Presentism (noun), uncritical adherence to present-day attitudes, especially the tendency to interpret past events in terms of modern values and concepts.🏛
Lucy Maud Montgomery wrote one of the best-loved stories in the English language: Anne of Green Gables. It is the story of a red-headed orphan girl adopted in the 1890s by an elderly man and his sister — in rural Canada. Anne is depicted by Montgomery as a strong, intelligent, creative person; and now she has been transformed by Moria Walley-Beckett into a social justice warrior, in a television retelling of the story, titled Anne with an E.
The writing and performances in the production are excellent. Walley-Beckett is a talented writer. What is troubling, however, is the interjection of contemporary political correctness and activism into a late nineteenth century setting. The transgression here is to make the sixteen-year-old Anne, in the Third Season, a political visionary; not merely precocious, but 100 years ahead of her time.
What’s wrong with taking a major character from Canadian fiction and turning her into a role model for young leftists? It is vulgar beyond measure to appropriate a timeless cultural icon to advance a pathological political ideal.
Why is political correctness pathological? Because there is danger in an exaggerated criticism of traditional morality and folkways. This is not to say the past was perfect. Only an idiot would present the past as a utopia. But it is a grosser idiocy to expect leftist values to bring utopia in the future. It is also stupid to expect social justice themes to fill the gaping hole of lost tradition and forgotten feeling which presently afflicts us.
Lest we forget, the bigotry of the past is still deeply rooted in human nature. When we assault this bigotry we must take care lest we throw the baby out with the bathwater. However unjust the racism and sexism of the past, it nonetheless preserved a national form of order far superior to that of earlier ages. These prejudices also preserved our fecundity, which is now undone. As for the legacy of colonialism and slavery, we are right to be horrified; yet today’s legacy of moral degradation is also dangerous; for it depends on a misunderstanding of the human condition. To maintain civilization we must have children. The degrading of motherhood by feminist propaganda has everything to do with our collapsing birth rate. This is accompanied, as well, by the perversion of the eternal male and female, followed by the collapse of marriage, and the slow but steady disintegration of society itself.
By putting political correctness into Anne with an E, the values of the past are dismissed in a way that holds Anne’s world in contempt. A revolutionary argument is set in motion. The ancestral voice is drowned out by a feminism that has no footing in the past (and no posterity in the future). The people of Anne’s time were sentimental and morally serious. By comparison, modern feminist values are rationalistically selfish, emotionally shallow and morally hollow. Feminism doesn’t require immediate sacrifice. It sacrifices the infant, the future — the thing to which the feminine is otherwise dedicated. Feminism, taken in opposition to motherhood, inspires a series of self-misunderstandings and self-deceptions. At the same time, the underlying revolutionary socialist ethic, destroys moral norms while the social justice warrior accrues massive fiscal indebtedness for her shrinking posterity. Add to this the promise of future conflicts in a society fixated on borderless diversity-mania.
Distrust of strangers and aliens is a very ancient, very deeply ingrained instinct. If we look at the bloody ethnic conflicts of our day, how many are due to mixing different peoples together under one government? The civil wars in Lebanon and Yugoslavia come to mind; the bloodbath which overwhelmed India after independence is also a case in point. Tolerance is a nice theory when you live in a rich majority-white country that is able to practice it for a few decades. But history suggests that tolerance has a tendency to break down when the ethnic balance shifts. To admit all this is not to defend racism. It is a realistic reflection on the limits of rationalistic anti-racist propaganda. Enlightenment belongs to the few. A preference for one’s own kind belongs to the many; and in the long run, the few cannot gainsay the many. It is, in fact, a prejudice of the present time that all men can live as brothers. But this sort of thing only serves to undermine brotherhood itself; for if all men are brothers, then brotherhood loses its meaning — and no men are brothers.
Despite her great talent, Walley-Beckett has no sense of history. Her point of view is anchored to ideological “presentism.” Her feminist storytelling falsifies the late nineteenth century setting of Montgomery’s novel. She transgresses our relationship to the past with a surrealism that’s gives away her preoccupation with racism, sexism, classism. Story-telling should be about the plot and its characters. Anything that detracts from this, damages the whole. With historical fiction, we must believe that we have been transferred to a different time. The values of that time must be meticulously re-animated to hold us in thrall. If we are untrue in our retelling of a great story, we ultimately destroy our interest in it.
Anne with an E went three seasons before being cancelled. I suspect it was cancelled because it had gradually become a feminist tract with all the cultural Marxist trimmings. It is a great shame, since the writer and the actors showed such great promise.