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Something is Amiss in the History Profession

No, this isn't another post about that horrible Nancy MacLean book, but it is related. As an early, vociferous critic of the book, I wound up in email, blog, and Twitter debates with some of her defenders among fellow historians, especially those who purport to specialize in intellectual history. And what I learned from this was troubling. While I'm sure there are many excellent historians around, I found that the historians I interacted with not only tended to reason backwards from their political priors, but that their standards of how one makes an appropriate inference from existing evidence are such that they would be laughed out of any decent philosophy or law school academic workshop.

Here are some examples of what I'm talking about.

(1) MacLean begins her book with a chapter on John Calhoun, in an effort to link Calhoun's thought to Buchanan's. The problem is that she doesn't actually present any evidence that Buchanan was influenced by Calhoun, and there is evidence to the contrary. I was told in response that my criticism is unwarranted. MacLean is an intellectual historian. Intellectual historians read lots of stuff about an era, and then reach conclusions. People who are not trained intellectual historians can't properly judge these conclusions, they just have to accept the end-result.

(2) While MacLean doesn't quite go so far as to assert that James Buchanan was racist in supporting school vouchers in Virginia in the late 1950s, some of her defenders do. I pointed out that he gave entirely non-racist reasons for his support of school vouchers, and there is no direct evidence that he preferred segregation to integration. In response, a historian noted that Ernest Van den Haag, a conservative writer, made similar non-racist arguments for school vouchers at the same time, but later became an overt supporter of Jim Crow segregation. This, he argued, shows that Buchanan was also a Jim Crow segregationist. When I teach Evidence, I always struggle for examples of something that almost seems on point but doesn't quite meet even the incredibly lax relevancy standard of Federal Rule of Evidence 701. I'm going to use this one. I also joked on Facebook that whenever I need a good non sequitur in response to a question I don't want to respond to, I'm just going to say "Ernest Van den Haag."

(3) Several historians asserted more generally that James Buchanan was a segregationist. I noted that MacLean presents no evidence that he favored segregation, and that others have presented at least suggestive evidence that he did not. The response was that calling Buchanan a segregationist doesn't mean that he actually favored segregation, even though that's how every dictionary defines the word "segregationist." Rather, historians of the segregation era have their own definition of segregationist, which in essence means someone who didn't support the NAACP's strategy for combating segregation. (So one could personally and politically be against segregation, but still be a "segregationist" if a historian decides that you didn't oppose segregation in the way the historian thinks you should have.) I should note that I've done my own historical research on the era, and I don't agree that there is any sort of historical consensus that "segregationist" has that definition.

(4) A big theme of MacLean's book is that Buchanan inspired an effort to promote an anti-democratic putsch by the Koch Brothers. As Ilya Somin has explained, her conception of democracy doesn't make any sense, at least if one assumes that she supports standard limits on democracy widely supported by progressives. But other historians have come to the rescue, arguing that the United States is a democracy when it follows the will of the people, as opposed to the will of organized reactionary interest groups. The U.S., for example, was democratic in the 1930s and 1960s, but not in the 1950s or 1980s. Democracy, in other words, means "progressive politics are winning out." Lack of democracy means "progressive politics are not winning out." Because in a true democracy, the will of the people wins, and the will of the people is naturally liberal-democratic-socialist. So Roe v. Wade is a "democratic" decision, even though it overturned the abortion laws of almost every state, because progressives approve of it. I kid you not.

(5) Relatedly, one problem for those on the left who suddenly proclaim that democracy is the be all and end all is that they love anti-democratic decisions* such as Brown v. Board of Education. The response I received when this was pointed out is that Brown was in fact democratic despite being a Supreme Court ruling invalidating legislation, because black people couldn't vote in the segregated South, and therefore the South didn't really have democracy. When I pointed out that Brown itself arose in Topeka, Kansas, where black people could in fact vote, the basic answer was that if a democratic legislature did something that harmed minorities, it was really being undemocratic, because all working class people would recognize they have common interests if it wasn't for the evil reactionary interests manipulating them. In other words, if we see policies enacted that the left sees as reflecting class solidarity, we know it's democracy at work. If we see majoritarian racial solidarity, that's not democracy.

The historians I've discussed and debated with are not fringe-y. One of my interlocutors is a chaired professor at a major state university. Others are junior professors or grad students or post-docs or think tank fellows with degrees from some of our most reputable history programs.

Again, I'm not saying that these folks represent all historians, all American historians, or even all intellectual historians who speciaize in the U.S. Nevertheless, the fact that all of these arguments (and more) have been made with a straight face by well-credentialed historians suggests something is amiss in the profession.

*UPDATE: Just to be clear, I understand that Brown can be squared with various versions of "democratic theory." But MacLean's basic normative thesis is that the Kochs, using Buchanan's "intellectual software," and understanding that libertarian ideas are unpopular and can't be enacted via ordinary majororitarian processes, seek to undermine democracy as defined in majoritarian terms. Given that, one has to either concede that Brown is an example of "anti-democratic" constraints on majority rule, or concede that sometimes constraints on majority rule are a good thing, and can even enhance "democratic politics." But the latter concession would undermine any cohrent defense of MacLean's thesis that Buchanan and the Kochs should necessarily be condemned for seeking to put "democracy in chains." Instead, we'd have to have a debate on what sorts and in what contexts constraints on majoritarian democracy are sound, which is a good part of Buchanan's life work.

My correspondents, not wanting to make either of the concessions noted above, instead bypased them by essentially arguing that "democratic" means "producing policy outcomes that I approve of," and that we can therefore evade the counter-majoritarian basis of Brown by asserting the opinion's essential rightness. If we accept that assumption, then MacLean could have written a much shorter book, consisting of a few sentences showing how she disagrees with libertarianish philosophy, and then concluding, "Buchanan and the Kochs are anti-democratic because they support(ed) policy outcomes I don't approve of."

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  • bernard11||

    historians of the segregation era have their own definition of segregationist, which in essence means someone who didn't support the NAACP's strategy for combating segregation.

    OK then. Tell us what strategy for combating segregation Buchanan did support. No, "the market will fix it," doesn't count.

  • Smooth Like a Rhapsody||

    Why doesn't it count? Either the market or a Constitutional amendment was the only legal way to do it.
    You are doing the same thing those "historians" are doing.

  • bernard11||

    Because it doesn't work.

    There is no particular reason the market has to fix it. It can easily reinforce segregation instead. For the umpteenth time, there was lots of segregation not mandated by law. Most notable is employment discrimination.

    If you promoted a black to supervise white employees you would soon find yourself with, at best, very unhappy and unproductive white staffers - the ones that didn't quit. This generalizes. A rational restaurant owner in a highly racist society will find it unprofitable to serve blacks, because hiw white business will shrink or disappear.

  • DjDiverDan||

    bernard11, your comment shows a profound lack of understanding of even the most basic economics. But, since you are obviously a leftist, that comes as no great surprise.

  • bernard11||

    DJD,

    Don't be stupid, if you can help it. I understand economics a hell of a lot better than you do, for all your posturing and bloviating. I have more training, more experience], and I'm smarter.

    Maybe you could explain my error. Pease bear in mind that, though libertarians generally have trouble with the concept, empirical data trumps theory every time, and that the evidence, unlike simple-minded Chapter 1 theories, supports what I said.

    Do you really think that what I said about employment practices is incorrect? If you do, you are an even bigger fool than I thought.

  • DjDiverDan||

    "Don't be stupid, if you can help it. I understand economics a hell of a lot better than you do, for all your posturing and bloviating. I have more training, more experience], and I'm smarter."

    Boy, bernard, that's the funniest thing you've said in AGES! Thanks for the

  • Smooth Like a Rhapsody||

    If the majority-- or even a large plurality backed by the federal government-- wanted to end segregation it would end.
    And you still haven't shown how your argument has anything to do with the Constitution. If the market can't do it, you need a Constitutional amendment.

  • bernard11||

    If the majority-- or even a large plurality backed by the federal government-- wanted to end segregation it would end.

    Well, if the majority or large plurality in question were allowed to vote, that's true.

    But the majority loved segregation. Even many who were appalled by some of the mistreatment of blacks supported it. So what is your point?

  • epsilon given||

    Granted, there is no particular reason the market has to fix segregation.

    However, in order to *have* segregation, they *had* to have Jim Crow Laws -- laws that literally *forced* segregation, whether the individuals wanted them or not. As economist Walter Williams pointed out, you don't make things, such as association and doing business with different races, illegal, if that's what people *naturally* wont't do. You make them illegal because that's what people *will* naturally do.

    I know someone who was racist. He had respect for individual black people, but he hated blacks in general. He also made a living as a locksmith, with a reputation of being willing to go into the black and Hispanic ghettos no one else was willing to go into, for fear of being a victim of a crime. The people in those ghettos made sure that his van and he personally would be protected, because they knew no one else would help them with their locks.

    Yes, there is no guarantee that a free market would fix anything. Yet, the market can bear pressure on individuals in odd sorts of ways to overcome racism, even if the individuals involved won't let their prejudices go. (In the case of this person I know, he literally took his prejudices with him to his grave.)

    Unless, of course, the Jim Crow laws are still in force -- then this person I knew would have been *forbidden* to help others in those neighborhoods. But then, Jim Crow is hardly the Free Market!

  • PoxOnBothYourHouses||

    Yes and no. The type of event in your restaurant example played a major role in the passage of public accommodation laws, which I agree with you were absolutely essential.

    But in general, in a market society, the outcome depends on how much a firm is helped or hurt by segregation. The biggest counter example comes from baseball. As long as team owners were unanimous in practicing segregation, it "worked." But once Branch Rickey integrated the Dodgers the dam broke, because teams that continued to segregate soon became noncompetitive.

    The difference is that in many realms it is hard to demonstrate how much decisions about hiring, serving, and so forth affect bottom lines.

  • NToJ||

    Repeal of segregation laws? Here's what he said:

    "(t)he local [segregation] statutes that were violated by the restaurant sit-ins of the early 1960s were 'Southern' laws, of course, and properly and universally condemned as 'unjust'."

    He thought "the duplication of educational facilities in the southern states due to racial segregation" constituted an "internal administrative fault[] and peculiarity" exception to how competitive pressure steered public institutions towards efficiency. He sounds to me like an egg-headed dork who was nonetheless thoroughly supportive of market efficiency, which you don't manifested in government-mandated segregation.

  • bernard11||

    Ok. That's something, though I'd be curious as to when he wrote that.

    Urging repeal is more than a lot of people did, though it was a pathetic strategy. Did he think the Alabama Legislature was going to rise in moral indignation and strike down the Jim Crow laws?

    Besides, as has been discussed here quite often, market forces won't fix it, for which there is ample historical evidence, not least in the durability of segregation and other forms of discrimination not mandated by law, which the market did not fix.

  • David Bernstein||

    In 1958, only 4% of Americans approved of interracial marriage. Now, it's around 90%, higher among young people, and the rate of interracial marriage is exponentially higher than it was sixty years ago. No government coercion involved.

    But in any event, Buchanan didn't have to have a grand strategy as to how to achieve desegregation not to be a segregationist, he just had to not be in favor of segregation. Or if you do think he had to have a grand strategy, that would make 99% of Americans segregationists in 1959, which kind of blunts the impact of the term.

  • bernard11||

    In 1958, only 4% of Americans approved of interracial marriage. Now, it's around 90%, higher among young people, and the rate of interracial marriage is exponentially higher than it was sixty years ago. No government coercion involved.

    And the relevance of this is?

    I'm perfectly willing to admit Buchanan wasn't a segregationist. Somewhere in this thread there is a quote from him criticizing the practice. Fine. That's all I need.

  • David Bernstein||

    The relevance is that social change doesn't come about solely, or even primarily, through legal coercion.

  • OtisAH||

    Except it was through legal coercion that interracial marriage became legal. That 90% approval in 2018 is a direct result of that decision. Interracial marriage became a norm, so over time people accepted it. Ninety percent, anyway.

    To suggest that 90% approval would have happened anyway is, perhaps, correct, but you have absolutely nothing on which to base the supposition.

  • NToJ||

    "Except it was through legal coercion that interracial marriage became legal."

    It's odd that a Supreme Court decision prohibiting anti-miscegenation laws is viewed as "legal coercion" but the laws prohibiting interracial marriage are not.

  • PoxOnBothYourHouses||

    Exactly! In the interracial marriage case, Loving v. Virginia wasn't "coercion" because it didn't force anyone to do anything. It allowed individuals freedom from state laws (even then, South Carolina didn't actually take its interracial marriage ban out of the state constitution, by referendum, until 1998 -- and the vote wasn't overwhelming).

    Public accommodation laws, on the other hand, can be seen as coercive. And laws or regulations that require equal outcomes -- well, there you find a heavy hand.

  • bernard11||

    "Solely" I'll buy. "Not primarily" is doubtful. How long would it have taken for public accommodations to be open to all without the 1964 CRA. I mean in the real world, not the fantastical one imagined by libertarians.

    And what should be done while waiting for the "social change" - which in this case means equal treatment of blacks - to happen of its own accord?

  • DStraws||

    Are you saying there were no miscegenation laws that were repealed or struck down by the courts. If that hadn't happened it would have taken longer to reach the 90%. Further, I don't know how market forces caused this change.

  • Michael Ejercito||

    Kansas, which had racial segregation of public schools, never had miscegenation laws.

  • HMI||

    "Did he think the Alabama Legislature was going to rise in moral indignation and strike down the Jim Crow laws?"

    And the Civil Rights Law came into being how...?

  • Rev. Arthur L. Kirkland||

    And the Civil Rights Law came into being how...?

    Against the wishes and efforts of Alabama

  • NToJ||

    First quote was from 1968. Second quote was 1948.

    "Did he think the Alabama Legislature was going to rise in moral indignation and strike down the Jim Crow laws?"

    I don't know what he thought. But it wasn't just Alabama. Washington D.C. was segregated. So was Maryland. So was Delaware. West Virginia. Kansas (in some parts).

    His second quote should tell you that Buchanan partially agreed re: market forces. He thought you had to make Alabamans "suffer the costs of their own inefficiency can improvement be expected." But he acknowledged segregated schools ("the duplication of educational facilities in the southern states due to racial segregation") as an exception to market forces improving school efficiency.

    "...not least in the durability of segregation..."

    Segregation exists only when government mandates it. What you're talking about is racial disparity. The market can't fix it because black and white people don't like living next to each other as much as you'd like, apparently. But that's their choice, you know?

  • bernard11||

    Segregation exists only when government mandates it.

    Nonsense. Complete and utter nonsense. Segregation and other types of discrimination can easily exist in racist societies without legislation. I would argue that, in the south at least, the legislation was largely redundant. Politicians regularly argued with each other as to who was the bigger racist.

    There was plenty of non-mandated segregation in the North.

    There was plenty of non-mandated segregation in housing.

    There was plenty of non-mandated segregation and discrimination in workplaces.

    Consider one well-known example. Major league baseball was segregated until 1947. That was precisely due to market forces encouraging owners to keep their teams all white. There was no law demanding that, and there was no shortage of talented black players, who were easy to find if you just went across town.

    Now you're going to tell me that, "Hey, it was market forces that got the game integrated." Well, it certainly took a while, and that doesn't change the fact that market forces worked in the other direction for half a century.

  • NToJ||

    "Segregation and other types of discrimination can easily exist in racist societies without legislation."

    There's no point in us getting into a definitions argument. I thought you were talking about public schools.

    "Well, it certainly took a while, and that doesn't change the fact that market forces worked in the other direction for half a century."

    What would you have done to accelerate the change? Do you think we'd have an integrated baseball league sooner if the government had banned segregated sports leagues?

    It's not a question of whether the market was too fast or too slow. There's simply no other way to solve that problem. You cannot coerce the solution.

  • bernard11||

    What would you have done to accelerate the change?

    Equal employment opportunity laws?

    Sound strange in the context of MLB, maybe, but that's just a small, albeit prominent, example. Lots of workplaces showed the same behavior.

  • NToJ||

    Well we've had equal employment laws, and we don't live in a post-racial paradise today, so that doesn't solve the "took a while" problem.

  • epsilon given||

    The Constitution requires the States to have a Republican government. Not only that, but the 14th Amendment is *supposed* to guarantee that the basic rights defined in the Constitution (including those in the Bill of Rights) are applied to the States.

    Thus, the proper response to the Jim Crow laws would have been to strike them down as the unConstitutional laws they were, for interfering with the Right to Association.

    From there, the individuals (both white and black) could have worked out among themselves how much segregation, and to what degree, they wanted and/or were willing to tolerate, and to what degree they were willing to let their prejudices interfere with their ability to prosper financially.

    Ironically enough, though, the Democrat-friendly Supreme Court wouldn't apply the 14th to rights -- in particular, they didn't like the idea of former slaves being able to own guns, *despite* the fact that this is one of the *explicit* reasons for the Republican Congress passed, and Republican-heavy States ratified, the 14th Amendment.

  • Krayt||

    ===Urging repeal is more than a lot of people did, though it was a pathetic strategy===

    Maybe, but the claim is he was a segregationist not because of any proof positive, but but because of a lack of loud public support of the NAACP or similar.

    Some people pick their battles and stick with it, what with awards shows not yet placing advocates in the wings to guilt people going onstage into wearing the ribbon color du jour.

  • bernard11||

    Please note that I have not argued that Buchanan was a segregationist and have agreed, based on some quotes provided by commenters, that he was not.

  • Joe_JP||

    "in essence" is Internet code for "not really"

  • Brett Bellmore||

    "Segregationist" doesn't mean "Anybody who disagreed with the NAACP's strategy for combating segregation."

    It doesn't even mean "Anybody who lacks a strategy for combating segregation."

    "Segregationists" are people who supported segregation, not just people who didn't fight it, or didn't fight it in the way you wanted.

    And, yeah, "the market will fix it" does count.

  • David Bernstein||

    As I pointed out several times in debates with historians on this, the strategy that the NAACP pursued mostly failed to desegregate American schools. So it's beyond uncharitable and into political pathology to suggest that anyone who had other ideas, including vouchers, must have been wittingly or unwittingly doing the bidding of segregationism.

  • swood1000||

    So it's beyond uncharitable and into political pathology to suggest that anyone who had other ideas, including vouchers, must have been wittingly or unwittingly doing the bidding of segregationism.

    Furthermore, according to John McWhorter, the path that desegregation took resulted in a new disparagement – "acting white," which black teens often equated with doing well in school, so its worth considering whether a different desegregation path might have been warranted:

    It was the demise of segregation, of all things, that helped pave the way for the "acting white" charge. With the closing of black schools after desegregation orders, black students began going to school with white students in larger numbers than ever before. White students were often openly hostile, and white teachers only somewhat less so. Black teachers and administrators from the old black schools often lost their jobs. Unsurprisingly, black students started modeling themselves against white ones as a form of self-protection. This dovetailed nicely with the new open-ended wariness of whites that was the bedrock of "Black Power" identity.
  • bernard11||

    I'm not asking about what he did to fight it. I'm asking what, if anything, he thought should be done.

    I don't think anyone who didn't march in the streets was segregationist, but I do think that those who sort of thought it was OK, even though they didn't consider themselves racists, helped support the system.

  • Lee Moore||

    Yeah, but you're missing out all sorts of other ways not be a segregationist. Like

    (a) thinking it's a bad thing, but not thinking it's important enough to do anything about
    (b) thinking it's a bad thing that somebody ought to do something about, but not a big priority for me
    (c) thinking it's bad thing and thinking the elapse of time is the best way to deal with it
    (d) thinking it's a bad thing and thinking it's not your business to do anything about it
    (e) being undecided as to whether it's a good thing or a bad thing
    (f) being unaware it exists
    (g) confusing it with congregation

    The point is that there are a thousand ways not to be a segregationist, and only one way to be one, and that's by espousing it. The argument that not doing enough (in whoever's opinion) to achieve the end of X makes you a supporter of X, is just silly.

    I presume that you, like me, are a supporter of the North Korean hereditary communist dictatorship ?

  • David Bernstein||

    LOL

  • bernard11||

    Lee,

    Amusing.

    I guess my opinion is that when you get to truly horrendous situations, one ought at least have the courage to say that they are horrendous, and that it matters, because, after all, "We hold these truths to be self-evident.."

    Not many southerners, or conservatives (note that I did not say "Democrats") did that.

  • Kazinski||

    But whether you will acknowledge it or not North Korean hereditary communist dictatorship is way more horrendous than segregation was.

    Between 1993 and 2000 600,000 Norks out of a population of 22 million starved to death, with the peak year at 1997, so this is relatively recent. And think of all the suffering the many more survivors went through, as well as the mass camps and slavery. As terrible as segregation and apartheid were, I haven't seen any statistics that come anywhere near being as bad. Segregation was a warped way of life, but it was definitely life.

    But I've never heard you say a word about North Korean hereditary communist dictatorship, other than of course "Amusing".

  • bernard11||

    When did I say I "sort of thought North Korea is OK?"

  • bernard11||

    Oh, and you know, I actually don't put everything I say right here in the VC comments, so the fact that you've never heard me say anything about X really doesn't mean I never have.

    Has there been a thread on NK?

  • epsilon given||

    "so the fact that you've never heard me say anything about X really doesn't mean I never have."

    Why shouldn't the same standard be applied to James Buchanan?

    Just because he didn't explicitly fight segregation the way the NAACP and modern historians wanted him to, and just because you can't find a whole lot of writing where he opposes segregation, doesn't automatically mean he supported it.

  • epsilon given||

    "so the fact that you've never heard me say anything about X really doesn't mean I never have"

    Why shouldn't the same standard be applied to James Buchanan? If you can find words he wrote where he explicitly supported segregation, that would be one thing, but if not, then it's stupid and unfair to decide he supported segregation.

  • bernard11||

    It should be.

    The only difference is that, since segregation was a live issue in the US, I would expect some level of comment on it by prominent intellectuals.

    Apparently Buchanan's comments, unlike say, William Buckley's, suggest that he disliked segregation. Good.

  • Lee Moore||

    "one ought at least have the courage to say"

    Well maybe one ought. But in practice one doesn't. Very few people are willing to stick their heads above the parapet, even when the only incoming missiles are rotten tomatoes.

    Look about yourself now and identify one or two people who

    (a) are making a point of saying things in public
    (b) that they know have a good chance of getting them into trouble

    Obviously there is something of a burden on "into trouble" as there are plenty of controversialists who say unpopular or outrageous things and make a good living from it. Not excluding the current President. So limit yourself to folk who are risking losing their lives or their livelihood by speaking out.

    As a rule, people don't sticjk their necks out unless they've got something to gain by it. Those who "bravely" fulminate against the evils of the world tend to do so from a safe distance in time or space. Or both.

  • OtisAH||

    Of course it counts. It's an open, general statement that is near impossible to dispute except in hindsight. Of course, we have plenty of hindsight to show us the "free market" doesn't do anything it doesn't have to do, but that history is only persuasive to people who are willing to be persuaded.

  • Sanctimonica||

    The University of Texas and Texas A&M University are considered Texas's flagship schools. In 2003 UT followed a diversity admission process that used race as an admission criteria. A&M did not. Yet A&M's student diversity increased more quickly than UT's. https://tinyurl.com/zzzrn6l

    I believe UT has caught up since the article was written. But still, this is analogous evidence that yes, the market can achieve social goals, and probably more efficiently than artificial selection pressures can.

  • Kazinski||

    If you are too lazy to click on Bernstein's link, I suppose I can be accommodating enough to at least click on the link and pull a quote from the syllabus of the 65 page paper Bernstein links to.

    "To the contrary, we show that Buchanan opposed segregation and believed that the competitive processes of an educational voucher system would undermine the Massive Resistance status quo."

  • bernard11||

    I found that the historians I interacted with not only tended to reason backwards from their political priors,

    This is hardly an uncommon failing, even among such champions of reason as lawyers and legal academics, including VC bloggers.

  • Joe_JP||

    so it doesn't only happen " for those on the left"? Seems wrong somehow.

  • David Bernstein||

    True, but (a) I expect more objectivity from historians than those in a mostly normative field such as law; and (b) nevertheless, if you went to a law school academic workshop at any decent school and essentially defined "democracy" as "stuff i like politically" and lack of democracy as "stuff I oppose politically," you'd be laughed out of the room (or whatever the polite academic equivalent is).

  • Lee Moore||

    I expect more objectivity from historians than those in a mostly normative field such as law

    I don't follow. While legislation may be highly normative, the field of law is only normative for those practitioners who adopt precisely the same philosophy as the progressive historians of whom you complain.
    Those lawyers, judges and academics who eschew the business of discerning invisible purposes and intents are not engaged in a normative pursuit, they are trying to describe the animal that they find before them. Even those practising lawyers who are simply interested in winning their case are in no different position to sportsmen who try to judge how much cheating they can get away with. The law - post legislation - isn't normative unless you choose to make it so eg if you're a living constitutionalist type - the law is whatever is conducive to the good.

    And thusly with historians. Some historians think their job is to find out what happened and why. Others think their job is to pursue the current and future good by painting the past in colors that will help that pursuit.

    Propaganda is hardly a recent invention, nor a lefty one. For those of us who quite like the idea of academics pursuing the truth wherever it may lead, yes, it's unfortunate that so many 'academics" prefer propaganda. It may be a lot worse than fifty years ago, but it's not new.

  • David Bernstein||

    There's no separate academic track for law students who want to become professors. Law students are trained to argue a side. That seeps into the legal academy. Historians, by contrast, are not supposed to be trained to argue a side, but to explain the past.

  • Lee Moore||

    Fine, understood. I was fooled by "normative" which is a horrible word, which assumes a number of disguises, some of which contradict each other.

    "Instrumental" would have been a better choice. IMHO, of course.

  • tommyboy||

    Normative is not a horrible word. From the context alone it would be understood as to be the usage that equates to non-empirical. Blaming his word choice for your lack of understanding is juvenile. It's actually the best word choice for this apt comparison. One would expect historians to use an empirical approach by drawing on the best primary and secondary sources available.

  • PublicNameNotInUse||

    In my days as a History major in college, before I started taking Philosophy courses and realized exactly the same phenomena you're talking about here, "Explaining the past" was often taught to be "Arguing a side". I noticed almost no focus on objectivity and a great deal of hand-waving away of sources/facts/interpretations that conflict with a given professor's biases.

    "History" was nothing more than a way of justifying a professor's current political biases, which led to the professor's current political biases being used to "Explain the Past". And disagreeing had harsh effects on the GPA, even if your argument was sound and well founded. And this was 25 years ago. From things I've read, the situation has gotten much worse.

  • bernard11||

    So intellectual dishonesty is OK for law professors?

    Nice to know.

  • Brett Bellmore||

    According to a study I saw of various academic fields, History is the most partisan of all, at over 33 Democrats for every Republican. Most Universities have no Republicans at all in their history staff.

    So it's hardly surprising that the field is abandoning actual history in favor of just becoming a political propaganda mill.

  • Rev. Arthur L. Kirkland||

    Good thing: Hundreds of colleges and universities are conservative-controlled institutions that love hiring Republicans.

    Bad thing (for right-wingers): Those schools are nearly uniformly third- and fourth-tier, snowflake-coddling, nonsense-teaching goober factories.

    From that foundation, the Conspirators and their Republican fans contend that our strongest schools should emulate our weakest schools by hiring more movement conservatives.

    Where contend = whining, mostly.

  • Giant Realistic Flying Tiger||

    1950s Kirkland:

    Good thing: Hundreds of colleges and universities are minority-controlled institutions that love hiring blacks.

    Bad thing (for minorities): Those schools are nearly uniformly third- and fourth-tier, snowflake-coddling, nonsense-teaching [insert racial epithet here] factories.

    From that foundation, the Conspirators and their minority fans contend that our strongest schools should emulate our weakest schools by hiring more blacks.

    Where contend = whining, mostly.

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    I would love to see some documentation of your claim, because it is contrary to my experience and to most of what I read. The Progressive Left took over the majority of academia decades ago, and in the process seriously distorted scholarship. Not that this is new. Universities has, historically, tended to harbor political cliques who distorted scholarship in one direction or another. But it is my strong impression that the current crop is heavily Radical Left, and has been for a while.

  • Rev. Arthur L. Kirkland||

    I would love to see some documentation of your claim,

    Unable to find the "best colleges and universities" list? The documentation exists at both ends of the list. Yale v. Wheaton. Berkeley vs. Biola. Columbia v. Ouachita Baptist. Harvard vs. Hillsdale. Amherst vs. Ave Maria. Michigan vs. Cedarbrook. Reed vs. Southern, South, Southwestern, or Southeastern Whatever. Princeton vs. Patrick Henry. Etc. Etc. Etc.

  • tommyboy||

    Understand that this is particular argument that the good Reverend throws out regularly. He loves to hate religiously affiliated schools. He does it with passion and gusto. It's one of his favorite straw men that can be used in any discussion. It's his little fetish. It would not surprise me if he kept a Liberty University commencement robe for his marathons masterbation sessions.

  • OtisAH||

    He does not "love to hate religiously affiliated schools" so much as he likes education and free thought over indoctrination and dogma.

    [The trap is set. Now we wait...]

  • Rev. Arthur L. Kirkland||

    I dislike low-quality, nonsense-teaching, censorship-shackled schools. Conservative-controlled schools tend to be among those substandard schools. This point makes right-wing ankle-nipping aimed at strong liberal-libertarian schools worthy of derision.

  • epsilon given||

    The funny thing is, as this OP is making clear, Liberal-controlled schools are fast becoming the low-quality, nonsense-teaching, censorship-shackled schools you claim to despise.

  • Kazinski||

    That's Ok, considering the level of the competition 1-33 is odds I like.

    I mean if our racist sexist anti-democratic nation the way the historians depict it, is the number one desired destination for the worlds racially, polititically and economically depressed masses then we must be doing something right.

    In the meantime you've still got historians holding up the former Soviet Union, Cuba and Venezuela as the models we should be shooting for.

  • DStraws||

    "In the meantime you've still got historians holding up the former Soviet Union, Cuba and Venezuela as the models we should be shooting for."

    Since they are all lefties you should have no trouble citing a plethora of them.

  • MikeR6||

    It would be useful for Prof. Bernstein to provide the actual examples of each of these cases of fallacious reasoning, if available, so that we could all have a chance to disagree, or to ooh and aah. Redact the names etc. if you think (a) that this would publicly humiliate them, and (b) that they don't deserve it.

  • Pete M||

    I agree that examples would be helpful.

  • David Bernstein||

    Too much effort to find all the discussions. But here's part of one:

    Me: Certainly nothing there suggesting support for Jim Crow, which by definition involves government involvement in the economy etc, precisely the opposite of what Buchanan is praising.

    Chaired History Professor: Earnest van den Haag said the *exact same thing.* Strange how B. mirrors the argument of an avowed segregationist.

  • John C. Randolph||

    Hitler ordered the construction of the Autobahn system. Eisenhower pushed the Interstate Highway System. Eisenhower must have supported genocide, QED.

    -jcr

  • Giant Realistic Flying Tiger||

    Well, Eisenhower was a Republican. That makes him literally Hitler!™

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    I sometimes wonder if the goddamned fools who compare the likes of George W. Bush to the despicable Austrian are even aware that by doing so they are saying not only that Bush is like Hitler but that Hitler was like Bush, thereby making the carpet-chewing maniac that tiny bit more respectable.

    Hell, Bush mostly came across as a mild Rotarian. Do they REALLY mean to say that Schicklgruber was a mild Rotarian?

    *facepalm*

  • juris imprudent||

    So you have never before encountered members of the First Church of Progressive Orthodoxy?

    Willing to bet that is the congregation of our own beloved Rev.

  • Rev. Arthur L. Kirkland||

    Congregation Of Exalted Reason.

    Choose reason. Every time. Be an adult.

  • Rigelsen||

    Parody every other time or self-delusion this time?

    The principle of charity suggests the former. Occam's razor suggests otherwise.

  • VinniUSMC||

    Well, progressives do love to redefine terms. In this case "Exalted Reason" actually means "Progressive Morons".

  • FlameCCT||

    I thought that "Exalted Reason" meant "Progressive Propaganda".

  • TWW||

    "People who are not trained intellectual historians can't properly judge these conclusions, they just have to accept the end-result."

    See, Global Warming.

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    The history of academia includes a large number of instances where somebody without credentials (but with passion) came to a conclusion that proved to be the right one, in the face of heavy opposition from the credentialed elite.

    So, read the quote as "People who are not trained intellectual historians cannot be allowed to present their opinions, because if they proved to be convincing someone might wonder what we were doing to justify our salaries."

  • OtisAH||

    I am laughing out loud, literally. This really is brilliant parody. And now I've got the image of Alex Jones standing triumphantly at the dias while all of the world's historians bow to his passion, while disavowing the vast knowledge they'd attained. Thanks!

  • CatoRenasci||

    It's a fact that the standards have been declining in history for at least 40 years. I trained as a (European) intellectual historian in the late '60s-early '70s. Work that wasn't both historically and philosophically rigorous didn't fare well. Everyone in my doctoral cohort did substantial work in philosophy. We spent at least as much time primary sources as secondary - in both history and philosophy courses. Many graduate seminars were jointly taught by both a philosopher and an intellectual historian (sometimes officially, sometimes just because the professors were friends and wanted to sit in and do the readings and participate in the discussion because the topic interested them). Historical rigor, as well, was probably at its peak in the late '60s before everything blew up.

    As I near retirement and look to downsize my 3-4,000 volume library, I find it hard to get rid of good work in history - even political history - and intellectual history. Much recent work, while sometimes bringing new facts to light, is rarely rigorous or trustworthy. It's become hard to find the solid mid-level books one used to see (e.g. the Langer series The Rise of Modern Europe, or the New American Nation series). The leftist political slant is so pronounced in most of what one reads that it's hard to separate the occasional nugget of new information or interpretation from the dross.

  • John C. Randolph||

    In other words, history is among the categories of American academia that has been rotted away by the marxists.

    -jcr

  • Rev. Arthur L. Kirkland||

    The leftist political slant is so pronounced

    Do you mean a preference for science over dogma?

    Tolerance over bigotry?

    Reason over superstition?

    Education over ignorance?

    Modernity over backwardness

  • Giant Realistic Flying Tiger||

    He means the preference for predetermined conclusions over truth found in much modern historical writing, a preference you exhibit through your rampant bigotry and insult hurling.

  • Rigelsen||

    No, he means lack of self awareness over intellectual humility.

  • Jeff_Kleppe||

    It is a treat to have an adherent of the ideology that can't decide how many genders there are and also thinks someone can choose to change their gender on a whim lecture us about placing "science over dogma". A true delight.

  • PublicNameNotInUse||

    So others are clear, in Kirkland's "mind"

    Astrology and Homeopathy == "Science"
    Anti-semitism, anti-Religion, and political violence == "Tolerance"
    Straw Man Arguments and Ad Hominem == "Reason"
    Everything I like == "Modernity"

    In case you were confused by the gaping oversights in his sweeping overgeneralizations.

  • Rev. Arthur L. Kirkland||

    And the goobers wonder why they have lost, are losing, and will continue to lose the culture war as America progresses against their wishes

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    This kind of thing happens in academia with some regularity. During the late 18th century, when religious dissenters were barred from the great Universities of Britain, the level of intellectual stagnation and blather was so bad that a great proportion of scientific and intellectual advancement took place outside of the halls of Higher Education. Joseph Priestly, for example, did pioneering work in Chemistry, Optics, and Education (he helped design the first organized curriculum for teaching written English to native English speakers). He was also a Dissenter who was a founder of the Unitarian Church (in those days a much more austere Primitive Christian institution than its modern shadow).

  • ThomasD||

    ... a much more austere Primitive Christian institution than its modern shadow...

    To name another institution the progressives have reduced to a meaningless and powerless shell.

    Almost like by design.

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    When my Father (whose field was History of Science) was teaching at Iowa State, the local Unitarian Church learned that he was an expert of Priestly, and invited him to give a 'talk' to the congregation. He gave them a Priestly sermon. Priestly was a hellfire and brimstone preacher in his day, and my Father was the adopted son of a Methodist Minister from back in the 1930's. He told me you could hear the eyeballs bouncing on the floor.

  • perlchpr||

    So, I guess the basic principle here is "Democracy can never be allowed to have a bad outcome"? I suppose it echoes the way "True Communism Has Never Been Tried".

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Your points about educated 'historians' attempting to skew history via conclusions that are not supported by facts expose a real problem. They cannot help themselves.

    In my specialty of WWII military history, we have to spend extra time circumventing Communist Russian propaganda to hide various levels of Communist re-writing of history. Modern day Lefties in history do the same thing. They try and protect historical figures and events that they like.

    History is rarely on their side, so they skew or outright lie with historical facts to support their conclusion.

    An example is Lefties still like FDR as he really set in motion the Socialist state that Americans are now burdened with. FDR was a racist and put Japanese-Americans in internment caps. You would think the SCOTUS would have reviewed Hirabayashi and Korematsu cases, but FDR had gotten 9 justices on the SCOTUS during his 12 years as president.

  • David Bernstein||

    It's one of the more remarkable things about American history, and not just in academia, that the Supreme Court gets far more criticism for deferring to FDR on Japanese internment based on the falsified evidence the government relied on than FDR gets for ordering Japanese internment and relying on that evidence long after it should have been discredited internally.

  • CatoRenasci||

    It was at least as much Earle Warren as it was FDR

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    FDR was certainly a racist; in fact that explains Pearl Harbor a lot batter than conspiracy theories claiming he 'planned' it. Simple: nobody in FDRs administration or in the military thought the Japanese could strike that far. They were provoking the Japanese as a matter of policy (a policy I agree with, BTW) but they expected the blow to land in the Philippines.

    The motivation for the internment camps is a little more complicated. For one thing, people tend to forget that tens of thousands of Italian and German immigrants or children of immigrants were interred. But FDRs bigotry was by no means confined to race. OTOH, there is some evidence that the internment of the Japanese happened because FDR was concerned that the West Coast would suffer race riots if the handy targets were not removed. And he may well have been right. Of course, and an arrogant Progressive jerk he had little concern for the civil rights of the people he was interring, and as a Leftist he had even less concern for their economic rights.

  • David Nieporent||

    The motivation for the internment camps is a little more complicated. For one thing, people tend to forget that tens of thousands of Italian and German immigrants or children of immigrants were interred.

    A relatively small number of German and Italian aliens were interred, not German- and Italian-Americans. On the other hand, Japanese-Americans were categorically treated as aliens regardless of their citizenship or place of birth.

  • perlchpr||

    I dunno. I think the Niihau Incident probably had a fair bit to do with things, too.

    Yes, it's only one data point.

    But I suspect it must have weighed heavily on the minds of people that in the aftermath of the Pearl Harbor attack, when a Japanese plane landed on a remote Hawaiian island after having been shot down, and after having learned of the attack, 3 out of 3 ethnic Japanese living on that island chose to side with the Japanese pilot against the nation and their own neighbors.

    It's not sufficient reason for the internment, but I suspect it wasn't ignored as one, either.

  • RoyMo||

    Yet the Navy was deferred to and the Territory of Hawaii was exempted.

  • David Nieporent||

    "This one Japanese guy was disloyal, so we should lock up 100,000 Japanese-Americans" is pretty much literally the definition of racism.

    And of course they did not intern Japanese-Americans in Hawaii, where the incident took place. Which would be odd, if the internment were for security reasons and were prompted by an incident that actually took place in Hawaii.

  • Rich Rostrom||

    The Niihau incident had nothing to do with the internment of over 100,000 Japanese-Americans in May 1942.

    In December 1941, immediately after Pearl Harbor (and the Niihau incident), several thousand Japanese-Americans (less than 10,000) were interned. These people were genuine security risks: known advocates for the Japanese regime, people who assisted Japanese consular officers in surveillance of US military activity, and Kibei - young men who had studied in Japan, and undergone training with the Japanese army.

    Nothing happened for the next several months. There were no incidents of sabotage or spying. Then certain West Coast politicians began demogogic agitation against Japanese-Americans, inventing lurid stories of treasonous activity. It was this agitation which led to the mass internment of May 1942.

    FYI - some of these same demogogues also assailed Italian-Americans on the West Coast. Many of these were fishermen who held valuable harbor rights, which others wanted. Fortunately, this campaign collapsed when one of the men caught by it was Joe Di Maggio's father.

  • JonFrum||

    This is what is called the 'march through the institutions.' Marxists decided in the early-mid 20th century that since capitalism hadn't collapsed as predicted, they'd have to insert themselves inside society's basic institutions and create a revolution from within. Finally, they are seeing the fruits of their labors. Our higher education system is almost entirely controlled by them, and the mainstream media is very close behind.

    While you were obsessing over your 'gun rights,' they were stealing your country from you right under your noses. Wake up and smell the coffee - you've lost the battle without firing a shot.

  • CatoRenasci||

    And, indeed, the Gramscian long march through the institutions was possible only because the liberals who came do populate academia in the '20s and '30s, and to dominate academia after WWII, adopted a Pas D'Ennemi à Gauche attitude which allowed further and further left-leaning and more and more open Marxists into academia, such that by the '90s, the university those trained before about 1975 knew, no longer existed. It's only been downhill from there.

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    Ah, but those institutions are becoming less and less useful to them. Academia isn't really all that important, as history has demonstrated more than once. The Media have alienated the citizenry, as have the Arts. A lot of the hysteria we see on the Left is them waking up to the realization that they are losing power and that Trump is prepared to actually fight and they might LOSE.

  • Rev. Arthur L. Kirkland||

    You figure Trump is the guy who is to cause American society to reverse course -- after decades of liberal-libertarian progress against conservative wishes -- and to begin to prefer right-wing backwardness?

    Prayer back in public schools?

    Abortion criminalized?

    Government gay-bashing revived?

    Race-targeting voter suppression resumed?

    Creationism back in science classes?

    Women back in their place?

    Black men compelled to lower their gaze in the company of white women?

    Drug warriors reinvigorated?

    Contraception outlawed?

    Polluters unshackled?

    Confederate statutes rededicated?

    Anti-miscegenation laws brought back?

    Abusive policing back in vogue?

    Segregated proms and classrooms?

    Precisely how much losing do you expect our liberal-libertarian alliance to sustain?

  • mad_kalak||

    No, but Trump did more than just stand athwart history and do more than yell "stop," he actually helped up make things stop.

    You're list is ridiculous by the way, and only some really fringe types advocate for even half of what you have listed. Still, all that really needs to happen is to end chain migration and/or no amnesty to prevent the liberals from growing their client groups, and America stays center right.

  • HMI||

    Golly gosh, yes! So many of us remember the hellhole that was the United States prior to our salvation by Progressivism. Prayer in public schools alone was responsible for more mental anguish than any misapplied pronoun, and creationist doctrine run rampant itself accounts for the failure of American technology to make any headway prior to 1990. We are so much better off with white bashing replacing gay bashing and with feminists making certain that men know their place. Hallelujah and amen.

  • Rev. Arthur L. Kirkland||

    In a free society, you are entitled to prefer ignorance to education, backwardness to modernity, superstition to reason. You are entitled to believe as you wish.

    Competent people neither accept nor advance supernatural arguments in reasoned debate about public affairs, however, and superstition-based arguments are not entitled to respect in such debate.

  • Alan Vanneman||

    Your remarks regarding Brown v. Board of Education aren't exactly impressive. Libertarians often like to talk about the rights of minorities. Wasn't the Kansas law allowing (but not requiring) segregated schools an excellent illustration of the "tyranny of the majority"? In addition, Brown was in fact one of five cases brought before the Supreme Court raising the issue of the legality of segregation. I've read, in a biography of James Byrnes, who was briefly an S. Ct. justice but found it boring as hell, that Byrnes, one of the attorneys handling one of the cases (Briggs v. Elliott, arising in South Carolina), helped arrange things so that the cases were consolidated with the Kansas case as the lead. Wikipedia (naturally) has lots of information, but lacks the stuff about Byrnes' involvement.

  • David Bernstein||

    "Wasn't the Kansas law allowing (but not requiring) segregated schools an excellent illustration of the 'tyranny of the majority'?" Yes, and thus "democratic." Which is not to say it was good. Which is exactly the point. "Good" and "democratic" are not the same thing.

    BTW, Brown was the lead case because it was filed first (actually second, but one case had to be dismissed and refiled), rumors to the contrary.

  • Alan Vanneman||

    Wikipedia says different re "Brown" versus "Briggs"" "Briggs was the first of the five Brown cases to be argued before the Supreme Court. Spottswood Robinson and Thurgood Marshall argued the case for the plaintiffs, while former Solicitor General and Presidential candidate John W. Davis led the argument for the defense." Also, Dave Robertson, in "Sly and Able: A Political Biography of James F. Byrnes", says that Byrnes, governor of South Carolina at the time, arranged to have Brown put ahead of Briggs. However, Wikipedia, in its entry regarding Byrnes, adds another wrinkle: "Byrnes requested Kansas, a Midwestern state which also segregated its schools, to provide an Amicus curiae brief in supporting the right of a state to segregate its schools. This gave the NAACP's lawyer, Thurgood Marshall, the idea to shift the suit from South Carolina over to Kansas, which led directly to Brown v. Board of Education, a decision that Byrnes vigorously criticized." Maybe a book on "Brown" (there must have been several) would explain legal maneuvering in full.

    Re the "tyranny of the majority," sounds like the "old constitution" didn't do much to prevent it. The pre-FDR Court allowed legal segregation, "whites only" grand juries, prohibitions of interracial marriages, etc.

  • David Bernstein||

    There was just a discussion of this on a law professors' list, and those who would know state that Brown was first because it was filed first. The fact that Wikipedia and whoever Dave Robertson is doesn't persuade me.

  • SardonicOne||

    I think it's fairly indicative of modern reasoning, which seems to support itself completely by feeling, whether left or right. So, if a "side" or "outcome" is preferred, reasons are unnecessary, and anyone who disagrees with you is a homophone, bigot, racist, communist, socialist, etc.

    I'm not even sure the vocabulary exists to try to get someone to discuss "first principles" or "distinctions." For instance, I asked an opponent of child marriage (which was defined rather loosely) if their opposition to the marriage of (say) a 15 year old or 16 year old was based in consent, directly or indirectly (parental or judicial), or some other principal. I asked that, if it were consent, how does this affect consent, directly or indirectly, for abortion or other procedures.

    Response: This has nothing to do with abortion, I'm not talking about that. But, no matter how I phrased, "Look, it's an example, I'm trying to get to your philosophy here," there was seemingly no understanding of what I was trying to get.

  • mad_kalak||

    What you're advocating for in a debate is what ultimately led Socrates to have to drink the hemlock, I wouldn't be too surprised. Human nature hasn't changed in 2,500 years.

  • SardonicOne||

    I've heard that if you batter and fry your hemlock, it tastes like chicken.

  • mhj||

    It is really rather touching that you kept such a sweet but naive faith in historians for so long.

    Much of the field fell to Howard Zinn in the 1980s. There are still many good historians doing good work, but there are plenty of leftist practitioners of agitprop, enough to fill a conference or elect a head of the AHA. Certainly enough to find several who will bad-mouth Buchanan in any way that is au courant.

  • JoeGoins||

    "My friend, I shall be pedagogic / And say you ought to start with Logic."
    —Goethe, Faust

    I remember my first upper level history course at Stanford during the '90s: Historical Methodology and Critical Thinking. The professor made us memorize large portions of Historians' Fallacies: Toward a Logic of Historical Thought by David Hackett Fisher. It's still one of my most favorite books because it taught me how to think. After witnessing a large breakdown in rational thought over the last ten years, I think it is time that something similar is written for the general public about faulty political rhetoric.

  • Bruce Boyden||

    This sounds to me more like a Twitter problem than a historian problem. Intellectual historians are not always careful about causation, but the best ones are, at least in their published work.

  • AmosArch||

    Western history and related fields is now the dogma that since the dawn of the first bacterium; women, LGBTTQQFAGPBDSM (look it up) peoples, and to a lesser extent; certain minorities (excluding east asian men) built and contributed to every aspect of human society and technology at =>50% apiece while at the same time being savagely oppressed every step of the way by the white male christian patriarchy. Being a historian means reasserting or finding ways to 'prove' the holy doctrine.

  • epsilon given||

    There was a time not very long ago that people would parody the gradual addition of letters to LGBT by writing things like LGBTTBBQRST or somethings similar. It's kindof scary that you almost can't parody like that anymore, because no matter what letters you provide, there is very likely an activist group somewhere that has something for each of those letters...

  • DjDiverDan||

    "MacLean is an intellectual historian. Intellectual historians read lots of stuff about an era, and then reach conclusions. People who are not trained intellectual historians can't properly judge these conclusions, they just have to accept the end-result."

    I laughed out loud when I read this, as the "argument" presented [and I use that term very
    loosely] was familiar to me. I once made the mistake of engaging in a debate with a Professor of Gender Studies. I had read her PhD thesis, which was a completely meaningless mish mash of jargon and nonsense, it looked like it was written by feeding a dictionary of victim studies jargon into a Cuisinart; and she told me that of course I couldn't derive any meaning or logic from that thesis, since I was not trained in Gender Studies, and only experts in Gender Studies could be expected to understand the thesis, that I was obliged to simply accept on faith that they knew what they were talking about. I told her that my own conclusion was that Gender Studies was a completely useless endeavor which existed in higher education for the sole purpose of providing employment opportunities to otherwise unemployable PhDs.

  • AmosArch||

    Humanities and Social Science is largely a big pyramid scam now. Its only purpose is to suck in money and spit out indoctrinated children. And people wonder why they're valued so much less than the hard sciences these days.

  • DjDiverDan||

    "MacLean is an intellectual historian. Intellectual historians read lots of stuff about an era, and then reach conclusions. People who are not trained intellectual historians can't properly judge these conclusions, they just have to accept the end-result."

    I laughed out loud when I read this, as the "argument" presented [and I use that term very
    loosely] was familiar to me. I once made the mistake of engaging in a debate with a Professor of Gender Studies. I had read her PhD thesis, which was a completely meaningless mish mash of jargon and nonsense, it looked like it was written by feeding a dictionary of victim studies jargon into a Cuisinart; and she told me that of course I couldn't derive any meaning or logic from that thesis, since I was not trained in Gender Studies, and only experts in Gender Studies could be expected to understand the thesis, that I was obliged to simply accept on faith that they knew what they were talking about. I told her that my own conclusion was that Gender Studies was a completely useless endeavor which existed in higher education for the sole purpose of providing employment opportunities to otherwise unemployable PhDs.

  • JuliaMottram||

    There is no such thing as "objective" history. Neither, I would argue, should there be. The history profession, by its nature, is uniquely interpretive. The most that can be asked of a historian is to be fair, not objective. it seems that Professor MacLean might not have been fair. In that case, call her out on it. But you can't call her out because she was not "objective."

  • Lee Moore||

    Hmm.

    History inevitably involves interpretation into two senses. The first is that of point of view. The same facts about the arrival and dispersal of Europeans in the New World may tell very different stories to, say, European Americans and the descendants of the peoples who were already here. But, so long as the facts are right, there is no reason why everyone shouldn't be able to understand the perspective of all sides; though different folk may have different views as to what was a good thing and what wasn't. Even in this sense, objectivity is not irrelevant. You might choose non objectively which facts you think are more important, but when you've found a candidate fact, whether it's actually true or not is an objective question.

    The second sense is uncertainty. Since we don't know exactly what happened in all its details, historians have to interpret fragmentary evidence to piece together their best guess at what happened. But this isn't a normative process - or it shouldn't be. The best historian's interpretation of the evidence ought to be capable of being overthrown by new or better evidence. Objectivity in the sense of openness to refutation is both achievable and desirable.

  • Lee Moore||

    I don't see that either of these "interpretative" senses is unique to history. The first - different folk have different perspectives and different values - is routine in life and applies just as well, for example, in engineering. And we may have different ideas of what makes this bridge a better bridge than that one. But some bridges are just bad. We see one lying there at the bottom of the canyon and have no difficulty in agreeing - that's not. good bridge.

    The second sense is how we all face have to face reality every day. The whole truth is unknowable, we have to construct our perceptions from those fragments which we can gather in a short span of time with limited equipment. And whether the shadow we perceive is a tree or a bear is only interpretive in the sense that we are uncertain. The uncertainty is capable of resolution, objectively.

  • JoeGoins||

    >"The history profession, by its nature, is uniquely interpretive. The most that can be asked of a historian is to be fair, not objective."

    I think you missed the purpose of the post. Bernstein is concerned about the lack of critical thought Maclean has, not with how she interprets subjective data. In this case, she showed no provable evidence that James Buchanan based his thoughts on John Calhoun's philosophy (despite clear evidence to the contrary). By doing so, she committed a simple logical fallacy: post hoc ergo propter hoc. This led to a larger straw man argument she used throughout the book:

    Calhoun's theory was marked by A v.1 and came first.
    Buchanan's theory was marked by A v.2 and came second.
    Therefore, Buchanan based his theory on Calhoun. (The post hoc fallacy.)
    Modern libertarians can trace their philosophies to Calhoun via Buchanan.
    Therefore, they are irredeemably tainted by slavery and racism. (The straw man argument.)

    Note: I'm not saying everything in her book is worthless.

  • Angammus||

    Yeah, what's up with that crazy broad making crazy insane connections. Wimmenz, amirite?

  • epsilon given||

    So you're implying that the reasoning is ok when men do it? Or that we're being inconsistent because we're only focusing on the woman who just did it?

    I would propose that maybe, just maybe, we're talking about "this crazy broad" and not "those crazy dudes" because "this crazy broad" just recently made her claims, and is now out there defending them on national television.

    In short, she is newsworthy, and "those crazy dudes" aren't. Although now that you've brought it to our attention, those of us with energy to spare can direct our attention to them, and tear them apart where appropriate, or observe that they have a point where appropriate, depending on how solid their evidence and reasoning are.

  • David Welker||

    Same old David Bernstein.

    He is *shocked* that people disagree with him. And people who disagree with him should be laughed out philosophy and law school workshops. Of course.

    Maybe there is something to be said for actually just making your argument rather than proclaiming how obviously inferior other people with different points of view are???

    And isn't it true that if we spend all of our time dealing with obviously inferior point of views, we will have time for anything else. The tone of this whole post reminds me of this xkcd:

    https://xkcd.com/386/

    I think maybe David Bernstein ought to just get over the fact that other people are, from his point of view, just really plain dumb and ought to be laughed out of workshops and such but, for some unexplainable reason, are not.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    If you makes claims and cannot support your work, you deserve to be laughed out of the business.

  • Mr. Hook||

    It's not just that these other people are wrong, they victimize Bernstein and those with his values. The running theme of most Bernstein posts is "Look how these liberals/leftists/anti-Semites [but I repeat myself] are persecuting the only true defenders of freedom!" So it's not just that they are wrong, they are bad people. It's outrage and self-pity dressed up in scholarly discourse.

  • MikeR6||

    Prof. Bernstein is posting examples of well-known logical fallacies. The people who use them are exposed, not as "people who disagree with him", but as people who aren't able to think straight.
    Maybe you want to rethink this: your comment does pretty much the same thing to yourself, because it makes it sound like you can't tell the difference.

  • Angammus||

    Is he? I thought he was just posting ranty hearsay about something he is too busy to copy+paste from one window into another, not "examples" so much.

  • Alcibiades||

    The reason Michael Bellesile's Arming America initially received such glowing reviews and adulation was precisely because it reflected the biases of academic historians. Humiliiation and embarrasment all-round when Bellesile's "academic" work was revealed to be a tissue of lies and a fraud by Clayton Cramer, a life-long NRA member and amateur historian. Confirmation bias is a huge problem in the humanities.

  • OtisAH||

    Speaking of things being amiss in the history profession, there's a Dinesh D'Souza retrospective at the Biloxi this Saturday...

  • Angammus||

    Something is amiss in the legal profession. I heard some law professors say some crazy shit on a blog on the internet. Some law clerks apparently think like they do, too, although I can neither identify any of the people nor provide quotes, with surrounding context, to support any of my claims. My claims do, however, conveniently stroke the sweet spot of people I know will reflexively agree with me, so I guess that's enough to claim there is something amiss in the legal profession.

  • Rich Rostrom||

    I am reminded of a passage in L. Sprague de Camp's light-adventure fantasy novel The Goblin Tower (or in its sequel, The Clocks of Iraz). The narrative is interrupted several times while the protagonist, Jorian of Evor, recounts an instructive tale from the history of his homeland, Novaria.

    One such tale concerns King Filoman the Well-Meaning of Kortoli. The king of neighboring Vindium went mad and was overthrown. He had executed all his relations, leaving no lawful heir to the throne. So Vindium became a republic, with their leading scholar, Doctor Truentius, as First Consul. Truentius applied his great wisdom and knowledge to complete reform of every detail of life in Vindium. Objectors were... removed.

    Truentius decided to extend the benefits of his rule to Kortoli. He directed Filoman to abdicate and hand over control of Kortoli to him. Filoman refused, saying that he was the rightful king and beloved by his people.

    Truentius demanded that Filoman allow the people of Kortoli to decide in a plebiscite. Filoman agreed; the vote was 99% in favor of Filoman. Truentius then announced he would take over, by the will of the people. Filoman objected, saying the people had voted for him. Truentius said no, the people voted for him. Those who voted for Filoman instead of his benevolent genius were enemies of the people, and their votes didn't count.

    Sound familiar?

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