In the Beginning was the History and the History was good. It dwelt with the Science in the same building, and the two got along fairly well most of the time. Theology, alas, had departed across the quad into an old building which few visited, especially after the 1870s. Thus, the History and the Science were free to proclaim conformity in tandem, throughout the land, even if enforcement wasn’t always that easy.
The History that was good was very, very good indeed. It was the History, after all, and only the truly backward dared doubt its truths. It had been good ever since sundry New England scribes had invented a primordial American People, one in its singlehood and single in its oneness, born before it was conceived. If all this sounds like a parody of the Creed, it is not my fault, nor am I to blame if it also sounds somewhat like the last flight of Hegel’s comet.1
Now the History’s sheer goodness allowed for improvement, even unto Eternal Progress of the Right Kind. Good in 1790 or so, it was even better in 1865, and has become so good in the last several decades that it passeth all understanding. It is enough to believe. As President Lightweight Cutthroat will probably say in 2047: “Believe the History or face a fine of $58,900 and five years in federal custody for the first offense.”
True practitioners of the History read the minds of the dead. They also see far into the Radiant Future. They are the deftest of the Adepts. Let us see how this works.
The Only Possible Reason
Lately, we are faced with a project involving perhaps the broadest-based historical revisionism ever seen on these shores. To affirm it, we must agree with Firesign Theater that “everything you know is wrong.” Just as a catastrophic war occurring between 1861 and 1865 now has only One Possible Cause, so too can all American history, down to the smallest detail, be exhaustively explained in terms of racism, the whole racism, and nothing but the racism. (The higher playpens like Harvard, Yale, and Berkeley have doubtlessly incorporated an oath about this into their PhD programs.)
Drastic conclusions follow ineluctably from this premise. Thus, if a settler built a log cabin somewhere in North America in 1734, or another settler began raising cattle in some other place the next year, or indeed if any settler did anything whatsoever, anywhere, at any time, the only possible explanation is “racism.”2 The underlying culprit of course is “whiteness,” which necessarily entails racism, slavery, segregation, and every other known evil. Worse luck, racism, slavery, and segregation are mutually causal in complex and variable ways easily tailored to a given thesis and to the demands of the moment. (It would be hard to say which one is determinant “in the last instance” and the New History doesn’t have to care.)
Slave Patrols and Modern Policy
It will suffice here to look into two claims arising from the new historical epistemology and its one-way model of universal racial causality. The first one is the assertion that present-day American policing rests essentially on, and derives pretty much entirely from, the slave patrols of the Old South. Since every mainland British colony in North America had some experience with slavery, one might think that every Northern colony had some system for seeing that their servants were where they were supposed to be at any given time. Since this matter is seldom addressed, one can only suppose that Northern slave owners were either okay with chronic absenteeism or were very negligent indeed.
The slave patrol thesis won’t fly because modern, standing police forces arose in Northern cities to control all that free labor about which their city fathers would boast when they weren’t putting down by force any uncooperative behavior on the part of those workers. If there were even one case in which a Yankee aiming to create a modern police force visited Virginia or South Carolina to study slave patrols, we might almost believe this silly thesis (which went all around the lefty blogosphere in 2014-2015, and again in 2020, the year of mostly peaceful riots rightly exempted from universal masque-wearing and lockdowns).
I am still waiting for such a revelation. It won’t come, because it is clear that the city fathers of New York, Boston, Philadelphia, etc., modeled their standing police on the London police instituted in 1829 by Sir Robert Peel. When Southern cities created police forces some decades later (we are so slow down here), they followed the Northern model. (Slave patrolling was already in place, after all. If slave patrols were really the basis of all American policing, why didn’t Southern cities invent municipal police forces before Northern ones did?)
The second case involves the Second Amendment. According to Prof. Carl T. Bogus, the amendment centered on whether or not the states’ militias could be armed if the federal authorities decided not to arm them.3 The amendment accordingly asserted a right of the people “to keep and bear arms,” so that the states or their militia members could not be prevented (by the feds) from providing their own arms. Bogus reasons that this concern rested on fear of slave revolts.
Bogus admits that there is no decisive evidence proving his thesis. Indeed, he was rather careful and measured, but one suspects that the bulk of his readers believe he has proven that Southern states only cared about their militias because of you know what. For Bogus’ audience, especially these days, it was all slavery and racism and praeterea nihil.4 In the new-modeled science of history what else is there?
Racism Rolling Up Hill
Putting the South permanently under the spotlight is understandable since it exploits the easy and lazy assumption that everything wicked in U.S. history must have started in the South. For American nationalists, neocons, Straussians, high-minded liberals, libertarians, and leftists it is a cherished truth that bad practices have always defied the law of gravity by rolling uphill into the North from somewhere down here. Luckily, the Good know where the Bad live and their bony New England fingers point the way. (A century and a half of trans-Atlantic slave trading had no more to do with them than did all those shipments of opium to China on which they absent-mindedly profited, or the ivory trade, come to that.)
Is One Kind of Whiteness Wickeder Than the Others?
Yet there is a striking inconsistency here. For those fully committed to the 1619 Gospel, all White people are tainted with the same hereditary evils of and must purge themselves. But if this be so, it would follow that quarrels between Northern and Southern Whites in, say, 1787, 1833, or 1861-1865, should not especially interest the monstrous regiment of woke insomniacs.
After all, actual behavior, racist or otherwise, need not come into it. The dogma is that White folks simply are racist. It is, so to speak, their essence -- and this from people whose immediate predecessors spent the 1980s and ‘90s denouncing “essentialism” and denying essences.
In practice, however, the sheer convenience of falling back on ultimate Southern guilt often makes such a focus a tempting, if opportunistic, move. It is also a firmly rooted habit. Why look in the mirror for evil whiteness if you can look southwards?
Presently the pampered gentry of the Establishment Press are chuckling and gloating over the fate of the Charlottesville statue of General Robert E. Lee, which of late has been turned into molten metal.5 This is no doubt a lesson to us all, and the lesson is this: When the Real True History gets to the point that it is utterly unworthy of being believed, the only way to enforce its “liberating” dogmas is to destroy every wrongful symbol, memory, and, yes, every statue or other artifact inconsistent with the ever-advancing truth.
There is no natural stopping place for the friends of the real true history.
We are faced with one of those recurring outbreaks of Iconoclasm which only end when the perpetrators have tired themselves out. But that’s another – or several – stories. Anyway, after every Yankee Great Awakening, there comes a very long nap. Whether anything has been learned remains an open question.
Anything Tainted Is Out
For overheated readers of Bogus’ essay, the strategy is clear enough. Take something you dislike for political and ideological reasons and taint it with association with some ultimate evil. The Marxist legal scholar, Mitchell Franklin tried a backward version of this with the Constitution. Reasoning that a “bourgeois” revolution (like that of 1776) requires a proper bourgeois ideology, he argued that it was wrong to see the U.S. Constitution as a “feudal” document, despite some reactionary features such as state and local jurisdictions. No, the real Constitution lay in those passages in which he found clear evidence of Roman law doctrines of the sort that French revolutionaries would soon adopt with much fire and bloodshed. He claimed that John Adams and a few others understood this.6
Here, Franklin was trying to “de-taint” the Constitution to make it suitable to his radical projects. By contrast, Bogus’ readers taint the Second Amendment with slavery, the main-most engine of tainting currently available.
The 1450 Project
Given that sugar production on the basis of plantation slavery was underway in the eastern Atlantic by about 1450 on islands lately acquired by Spain and Portugal, there’d be a lot of tainting over there. Pretty much everything in those countries probably needs immediate destruction. I’m tempted to demand that world history be reorganized around a 1450 Project. Think of all the books in Spanish and Portuguese to be purged! Think of all the reeducation and all the enjoyable abuse of those white Iberians.
Eric Foner’s Old Neighborhood
So, how did we come to be lumbered with the Real True History? In 2000, I happened upon an old book, James S. Allen’s Reconstruction: The Battle for Democracy 1865-1876 (New York: International Publishers, 1937). Worldly folks will know that International Publishers was an arm of the Communist Party USA. They will also know that the party line was Stalinist. It was remarkable how much Allen’s interpretation of Reconstruction resembled the reigning Real True History as of 2000, as found in the works of Eric Foner.
A couple of years ago, realizing I had never gotten myself a copy of the book, I looked for one. None of the 1937 edition were available, but there was a reprint, which I ordered (New York: International Publishers, 2021). It arrived and, with it, a bonus unforeseen: a new foreword by no less than Eric Foner.
After summarizing the views of W.E.B. DuBois, James Allen, and (thus) of the CPUSA on Reconstruction and showing how they won acceptance, Foner reminisces about the old days in Long Beach, New York, where he and his uncle Philip S. Foner, the historian, knew the Allen family very well (including James who later managed International Publishers). Well, a man is allowed to cherish his youth.7
This tends to confirm that the 1619 Project largely descends from Popular Front Stalinism in the form it took once Stalinists (and their heirs) began to believe their own propaganda about how they were the real American democrats and friends of racial justice, while singing all those Woody Guthrie songs. The interesting fact that the World Socialist Website (which is Trotskyist) became the forum for so many essays by liberal and libertarian economists and historians opposed to the 1619 Project shows how much present-day debates mirror the internecine Marxist battles of the thirties, forties, and fifties.
Real True Origins
Here, then, is at least part of how we came to the current orthodoxy on Reconstruction, which sees it as a tragically defeated (or postponed) social democratic revolution. This claim is now an essential part of the real true history. That’s the short account.
The longer story is that we (or somebody) foolishly agreed to cooperate with New Englanders in 1776-1783 and then even more foolishly agreed to some kind of union with them in 1787-1789. By the time anyone wanted out, the Yankees’ Real True history “proved” that leaving was immoral and impossible. Four years of invasion, killing, arson, and pillage is said to have “proved” their assertion. If it’s that easy, then any doctrine with an army behind it is true.
That is why we have the Real, True History in all its lockstep glory.
1 David W. Noble, American Culture and the End of Exceptionalism: Death of a Nation (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2002), 1-2, noting that by 1800, the implicit outlook of many Americans was Hegelian.
2 But see J.H. Plumb, In the Light of History (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1973), Ch. 9: “Race, Slavery, and the Poor,” on the English elite’s callous treatment of all workers regardless of race.
3 Carl T. Bogus, “The Hidden History of the Second Amendment,” U.C. Davis Law Review, 31: 2 (Winter 1998), 309-408. For another view, see Stephen P. Halbrook, “The Second Amendment was Adopted to Protect Liberty, Not Slavery: A Reply to Professors Bogus and Anderson,” Georgetown Journal of Law & Public Policy, 20 (2022), 575-616.
4 Bogus’ thesis was apparently meant to sustain the theory that the amendment only enshrined a “collective right” of militia members (properly organized) to keep and bear arms. This was part and parcel of the debate over federal gun control. In this debate the two sides talked past one another, and both were partly wrong (my view).
5 This may involve the Yankee American mania for separating matter from form. See Felix Morley “The Return to Nothingness,” Human Events, August 29, 1945, 1-4, with respect to the atomic so-called “weapons” dropped on Japan.
6 This is supposedly because Adams had read the Abbé de Mably. Actually, Adams seems to have escaped partly unscathed from his reading. See Mitchell Franklin, “Concerning the Influence of Roman Law on the Formulation of the Constitution of the United States” (1964), reprinted in Nature, Society, and Thought, 16: 4 (2003), 405-438.
7 Eric Foner, “Foreword,” in James S. Allen, Reconstruction: The Battle for Democracy 1865-1876 (New York: International Publishers, 2021), 13-14.