Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Reading List for Those Wishing to Counter the Non-Historical Propagandistic Ramblings of Tom Woods, Thomas J. DiLorenzo, Kevin Gutzman, et al.

The deceptive fraud that is the neo-Confederate school of American history and its radical "Libertarian" ugly brother begins with the American Revolution and culminates largely with radical Reconstruction in the 1870s. After that both schools simply break down and glom onto the general critique Austrian economists and classical liberals of all sorts have of the New Deal and the 1930s revolution that transformed the political economy of the United States.

In terms of the Revolution, this bizarre sub-culture of historians attempts to recast the tale in a couple of ways. First, the Revolution merely becomes a conservative secessionary movement from the British Empire (and thus a precursor to the attempted secession of the Southern states in 1861). This interpretation actually has a long and unrelated pedigree amongst certain European liberals and American conservatives stretching back to Friedrich Von Gentz's 1790's treatise "The Origin and Principles of the American Revolution Compared with the Origin and Principles of the French Revolution," translated into English for American audiences in 1800 by John Quincy Adams. But for the likes of DiLorenzo & co. the secession argument about the revolution and the concurrent State origin of the Union myth that goes with it are mere foundational work for the sleight of hand that occurs later in the story. For an excellent tutorial on the actual radicalism of the American Revolution, the works of Gordon S. Wood are generally an excellent place to begin. Readable, they offer the general consensus of the majority of American historians about the importance of ideas to the Revolution and its many demonstrable impacts on all of American society. Wood is also perhaps one of the most well versed people alive in the available primary source materials of the period, so his evidentiary base is always rich and meticulously detailed. This is always hilariously lacking amongst the neo-confederate historians and their various intellectual allies among more mainstream conservatives and libertarian writers and historians. This should not be taken as a blanket endorsement of everything Gordon Wood has argued or written, I have some serious disagreements with his underlying theory of history as well as his lifelong attempt to save a modified form of the old Beardist school of economic determinism (but Wood is at least upfront and honest in this, neo-confederates repeat Beard's theory of the civil war without even giving the dead man credit).

Next in line is the Constitution. Here there are some disagreements among this small group of pseudo-historians with one group, mostly the neo-Confederates, misconstruing the Constitution as some manner of State created League and then fetishizing it--much in the manner the actual Confederates did--for more on this see Jefferson Davis's opening volume of "The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government." Radical libertarians, on the other hand, view the Constitution as a big government assault on the spirit and legacy of the American Revolution foisted upon the people by a cabal of reactionaries--Washington, Hamilton, Madison, and Wilson, et al.--and destroying the truly libertarian and successful Articles of Confederation. This view, of course, also goes back to the very events themselves. Anti-Federalists would have recognized and partially endorsed this view--though they may have been puzzled by the modern libertarian forgetfulness of just how arbitrary and tyrannical the individual state governments could be and sometimes were. The Constitution is best understood, in the words of perhaps the greatest historian on the period in the 20th century Bernard Bailyn, as the fulfillment of the revolution's hopes and promises. But for an excellent tour through the best scholarship on the matter, see the books below, all of which have some flaws, but all of which are very readable and closer to being accurate than anything found in the hackneyed screeds of Gutzman, Woods, and others.

Now the 1790s, when the new government had to be run and operated. Think on it a moment. The first national republic of any size in the history of the world since Rome, cast adrift in a sea of monsters, bordering two--possibly three--foreign empires that had designs on the American continent and surrounded by hostile tribes of Indians who could quickly become auxiliaries in a foreign war against a republic that also housed an unstable and dangerous population of human slaves that might also rebel at any moment. It was a historically unprecedented and potentially quite dangerous moment and everyone knew it. What they didn't know--and had limited control over--was how to deal with the world's problems, internal finance, debt retirement, and diplomacy dominated by overbearing mercantilists. The neo-Confederates frame the whole period as Jefferson later would: as America's first brush with centralism where the country was saved by a Jeffersonian return to State supremacy and decentralization. The story is actually, however, far more intriguing and complicated. Jefferson's call for State importance fell entirely on deaf, if not enraged, ears. Even he balked at the notion of the secession in the tumultuous and, in his eyes, dangerous 1798-1799 period. Few decades in American history are as important as the 1790s, so a true and full picture of them is important. The following books get one started in that direction.

The next way-station on the way to turning the Confederacy into a noble last chance for liberty in America is, typically, the fight over nullification. The curious thing about this is that these historians simply treat nullification as a fait accompli cooked into the system from the beginning and not a provocative invention of the moment by the most provocatively dangerous mind of the period, John C. Calhoun. The bizarre thing about this is that few controversies have as many wonderful monographs devoted to them as the nullification controversy. Some of them are below, but the truly outstanding accounts are William Freehling "Prelude to Civil War," Richard Ellis "The Union at Risk," and Drew R. McCoy "The Last of the Fathers."

Next is the run up to the Civil War at the conclusion of the Mexican War in 1848 until the shots fired at Fort Sumter in 1861. Here the neo-confederate and radical libertarian historians tend to see the North confirming the later doctrines of the south--nullifying the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 for instance (though they don't see the South similarly confirming the "later" doctrines of the North, arguing for Federal supremacy and military enforcement of the laws on reluctant Northern states)--while also building up the climactic narrative of an unchecked Lincoln running roughshod over the Constitution and the rights of the people (or, curiously in this interpretation, the States, which are apparently endowed by something with penultimate "rights"). The actual story is quite a bit different, which is to say familiar and obvious. But neo-confederates and radical libertarians let the facts be damned if they're presented by politically left of center historians, so go figure. The literature here is vast, but below is the best of the best.

As always, try to read as much of the primary source material as you can and use the secondary literature as much as reference tool as possible. This is generally what real professional historians aim at—there are exceptions of course for excellent historical writers—and it’s not really all that difficult. It takes application and effort and, of course, curiosity.


Jim May said...

All those links are "Page not found".

Mike said...

Thanks for this comprehensive post. I have to say Hamilton is quite an underrated figure. I always thought of him as the USA's first monarch

Alexander V. Marriott, ABD said...

Better now, Jim?

Mike, first monarch how? Hamilton's committment to republicanism, while severely tried by his experiences in the continental army and the continental congress in the 1780s, never died so far as I have been able to tell.

Mike said...

yeah, Richard Salsman's article in Forbes was an eye-opener and your article on him was even bigger. I have no purchased every book on him and will, when I do get some free time, examine and read them in depth.

By the way Alexander, As I was about to embark on my journey with Columbus and my research thesis, I came across this interesting article:

Also, I came across this top entry in this blog dissecting Thomas's Bowden book on Columbus:

I wonder what you make of both?

Anonymous said...

What's going on with all these libertarian writers who condemn the Founders as a bunch of Statists? Is this just the consequence of tradtional libertarianism's hatred of the state? Is this the influence of the anarcho-libertarian movement? This is really just more proof that the term "libertarianism" is meaningless.


Alexander V. Marriott, ABD said...

Jack, all of your suppositions on the matter have merit. It comes down to the fact that the Founders created the U.S. Constitution--and that Constitution spawned, in the view of the radical libertarian historiography, the modern welfare state we currently live with. So, they are, ipso facto, bad guys who didn't see the consequences of their own actions. This, of course, is grossly anachronistic and unfair--and ignores subsequent historical and intellectual developments over more than a century.

Alexander V. Marriott, ABD said...

Mike, hard to be brief about my thoughts on the links you offered. But since the second fellow bases some of his conclusions on a book he admittedly never read on the first article you linked from JLS, I'll merely address that with a couple of observations.

The article makes no mention--at all--of wars (regardless of fault, initiation, provocation, etc) between Indians and between Indians and Europeans. It's almost as if 1) they never occurred and 2) wars are not a common way for all societies everywhere on earth to exchange and/or surrender land. This is not surprising given the peculiar fetishising of pacifist Quakers that occurs throughout the article. What the writer, whose qualifications I'm utterly unfamiliar with and who quotes no primary source materials, fails to mention is that Penn's "successful land dealings occurred almost entirely with the Lenni Lenape tribe and other tribes of Delawares who were already steady friends of coastal Europeans for protection against more aggressive interior tribes and help in growing and trading for food in order to survive.

Quaker pacifism failed utterly once Pennsylvanians colonized outside of the Delaware river valley--culminating in the utter abdication of a role in government during the French and Indian War by the Quakers who could not bring themselves to vote for defensive protection for settlers being killed west of the appalachian mountains by Indian tribes allied with the French.

The Quakers were not the only people who showed up in the new world decidedly hopeful about having peaceful transactual relations with the Indians--all the English settlements proceeded with that as an explicit goal as a way of repudiating the Spanish example. But the political relationships with the Indian tribes and the inability and unwillingness to police individual colonists often led to incidents that then led directly to wars that often went very poorly for the Indians--though the tribes allied to the colonists in these wars often made rather impressive short-term gains.

Finally, the second person, aside from having anarchism banners on his site, asserted that Bartholeme de las Casas was a classical liberal! He was an Augustinian Catholic Priest and an advocate of African slavery--as a way of saving the Indians from slavery. He was many things, but an Aristotelian liberal he most certainly was not.

Mike said...

appreciate the response Alexander. I think I now have a better picture of the circumstances around that time period. Bowden's book is on my purchase list. One negative review of his book that caught my attention was this top one by Ashtar Command "Seeker"

Also, in my search quest on the topic I came across this book which documents Original experiences revealing how Indians dealt with people who often did them no harm:

I also found this book about Original letters by British merchant ship captains to the merchant owners, collected by Richard Hakluyt:

I think this makes a solid addition to the earlier books you suggested, but I did want to ask if you have come across or read any of those two books.

Alexander V. Marriott, ABD said...

It's important to remember that Bowden's book is not a work of history--hence why I did not recommend it when I was suggesting books about Columbus--it is a polemical work about the historiography about Columbus. As for the books you're finding, Hakluyt (both of them, there are two of the same name) is good. So are Thomas Harriot and John Smith, links to which I have provided below. You can also find out more about relations with the Indians in the writings of William Bradford. The best scholars on the earliest periods of English colonization are James Axtell, Karen O. Kupperman, and Colin G. Calloway. See also John H. Elliott's superb comparative opus of English and Spanish colonization:

Mike said...

Thanks for recommending those Alexander. Do you think this is a good one to consider

Alexander V. Marriott, ABD said...

I am not familiar with the work, but Fernandez-Armesto is a top scholar of the subject and it looks absolutely fascinating.

Mike said...

you know Alexander I think you should do one post about how libertarians distort historical facts surrounding Japan. I think it deserves its own post just like this one.

Alexander V. Marriott, ABD said...

Before I agree to take on another post that will wind up taking several weeks longer to produce than it ought--to what specifically are you referring? Imperial Japan in the decades leading up to and including World War II, or something more contemporary?

mike250 said...

I would say three specific issues:

1) the important events leading to Pearl Habour and how FDR wasn't conspiring to start war with the Japanese nor did the embargo cause the attack on pearl harbour (two common libertarian viewpoints on this subject)

2)the dropping of the atomic bombs and how that was the moral and right thing to do.

Here is a good link that summarizes the standard libertarian complaints about the war:

Mike said...

Alexander, you asked me earlier about how Hamilton was a monarch. I don't quite remember how I came to that conclusion but one of the accusations against him is that he was a central planner/empire lover and the often cited quote is this one: "The greatest man that ever lived was Julius Caesar". I think its from there that we concluded that he was a monarchist/central planner/ empire lover

I wonder what you make of such a claim

Mike said...

I also remember one book being cited in favor of that argument. I think it is: Liberty, State and Union" by Luigi Marco Basani

here is one review:

" leftist academics have grossly misrepresented Jefferson's views in their writings, so much so that entire books have been written arguing that he was a precursor of Marx and Engels! If they are not distorting Jefferson's libertarian philosophy they are blowing the reputations of his critics, such as Hamilton, way out of proportion...Jefferson thought very highly of the philosopher John Locke,... He famously stated that, during his time, the three greatest men that civilization had produced were Locke, Francis Bacon, and Isaac Newton. (Hamilton responded by saying Julius Caesar would be his pick for "greatest human"). Despite the well-documented fact of Locke's influence on Jefferson, especially on the issue of private property, leftist academics such as Garry Wills "have devoted much time and effort trying to prove that Jefferson was not a Lockean." Bassani explains why Wills' book on the subject should have been entitled "Inventing Jefferson"...Another myth about Jefferson that Bassani disproves is the myth that he had an antipathy toward trade, banks, and commerce. "There is in Jefferson no political bias against trade and commerce or finance," he writes. What Jefferson opposed was the oppressive policy of government in taxing American farmers in order to subsidize politically-connected businesses"

Alexander V. Marriott, ABD said...

The works of Douglass Adair--particularly his famous essay "Fame and the Founding Fathers," makes some sense of Jefferson's remembrance of Hamilton's remark while visitng Jefferson's home. That is the only sourse for Hamilton ever saying anything particularly kind about Julius Caesar, so it was probably either a joke at Jefferson's stiff formality when answering Hamilton's question about the paintings, or Hamilton considered the question in a way different that Jefferson did in terms of "greatness." As one might say the greatest force in 20th century American politics was Woodrow Wilson or Franklin Roosevelt without necessarily wishing to impart a moral approval of their "greatness." In all of his actual writings, Hamilton condemned Caesar quite vehemently. When George Washington was deciding between a cabinet dispute he posed the already known Jefferson critique that Hamilton was aiming at something other than republicanism to which Hamilton replied: "It has aptly been observed that Cato was the Tory—Caesar the Whig of his day. The former frequently resisted—the latter always flattered the follies of the people. Yet the former perished with the Republic the latter destroyed it." One must remember that according to all the anciet historians, Caesar was with the people against the Senate, a demagogue who destroyed the republic. Hamilton saw Jefferson as a much better analogue to Caesar than himself and he certainly did not consider Jefferson the end all-be all of men.

As for being a "central planner," Hamilton is a rather shabby forerunner of that--he was simply and fundamentally concerned with how the country would be able to finance it's vast debts while also surviving a perilous international system of empires and mercantilists--most of whom wished to see the American republic go belly up and fall apart.

As for dreaming of empire--that word means something, or has quite different implications now than it did in the late 18th century. No American statesman dreamed of an American "Empire of Liberty" stretching across all of North America longer and more fervently than Thomas Jefferson. The works of Peter S. Onuf are a difficult but excellent place to start on that aspect of Jeffersonianism.

Alexander V. Marriott, ABD said...

Alexander Hamilton, September 1792: "Mr. Burr’s integrity as an Individual is not unimpeached. As a public man he is one of the worst sort—a friend to nothing but as it suits his interest and ambition. Determined to climb to the highest honours of State, and as much higher as circumstances may permit—he cares nothing about the means of effecting his purpose. Tis evident that he aims at putting himself at the head of what he calls the “popular party” as affording the best tools for an ambitious man to work with. Secretly turning Liberty into ridicule, he knows as well as most men how to make use of the name. In a word, if we have an embryo-Caesar in the United States, ‘tis Burr."