From Zinn to Town Politics
I’ve got writing forthcoming on the matter locally, but for now, I’ll remark that, somehow, I’m continually surprised by the extent to which people think we can run the world as if it were as we want it to be, not as it is. There’s a point, in such discussions, at which we run off a reductive cliff; obviously, any understanding of the world will begin with basic assumptions. What I’m talking about is a tendency to ignore actual experience as a factor in subsequent decisions. One example: Play nice with unions, get burned, abused, and scammed, and return to the bargaining table the subsequent year striving for harmonious negotiations.
There seems to me something similar in the phenomenon of Howard Zinn, and Roger Kimball touches on it in an excellent postmortem take-down of his work:
To his credit — well, it’s not really to his credit, since he offers the admission only to disarm criticism, but Zinn is entirely candid about the ideological nature of his opus. All history, he says, involves a choice of perspectives. Maybe so. Are we therefore to assume all perspectives are equally valuable? Zinn employs this relativist’s sleight of hand in order to promulgate his preferred species of intolerance, which appeals to latitudinarian sensitivities only because it is an intolerance fabricated in opposition to the established order. If “all history is ideological” (it isn’t really), then why not make your choice based on what appeals to your political sympathies, truth be damned? That’s the takeaway of Zinn’s admission, and it’s all he offers to explain his decision, which he details at the beginning of his book …
In other words, what Zinn offers us is not a corrective, but a distortion. It is as if someone said to you, “Would you like to see Versailles?” and then took you on a tour of a broken shed on the outskirts of the palace grounds. “You see, pretty shabby, isn’t it?”
Kimball also points out that certain of Zinn’s claims simply aren’t true. But truth isn’t the point for the historian’s fans; Truth is, and therefore, the evidence must be subservient.