Many lost causes of history are worthy of study to reveal what may have been omitted by court historians of the time or later, or somehow missed relegation to the Memory Hole. Author Richard Weaver cites Schopenhauer’s statement that “no one can be a philosopher who is not capable of looking upon the world as if it were a pageant” as having made a strong impression on him. His view was that this type of detachment, produced by suppressing the instinct to be arbitrary, “seems to me a requirement for understanding the human condition.”
The Study and Appreciation of Lost Causes
“I am now further convinced that there is something to be said in general for studying the history of a lost cause. Perhaps our education would be more humane in result if everyone were required to gain an intimate acquaintance with some coherent ideal that failed in the effort to maintain itself.
It needs not be a cause which was settled by war; there are causes in the social, political and ecclesiastical worlds which would serve very well. But it is good for everyone to ally himself at one time with the defeated and to look at the “progress” of history through the eyes of those who were left behind.
I cannot think of a better way to counteract the stultifying “Whig” theory of history, with its bland assumption that every cause which has won has deserved to win, a kind of pragmatic debasement of the older providential theory.
The study and appreciation of a lost cause have some effect of turning history into philosophy. In sufficient number of cases to make us humble, we discover good points in the cause which time has erased, just as one often learns more from the slain hero of a tragedy than from some brassy Fortinbras who comes in at the end to announce the victory and proclaim the future disposition of affairs.
It would be perverse to say this is so about every historical defeat, but there is enough analogy to make it a sober consideration. Not only Oxford, therefore, but every university ought to be to some extent “the home of lost causes and impossible loyalties.” It ought to preserve the memory of these with a certain discriminating measure of honor, trying to keep alive what was good in them and opposing the pragmatic verdict of the world.”
(In Defense of Tradition: Collected Shorter Writings of Richard M. Weaver, 1929-1963, Ted J. Smith, III, editor, Liberty Fund 2000, excerpt pp. 38-40)