One of the comments that one sees often as a way of contemporary women seeking to justify their bad behavior is that well-behaved women seldom make history. What is not generally understood when a comment like this one is made is that well behaved men seldom make history either. This is true whether one looks at the proportion of men who make history who happen to be well-behaved or the proportion of well-behaved men that happen to make history. This fact ought to give us pause. Yesterday night I was attempting to stay cool and chatting with some close friends and distant relatives and the subject came up of the shady and questionable characters that one finds in one’s family history. When we find ourselves connected to royals and high nobles and the occasional people whose divorces and property speculation and slave trading filled the historical record, these are people who did not behave well. Those people who keep their head down and mind their own business and raise godly families and work hard are not the sort of people who tend to fell the pages of history.
We might do well to ask ourselves what kind of people make history in the first place? Traditionally speaking, it is military and political leaders, along with the occasional wealthy businessperson, who made history through their behavior. It is axiomatic that such people were and are not often well behaved. When we look at political or economic or cultural elites, most of these people are notoriously poorly behaved. Those who simply value power of some kind seldom think about how they are to use that power. People who seek power to support their own corrupt and evil worldviews are seldom in tune with what is well-behaved anyway. They think that the misbehavior they engage in is either perfectly fine because it suits the way that they view the world or because it is justified by some sort of noble end that they have in mind. The fact that this is not the case tends to be visible in hindsight, but at the cost that many people suffer in the meantime.
The fact that what tends to be historically notable and significant tends also to be badly behaved ought to give us some pause. I do not speak of myself as being immune to this tendency myself. To give but one example, I wrote my master’s capstone paper on the subject of the Prussianization of the Chilean army, which was a byproduct of the victory of the Parliamentary side of the Chilean Civil War of 1891. At the beginning of the conflict, the Chilean president, one Jose Manuel Balmaceda, was at odds with his parliament. Most of the army supported the president and the navy supported Parliament, and so the two sides were at a stalemate at first. However, the German military attache to Chile, one Emil Korner, had a sweetheart of German-Chilean background whose family were supporters of Parliament, and so he betrayed his agreement to support the president and ended up training Parliament’s ultimately victorious army. At the end of the conflict, Korner ended up with a lovely wife, a lot of power within the Chilean army, which started copying the German one, as well as a lucrative contract with Krupp for military sales throughout South America. Balmaceda killed himself while in exile at an embassy at the end of his legal term. It is pretty obvious that this is not good behavior, but it is historically significant behavior, and so I wrote about it. A well-behaved German adviser would not have become a historically significant figure because he would not have been traitorous or corrupt, and therefore would have left little of a paper trail for which to condemn him.
This ought to lead us to question the value of making history in the first place. What is the purpose of life? For those who do not believe in an afterlife and eternal judgment and who do not take the laws and ways of God seriously, the only sort of immortality such people can attain is to do enough and be prominent enough to be remembered in history. Only if people remember you can you live forever, and most of the ways that people have of making themselves remembered in history make life worse in general. Most of what gets done in this world that makes the world run, to the extent it runs, is done by people who have no particular desire for fame and whose behavior is anonymous and unappreciated. Most of what draws attention to itself causes trouble for itself and for others. When people justify their bad behavior by pointing to the fact that they want to make history, such people demonstrate their ignorance both of the ultimate purposes of history as well as their lack of concern for the well-being of other people, whom they trample over in their own vain search for glory.