It is one thing for people to argue about the politics of the present, but because of the present’s indelible relationship to the past, political history often arouses emotions as strong and in some cases stronger than those which transpire throughout the course of debates on contemporary matters. And yet, just as the zero sum mentality is the cause of warfare, economic inequality, human suffering and an uneven distribution of global resources, so too is a zero sum approach to political history, a dangerous phenomenon that serves to do nothing other than stifle future progress.
What is therefore required is an approach to the past that is able to compartmentalise elements of good in otherwise grim situations, whilst likewise exposing the flaws of historical figures and events that have been deemed as “socially sacred”. Such a perspective can help to create a future where the past can represent a source of cohesion, rather than one which continues to sow confrontation.
In this sense, just as a zero sum approach to politics, economics and defence leads to infamy, so too does a zero sum approach to history lead to nothing more than childish, churlish and ultimately ignominious quarrelling. It is with this in mind that The History Boys’ latest episode delves into the towering 20th century political figure of Winston Churchill, a man loved and loathed in equal measure by people who as it happens, are all correct in their own way.