Distinctions and Similarities between Past and Present

By: Gabe McReynolds

This week’s articles seek to establish and contextualize terms that could be argued are used fairly flippantly today. In many industrialized, Western states, “Fascism/Fascists” and “Authoritarianism” are used by all ends of the political spectrum to demonize one’s opponents. Moyn and Gordon both to define these terms in the context of the past and our present society, while also putting forth their own position on approaching this subject. The authors seekto understand the benefits and drawbacks to using analogies or comparisons of the past and relating them to the present. Gordon puts forth the idea that being able to compare parts of history with the present is valuable. It allows us to understand the path and present so much better as well as morally orient ourselves and protect against future atrocities. This is simply a more elaborate way of saying we learn from our mistakes. Moyn argues that the dangers of relying on past narratives or events is that they tend to disregard distinctions and differences from the period in which they are being compared to. Moyn also argues that the danger in doing so is that people may disregard differences or misconstrue the historical contexts of these events.

 However, instead of focusing on their differences, of which there are some, I find that both authors argue a rational middle ground from which to approach these comparisons. Moyn and Gordon are arguing many of the same ideas just from different starting points. Moyn seeks to show that comparison is important but that the distinctions when comparing are equally important. He argues that the lack of this can result in partisanship as people will seek to justify past atrocities. For Gordon, these similarities must be examined to avoid dismissing comparisons due to each subjects’ distinctions. It seems like they both argue for a balanced approach to using comparisons. However, it seems that they both argue this from their own perspective and experience of resistance to their ideas. Gordon seems to have gotten resistance from many who would posit that the distinctions are too different to allow for comparison and so his article reflects that. For Moyn, it seems as if the resistance and challenges have come from those who would attempt to dismiss the finer points of distinction when comparing and using these labels which dilute and diminish past experiences as well as current experiences.  

References:

Gordon, Peter E. “Why Historical Analogy Matters.” The New York Review, 7 Jan. 2020, nybooks.com/daily/2020/01/07/why-historical-analogy-matters/

Moyn, Samuel. “The Trouble with Comparisons.” The New York Review, 19 May 2020, nybooks.com/daily/2020/05/19/the-trouble-with-comparisons/

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