The American Historical Association (AHA) is fixated on the present.
At its recent annual meeting in Philadelphia, former AHA President James Sweet referenced his criticism of “presentism,” according to a report in The New York Times. Presentism, Sweet suggested in the August 2022 edition of AHA’s news magazine, leverages history to serve present-day social justice initiatives.
Arguing for keeping “presentism” out of history seems like a straightforward argument from an acknowledged history scholar, right?
Wrong. Not these days.
America’s Founders understood that political change is inevitable. They thought it must come about through constitutional mechanisms, with the consent of the governed, and must never infringe on the natural rights of citizens. Progressives – rejecting the idea that any rights, including the right of consent to government, are natural – accept no such limits. Progressivism insists that the principled American constitutionalism of fixed natural rights and limited and dispersed powers must be overturned and replaced by an organic, evolutionary model of the Constitution. Historical progress should be facilitated by experts dedicated to the expansion of the public sphere and political control – especially at the national level. As progressivism has grown into modern liberalism, the commitment to extra-constitutional “progress” is broadly shared across elite political, academic, legal, and religious circles. Politics is thus increasingly identified with a mix of activism, expertise, and the desire for “change.”