Link of the Day

A beautiful article on the destruction of statues and symbolic murder by the one of the greatest living US historians. I always recommend him because he is that good.

Howard Zinn and the ignorant but eager bureaucrats who love him have nearly destroyed the teaching of history in this country. But there are still great scholars and Wilfred McClay is one of them.

7 thoughts on “Link of the Day”

  1. I have heard of Howard Zinn but only favorably. Haven’t read anything by him. Could you write about why you think his approach to history is destructive?


  2. Nice essay. Sometimes people enjoy pieces because they hit satisfying notes in their own thinking.

    I’ve read Howard Zinn and listened to Shelby Foote and truthfully, I think Clarissa gives more credit to them for the “destruction of history teaching” than is warranted. No, what “destroys” history teaching is the current system rewards amnesiacs who will swallow whatever nonsense is spoonfed to them as long as the next quarter is good. If it doesn’t hit some kind of quantitative mark it doesn’t exist.

    What “destroys” the teaching of history is that whole generations don’t have any civics, which used to be included in teachings of basic history. It is not that California promotes one propagandistic version of history and Texas does another.


  3. “the past is regarded as nothing more than a malleable background for the concerns of the present, and not as an independent source of wisdom or insight or perspective” McClay

    Yes – actual historians understand this, crude economic determinists like Zinn are propagandistic story-tellers who shape facts to fit their narrative and who believe that all alternative narratives must be crushed in the name of revolutionary justice (and massive textbook sales $$$).

    Zinn writes: “Nations are not communities and never have been. The history of any country, presented as the history of a family, conceals the fierce conflicts of interest (sometimes exploding, often repressed) between conquerors and conquered, masters and slaves, capitalists and workers, dominators and dominated in race and sex. And in such as world of conflict, a world of victims and executioners, it is the job of thinking people, as Albert Camus suggested, not to be on the side of the executioners.”


    1. I wrote my latest post before reading the comments but this is exactly what I’m talking about. Zinn is so popular because he appeals to the most primitive, undeveloped minds. Everything is good guys vs bad guys. There’s no nuance, no variation. It’s all evil horrific evildoers persecuting miserable pathetic victims. Every event in history is analyzed from this viewpoint. For people with more developed minds it sounds insane. But kids are receptive to it because it reminds them of the familiar world of fairy-tales.


      1. “But kids are receptive to it…”

        Unfortunately, not just kids. It’s a whole generation of “scholars” who peer review and publish each other’s half-truths and (Groucho) Marxist reductionist nonsense and then teach it as gospel to their students.

        I recently suffered reading through to its bitter end an article that established beyond a shadow of a doubt (in the mind of its Full Professor author) that Canada’s “racist state formation” was created by the country’s first prime minister who was, apparently, “the father of biologically defined white supremacy as an organizing principle of the [Canadian] state.”


  4. Loved McClay’s essay on guilt and forgiveness too:



    We still value forgiveness, but we are very confused about it, and in our confusion we may have produced a situation in which forgiveness has in fact very nearly lost its moral weight as well as its moral meaning and been translated into an act of random kindness whose chief value lies in the sense of release it brings us. Like the similar acts of confession or apology, and other transactions in the moral economy of sin and guilt, forgiveness is in danger of being debased into a kind of cheap grace, a waiving of standards entirely, standards without which such transactions have no meaning. Forgiveness makes sense only in the presence of a robust sense of justice. Without that, it is in danger of being reduced to something passive and automatic and empty. A sanctimonious way of simply moving on.

    Forgiveness in its deepest sense is something different from “letting go of anger” so that we can individually experience wholeness and healing. It involves an extraordinary suspension of the normal workings of justice: of the normal penalties for crimes, and the normal costs for moral failings. By definition, it is something that can be done only rarely without undermining the basis on which it rests and without creating an entirely different set of moral expectations. The famous admonition from Tuesdays with ?Morrie that we should “Forgive everybody everything” is perhaps appealing as a psychological instruction, but it is appalling as a general dictum. It resembles the child’s dream that every day should be Christmas.


  5. The best parts are towards the end of the essay starting from the sentence: “How can one account for the rise of the extraordinary prestige of victims , as a category, in the contemporary world?”

    He talks about the public displays of guilt of some white Americans about slavery and “the cult of victimhood … visible in academe”, doing analysis which became very relevant today with BLM.


    // But how, in a society that retains its Judeo-Christian moral reflexes but has abandoned the corresponding metaphysics, can a credible means of discharging the weight of sin be found?

    the real possibility that claiming victim status is the sole sure means left of absolving oneself and securing one’s sense of fundamental moral innocence.

    The “medicalization” of bad behavior is a close cousin to this strategy, since it casts the victimizer not as a person but as a disease .

    But victimhood at its most potent promises not only release from responsibility but an ability to displace that responsibility onto others. As a victim, one can project onto another person, the victimizer or oppressor, any feelings of guilt he might harbor and, in projecting that guilt, lift it off his own shoulders. The designated oppressor plays the role of scapegoat, on whose head the sin comes to rest, and who pays the price for it.


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