Nils Gilman at Noema:

Popular concern with historical memory is a characteristic mark of a polity undergoing a transition from one era to another. As the Chinese-born Anglo-Irish political scientist Benedict Anderson observed in his classic “Imagined Communities,” every political system defines and legitimates itself in part in reference to specific episodes from the past — both by exalting heroic precedents for the current order and by repudiating and disavowing symbolically odious moments from the past. During moments of transition, actors and events from the past are reevaluated, with some former heroes finding themselves renounced and previously obscure chapters raised up as emblems of what the new order either believes in or rejects.

This contestation over history recalls George Orwell’s famous bon mot in “1984”: “Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.” When who controls the present is more or less settled, the study and exposition of history tend to be a tame, academic affair. But when control over the present is politically contested, as it is today over the shape of the transition out of the neoliberal order of the last 40 years, it is no surprise that debates over history irrupt out of the academy and into the public square.