Enormous Condescension

I am seeking to rescue the poor stockinger, the Luddite cropper, the `obsolete' hand-loom weaver, the `utopian' artisan—and even the deluded follower of Joanna Southcott—from the enormous condescension of posterity. Their crafts and traditions may have been dying; their hostility to the new industrialism may have been backward-looking; their communitarian ideals may have been fantasies; their insurrectionary conspiracies may have been foolhardy. . . . . but they lived through these times of acute social disturbance and we did not.

E.P. Thompson. The Making of the English Working Class. Penguin 1968 p. 13. (my punctuation). Surely of all the many warnings against doing Whig History this is the most sobering—and the most moving. Before you judge anyone, walk a mile in their shoes.

Thompson was a Marxist, God bless 'im. He may have been wrong about a lot of things, but there are times when it is more noble to be wrong than to be right, and this is one of them.

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