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From an Historian’s Notebooks: The Iron Rules of History

Benjamin Zachariah is a historian and a professor of history. He will attempt to break down the twelve post-colonial theses of history for the readers
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The Iron Rules of History

When I began to work as an historian, there were very different rules in place. Now that I have been in the profession for about twenty-five years (nearly twenty-six, if we want to be precise – a precision that’s strangely missing now), I have tried hard to grasp the rules of my profession. These are not often written down, these are not openly avowed, but they seem to have become the basis of history-writing in the postcolonial world, or among postcolonial historians. ‘The postcolonial world’ is more an attitude, a state of mind, than a place or a time, and place and time are inhabitants of a former universe that has no more space or place in history. But it has rules, and I have attempted to write them down. Here, for the benefit of us all, are the rules, expressed as twelve theses that will survive the test of history, or be recycled from the virtual dustbin of history or (choose a cliché of your own culture)…

Twelve Theses on Postcolonialism

  1. There is but one universal truth about universal rights: the only universal right is the right to be offended. Outrage is the preferred mode of expression of this right.
  2. Ad hominem is a methodology, not a fallacy.
  3. Superstition is tradition. Tradition is science. Science is superstition. [If this seems contradictory, call them Science I and Science II.]
  4. It is important to say with enormous authority that we have no authority, which then itself is the source of our authority.
  5. We know who we are against, but not who we are without knowing who we are against. And we need new people to be against in order to know who we are again.
  6. Gender, like race, is both a construct and an essence. Sometimes at one and the same time, for one and the same person. Sometimes at one or the other time, for one or the other instrumental reason.
  7. The individual is an Enlightenment conspiracy. But everyone has agency, as long as they are contained within family, community, and nation.
  8. The Age of Reason is the Age of Empire. To be reasonable is to collude with imperialism and therefore with all other forms of oppression.
  9. Embrace affect. But not the personification of affect, lest it be considered harassment.
  10. Logic is Western reason, and therefore Aristotalitarianism at its worst.
  11. If you get on the wrong side of this language of legitimacy, you’re fair game for the vigilante squads.
  12. Who will deconstruct the deconstructionists?
We shall have occasion to return to these iron rules of history on more than one occasion.

Image courtesy: Pixabay

Benjamin Zachariah works at the Georg Eckert Institute for Educational Media in Braunschweig, and with the project on the contemporary history of historiography at the University of Trier. He was trained in the discipline of history in the last decade of the previous century. After an uneventful beginning to a perfectly normal academic career, he began to take an interest in the importance of history outside the circle of professional historians, and the destruction of the profession by the profession. He is interested in the writing and teaching of history and the place of history in the public domain.

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