics that has caused so much bloodshed down the centuries. Good history is usually subversive, chipping away at national stereotypes and xenophobia, and questioning the yarns that regimes spin to justify their power and assert their legitimacy.
Distortion and the attenuation of a true account of events are not always particularly harmful. Look, for instance, at the relationship between the cross-Channel cousins, Britain and France. School history classes in Britain do not normally major on the fact that England lost her French Empire. We were booted out of l’hexagone by the “militarily hopeless” French. Well, they were hopeless, weren’t they, whenever their armoured aristos faced the sturdy English yeoman with his long-bow and arrows?
On the other…