Zinging Zinn


Over at Dissent, Michael Kazin trashes the latest edition of Howard Zinn's massively popular A People's History of the United States. Writes Kazin,

Zinn's big book is quite unworthy of such fame and influence. A People's History is bad history, albeit gilded with virtuous intentions. Zinn reduces the past to a Manichean fable and makes no serious attempt to address the biggest question a leftist can ask about U.S. history: why have most Americans accepted the legitimacy of the capitalist republic in which they live?

Kazin doesn't just knock Zinn's scholarship, however. He asks and provides an interesting answer to the question, Why has the book, which was first published in 1980 and has gone to sell over a million copies in various editions, been so damn popular if it's so wrong?

Zinn fills a need shaped by our recent past. The years since 1980 have not been good ones for the American left. Three Republicans and one centrist Democrat occupied the White House; conservatives captured both houses of Congress; the phantom hope of state socialism vanished almost overnight; and progressive movements spent most of their time struggling to preserve earlier gains instead of daring to envision and fight for new ideas and programs.

In the face of such unrelenting grimness, A People's History offers a certain consolation. "The American system is the most ingenious system of control in world history," writes Zinn. It uses wealth to "turn those in the 99 percent against one another" and employs war, patriotism, and the National Guard to "absorb and divert" the occasional rebellion. So "the people" can never really win, unless and until they make a revolution. But they can comprehend the evil of this four-hundred-year-old order, and that knowledge will, to an extent, set them free.

Whole thing here.

[Link via Arts & Letters Daily]