The difference between why I like history and study it and why others do is that I study history as a traveler of foreign lands, not to conform to the past, anymore than my travelling to foreign countries is to find ways of conforming Singapore to them.

History is a directly analogous to an exotic foreign country of strange and interesting forms of life and thought patterns. If it has any relevance to the present, one of the reason is that it is also a place of dormant experiments, what-ifs, and hypotheticals. Failed novel schemes and plans which flopped because of certain contingent circumstances, but which you might wonder if they would have worked under different conditions, whether it is worth reviving or resurrecting those ideas.

This is why I don’t place much store on the Burkean conservative argument that we are to reject something because it “failed”, workability is the argument of the unimaginative, who lacks the mental capacity to analyse and breakdown models and tweak its parts. The ancient legal dictum “cessante ratione legis cessat ipsa lex”, that is, when the reason that gave rise to a law cease to exist, the law itself ceases, goes both ways. If a law or rule ceases when the reason for it no longer exists, then likewise a law can be resurrected if the reason for its demise no longer exists, and if the reason for the law exists now in our time.

This dictum is also my guide for how I read the prescriptions of the past or ancients. I am a whole lot less interested in what they prescribed than the reason behind their prescription, and if that reason no longer exists, then I don’t see any reason to hold to it.

History as such is less to me an object of reverence than a realm of possibilities, where the flux of temporal chaos spits out a stillborn plan before its time and was buried, but may yet be revived when the time is ripe. Where we get to meet new and strange peoples and cultures we never thought existed, and so expand our mind.

I think however it is very difficult to hold such an attitude of wonder towards history when you treat it as an object of reverence and piety. If history exists to justify some presentist arrangement, then you will always be forced to bend history and impose your order upon it to make it say what you want to prop up some presentist arrangement. You must always shoehorn it into some grand Tradition and flatten all tensions, complexities, and chaos which the sea of time continuous spews from its human subjects.

This is why I am always militantly opposed to any form of narrativising approaches to history, those people are honestly just mind bogglingly boring and determined to suck out all the joy from studying history.

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