The Marriage Debate and 'The Right Side of History'
Although it's about a week old, this Shepard Smith clip from FNC still caught my eye.
The notion of being on the "right" or "wrong" side of history is one of the most pervasive and most profoundly silly historiographical fallacies thrown around by a Progressives, not to mention a good many old-timey Liberals and some Conservatives. To many, History is a stern governess who passes judgment on the unenlightened tykes who linger too long in her gaze, and who graciously bestows adoration on those wise enough to predict her course. I have found such intellectual smugness particularly common with regards to the same sex marriage issue. Doesn't everyone want to be on the "right side of history?"
The problem with passing such broad judgments through the historical narrative is that history is invariably written by those in a position to observe it. It has never been the case that history's course, if such a thing can be said to exist, has been readily apparent to everyone at the time events were taking place.
Take, for example, eugenics. It was once possible in this country to be a eugenicist and be taken seriously. It was, in fact, at one point fashionable. To many, the "course of history" suggested that the historical narrative was in favor of Social Darwinism and those who wanted to forge and protect a society of "fit" citizens. Birth control and eugenic practices were supposed to help us make the great leap forward down the shining path. In 1924, the Virginia General Assembly passed two laws in furtherance of these goals, the Racial Integrity Act and the Sterilization Act.
Three years later, the US Supreme Court heard the case of Carrie Buck, a woman who had been ruled feeble-minded and had been scheduled to be sterilized under Virginia's policy. The resulting case of Buck v. Bell, in the eyes of eugenicists, vindicated their cause. An eight justice majority that included Louis Brandeis, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., and Chief Justice William Howard Taft voted to uphold the law; the lone dissenter, Pierce Butler, was Roman Catholic. Eugenics was taken so seriously and was so well respected that a Supreme Court decision actually included the words "Three generations of imbeciles are enough." Eugenicists probably thought they were on "the right side of history."
And then, of course, World War II happened. Forcibly sterilizing people became something people in the western world were not okay with, and eugenics has, for the most part, been rightly consigned to the junkyard of bad ideas. Time has passed, and now eugenicists are widely perceived as having been on "the wrong side of history." I'm not saying that what is ethically right or wrong is fundamentally relative. What I am saying is that the Whig Theory, the idea that things are basically always getting better, is wrong.
The point here is not that same sex marriage, or traditional marriage, is in any way like forced sterilization or genocide. The point is that regardless of the merits to the arguments on either side of the marriage issue, history itself shows us that it is silly to suppose that it is making a judgment in a particular direction. I don't think that advocates or opponents of same sex marriage are any more or less on the right side history than were John Adams or Thomas Jefferson in 1800. History just happens, and whatever future historians make of it is quite up to them, and will probably bear little relationship to where we think it is headed today.