The history as we know it, is not a real, more or less complete collection of facts with simple one-dimensional interpretation that bound to be close to reality, but rather complex ideological construct build on careful selection and/or omission of facts by ideologically conscious individuals in order to support and promote their ideology. The analysis of historical semi-fictional literature of American authors of XX century: Ken Roberts, John Dos Passos, and Gore Vidal confirm this idea. The similar confirmation could be found in works of professional historians: Charles Beard, Harry Barnes, and James Martin.
The overall direction of American history representation went over the last century pretty much from “America the noble and beautiful” selection of facts and interpretations to “America the ugly and imperialistic” selection and interpretation. This is plentifully demonstrated by review of literature about American wars.
This reinterpretation of history was aggressively applied in both entertainment and education and pretty much become a new paradigm of American history in education of young generation. However counter force of new understanding of history with notion of “America the beautiful despite all its warts especially if compared with everything else known to humanity” is growing leading to historical textbooks wars between interpretations by Howard Zinn, Eric Foner, Thomas Woods, and Michael Allen.
The main inference – objectivity is not really possible, so the quality of historical writing should be evaluated based on completeness of facts included and even-handedness of interpretations.
ONE: The Art of History
I. Objectivity in History
This chapter is pretty much about impossibility to achieve ideal of “objective history”. Since the main sources of history are written documents created by contemporaries they all and especially newspapers are not really reports of facts as they occur, but rather selectors and compilers of facts used to create a narrative to support preexisting ideological views of authors and their readers.
II. History and Fiction
This chapter is a review of historical narrative as growing out of fiction. It used to be that everybody including authors considered history as literature. An example is provided of Bancroft’s 10 volumes “History of United States”. The expression of this point of view is Roy Child’s definition: “ History is a selective recreation of past events according to historian’s premises regarding what is important…”
III. The Historical Fiction of Kenneth Roberts (1885-1957)
This chapter is a review of historical fiction by Roberts. His writings were about American Revolution, but from a very specific side – detailed and sympathetic narration of Benedict Arnold story. While not very popular as books, these writings made their way into public conscious via movies and seems played a role in swinging American attitudes towards Britain before WWII into Anglophile direction. This story used as illustration of intellectuals or “secondhand dealers in ideas” (Hayek’s definition) managing to change attitude of previously isolationist majority.
IV. The Historical Fiction of John Dos Passos (1896-1970)
This chapter is about another author of historic novels while not very popular, but influential among intellectuals. The road traveled: pacifism as reaction to WWI, isolationism before WWII, patriotism in WWII, and disappointment after WWII with fear of nuclear war eliminating civilization.
TWO: The Historical Fiction of Gore Vidal: The “American Chronicle” Novels
The part two dedicated to Gore Vidal and his representation of American history, which was nontrivial, but well documented.
I. Burr and Lincoln
Books discussed “Washington DC” (1967), “Burr” (1973),”Lincoln” (1984), Empire (1987), Hollywood (1990), and “Golden Age” (2000). Taken together it is kind of alternative history with Washington supporting strong government in order to defend Mount Vernon and Jefferson supporting state rights in order to get votes. In this alternative history founding fathers are petty, cowardly, violate laws as needed and so on. The same treatment applies to Lincoln.
II. 1876. Empire and Hollywood
This is description in Gore’s novel of period of Grant administration and elections of 1876 pretty much in the same spirit of disparaging traditional narrative. Then it going on through the end of XIX century and American attempts to build empire in Pacific
III Hollywood and The Golden Age
The same representation of American history continues throughout remaining books chronologically all the way until end of WWII at the end of which American imperialism started cold war against Soviet Union.
THREE: The Story of American Revisionism
The story of revisionism of American history includes not that much discovery of new historical facts as reinterpretation of well-known facts from the new and changing ideological positions. Part three of this book goes through a century of consequent reinterpretations of American history.
I. The Birth of American Revisionism and the Rise of Harry Elmer Barnes
This chapter describes the first reinterpretation of history as process driven by economy and technology. The main works are Beard’s “An Economic Interpretation of Constitution” and Barnes’ “History of Western Civilization”. Special attention assigned to revision of WWI history that was a key event for people of this generation.
II. Charles A. Beard and William Appleman Williams: From Progressivism to the New Left
This is about history of progressive anti-war revisionism with initially successful attempt to support isolationist movement in US that eventually failed after Pearl Harbor. The key works were Barnes’ “Perpetual war for Perpetual Peace” directed against Roosevelt’s international policies and Williams’ “The Tragedy of American Diplomacy”. It was a critic of American policy of “open doors” when USA actively tried to open doors of other countries for American goods and ideas. Despite this critic serious historians did not move too much to the left and maintained their distance from anti Vietnam movement.
III. Harry, Elmer Barnes and James J. Martin: From Progressivism to Libertarianism
This chapter adds another historian to the list: James Martin who considered himself not revisionist, but rather “additionist”, adding new knowledge to existing narrative. Martin’s work popularizes libertarianism and another promoter of such ideas – Tucker.
IV. James J. Martin: Historian and Pamphleteer
This is continuation of the story of libertarian historian James Martin in relation to Rampart College and Freedom school. The core formula of this kind of libertarian attitude goes back to Washington’s foreign policy: “Stay home and don’t interfere in other people’s business”.
V. The Libertarian Historians and Their Colleagues on the New Left
This chapter is about interaction between new left and libertarian historians. Lots of references with the most interesting being work of Gabriel Kolko demonstrating that anti-monopoly government intervention into economy was initiated by monopolies in order to restrict competition.
FOUR: Some American Wars–Both Hot And Cold–Through Revisionist Eyes
I. The U.S. Civil War-the Revisionist View
The revisionist view is that Civil War was not about slavery, but about whether US is one perpetual state or relatively loose confederation of states. It was initiated and conducted by Lincoln in response to constitutionally legal intention of South to ceded. It was conducted with complete disregard to constitution and Bill of rights. The chapter includes a short review of work by DiLorenzo.
II. America in the World Wars–A Revisionist Perspective
This is based mainly on works of Barnes and comes down pretty much to putting guilt for war on American anglophiles: first Wilson in WWI and then Roosevelt in WWII. They both worked to provoke Germany and later Japan, creating eventually conditions when wars become inevitable. Obviously they did it in violation of constitution.
III. A Revisionist Look at America in the Cold Wax
This is another example of attitude of “blame America first”. According to revisionists the cause of Cold war was insistence of American leadership on leading role of USA in the world.
FIVE: The Polities of the American Revisionists
I. “Left” and “Right,” “Conservative” and “Liberal,” Differentiated Historically
This is description of 3 main ideological movements behind historical revisionism. An interesting discussion about Left and Right with Libertarians assigned to the Left.
II. The Decline of American liberalism–the Early Years
“Decline” is a book by Arthur Ekirch arguing that from relatively liberal beginnings America moved consistently in direction of more centralization and concentration of control at the expense of freedom. This chapter also includes the story of Whiskey rebellion and its interpretation by Murray Rothbard.
III. Conservative Republicans and Liberal Democrats in 19th Century America
This chapter is review of revisionist’s interpretation of XIX century political developments with 40 years of Jeffersonian party following 12 years of Federalists and then followed by Wigs until Civil War.
IV. Teddy Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, and the Triumph of Conservatism
This chapter is continuation of historical review through progressives of early XX century from Teddy Roosevelt to Wilson. An interesting look provided at Wilson as individual who tried implement liberal ideas by conservative methods.
V. Herbert Hoover’s New Deal
Revision of Hoover administration to state that it was actually Hoover who started New Deal era of rapidly increasing government.
VI. The Myth of the “Old Right”
This revision is about actual New Deal implemented by FDR. FDR presidential run in 1932 included promises to decrease government expenditures, balance budget and provide sound currency. The actual actions were exactly opposite. The loose group of intellectuals resisting Roosevelt’s New Deal was designated “Old Right” when in reality they were mainly a bunch of classical liberals defending market and small government rather then “Law and Order” conservatives. Another revision is about role of New Deal as promotion of big business at the expanse of free market.
VII. The Goldwater Anomaly
This chapter is about new look at historical development from point of view of struggle between classical liberalism of free market vs. conservatism of big government. Before New Deal these were two forces competing for political power. From Roosevelt until Goldwater it was basically 2 anti free market party since both Republicans and Democrats supported corporate state with big business and big government working in tandem.
VIII. The Reagan Fraud–and After
The Goldwater’s run is considered anomaly because Republican Party of Reagan only used rhetoric of free market remaining the supporting force of corporatism in its actual actions.
SIX: The New American History Wars
The final part of this book is about importance of history teaching that forms views of young people and through their action impacts reality in the way consisted with these views. It goes through a number of authors and textbooks that had a serious impact in last half century.
I. Why Textbooks Matter
This chapter is review of history of textbooks use in American schools as main source of historical information. It traces use in textbooks stories of early XX century stress on common ancestry and culture with British. This may explain at least to some extent American support for entry in WWI on the side of British. Starting in 1960s the left applied a very serious effort to promote their views in historical textbooks. They were mainly successful in these efforts.
II. The Breakdown of the Consensus-the Case of Howard Zinn
This chapter contains story of Howard Zinn writings based pretty much on his communist ideology that become widely accepted in American colleges.
III. American History According to Eric Foner
Eric Foner is another history author who while being “red diaper baby” wrote with somewhat more traditional understanding of history then revisionists. In his books Lincoln is quite a positive hero and WWI and WWII were not entirely adventures of American Imperialism.
IV. Thomas E. Woods. Jr. vs. Larry Schweikart and Michael Allen
These authors are a bit more right wing and it is interesting that their books are widely read by students outside of official curriculum.
V. History, Fiction, and Objectivity—Some Concluding Observations
The final word is praise to Gore Vidal and his novels that should be considered a legitimate historical writings and overall conclusion that objectivity in history is not possible if construed as an absence of any ideological influence, but it is possible if construed as even-handedness and fairness.
My Take on It:
I am petty much agree that complete objective historical narrative is not possible. However I think that Cliometric that is narrative based on documented historical facts especially numerical facts such as demographic and economic statistics is the best way to achieve something close to objective analysis. Such objective numbers based analysis is badly needed after nearly a century of left-wing big socialist government supporters’ controlled historical narrative in American educational systems causing formation of new generation brainwashed into believing in all this junk.
Interestingly enough that people of my generation brought up in conditions of totalitarian Soviet Union, when interpretation of history had to be supportive of ideals and objectives of Communist Party with facts changing or being created as needed, were inoculated from this socialist intellectual disease by reality of everyday life under socialism with its deficits of everything, special supply system for communist elite, and attempts of communist to control any intellectual activity. Here is my great hope that the seemingly overwhelming dominance of left wing statists in education is not really final. As it always happens, the reality tends to penetrate whatever ideological walls are built by propaganda in the minds of people, opening these minds to other explanations of the events when reality of decrease in economic quality of life hit home.
I think that the ideological conquest of American minds that led to triumph of left in form of Obama administration is about to fall apart due to consequences of actions of this administration in both economic and political areas. With no real ability to suppress dissent on par with abilities of KGB or Gestapo, the American left will not be able to continue their inhumane experiment for 70 years, as was the case of USSR.