Historiographic triangulation, Mencius Moldbug explains, is the art of taking two or more opposing positions from the past, and using hindsight to decide who was right and who was wrong:
The wonderful kids at Google, who are all diehard progressives and whom I’m sure would be horrified by the uses I’m making of their services, have done something that I can only compare to Lenin’s old saying about the capitalists: that they would sell the rope that was used to hang them. Likewise, progressives seem determined to publish the books that will discredit them. As in the case of the capitalists, this is because they are good, not because they are evil. But unlike Lenin, we are good as well, and we welcome these accidental forced errors.
I refer, of course, not to any new books. It is very difficult to get reactionary writing published anywhere, even (in fact, especially, because they are so sensitive on the subject) by the conservative presses. However, as UR readers know, the majority of work published before 1922 is on-line at Google. It is often hard to read, missing for bizarre reasons that make no sense (why scan a book from 1881 and then not put the scans online?), badly scanned, etc, etc. But it is there, and as we’ve seen it is quite usable.
And there are two things about the pre-1922 corpus. One, it is far, far to the right of the consensus reality that we now know and love. Just the fact that people in 1922 believed X, while today we believe Y, has to shake your faith in democracy. Was the world of 1922 massively deluded? Or is it ours? It could be both, but it can’t be neither. Indeed, even the progressives of the Belle Epoque often turn out to be far to the right of our conservatives. WTF?
Two, you can use this corpus to conduct a very interesting exercise: you can triangulate. This is an essential skill in defensive historiography. If you like UR, you like defensive historiography.
Historiographic triangulation is the art of taking two or more opposing positions from the past, and using hindsight to decide who was right and who was wrong. The simplest way to play the game is to imagine that the opponents in the debate were reanimated in 2008, informed of present conditions, and reunited for a friendly panel discussion. I’m afraid often the only conceivable result is that one side simply surrenders to the other.
For example, one fun exercise, which you can perform safely for no cost in the privacy of your own home, is to read the following early 20th-century books on the “Negro Question”: The Negro: The Southerner’s Problem, by Thomas Nelson Page (racist, 1904); Following the Color Line, by Ray Stannard Baker (progressive, 1908); and Race Adjustment: Essays on the Negro in America, by Kelly Miller (Negro, 1909). Each of these books is (a) by a forgotten author, (b) far more interesting and well-written than the pseudoscientific schlock that comes off the presses these days, and (c) a picture of a vanished world. Imagine assembling Page, Baker and Miller in a hotel room in 2008, with a videocamera and little glasses of water in front of them. What would they agree on? Disagree on? Dear open-minded progressive, if you fail to profit from this exercise, you simply have no interest in the past.
In general what I find when I perform this exercise, is that — as far to the right of us as 1922 was — the winner of the triangulation tends to be its rightmost vertex. Not on every issue, certainly, but most. (I’m sure that if I was to try the same trick with, say, Torquemada and Spinoza, the results would be different, but I am out of my historical depth much past the late 18C.)
What’s wonderful is that if you doubt these results, you can play the game yourself. Bored in your high-school class? Read about the Civil War and Reconstruction and slavery. Unless you’re a professional historian, you certainly won’t be assigned the primary sources I just linked to. But no one can stop you, either. (At least not until Google adds a “Flag This Book” button.)
I am certainly not claiming that everything you find in Google Books, or even everything I just linked to, is true. It is not. It is a product of its time. What’s true, however, is that each book is the book it says it is. Google has not edited it. And if it says it was published in 1881, nothing that happened after 1881 can have affected it.