Historians and the Falsification of History

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Some people wonder why an academic like me is so hard on academia. I suppose it is because academia often claims to be pure, beyond bias, able to think critically as opposed to the idiots out there among the common people. Knowing that all those claims are false makes academia a hypocritical institution. This is seen in a number of fields, but one of them is history. Below are some examples of how historians distort history.

I once read a book on the attempt of the Confederate government to arm slaves near the end of the War between the States. The author claimed that very few, if any, blacks fought for the Confederacy and that those who were in support position were generally slaves. However, there are articles from the era of the war in the New York Times and Harper’s Weekly (check the May 10, 1862 issue for an artist’s drawing of blacks helping load a cannon) by reporters who witnessed a large number of blacks in the Confederate camp, some of whom fought fiercely against Union troops. There were free blacks who fought for the Confederacy, not just slaves; estimates of the number of free black Confederate soldiers are at a low of 5000, with some estimates much higher. With slaves included, who could have easily revolted or fled to the North with so many of the men off to war, 100,000 helped in the war effort in support units. While the Confederacy did not formally include blacks by law in the army until 1865, de facto from the beginning they were served the army, perhaps not formally, but in support positions that involved combat when units encountered Union troops. The units were integrated, unlike Union units. Authors who deny that evidence of such is totally missing are either ignorant of it (and thus are guilty of bad scholarship), explain it away (which is difficult to do, given that there are multiple eyewitness accounts of black Confederate soldiers), or ignore it (which is dishonest). Most of the time it’s probably the latter, since I can’t imagine a good researcher missing the references in Harper’s. Thus ideologically driven dishonest is the only reasonable explanation for historians denying a fact of which they have clear evidence.

Another example is Reconstruction after the War between the States. Earlier historians recognized the corruption that permeated Reconstruction, but lately revisionists, mainly of a Marxist bent, have claimed that the reports of corruption and violence were due to biased Southern writers. Given that there are number of newspaper accounts from the time period of rapes and murders as well as letters from ordinary people detailing their fear of walking the street due to Carpetbagger-agitated gangs, this “historians'” conclusion seems more due to ideological bias.

In a conversation I had at an academic conference with a Marxist historian, he denied both the atrocities of Stalin and Mao. Given the overwhelming evidence for the brutal system of gulags, mass purges and executions, the starving of the people of the Ukraine, and the misuse of psychiatry in Stalin’s era, such denial is incredible. As for Mao, around 35,000,000-45,000,000 people died from the effects of his rule, directly through execution or brutality in prison or indirectly through failed agricultural policies. Did this Marxist forget about the Cultural Revolution? Again, this seems to be an integrity matter rather than sloppy scholarship.

While I am not a Classical Liberal, the claims of Classical Liberalism about what worsened the Great Depression should be taken seriously, and yet they are dismissed by most historians I have read with little or no argumentation. Usually the dismissal carries with it a tinge of sarcasm. Such a response, again, is due to ideological bias.

Many historians claimed that Alger Hiss was unjustly charged with espionage, as well as the Rosenbergs. KGB files opened after the Cold War ended have affirmed that Hiss was a Soviet spy, as well as Julius Rosenberg (his wife may well not have been involved). In fact, a number of people the much maligned Senator Joseph McCarthy accused of being Soviet spies turned out to be Soviet spies. The “anti-anti-communism” of leftist historians came into play rather than looking at evidence for or against the guilt of Hiss or Julius Rosenberg. To be fair, many historians have corrected earlier positions based on this new evidence, but the dogmatism with which historians held the earlier position is, at the least, fascinating.

Other events go unsaid by historians:

A number of prominent politicians believed succession was legal before the War between the States, including northern politicians.

Some early feminists opposed abortion on liberal grounds that forced abortion was one of the ways men would try to control and take advantage of women. Susan B. Anthony was opposed to abortion.

The Crusades began as a defensive war–vast swaths of the formerly Christian Mediterranean world had been conquered by Islam, and there were Islamic colonies throughout Europe, especially in Moorish Spain. The Crusades were an attempt to re-take the Holy Land which was lost when the Muslims defeated the Eastern Roman Empire’s troops in the seventh century.

Focusing on violent protests in the South against integration, historians often ignore the many incidents of peaceful integration and the growing grassroots movement for civil rights which may have been more successful with less bitterness resulting than the massive federal and military intervention liberals support.

Historians often play up the atrocities of Christians and downplay the atrocities of Muslims. By the way, I am sure the troops of the Eastern Roman Empire discovered that Islam is a religion of peace. My sarcasm is obvious.

Now there are some fine historians, especially among those who have studied intellectual history. Shelby Foote has written a masterful narrative history of the War between the States. Thomas Molnar, Modris Eksteins, John Lukacs, and Jacques Barzun have written some splendid intellectual history. Thomas J. DiLorenzio has written some works that bring more balance to the study of Abraham Lincoln. David McCullough is a fine historian who is fair who has a flair for style, a rare trait among academic writers. Paul Johnson is a good writer, though his own classical liberal bias gets a bit thick — he’s not a trained academic historian, which is not necessarily a bad thing. Michael Grant is a fascinating writer. I know there are many others, and when I get overly cynical, when I say “There are liars, damned liars, and historians,” I think of these individuals. May more like them come along.

 

 

Why I Avoid Standard Academic Terminology for Dates in History

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In my latest book, Aerobics for the Mind: Practical Exercises in Philosophy that Anybody Can Do, I chose to use the old-fashioned B.C./A.D. system of dating rather than the usual academic B.C.E./C.E. system. Why go against the vast majority of academia who prefers “Before the Common Era” and “Common Era” to “Before Christ” and “Anno Domini”? It’s simple–I’ve had it with the oversensitivity of many academics. Even using the newer terminology, dates in the West are measured from the birth of Christ (miscalculated by about four years, give or take two). If I were in a Moslem country that used dates from an event in Mohammad’s life, I would not be offended. If a Buddhist country were to measure dates from an event in The Buddha’s life, I would not be offended, even if I had to use that system in an academic paper. Others should not be offended either. Many are offended, but for many academics in their sheltered little corner of the world, Christianity, at least in its traditional forms, is an offense so they want to wipe out any trace of its doctrines from the calendar and from academic speech in general.

The culture of offense in academia becomes worse year by year with some Evangelical Christians and some fairly traditional Roman Catholics caving in to the insanity of the crowd.  Most academic journals require the newer dating system, and I will use it if I have to–but when I do not have to use it, I refuse to so so. If a scholar doesn’t believe that Jesus is Lord, he is free to understand the “Domini” of A.D. as a fiction. So far scholars have continued to use “Jesus Christ” to refer to Jesus even though “Christ” means “Messiah.” I continue to use “The Buddha” for Siddhartha Gautama, though “The Buddha” means “The Enlightened One.” If academics were consistent, they would force other academics to say “Jesus of Nazareth” instead of “Jesus Christ” and “Siddhartha Gautauma” instead of “The Buddha.” If they do something along those lines, my prediction is that they would only make the change for Jesus Christ and not for The Buddha. If people are offended by my use of the old system, that is something with which they need to deal.

The Moral and Political Divide in Academia

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Today I was researching the ethics of embryonic stem cell research for articles from the last five years–and I could not find a single article in a “mainstream” bioethics journal opposing the practice. I am sure there may be some I missed, but the point remains that the vast majority of articles in such journals as The Hastings Center Report, The American Journal of Bioethics, and the Journal of Medical Ethics support the ethical acceptability of stem cell research. To find articles in opposition to the practice, I had to find Roman Catholic and Evangelical journals. On issues such as abortion, the divide is there, though slightly less sharp.

On political issues, there was a sharp division. It is no secret that the New England Journal of Medicine almost (though not quite) exclusively has articles supporting either the Affordable Health Care Act or more socialistic alternatives. This journal has been one of the academic driving forces for a socialistic direction in health care reform. Whether socialism would be better or not, surely there could be more balance in such a widely respected journal. Classical liberals and traditional conservatives must look elsewhere to find articles supporting their position, and sometimes the best places for them to look are the conservative “think tanks.”

Regarding postmodern relativism and the various “isms” of identity politics, literary journals are filled with such bunk. Literary traditionalists are forced to the conservative or traditional Catholic journals to publish their material. Academic Questions, published by the National Association of Scholars, itself a reaction against the radicalism of post-1960s academia, publishes fine articles from a traditional perspective (and not only by conservatives–many liberals are also frustrated with multicultural ideology).

It is not only the liberal/conservative or traditionalist/”progressive” split that divides scholarly journals; in philosophy, journals are divided between those who publish almost exclusively analytic philosophy, those emphasizing phenomenology and existentialism (as well as postmodernism), and pluralistic journals that publish articles from a variety of perspectives. Philosophers, at least, have enough variety so they can find good pluralistic journals such as the American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly or the International Philosophical Quarterly. Politics, and not only quality, plays a role in which articles are accepted to which journal.

What we see in contemporary academia is a hodge-podge. Yeats’ “the center cannot hold” is true of contemporary higher education. After the decline of the Catholic consensus with the Reformation and later, the Enlightenment, the Christian view of reality was replaced by Enlightenment universalism. This has broken down, so now, even in the same field (at least in the Humanities), scholars hunker down in their small groups, go to particular conferences of mainly like-minded people, read journals of like-minded people–it is as if academic is divided into denominations like religious groups. Political correctness has stifled debate between those with different points of view, so academics from one perspective keep to themselves and do not often interact with those from another perspective. Although it is difficult to have dialogue between different traditions, it is possible, as Alasdair MacIntyre points out in his book, Whose Justice? Which Rationality?

However, it is unlikely that such dialogue will take place on a large scale. Academia is just as divided as our society, and is not as much engaged in a cultural war as it reflects the cultural divide in the wider world. Without a central vision, society falls apart as does academic, and all the bureaucratic “solutions” by accrediting agencies and others will not put Humpty Dumpty together again.

University Student Behavior

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A crowd of college students at the 2007 Pittsb...

A crowd of college students at the 2007 Pittsburgh University Commencement. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As late as the early 1960s, the professor had a near absolute authority to discipline a class in whatever way the professor saw fit. Some professors would even slap students who made foolish comments. Very few people would want to return to those days–a university student should not be afraid of a professor. However, student behavior since the early 1960s has worsened in the college and university setting.

The problem began in 1964 with the student revolutions. Beginning with the “Free Speech Movement” at the University of California at Berkeley, which originally allowed anyone, no matter what the person’s ideology, to speak, the student movement degenerated into an orgy of radical leftism. Students took over administration buildings, and in the case of the University of California, the entire campus. It took then Governor Ronald Reagan calling out the California National Guard to restore order. Such protests continued, though with less radical effects, from the 1970s until the present. Today, however, at the classroom level the problem is with students who talk in class out of turn, walk out early if they feel bored with class, use cellphones and other electronic equipment in class, or smart off at the professor in class or in an e-mail. I suppose in some colleges and universities there has been much more serious disrespect than what I have experienced, but even the relatively “minor” problems in my classes point to some fundamental problems in American society.

“Respect” can mean the respect due any human being for being human, respect for a person’s position (for example, respect for the president of the U.S.), or the respect that is earned when someone lives a good moral life or does a job well. All three forms of respect play a role in the classroom.

Students should respect the professor’s position. The professor worked hard to gain degrees in his field and is in a position of authority over students–not arbitrary or overbearing authority, but authority as someone who teaches, guides, and helps maintain decorum in the classroom. Too many students think they know more than the professor, even in the professor’s own field of study. This is highly unlikely to be the case and is most often evidence of a student’s immaturity. Pampered, spoiled students whose parents have protected them from the harsh realities of life tend to remain at the developmental level befitting someone younger than they. They still hold on to the attitude that they know everything and that older people are ignorant fogies who accept only outmoded ideas. Some students will mature out of this immaturity (especially women), but many do not. I can have a sense of humor about that form of disrespect in class, but if students do not grow out of such arrogance, it will harm them in the future. Other students rebel against any authority figure, no matter how benign. Their misbehavior is not as much personal as it is about a hatred of authority in general.

Students lack respect for human beings qua human beings when they talk in class about non-class related subjects when the teacher is giving a lecture. They are also disrespecting other class members and exhibiting a “me, me, me” attitude that damages the American social framework more than any other attitude. It has become practically difficult to discipline students for such behavior, especially for large classes. Except for test days, I do not fight over phones–if students do not listen in class, they will not do well on exams, and that will be their punishment.  It is the “I don’t care; I’ll do what I want” attitude that so exacerbates me and other professors. Of course if students talk out loud in class about last night’s ball game or about other topics having nothing to do with the lesson for the day they reveal their disrespect for not only the professor, but also for their fellow students. One of the worst behaviors I have seen is when a student walks out of school due to being bored or due to disagreement with the professor. This behavior shows disrespect for both the professor and for the educational process in general.

Then there is the respect that a professor earns for doing a conscientious and thorough job in teaching, who carefully integrates research and teaching, and who helps students to excel. Despite the fact that a conscientious professor does a good job, bad apples in the class who disrespect the professor’s work (usually out of sheer spite) can make trouble for the class and encourage otherwise good teachers to receive poor evaluations by stirring up trouble in the class. Such agitators are dangerous, and if the professor detects their handiwork, the professor can take steps to confront and discipline them.

Being a college or university professor is a tougher job than in the past–the behavior of high school students in the 1970s has become mainstream behavior on college and university campuses). I fear what the future holds for college and university professors without a restoration of the traditional family, parental discipline, and a commitment from college and university staff to affirm the importance of classroom discipline.

Pseudo-Intellectual Assumptions

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THE NEW LEFT

THE NEW LEFT (Photo credit: SS&SS)

 

Having been in academia for so many years, and involved in creative writing for the past fourteen years, I have found many of the assumptions of academics and writers to be similar. Both classes would be considered intellectuals of a sort–I know it  takes a great deal of intelligence to do creative writing, and getting a Ph.D. takes a great of intellect and effort. When it comes to moral positions and politics, however, intellectuals seem no smarter than someone who could not make a D in English or science. On those areas, some of the “common people” have far more wisdom than the so-called intellectuals. The problem is that intellectuals believe that because they are experts in an academic discipline, they also have the practical reasoning to give good advice on political and moral positions. In these areas intellectuals often fall into pseudo-intellectuals. One way they reveal their ignorance is by their assumptions. Most academics and writers are liberals, and they assume falsely that other intellectuals and writers are all liberals like them. They also assume falsely that liberalism is self-evident rather than requiring justification and that any conservative is either ignorant, unethical, or both. The arguments of the academic and literary left, in my experience, are either abusive ad hominem, straw man, or poisoning the well. Very few genuine arguments are presented. It is easy to attack a person’s intelligence and/or character rather than engage in the difficult craft of good argumentation. Some academics and writers will listen to alternative points of view, but most, from my experience, are closed minded and identify the political and the personal. Conservatives, except for extremists, have no problems liking liberals personally or having liberal friends, and thankfully some liberals are the same way. But in academia and among many writers I have seen, liberals refuse to be friends with conservatives and tend to think they are bad people, especially those who defend traditional sexual ethics. Since the 1962 Port Huron Meeting, the New Left has gone on to dominate academia, poisoning it, most likely permanently. It is a shame that those who should be the most open to alternate points of view are often the most closed.

 

Sadness Regarding Academia

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English: Old Well at the University of North C...

English: Old Well at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have been out of town in Tennessee, my home state, and am back in North Carolina–only to discover that my library books checked out from UNC Libraries could not be renewed because of fines. I drove to Chapel Hill, paid the fines, returned some books, and renewed and checked out more. As I walked the sparsely populated summer school campus, I felt a twinge of sadness at the current state of the academy. Academia is my job and my vocation. I enjoy working in an academic setting, teaching, reading, writing, wandering through libraries, walking around lovely campuses. At its best, the academy teaches the great traditions of Western Civilization as well as introducing students to other civilizations after they better understand out own. Great philosophy, literature, and art are introduced to students. They can also learn science, mathematics, and various technical skills. Ideally, a college or university campus should be a Mecca of learning, free-spirited discussion, and developing the wisdom to use learned knowledge in a prudent way.

Ideals are never actuality, especially in a fallen world. I remember the summer after my senior year in high school, naively thinking that college would be an intellectual community with students like those who used to appear on the GE College Bowl. Alas, that was not the case for the most part. There were serious students, but most were wanting a degree and that was it. They were not interested in learning about the high points of civilized life. It is no surprise to me, looking back to those days in the early 1980s, that the children of those students now have similar attitudes–or worse. Yet there are students who, in spite of themselves, learn something, and that is a joy to any teacher.

The saddest aspect of the current academy is its radicalization by left wing, Neo-Marxist ideas. Along with such comes speech codes, an anti-Christian bias, and a refusal to entertain alternative points of view.. What used to be a venue for knowledge has become, in most places, a soapbox for left wing propaganda. The days when the Agrarians could survive in the academy are long gone. Robert Penn Warren and John Crowe Ransom would probably pass muster–perhaps even Allen Tate. I doubt that Andrew Lytle or Donald Davidson would be hired. I do not think any of them would be hired today at Vanderbilt University where they once wielded such influence. I could name other academic conservatives from the past who would have difficulty in today’s academy, but that would be superfluous–and it is a pathetic fact that such would be superfluous. For once I would like to see a college or university that believes in teaching the classic works of Western Civilization. St. Thomas Aquinas College in California does, but it is by far a rare exception to the rule.

I hope in the future that there will be good alternatives to the academy–private tutorials in Greek and/or Latin classics or in great works in philosophy, for example. That is most likely a pipe dream. I hope that one day academics wake up that their current course often does more harm that good, creating clones instead of wise thinkers.

Arrogance and Academics

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English: This image shows an academic gown as ...

English: This image shows an academic gown as worn by someone of the degree of doctor of philosophy. The design follows that set forth by the Intercollegiate Code of Academic Costume which is the dominant style used in the United States. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

 

 

I am lucky at the institution where I teach. The faculty members I know take their teaching seriously and genuinely care about the students. Although some do a great deal of research, those faculty are missing the kind of arrogance one sees sometimes among academics at larger institutions.

 

Academics have had educational opportunities that most people in the world have not experienced. There may be a glut of Ph.D.s in the academic job market, but even in the United States, Ph.D.s make up a miniscule part of the population. It becomes an easy step for some academics to jump from “I’m better at biology [or history or philosophy, etc.] than most people; therefore, I am better than most people.” The latter does not follow from the former. There are ordinary farmers with a high school education I’d rather be around than some big name academics I have seen at large conferences. Yet there are well known academics who are down to earth, humble, and who help someone asking for advice on a project or advice on how to get an academic job. Other academics, unfortunately, allow their degrees to get to their head. I once heard of an academic who asked his wife to refer to him as “Doctor.” I do not know whether or not she obliged him, but she should have replied, “Doctor,, my a..!” I would be dishonest to deny that I am proud of earning a Ph.D.–but I tell my students they can call me “Dr. Potts,” “Prof. Potts,” or “Mr. Potts,” and after they have graduated they can call me anything, including S.O.B. if that is what they think. I require respect, but “Mr.” is an honorable title, and I would rather not insist on being called “Dr.” I’m reminded of the joke I read in Reader’s Digest a number of years ago–I think it was based on a true event. A man has just received his Ph.D. The phone rings. His eight-year-old son answers the phone, and someone asks for “Dr. John Doe.” The boy replies, “Yeah, my dad’s a doctor, but he’s not the kind who can do you any good.” Humility is one virtue that would help s man not be hurt by his son’s statement.

 

How many professors today will write works that will be remembered one hundred years from now? I expect that most or all of my works will be like the millions of other works in journals sitting on library shelves–not because they’re bad works–I am proud of my scholarly work and of my creative writing–but because I am not an Aristotle, an Aquinas, a Wittgenstein, or a Heidegger. Fulfillment comes from continuing a tradition of scholarly research in philosophy and in knowing that some people find things of value in my work. But I am a man, a human being, with the same bodily needs, limitations, temptations, and sinfulness as all other human beings. Academics who consider letting their degrees and/or accomplishments get to their heads should remember what a Catholic priest says when he crosses the ash on one’s forehead on Ash Wednesday: “Remember, O man, that dust thou art, and to dust thou shalt return.”

 

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