Here’s a misleading phrase: “You can’t turn back the clock.” At face value, it’s unobjectionable. Apart from science fiction, humans experience time only as flowing forward. Time cannot be undone.

As part of a rhetorical strategy, “You can’t turn back the clock” can be deployed to show that however intense the nostalgia for the putative original innocence of the “Good Old Days,” we can’t get there from here. Fair enough. In this sense, history is replete with instances of people trying — and failing — to “turn back the clock.” A perusal of the list of “communes,” both religious and secular, that ostensibly were established to show the human race how to return to Paradise would suffice to illustrate the point.

Read the New Oxford Review essay.