I am on the wrong side of history? What does that mean?

In Part 1 of this series, Examples of “The Wrong Side of History,“ we considered how some people use the phrase, “the wrong side of history.” What’s next?

The Origin, Meaning, and The Ambiguity of The Phrase: “The Wrong Side of History”

The origin of the phrase “the wrong side of history” is uncertain (see here). The meaning is also unclear.

People writing in English have been using the phrases “on the wrong side of history” and “on the right side of history” for more than a century—but they have used them to convey a range of different and sometimes conflicting meanings. At one level, “being on the wrong side of history” can mean being on the losing side of a political, military, or ideological conflict, regardless of that side’s merit or intrinsic virtue.

see the Conclusions (at the end) => https://english.stackexchange.com/questions/15987/meaning-of-the-phrase-the-wrong-side-of-history

If there is a wrong side of history, then there must be a right side of history, and we ought to try to be on the right side of history. Alternatively, we could try be on history’s side. So, that leads to a question. Is History a being of some sort? It seems obvious that history is not a being. So, why do we speak of history as if it were a being?

Is history some sort of predicable, that is, deterministic process? Does some smart guy have the inevitable outcome all figured out? Who is that guy? Who can tell us the inevitable outcome so that we can all be on the right side of history? Of course, there is no human being with such a capacity. Perhaps that is why some people think it is time to stop using the phrase.

In Is Obama Overusing the Phrase the Wrong Side of History? Are We All?, the author,  BEN YAGODA, questions the use of the phrase.

In a recent column, the conservative commentator Jonah Goldberg wrote that the Obama administration “has used the ‘wrong side of history’ phrase more than any I can remember. They particularly like to use it in foreign policy.” Goldberg claimed that for Obama this is “a sign of weakness. … Whenever things haven’t gone his way on the international scene—i.e., on days that end with a ‘y—he or his spokespeople have wagged their fingers from the right side of history.” (Goldberg didn’t mention it, but Republicans have invoked WSOH as well. During Chuck Hagel’s confirmation hearings as secretary of defense in January 2013, Sen. John McCain berated Hagel for his opposition, as a senator, to the Iraq “surge”: “I think history has already made the judgment about the surge, sir, and you’re on the wrong side of it.”)


Yagoda article is actually relatively thoughtful. Of course, since he is writing for Slate Magazine, he does have to resort to the moral equivalence argument. Republicans do it too, but Sen. John McCain was, after all, Democrats’ favorite Republican.

What makes Yagoda’s article most interesting is that he referenced Quote Investigator® article on this quote, The Arc of the Moral Universe Is Long, But It Bends Toward Justice. That quote is attributed to Theodore Parker, “a Unitarian minister and prominent American Transcendentalist born in 1810 who called for the abolition of slavery.” The fact that people believe that moral progress is inevitable, that is the substance of Parker’s quote, is one reason some think there are right sides and wrong sides of history.

We cannot understand the moral Universe. The arc is a long one, and our eyes reach but a little way; we cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; but we can divine it by conscience, and we surely know that it bends toward justice. Justice will not fail, though wickedness appears strong, and has on its side the armies and thrones of power, the riches and the glory of the world, and though poor men crouch down in despair. Justice will not fail and perish out from the world of men, nor will what is really wrong and contrary to God’s real law of justice continually endure.


Please observe that that quote contains a lot of highfalutin meaningless nonsense politely called wishful thinking. Observe.

Humanity’s compounding scientific and economic knowledge simply doesn’t translate to similar growth in moral knowledge. Indeed, sometimes the development of new technological prowess and new organizational capacity opens the door to new evils, evils we misunderstand if we think of them as some leftover from the past. The Holocaust was new, not just a bigger pogrom. The atrocities of communism under Stalin and Mao were new; so was the trans-Atlantic chattel slave trade; so was the genocidal conquest of the Americas. Murder, war, and slavery are old, but our new capabilities combine with new ideologies to create awful new phenomena out of those old impulses.


Trying to interpret the last book of the Bible, Revelation, is not especially easy. However, the Bible does make it clear that we need a Savior, that God, not anything we can do, controls the long arc of history.

To Be Continued

  • Part 3: Malapropism — The Foolishness of Using The Phrase: “The Wrong Side of History”

This post is one of the “OF TWISTED WORDS” series. For a list of “OF TWISTED WORDS” posts, see OF TWISTED WORDS => FEMINISM – Citizen Tom.


Add yours

  1. Tom,

    Your point on the need for justice is spot on and badly needed in our contemporary times as well in ancient times as served 3000 years ago by historic writings of King Solomon.

    For Example

    The Excellence of Wisdom
    …14Counsel and sound judgment are mine; I have insight and strength. 15By me kings reign, and rulers enact just laws; 16By me princes rule, and all nobles who govern justly.…(Proverbs 6:14-16)

    Problem is we mortals keep ignoring good advice because we think we are smarter than previous generations. Or in other words, in my post today, voters keep electing: unqualified leaders in Congress who themselves, have never been schooled to understand wisdom readily available.

    In my opinion, would be disgusted at what they read in the news about the progress of a lot of unjust laws and paths passed by Congressional leaders over time that is evident in the news we read every day. Even the fact that was revealed this past week that USA children are failing in what is being taught about history in public schools, which evidently many members of Congress attended.

    In my opinion, if history was taught to our present Congressional leaders and listened to same as the founders who personally sacrificed and risked their lives to establish the USA, the USA would not be 31.4 trillion in debt, plus a number of other justice and folly issues I listed in my post today titled: Unqualified President or Congress Conundrum.

    Regards and goodwill blogging.

    1. We have let politicians instead of parents educate our children, with predictable results. We just didn’t have a good enough education to predict the results.

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