Academia

Anti-Capitalism for Kids!

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First it was The O'Reilly Factor for Kids, then Help! Mom! The Reds are Invading Finland! Now comes the latest salvo in the war for little hearts and underdeveloped minds—only this time it's from the other side. In Sunday's Times Book Review, Walter Kirn reviews Howard Zinn's entry into the young adult market, with A Young People's History of the United States, "a condensation and simplification," writes Kirn, "of his already quite condensed and simple" bestseller A People's History of the United States.

Kirn offers the following summary:

The colonial upper classes had a problem: keeping the lower classes down. They solved it by hypnotizing the middle class with "the language of liberty and equality." This trick caused the middle class to ignore the plights of black slaves, poor whites and Indians and to fight King George. Our nation was born. Is history really this simple? Yes. Yes, according to Howard Zinn…

And Zinn on slavery:

Writing about abolitionism, Zinn leaves the impression that freeing the slaves was not enough—they had to be freed in the right way. And since giving grand speeches and waging a civil war wasn't the right way, apparently, it shouldn't surprise us that blacks slipped backward again a few years later—and most whites slipped with them. That's because the real trouble was "capitalism," which is the system that Lincoln was a tool of and which, as the 19th century progressed (predictably, ineluctably worsened, that is), made tools of nearly everyone. Though not Thomas Edison. Edison was cunning. He "didn't just invent electrical equipment," Zinn reminds us, "he marketed it as well."

At the new Times Book Review blog, Dwight Garner wonders if Zinn qualifies as "a secular god," seeing as all of his clever friends seem to think he is. Having not read from the Zinn oeuvre, Garner is soliciting advice from his readers, though he might want to start by having a look at Dissent editor Michael Kazin's scathing review of A People's History: "…Zinn's big book is quite unworthy of such fame and influence. A People's History is bad history, albeit gilded with virtuous intentions."

Yes, yes…at least his heart's in the right place.

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  1. Zinn’s book is good to read alongside a, ahem, real history book, in a sort of binocular vision/devil’s advocate context, but as a stand-alone history it leaves much to be desired.

  2. Zinn’s book is good to read alongside a, ahem, real history book, in a sort of binocular vision/devil’s advocate context, but as a stand-alone history it leaves much to be desired.

    Which lead the the obvious question…why read it at all and instead just read the history book?

    Or even better yet only read the history books apendex and read the primary sources instead.

  3. That review seems to be by Michael Kazin, not Michael Walzer.

  4. “A People’s History of the United States” certainly finds tendentious explanations for nearly everything in it, and the point of view it maintains implicitly is highly anti-capitalist and populist. It has merit, though, in its anti-statism. Zinn explicitly criticizes the republic for attempting to reify the idea of itself in citizens’ minds as an object worthy of loyalty. If I could find my copy I’d quote from it.

    The reason I read it was because I belong to a book club with lots of cute chicks and it was that month’s selection. So as you can see I was coerced by forces I barely understood. Much as Zinn imagines Americans behave.

  5. Skip Howard Zinn and read Gustavus Myers. He provides an alternate persepctive on American History that isn’t to be missed.

    http://yamaguchy.netfirms.com/7897401/myers/myers_index.html

  6. I read Zinn’s book for adults and enjoyed it quite a bit. I did not find it nearly as propagandists as this review and far less than the review reviewed. As an anarcho-capitalist and huge fan of David Friedman, Bryan Caplan and just about every libertarian capitalist author I have read, I was not at all put off by Zinn’s anti-corporate and anti-capitalism bias.

    I guess conservatives because of their more tenuous grasp of the tenets of liberty are more threatened by this than libertarians who more clearly and completely embrace freedom.

    If your kids or leftist friends and associates are reading Zinn, don’t sweat it. At least they’re getting an alternative and chalenge to the brainwashing from our public schools.

  7. Zinn’s book has probably done more good than harm. It covers a lot of topics that don’t get much attention in mainstream discussions of American history. For example, how many widely read popular history books are there that detail the experiences of the Native Americans? How many popular history books deal with the brutal measures that were taken against labor organizers in the later 1800s and early 1900s? And how many popular history books deal with the barbarism of wars both “good” (the Persian Gulf War, WWII, the Civil War) and “bad” (the Vietnam War)? I only wish libertarians themselves devoted more attention to these topics.

  8. I saw Zinn on CSPAN a while back. When he was asked if there was anything he liked about America, he took several seconds to think and eventually came up with: “I like black people.”

  9. “the language of liberty and equality.”

    I dunno, what politician (left or right) doesn’t use the “language” of liberty and equality?

  10. What nonsense.

  11. I only wish libertarians themselves devoted more attention to these topics.

    What? Are we supposed to devote attention to these topics regardless of their relevance to the topic at hand? Are we supposed to randomly start babbling about the obvious barbarism and actions of a previous generation? I don’t know any libertarian that doesn’t believe or doesn’t know or acknowledge the barbarism of slavery, war, or the native american experience.

    The problem with non-libertarians is they want to discuss race as a masturbatory exercise. I made a personal rule that I don’t discuss race issues unless it it’s a productive discussion that offers new or meaningful insight.

    Here is the most interesting discussion of racial issues I’ve seen in a decade.

  12. For example, how many widely read popular history books are there that detail the experiences of the Native Americans … deal with the brutal measures that were taken against labor organizers in the later 1800s and early 1900s … deal with the barbarism of wars both “good” (the Persian Gulf War, WWII, the Civil War) and “bad” (the Vietnam War)? I only wish libertarians themselves devoted more attention to these topics.

    Who says we (libertarians) don’t? It is easy to look back at the events of history and see the clash of government vs. liberty.

    The destruction of the Native American way of life, particularly the Trail of Tears, Little Big Horn, etc. were accomplished with the effort of the U.S. Army. With regard to labor strikes, most of the “brutal measures” were either ordered by or aided by the local governments who were in cahoots with “big business” rather than protecting the liberty of of the individual.

    As for “barbarism of good and bad wars” what can you say but “War is Hell”.

  13. joshua corning,

    “Which lead the the obvious question…why read it at all and instead just read the history book?”

    I didn’t think my point was that cryptic: because it provides “a sort of binocular vision/devil’s advocate context” when read alongside a regular, conventional-wisdom-spouting history book.

    You get another side of things, and by considering the two together, develop a fuller understanding of the subject matter.

    As far as “primary sources,” which section of the bookstore is that in? I’m not a post-grad researcher here.

  14. In this forum, Howard Zinn is sort of like a Jesuit in Geneva c.the 16th century. It’s odd that confronting one sort of extremism doesn’t makes us aware of our own, but it rarely seems to.

  15. When I was a freshman in high school, “A People’s History” was our textbook. I had to do a pretend speech as Eugene V. Debs (fun, I got to shave my head). Although at one point I remember thinking, “so the robber barons are the government, right?”

  16. I didn’t think my point was that cryptic: because it provides “a sort of binocular vision/devil’s advocate context” when read alongside a regular, conventional-wisdom-spouting history book.

    I see Zinn’s book like this:

    Nothing he says is necessarily counter-factual. It’s his lack of context which makes it a poor representation of the larger picture.

    I could write a history of some random American city, and only talk about the murders that have occurred there. That doesn’t mean that the city’s history is one of murder and mayhem. This is precisely what Zinn’s “historical” writings and perspective suggest.

  17. Considering this guy is around 385 years old, maybe he should be taken seriously. He probably was “there” when this stufff happened.

  18. Matt you have got to be kidding. “Skip Howard Zinn and read Gustavus Myers. He provides an alternate persepctive on American History that isn’t to be missed.” Gustavus Myers perspective is interesting but could be easily and pleasantly missed. It is far more biased again the wealthy class than Zinn’s.

    No read Zinn’s history then if you want more indepth discussion of the histroy and background on early movers and shakers then read Myers. But be prepared for unabashed hatred of the wealthy.

  19. A People’s History is a book well worth reading, but even I eventually tired of it, thinking, “damn, America really isn’t this bad”.

  20. I think Zinn’s book is perfect for the college freshman who’s damn tired of plodding through bland textbooks in order to crap out another book report on Abraham Lincoln for the teacher who still has a poster from the bicentennial on the bulletin board. It supports that sense of freshman liberation you get by denouncing your parents, piercing your nose, and shotgunning your first beers.

    But eventually, you have to grow up and realize your parents aren’t as dumb as you think, you can’t ever manage the starbucks with a nosering, and beer is meant to be savored instead of shotgunned. And Zinn’s as full of crap as that asshat who never shuts up in Deconstructing Multiculturalist Feminism.

  21. Read “Lies My Teacher Told Me”. It’s the sort of left-leaning, anti-establishment, but still factual history book Zinn isn’t skilled enough to write.

  22. Is Reason Magazine turning anti-libertarian? First they declare democracy=freedom, now this…

  23. This trick caused the middle class to ignore the plights of black slaves, poor whites and Indians

    Whereas if left to their own devices, they would have ignored the plights of black slaves, poor whites, Indians, and everyone else.

  24. Zinn and other mostly materialist, “class conflict” historians have a good story to tell, up to a point.

    That point is where it stops making coherent, theoretical sense – like when Jefferson and Jackson, as “laissez-faire” are shills for Big Business and other absurd crap (then what were the Whigs shills for? Bigger Business?)

    I love the identification of power and wealth that Zinn and others identify. Unfortunately, none of them seem to be able to construct the correct lesson from history: “Government power has been a tool for the rich. The solution: make it a tool for the poor.”

    Thankfully, revisionism by Rothbard and others helps put this stuff in context.

  25. For God’s sake, Zinn didn’t even include footnotes in his ‘history’. That should be enough to discount anything said in it. I was a history major, and any non-Marxist professor I had laughed at his attempt at an American history text.

  26. “What? Are we supposed to devote attention to these topics regardless of their relevance to the topic at hand? Are we supposed to randomly start babbling about the obvious barbarism and actions of a previous generation? I don’t know any libertarian that doesn’t believe or doesn’t know or acknowledge the barbarism of slavery, war, or the native american experience.”

    Um, obviously those topics are relevant to all kinds of topics at hand in the present day–the history and development of the labor movement, the idea of the U.S. as an empire (Manifest Destiny, anyone?), and reasons to be skeptical of any war the government proposes. It takes a unique kind of insularity to think that what people who bring up past injustices are doing is just “randomly babbling.” History is identity.

    “As for ‘barbarism of good and bad wars’ what can you say but ‘War is Hell’.”

    Actually, there’s plenty more you can say. “War is hell” can be uttered both by a pacifist who always rejects violence and by a neoconservative who thinks you’ve got to break a few eggs (or a few hundred thousand) to make an omelette. Zinn tries to emphasize that war’s hideousness is an excellent reason to reject government rhetoric and be very hostile to the idea of war as a solution to political problems.

  27. “For God’s sake, Zinn didn’t even include footnotes in his ‘history’. That should be enough to discount anything said in it. I was a history major, and any non-Marxist professor I had laughed at his attempt at an American history text.”

    I have several books of popular history on my bookshelf right now and very few of them have footnotes. I’ll defer to your judgment about proper academic practice, but it doesn’t seem like that would uniquely disqualify Zinn’s book.

  28. Something tells me that The People’s History of the US is the people’s in the same sense that the People’s Republic of China (or the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, to lather it on even more thickly) is.

  29. joe,

    re your question:

    As far as “primary sources,” which section of the bookstore is that in?

    They are lumped in with the History section in most new bookstores(also check the “local interest” shelf). Antiquarian bookstores put the primary sources of American History in the Americana section.

    Libraries often have deeper holdings, particularly college, historical society and geneology libraries. Primary source texts are widely available on the trolling machine you are typing on.

  30. I liked Zinn’s book when I first read it as a naive, vaguely anti-authoritarian leftist, although I could not stand the interminable discussion of the labor movement in the middle of the book (from the book, one would never guess that they are a drain on the economy as well as the fact that they have been far more violent than businesses have), but really it deserves far less credit than it gets. Long-dead notions of Marxoid class conflict theory do not make good or rationally compelling history, they just make it into one giant conspiracy theory.

  31. Multiculturalist Feminism.

    JKP | June 15, 2007, 8:03pm | #
    Read “Lies My Teacher Told Me”. It’s the sort of left-leaning, anti-establishment, but still factual history book Zinn isn’t skilled enough to write.

    I’ll second that. The author, James Loewen, has a second book “Lies on the Map” about misrepresentations of American history on historical markers and and displays. (Not all lies, though. One monument that he particularly praised was the Robert Gould Shaw Memorial, which was displayed in the movie “Glory.”)

  32. “I have several books of popular history on my bookshelf right now and very few of them have footnotes. I’ll defer to your judgment about proper academic practice, but it doesn’t seem like that would uniquely disqualify Zinn’s book.”

    It wouldn’t, except for the fact he claimed several times his book could be a substitute for a textbook in high school and college history classes. If it doesn’t have footnotes, then that claim is pretty bogus.

  33. “For example, how many widely read popular history books are there that detail the experiences of the Native Americans … deal with the brutal measures that were taken against labor organizers in the later 1800s and early 1900s … deal with the barbarism of wars both “good” (the Persian Gulf War, WWII, the Civil War) and “bad” (the Vietnam War)? ”

    My first elementary school history textbooks dealt with all of this (except the Persian Gulf War- but there was section on Biafra in a social studies text).This was a public school in the early 70s in the “conservative Deep South”. We learned about Harriet Tubman, Samuel Gompers, Hearst’s role in the Spanish American War and the Trail of Tears in the third fucking grade

  34. “My first elementary school history textbooks dealt with all of this (except the Persian Gulf War- but there was section on Biafra in a social studies text).This was a public school in the early 70s in the “conservative Deep South”. We learned about Harriet Tubman, Samuel Gompers, Hearst’s role in the Spanish American War and the Trail of Tears in the third fucking grade”

    Yeah, I got the same thing in all my history texts since the fourth grade. If anyone on here went to high or middle school before say, 1980 I’d be curious to know if history texts included these events/people before then.

  35. Cesar,

    The textbooks I mention were for elementary school history/social studies classes, grades 3-5,in the early/mid 1970s.Taught in a public school, in a very politically conservative area in the Deep South.

    The “negative” aspects of American History
    were “widely read” and for quite some time now.
    Unlike Zinn and contemporary PC multiculturalists the conclusion was not that America was all bad.

  36. A long time ago; we had the Trail of Tears in at least high school. It went right through here, so it was local history. The other things, I don’t think so: it was a long time ago.

  37. Ashish George–

    For example, how many widely read popular history books are there that detail the experiences of the Native Americans?

    Who really gives a shit about them?

    They have willingly lived as semi-slaves to their conquerers for 150+ yrs in their own little self-imposed ghettoes. Tough frickin’ titties!

    (“Was that ‘Over the top’? I can never tell…”)

    Just because .01% of (halfbreed)Indians know some white people who have enough power to extract favors from the Gov’t who will then toss those Indian “leaders” the occaisional ‘chop’ (casino liscense) does not imply any particular ‘nobility’…. or even ‘deservedness’.

    Cattle are also ‘kept’ in a very similar manner… and they absolutely love it– even as they walk that last path straight to the slaughterhouse door.

    How many popular history books deal with the brutal measures that were taken against labor organizers in the later 1800s and early 1900s?

    How many “Southern Blacks” attempting to escape “Jim Crow” could not get a job in the North between 1900-1940– due to the “unions”?

    Can we hear that story, too?

  38. It takes a unique kind of insularity to think that what people who bring up past injustices are doing is just “randomly babbling.” History is identity.

    No, it doesn’t, especially when the people bringing them up use them as some sort of a canned retort to say, oh, capitalism, or any other topic where trotting out past injustices are meant nullify current events out of hand.

    And history is not entirely identity. In fact, it’s the constant reference to past injustices for the mere sake of mentioning them, or using them to somehow wallow in victimhood-by-proxy that deserves to be ignored.

    I believe that something that makes American culture unique, and in a good way, is that we don’t dwell on past injustices and make them our “identity”. We are an ally of Japan and Germany, for instance– a mere 50 years after fighting a bloody war with them.

  39. Hot damn, anon, no wonder you’re anonymous.
    I guess we should all be happy that the US government engaged in genocide and then scornfully laugh at the descendants of the survivors.

    I sentence you to a summary cockslapping in the public square.

  40. Simple history works for me. All I know about American history is that New Yerkers were redcoats during the Revolution and nothing has changed since.

  41. Randolph –

    “Put the ‘little guy’ away”… :o)

    Did you have an argument with any of my “assertions”, or did I leave simply you “speechless” (and resorting to just waving “wee willie”) due to my unfetterred brilliance…

  42. A critic is like a eunuch in a harem: they know how to do it, they see it done all the time, but they can’t do it themselves.

    Compared to what’s being passed off as history in our public schools, Zinn is a pillar of enlightenment.

    Off the top of my head:

    King Philip’s War

    The great railroad strike of 1877 (ever see the Harpers’ pic of “the Sixth Regiment fighting its way through Baltimore”?)

    Without Zinn, I suspect both of those events would have been historiographied out of, ahem, the Peoples’ knowledge base.

  43. Paul, it’s a neat trick to try to paint everyone who brings up past wrongs as Al Sharpton types trying to “nullify” current events when most people who do so are seeking explanations rather than excuses. One can stop short of fatalism without endorsing the incredibly naive position that discounts where people come from as a major influence on who they are and what they will do in life–in other words, their identity. As William Faulkner said: The past isn’t dead, it’s not even past.

    But I’ll bite: Under what circumstances, if any, is it permissible to bring up past injustices to help us better understand the present? Are Reason writers, for example, engaging in “victimhood-by-proxy” (to use your awkward phrase) when they point out the racist origins of the war on drugs?

    “Nothing he says is necessarily counter-factual. It’s his lack of context which makes it a poor representation of the larger picture.

    I could write a history of some random American city, and only talk about the murders that have occurred there. That doesn’t mean that the city’s history is one of murder and mayhem. This is precisely what Zinn’s ‘historical’ writings and perspective suggest.”

    No one would criticize a writer who focused on American poets, innovators, and statesmen for thinking poetry, innovation, and statesmanship were all there was to American history. After all, that person might simply (and justifiably) think his subjects hadn’t gotten enough attention. And that’s precisely the reason Zinn himself gives for his choice of topics in A People’s History in the aferword to my copy.

    Instead of just assuming that it’s so obvious, can you offer any quotations from Zinn’s writing that would lead us to believe he thinks what he’s written is all there is to American history?

  44. Under what circumstances, if any, is it permissible to bring up past injustices to help us better understand the present? Are Reason writers, for example, engaging in “victimhood-by-proxy” (to use your awkward phrase) when they point out the racist origins of the war on drugs?

    Of course not, Ashish George. When libertarians do it, it’s fine. sheesh.

    Both libertarianism and Zinn’s brand of deconstructionist Marxism are idealisms. History and idealism are flatly incompatible. Idealism deals in moral absolutes, while history is rife with missteps, bad choices, evil, injustices and, if we’re lucky, progress. But the history of even the most simpatico country/movement/people will quickly fall short of the idealists’ standards.

    It is more relevant to criticize the racial underpinnings of current problems in the War on Drugs than it is to criticize the racism of its origins. The people currently executing policies are capable of responding to criticisms, while those who live in the past and are now dead are a little more hamstrung. (By the way, since we’re excercising good history on this thread, would you be so kind as to reference a reason article where the author fails to make that distinction?)

    As to when it is relevant to bring up past injustices, there is a distinction between using such injustices to “better understand” a situation in relation to some past event, and using that past injustice to invalidate any positive comment about the country/people/movement.

  45. Also,

    Regarding “History=Identity.” I have solid alibis accounting for my whereabouts during Trail of Tears, Slavery and the firebombing of Dresden. So identifying me with those events is problematic at least.

  46. Syd — isn’t Loewen’s second book “Lies Across America”?

    Either way, another good read.

    But “Lies My Teacher Told Me” is superior, IMHO.

  47. If anyone on here went to high or middle school before say, 1980 I’d be curious to know if history texts included these events/people before then.

    I was in grammar school and high school in the late ’60s and the 1970s, in NJ. We got all that stuff . . . Indian genocide, underground RR, slaveholding Founding Fathers, Saint Abraham, ridiculous deification of a few token minority figures, etc. Zinn did not originate the inclusion of this in the curriculum.

  48. Thanks for the tip about Lies My Teacher Told Me. It sounds good.

    BTW, it’s interesting/amusing that Amazon offers Lies and Zinn’s People’s History as a “Buy Together” deal.

  49. The original post was about Zinn writing a book aimed at bright 4th graders. I have to say I wouldn’t buy it, both because I just don’t like his writing style very much — “A People’s History” never uses one syllable where fifteen would do — and because I’m not sure elementary school kids need that kind of ideology.

    On a more general level, I object to pretty much any heavily ideological history book for this reason — the books always portray events as a choice between Perfection and the evil, horrible, dreadful thing that actually happened. In reality, it’s usually between what happened and something very much worse.

  50. The problem with Zinn, as with all other neo-Marxists and fringe lefties, is his amazing capacity for tunnel-vision and propagandistic mendacity. ALL fringe types tend to see history through a very cramped lens of vision, so that the larger sweeps and movements of time are missed.
    This is not to say that there is any perfect reading of history. That is impossible. But one can, with equanamity , appreciate a work like Paul Johnson’s “History of the American People” alongside the numerous texts available in most college classrooms. Johnson’s work is far superior to Zinn’s due to its lack of an explicit endorsement of a deterministic view of the world, in addition to a clear acknowledgement that radical ideas can and do occasionally change the world in most unexpected ways. This element of historical “surprise” is utterly lacking in anything Zinn could construe in his simplistic monologue.

  51. anon,
    combo of drunkenness and shock at the ‘tude, dude. Now I am more sober and less shocked, but still, you gotta have some sympathy for those plains indians.

  52. at least his heart’s in the right place…

    so’s his head..up his ass so far he thinks the sun is brown

  53. You get another side of things, and by considering the two together, develop a fuller understanding of the subject matter.

    Yikes. I gotta back up joe here. If you can wade through extremist literature, every once in a while you’ll find some information that you would have never found in a more balanced source. At least you’ll gain insight into a mindset that you may have to challenge one day.

    Having said that, I have to admit I could only take about two chapters of The People’s History.

  54. “They have willingly lived as semi-slaves to their conquerers for 150+ yrs in their own little self-imposed ghettoes. Tough frickin’ titties!”

    i would love to feed you whiskey and hear you talk about the holocaust.

  55. The destruction of the Native American way of life, particularly the Trail of Tears, Little Big Horn, etc. were accomplished with the effort of the U.S. Army.

    The screwing over of Native Americans is ongoing. The Bureau of Indian Affairs has been dragging its feet for years on paying billions of dollars it owes for land leases.

  56. The main problem i see with Zinn’s book is the focus on groups and their interactions with each-other (esp. groups as classes and races), rather than regarding people in history as individuals each with their own motivations and struggles (not always malevolent or righteous). He ignores the fact that people are not inherently just a member of a group that only as a whole has any political or historical significance. The history of the US is full of stories of struggles for individual liberties from people who would be members of various different groups depending on perspectives.

  57. Quite surprised (not) at the dismissal of Zinn on H&R…

    I wonder if those that think reading Zinn is a waste of time also find, oh let’s say, The 12 Caesars equally worthless.

    http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Suetonius/12Caesars/home.html
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suetonius

    History books are always about providing a record of a perspective. Zinn’s serves that function quite well.

  58. History books are always about providing a record of a perspective.

    That’s true, though I’m not sure where it gets us. It’s an inescapable characteristic of any nonfiction work.

    I wonder if those that think reading Zinn is a waste of time also find, oh let’s say, The 12 Caesars equally worthless.

    If we had as many sources about ancient Roman history as we do about U.S. history, Suetonius would be of interest only to a few narrow specialists.

  59. “The main problem i see with Zinn’s book is the focus on groups and their interactions with each-other (esp. groups as classes and races), rather than regarding people in history as individuals each with their own motivations and struggles (not always malevolent or righteous).”

    You pretty much summed up the problem with all Marxist histories. When everything from the Constitution to the Wars of Religion to cock fighting in renaissance Italy is seen as part of the TEH CLASS STRUGGLE it really sucks the life out of an otherwise interesting subject.

  60. I’m always curious if people like Zinn somehow exempt themselves from these forces which apparently control EVERYTHING else. Will some future lefty write a history which includes the line “And then the Powers That Be saw fit to allow Howard Zinn to write A People’s History of the United States, which was actually just a trick to distract people’s movements (whatever the fuck that is) from the true plot!”
    Or does Zinn believe that he is the one thing in history which has escaped involvement in THE CONSPIRACY?

  61. I read zinn in my strange alternative high school program

    pile. of. shit.

  62. History books are always about providing a record of a perspective. Zinn’s serves that function quite well.

    Mmno. I don’t, nor will I ever accept a history book like Zinn’s as “just another point of view”. Yes, any history book will contain certain twists and biases, or omissions. But Zinn’s history IS a history of omission.

    A good historian, scientist, investigator, what have you, should always be able to include data or information that is counter to their philosophy- no matter how it hurts, for the cause of history, science or truth.

    For instance, I can look at a major daily newspaper, recognize the political taint (whether that taint agrees with me or not) but still see a generally fair or reasonable report. Basically, I wouldn’t run here or here for fairness or balance.

    One could do a history of the U.S. and never once mention slavery, and yet all of your book could be “factual”. Would we bring this book into the mainstream and say “Hey! Just another point of view!!!”. I think not.

  63. Wars of Religion to cock fighting in renaissance Italy is seen as part of the TEH CLASS STRUGGLE it really sucks the life out of an otherwise interesting subject.

    When all you’ve got is a hammer…

  64. [C]an you offer any quotations from Zinn’s writing that would lead us to believe he thinks what he’s written is all there is to American history?

    That would be an unnecessary parlour trick. His entire book is basically a history of U.S. through the lense of class struggle. That, on its face is a history of omission.

    But I’ll bite: Under what circumstances, if any, is it permissible to bring up past injustices to help us better understand the present? Are Reason writers, for example, engaging in “victimhood-by-proxy” (to use your awkward phrase) when they point out the racist origins of the war on drugs?

    You bring up a fantastic point which I’m more than happy to address, head on.

    I actually think that continuing to point out the racist origins of the drug war are the very type of thing I’m talking about. While it may contain truth, it isn’t moving the ball forward to keep harping on it. In fact, I have a major complaint with the way that Reason treats the drug war, because they keep focussing on drugs as the focal point of the drug war, when it’s much larger than that. But that’s another subject which shouldn’t be covered in this thread.

    For instance, I know that the basis of modern gun control has racist origins, but it isn’t instructive to continually point it out. Do I believe that Washington Ceasefire is a racist organization? No, I don’t. And any suggestion that they are by way of repeatedly pointing out the racist origins of gun control would be a cheap tactic to put WaCeacefire members on the defensive by forcing them to respond to an assertion which is irrelevant to the topic at hand.

  65. Zinn’s work isn’t gospel, but it is a much more impressive effort than some of the C3 (Cargo Cultists for Capitalism) give it credit for.

    Maybe it’s because I’ve looked at my kids’ public school history books over the years.

  66. the most pervasive thing i remember from my middle and high school history texts was treating history like it was a grand progressive narrative, in that things just kinda loped along on an upward slope.

  67. I can look at a major daily newspaper, recognize the political taint (whether that taint agrees with me or not) but still see a generally fair or reasonable report.

    I could make some relevant remark, but, instead, I just want to point out that you said, “taint”.

  68. Or does Zinn believe that he is the one thing in history which has escaped involvement in THE CONSPIRACY?

    Looks like he wrote an autobiographical book, “You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train: A Personal History”:

    http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0807071277/reasonmagazinea-20/

    From what I can glean from the Amazon page, he views himself as a champion than a victim. It says he has a sense of humor; I don’t recall much evidence of that in the People’s History.

  69. Zinn’s problem is Marx’s. Class struggle is part of the story, it isn’t THE story. Even if this is your thing, you can get a somewhat more reasonable lefty view of american history in the “Don’t Know Much About” books.

  70. I keep reading all of these comments about how pro capitalist most history books are.

    Uh, what? I’ve never been subjected to a mainstream treatment of history that remotely acknowledges what capitalism has done for the world. Now, if you want to say that the good stuff is obvious so we only need an uncritical look at the bad stuff, okay I guess, but let’s not act as though history books are laden with capitalist sloganeering.

  71. “It is more relevant to criticize the racial underpinnings of current problems in the War on Drugs than it is to criticize the racism of its origins. The people currently executing policies are capable of responding to criticisms, while those who live in the past and are now dead are a little more hamstrung. (By the way, since we’re excercising good history on this thread, would you be so kind as to reference a reason article where the author fails to make that distinction?)”

    Reason writers deal primarily with the merits and defects of contemporary policy. And while Zinn makes it very clear what direction he thinks contemporary policy should take, like all historians his writing is primarily about the development of various policies, movements, etc.

    In his book “Saying Yes: In Defense of Drug Use”, Jacob Sullum addresses both the history of the war on drugs and the current state of affairs. It is a nice example of how pointing out that there was no basis for a certain policy at the time it was enacted can go hand in hand with pointing out that such a justification never subsequently materialized.

    “That would be an unnecessary parlour trick. His entire book is basically a history of U.S. through the lense of class struggle. That, on its face is a history of omission.”

    I pointed to something specific Zinn said (in the afterword to A People’s History) about his view of American history. If you cannot perform this “parlour trick” (i.e., citing and criticizing what someone actually says instead of going after what you merely think they believe), then you are just as dishonest as Zinn supposedly is.

  72. the most pervasive thing i remember from my middle and high school history texts was treating history like it was a grand progressive narrative, in that things just kinda loped along on an upward slope.

    Ditto. This is pretty much the story I took away from public-school U.S. history:

    Settlers good.
    Indians good. (No effort was made to reconcile those two messages.)
    British and Tories bad.
    Patriots good.
    Federalists good.
    Anti-federalists bad.
    Slaveholders bad.
    Abolitionists good.
    South bad.
    North good.
    Industrialists bad.
    Labor good.
    Federal regulation good.
    Entering WWI good.
    Hoover bad.
    FDR good.
    Entering WWII good.
    More federal regulation good.

  73. Zinn on the PHUS in the book itself…

    This makes it a biased account, one that leans in a certain direction. I am not troubled by that, because the mountain of history books under which we all stand leans so heavily in the other direction – so tremblingly respectful of states and statesmen and so disrespectful, by inattention, to people’s movements – that we need some counterforce to avoid being crushed into submission.

  74. Zinn

    “the purpose of the State [is] to settle upper-class disputes peacefully, control lower-class rebellion, and adopt policies that…further the long-range stability of the system.”

    compare and contrast with basic libertarian views on government’s role in society.

    500 words or less.

  75. History is often presented as a narrative in which the government leans farther to the left. However, I fail to see what libertarianism has contributed to today’s world.

  76. Read “Lies My Teacher Told Me”. It’s the sort of left-leaning, anti-establishment, but still factual history book Zinn isn’t skilled enough to write.

    The problem I had with reading Loewen is he kept telling me, “You have to read my book to learn these things your schools never taught you.” And I kept reading and saying, “Um, my schools did teach this.”

  77. FYI — the jp who posted a comment at 8:04 pm on June 16 is not “me,” the jp you know and (dare I say it?) love, despite the fake jp’s use of my email address. I (the person speaking now) am the jp who posted all the jp comments in this thread other than the 8:04 one. I’m also the jp whom you may recognize as someone who tries to refrain from snarkiness (while sometimes enjoying it in others) and who has a tendency to offer technical corrections to posts on legal topics, especially Radley’s (though that’s purely a coincidence).

  78. History is often presented as a narrative in which the government leans farther to the left. However, I fail to see what libertarianism has contributed to today’s world.-fake JP

    You might start with “How Capitalism Saved America” by Thomas Di Lorenzo.

  79. libertree: “You might start with “How Capitalism Saved America” by Thomas Di Lorenzo”

    Response: Please elaborate on the miracles of capitalism.

  80. This is the “real” jp speaking again. That ain’t me at 5:55 pm. (The difference between real and fake is a little more obvious this time.)

  81. capitalism is unnecessary…free the lower cases from the oppression of the upper case

    this is not the “real” jp nor the “fake” jp but rather a faux jp.

  82. To explain why the latter’s election in 1860 convinced most slaveowners to back secession, Zinn falls back on the old saw, beloved by economic determinists, that the Civil War was “not a clash of peoples?but of elites,” Southern planters vs. Northern industrialists.

    Which really isn’t all that different from the Rothbard/Lew Rockwell wing of libertarianism’s view on the Civil War.

    Pity the slaves and their abolitionist allies; in their ignorance, they viewed it as a war of liberation and wept when Lincoln was murdered.

    Which hardly proves that they were correct. Maybe they thought that, but it’s pretty clear that slavery was just one of many reasons the Civil War happened.

  83. “the purpose of the State [is] to settle upper-class disputes peacefully, control lower-class rebellion, and adopt policies that…further the long-range stability of the system.”

    Fair enough. Except for the long-range stability part. There are many, many examples of our government being short sighted.

  84. I find it both amusing and disheartening that more and more political icons are trying to sneak into the mind’s of children through subliminal messages and shifty presentations.

  85. I find it both amusing and disheartening that more and more political icons are trying to sneak into the mind’s of children through subliminal messages and shifty presentations.

  86. this girl fine

  87. how can colleges be good while public schools are bad?

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