American Exceptionalism, Part Two

It’s understandable why folks would want to talk about American Exceptionalism in these days. We seem to be in a funk. I suspect similar to the Carter era, but I feel it maybe something worse. People know somethings are off track – our economy (i.e. high unemployment), our domestic policy (i.e. healthcare), our fiscal and monetary policy (i.e. debt & deficit), our foreign policy (i.e. Israel), etc.

Many folks are concerned about the world community loosing faith in the U.S. Dollar as the world reserve currency within the next decade or so therefore causing a flip to either the Chinese Renminbi (once it fully enters the international monetary community) or to a basket of world currencies. Many are rightly concerned that China and many Asian Pacific countries are beginning to eclipse the U.S., Europe and the West in general. One might have the perception that our (the U.S.) best days are behind us. Many believe that we have began a downward spiral that all worldly empires eventually face.

Maybe it’s time to look at this concept of “American Exceptionalism” from another perspective, through the eyes of current American minorities, i.e. African Americans, Native Americans, Latinos, etc. As Catholics we were once a minority as well. Our American history is a complex one, as all histories are. Let us dig a little deeper to see more of our reality so that we can know how to move forward in these days.

Watch Howard Zinn’s Lecture at MIT entitled The Myth of American Exceptionalism.

A People’s History Of The United States (free online edition) by Howard Zinn

Related Post(s):
American Exceptionalism

About the Lecture

Americans have long embraced a notion of superiority, claims Howard Zinn. Governor Winthrop of the Massachusetts Bay Colony described establishing “a city on a hill,” to serve the world as a beacon of liberty. So far, so good. But driving this sense of destiny, says Zinn, was an assumption of divine agency—“an association between what the government does and what God approves of.” And too frequently, continues Zinn, Americans have invoked God to expand “into someone else’s territory, occupying and dealing harshly with people who resist occupation.”

Zinn offers numerous examples of how the American government has used “divine ordination” and rationales of spreading civilization and freedom to justify its most dastardly actions: the extermination of Native Americans and takeover of their land; the annexation of Texas and war with Mexico; war against the Philippines; U.S. involvement in coups in Latin America; bloody efforts to expand U.S. influence in the Middle East, Africa and Asia. The battle against Communism, often bolstered by arguments of America’s divine mission in the world, was merely a convenient excuse to maintain U.S. economic and military interests in key regions.

Today, says Zinn, we have a president, who more than any before him, claims a special relationship with God. Zinn worries about an administration that deploys Christian zealotry to justify a war against terrorism, a war that in reality seems more about establishing a new beachhead in the oil-rich Middle East. He also sees great danger in Bush’s doctrines of unilateralism and pre-emptive war, which mark a great leap away from international standards of morality.

68 Responses to American Exceptionalism, Part Two

  • Mark Noonan says:

    If you’re going to Zinn for information about the United States then it is pretty certain you would have a negative view of the concept of “American Exceptionalism”. Fortunately, we need not trouble ourselves too much over Zinn…nor anyone else who is rubbing his hands with glee and hoping that, eventually, this nation so filled with bitter-clingers will fall.

    Of all the things which trouble us today only one thing poses an existential threat – the end of the Christian character of the United States. We have gone very far down this road, but not nearly as far as Europe, and thus we still have the internal capacity to rebuild. Whether it is devout Catholics who are in full possession of the truth, or even Evangelicals who endlessly return to the well of Scripture for inspiration there is in the United States a large body of people – and, I believe, they are a majority – who have not be de-moralized in the largest sense of the word. It is these people who are awakening to the peril and are moving towards a revolutionary re-establishment of American ideals. It is they who will put the lie to those who either think our best days are behind us, or who believe we never were that special to begin with.

    Because the rest of our problems are the merest result of immoral policies – policies set in place by people who are so divorced from Christian truth as to not recognize it any longer, or so determined to lower everyone to their level that they relentlessly attack why is high and noble. They have in large measure had their way – while the solid people have patiently endured their actions. But patience is run out and the reversal of all this is coming, and coming quite soon; and as further proof of American exceptionalism, this re-birth will come via the means our Founders provided. In our Declaration and Constitution is all any decent person needs to correct any problem – and while we’ll never know in this life if the Founders were inspired or just incredibly lucky, the fact is that they created American exceptionalism by crafting documents which are second only to Scripture in their worth.

    We will be back – the world will once again be astounded by the United States of America. All the stories that some how, some way, a corrupt tyranny like China can compete with us will be shown up as laughably false.

  • Art Deco says:

    Yikes. You have gone from peddling Ron Paul’s monetary nostrums to peddling Howard Zinn’s garage-sale Marxism.

    Because the rest of our problems are the merest result of immoral policies

    Public sector borrowing is not a moral offense. A deficient capacity for deferral of gratification is a feature of moral offenses and of excessive public sector borrowing.

    and as further proof of American exceptionalism, this re-birth will come via the means our Founders provided. In our Declaration and Constitution is all any decent person needs to correct any problem –

    Rubbish. The institutional architecture we have is exacerbating problems we have about taking collective action. Canada is managing far better than we in constraining public expenditure and public-sector borrowing in spite of a rancid political culture and an institutional architecture which is quite different.

  • Phillip says:

    Howards Zinn’s “history” of America should be read with fact checking. Oscar Handlin, an authentic historian, had this to say about it:

    “Oscar Handlin, a renowned Harvard historian, hated it. In a review for The American Scholar, he wrote sarcastically that the author was “a stranger to evidence.” Not only was the book “anti-American,” Handlin thundered in conclusion, but its author heaped “indiscriminate condemnation on all the works of man — that is upon civilization, a word he usually encloses in quotation marks.”

    Catholic thought requires solid research, not ideology. In Zinn you get the later. Time for you to question your premises.

  • T. Shaw says:

    Strong, sustainable private sector economic growth is needed.

    Conrad Black: “Unless the United States has the most spectacular cognitive awakening since Brunhilda, if not Lazarus, the laws of arithmetic are going to assert themselves in Zeus-like terms.”

    Instapundit (referring to Mr. Black above): “Since we have the worst political class ever, I’m a bit pessimistic about how this is likely to turn out.”

    A Carter redux is your best case scenario.

    Case in point: 52% of Americans believe the demagogical Dem and shameless Obama lies. They will vote (for someone else to pay the bills) for Medicare and Social Security to proceed to wreck the country.

    Here is what happens. Now, more Medicare/FICA tax/insurance premium dollars are coming in than need to be paid out. For many years, this surplus has been spent by the Feds and the “trust” funds (this trustee needs to be in the cell next to Madoff!) received in return nonmarket US Treasury securities. The cataclysm hits when the Medi/FICA inflow of dollars is below the amount needed to pay to beneficiaries. Then, the Feds will need to somehow, despite a $2 trillion annual budget deficit, pay back real money to the trust funds. Then, the proverbial “excrement collides with the rotary oscillator.”

    And, the demagogues keep lying about tax cuts for the rich and Paul Ryan throwing Grandma under the bus. There will remain in existence no bus!

    Higher taxes, transfer payments to favored voters, bailouts for campaign contributors and crony capitalists, increased redistribution of wealth, more regulations, Obama promulgated higher food and fuel prices, and incitement of class hatred do not promote strong, sustainable private sector economic growth.

    If Obama is given four more years to continue to work at wrecking the evil, unjust private sector . . . Stick a fork in us.

  • Howard Zinn is another in a long series of liberal socialists who claim to be historians and MIT where is gave this “lecture” is a bastion of liberalism. It’s no wonder with academics like him that our colleges and universities turn out students who know nothing about reality. And though he died in 2010, there are plenty of other useless academics of the liberal persuasion who continue his cause of Marxist anti-Americanism.

  • Art Deco says:

    Howard Zinn was not a ‘liberal socialist’. He was at one point an active member of the Communist Party and later employed on the staff of the American Labor Party. The American Labor Party was formed in 1936 as the electoral vehicle of the garment unions in New York. The Hatters Union and the Ladies’ Garment Workers Union withdrew from the organization in 1944, along with the individual members antagonistic to the Communist Party. By 1954 it had lost nine-tenths of its public support and decayed into a collecting pool of crypto-Communists and assorted chumps. Vito Marcantonio, the most prominent elected official in the party, died that year. The Amalgamated Clothing Workers withdrew its support and the party dissolved not long after. Howard Zinn was an employee during this latter period. He was as well a graduate student. He completed his dissertation and began his career as a college teacher around about 1958. From 1980 onward, if not earlier, he was quite explicit about his Marxism, though his membership in the Communist Party in the 1940s was not made public until after his death last year.

    His career was also a fine example of George Will’s complaint that the academic job market in the post-war period was quite soft (in comparison with what Will’s father had faced a generation earlier and what aspirant professors faced after about 1973). His initial work of history was a biography of Fiorello LaGuardia that was published by a university press. After that, it was all down hill. He was after that a co-author of one minor work of labor history. There may have been one other work which required the use of archives or other primary sources. The rest of his work consisted of extended essays and polemics. He could not even be bothered (and his editors evidently did not insist) that construct a proper architecture of reference notes and bibliography in his work; just about everything he published after 1958 ends with a ‘bibliographic essay’ where he offers a discussion of some sources he consulted. None of his work involves quantitative methods or a mastery of foreign languages. It is an indication of how rancid is the culture of our schools that the work of this hack’s hack sold well enough to leave him a wealthy man at his death.

  • Phillip says:

    A snippet from another review of the poorly titled “A People’s History of the United States”:

    “But where this book goes over the top is in its extraordinary selection of facts. Examples abound:

    –He rips the Spanish conquerors of the Aztecs, and to make sure that the reader is sympathetic to his viewpoint doesn’t bother to mention that the Aztecs were a militarized imperialistic society that, in the fashionable cant of the left, exercised hegemony over local peoples and stilled their voices.

    –Zinn’s lengthy paean to the American labor movement spends barely two paragraphs talking about the major unions’ exclusion of women and minorities–in the 1910′s! The curious reader might have liked to read more about organized labor’s long and hallowed history of race, ethnic and sex discrimination, corruption, mob control, blackmail, violence, and collusion with management, but maybe I’m wrong.

    –Zinn is happy to discuss the Civil War draft riots in the North, but doesn’t mention that Union soldiers reenlisted in droves in 1864 when their three-year terms expired, and then in the fall election voted heavily for Lincoln and the continuation of the war. (He even cites a little known book by Bruce Catton on industrial policy in World War II, but makes no citations to Catton’s extensive and famous work on the war in which this issue is discussed.)

    –Zinn argues that the Hiroshima bombing was pointless because the U.S. had intercepted a message to Japan’s ambassador to Moscow instructing him to open peace negotiations. He does not discuss the large number of intercepted messages in which Japanese military leaders indicated their strong desire to continue the war, as well as a plethora of evidence regarding Japanese military buildups in anticipation of the American invasion.

    –He happily notes that the American Communist party was an early supporter of racial equality, but has nothing to say about the recently-revealed facts that it was funded by and taking its orders directly from Moscow.

    –He rejects any notion that the American military build-up in the 1980′s was the primary contributor to the Soviet collapse, disregarding ample testimony to the contrary from ex-Soviet political and military leaders.

    In reviewing Paul Johnson’s competing work, “A History of the American People”, I ripped Johnson for making sophomoric errors of fact (compounded by an occasional tendency to rely on dated sources). Johnson, however, is at least willing to discuss both sides of the coin. Zinn, on the other hand . . . .

    The supreme irony of Zinn’s assault on America is, of course, that as a flat-earth-society socialist he is inextricably allied to a system which, in the Soviet Union, in the PRC, in Vietnam and the killing fields of Cambodia, in North Korea and sub-Saharan Africa, has been responsible this century for the murder of tens of millions of people and the imprisonment and impoverishment of hundreds of millions more.

    When Zinn can say more about the Soviet Union besides its “false socialism”, and when he has the guts to call the Chinese Communists the murderers they are rather than a “people’s government”, when he can admit that Vietnam is one of the most oppressive, corrupt governments in the world, then he’ll be entitled to be viewed as something other than just another drunk-the-kool-aid radical.

    I am delighted to have read and reviewed this book if for no other reason than to have offered up the exercise as a penance for my sins. And despite–or rather because of–the aforesaid myriad problems (which are not exhaustive), I recommend this book to the reader who has a thorough (and I mean THOROUGH) background in American history and who can figure out when, where and just how badly he is being conned. For every one else: I told you so.

    Anyway, one star: two for a decent coverage of slavery, negative two for being obstusely hypocritical, and one star because it doesn’t argue that Alger Hiss was innocent.”

  • Joe Green says:

    Art, labeling people “chumps” and “hacks” does not advance your argument, nor is one’s lack of “mastery of a foreign language” automatic disqualification for the ability to provide insight.

    While Zinn’s “facts” may be in dispute in some respects and do not take into account complete context, he nonetheless presents a dissenting and minority view of historical events that provide grist for serious thought.

    His overarching theme — in the video provided — is that America has no more “divine right” to do what it does in the name of “freedom, democracy, etc.” than any other nation. To assert that Americans are “better,” “superior,” “exceptional,” and have a “special role or destiny,” to shape the world in its image is no less dangerous than the thinking that spawned the Third Reich and other mass movements such as fascism, socialism and Christianity. Philosopher Eric Hoffer wrote brilliantly about this in his book, The True Believer.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_True_Believer

    Sure, Zinn’s oversimplistic and somewhat biased analysis could be refuted on some levels by intelligent rejoinder, but to merely assail his character and dismiss him as a “wealthy” exploiter is not persuasive. His assertion that post-World War II America has pretty much had its way in the world is well supported by the fact by three foreign wars and the continuing interference in the internal affairs of sovereign nations too numerous to mention.

  • Phillip says:

    “Sure, Zinn’s oversimplistic and somewhat biased analysis could be refuted on some levels by intelligent rejoinder, but to merely assail his character and dismiss him as a “wealthy” exploiter is not persuasive.”

    Actually to point out his abuse of history is to in part understand his flawed conclusions. It also helps us understand his lack of intelligent understanding of the question. In this is not the same as a pure ad hominem as it is not always fallacious; in some instances, questions of personal conduct, character, motives, etc., are legitimate and relevant to the issue.

    My ultimate point is that to use such a flawed source to critique the concept of American Exceptionalism (whatever it is or is not) is hardley an effective argument. In fact its using the author of patently false history as polemic to make the claim.

    “…he nonetheless presents a dissenting and minority view of historical events that provide grist for serious thought.”

    You are becoming a Catholic by the charity of this comment. Here is a somewhat more cutting critique of his “dissenting view” from a source one suspect is rather sympathetic to such views:

    “POINTING OUT what’s wrong with Zinn’s passionate tome is not difficult for anyone with a smattering of knowledge about the American past. But why has this polemic disguised as history attracted so many enthusiastic readers?

    For the majority of reviewers on Amazon.com (381, as of February 2004), A People’s History has the force and authority of revelation. “Zinn single-handedly initiated a Copernican revolution in historicism,” writes “eco-william” from Oregon. Others rave about his “compassion and eye for detail” and proclaim the survey “a top contender for greatest book ever written.” Zinn’s admirers have a quick retort to conservatives who claim his work is “biased.” Writes “culov” from Anaheim: “The book is purposely meant to be biased. It tells the story of American history from the point of view of ‘the losers’ because we all know that the winners write history. If you want something written from George Washington’s point of view, go buy a textbook . . . those are as biased as possible.”

    The unqualified directness of Zinn’s prose clearly appeals to his readers. Unlike scholars who aspire to add one or two new bricks to an edifice that has been under construction for decades or even centuries, he brings dynamite to the job. “To understand,” wrote Frederick Douglass, “one must stand under.” Although Zinn doesn’t quote that axiom, the sensibility appears on every page of his book. His fans can supply the corollary themselves: only the utterly contemptible stand on top.”

    Full, excellent critique here:

    http://www.dissentmagazine.org/article/?article=385

  • Art Deco,

    With all due respect (for often you are correct about these things), whether Zinn was a liberal socialist, Marxist, communist, Demokrat or fruit cake and nut, my point remains. Even Wikipedia states:

    “Zinn described himself as ‘Something of an anarchist, something of a socialist. Maybe a democratic socialist.’ He suggested looking at socialism in its full historical context. In Madison, Wisconsin in 2009, Zinn said:

    ‘Let’s talk about socialism. I think it’s very important to bring back the idea of socialism into the national discussion to where it was at the turn of the [last] century before the Soviet Union gave it a bad name. Socialism had a good name in this country. Socialism had Eugene Debs. It had Clarence Darrow. It had Mother Jones. It had Emma Goldman. It had several million people reading socialist newspapers around the country. Socialism basically said, hey, let’s have a kinder, gentler society. Let’s share things. Let’s have an economic system that produces things not because they’re profitable for some corporation, but produces things that people need. People should not be retreating from the word socialism because you have to go beyond capitalism.’”

    What is horrible is that people like this are allowed to teach our children in public schools, colleges and universities.

    PS, There is nothing wrong with capitalism as long as it is truly free enterprise and not the corporate socialism of Obamessiah. But socialism is always wrong because it stops making people responsible for the work of their own hands.

    I am sure now that my comment will get dissecting! ;-) Oh well, we probably won’t agree here.

  • Art Deco says:

    Joe,

    I never referred to Howard Zinn as an exploiter. He was so only in the sense that his students were paying Boston University’s tuition to receive substandard service from the likes of him. (And to that, I made no explicit reference). I am not concerned about his net worth. I am concerned about the culture of institutions that thought it advisable to purchase the crap he was selling.

    I am not attempting to ‘advance my argument’ when I refer to Howard Zinn as a ‘hack’ and some members of the American Labor Party as ‘chumps’. I am offering descriptive and disrespectful terms for both.

    Among my circle of congenial acquaintances is a historian who was run out of academe about a decade ago. She is a perfectly obscure former professor who has made and continues to make small contributions to what is known of the 19th century history of the United States. Her work involves immersion in archives and a mastery of archaic dialects of German and associated scripts. You have never heard of her and you never will, but she has scholarly chops that Howard Zinn never had. Look in the back of his published works and apprehend what you can of his sources. You cannot examine his footnotes and endnotes because there aren’t any. Then, look at any other academic history. You will see the difference between a scholar and a garrulous and unpleasant pundit.

    As for the American Labor Party, people stay in corrupted and decaying organizations for any number of reasons. Sometimes, it is sheer inertia. The decomposition of the American Labor Party did not take all that long. The American Labor Party indubitably had within it an ample supply of social reformers misinformed or naive about the world outside the United States. They were used by the likes of Howard Zinn and Victor Rabinowitz just as Henry Wallace was used.

  • Art Deco says:

    Paul Primavera,

    Fair enough. The guy lived to be nearly 90. His views appear to have changed in certain respects over time.

    It does not bother me that there was an institution willing to give Dr. Zinn a salaried job as an instructor. It would bother me were state regents to insist that his interpretation of American history be adopted as a public orthodoxy. It does bother me that so many agencies fancy his book is worth buying.

  • Joe Green says:

    Art, I used the word “exploit” in the broadest sense, inferring by your “wealth” comment that he wrote books solely to make money, which Samuel Johnson said any good writer does.
    I would be interested in learning the identity of the historian of whom you speak so glowingly. As for footnotes and cites, by themselves they mean little except to point out a certain type of plagiarism. The more sources cited the more the author is relying on others to do his/her thinking.
    Of course, I would not put Zinn in a league with Durant or Toynbee nor many other historians whose research and more careful scholarship lend greater credence to their works. However, Zinn, despite his flaws and radical (in the view of some) views, is a necessary counterbalance to the “conventional” view.

  • American Knight says:

    American is exceptional, even if, we Americans are not. Zinn is an idiot at best and a propagator of evil at worst. He should be dismissed as just another global-communist hack.

  • T. Shaw says:

    This week Alan Abelson, “As Winston Churchill pointed out, ours is the worst form of governmnet except for all the others.”

    BU has Zinn and Col. Bacevich! Shoot, all it lacks Ward Churchill for the trifecta.

  • Art Deco says:

    I would be interested in learning the identity of the historian of whom you speak so glowingly.

    A monograph by her was published by the University of Pennsylvania Press a few years back. She publishes a research article in an academic journal about every other year supplemented with book reviews. About 2/3ds of her research publications have been screened by peer reviewers. There is no need to embarrass her by mentioning her name. She was a rank-and-file professor. And that’s the point. Professors at research institutions and at liberal arts colleges of a selectivity above a certain threshhold are expected to produce scholarship as well as teaching. She did. After 1959, Howard Zinn did not.

    As for footnotes and cites, by themselves they mean little except to point out a certain type of plagiarism. The more sources cited the more the author is relying on others to do his/her thinking.

    Wrong, and wrong. The citations are crucial for professionals to trace the pathways of your research and for peers and students to assess the weight to give your research. Howard Zinn has not been one to make use of primary sources of any kind. He is not ploughing any new furrows. He read other people’s books and occasionally old newspapers (all in English) and then would write an extended interpretive essay, precise citations not included. There is nothing engaging or interesting about his interpretive framework; skim issues of The Nation or NACLA Report on the Americas for a year and you will get the drill. The man was not a charlatan like Leonard Jeffries or Ward Churchill. However, someone like Dr. Zinn should have retired in 1992 as an associate professor at a common-and-garden state college. He never deserved the accolades he received.

  • D.L. Jones says:

    Joe & others – thanks for your comments. Joe, I especially appreciate your comments.

    I wouldn’t get so caught up debate the value of Howard Zinn, let’s dig a little deeper. When does American Exceptionalism become a form of triumphalism?

    There is both good and bad in our history. Howard Zinn is not the only one who has pointed this out. Anyone who has read history from a minority perspective knows this, regardless if it’s Native American, African American, etc.

    For example, you can read the following authors from a completely different political persuasion but end up nearly in the same place – Tom Woods, Ralph Raico, John V. Denson, Thomas DiLorenzo, etc.

    Which historians (a term I am using very loosely here) and book(s) give the most balanced perspective of American history? Who tells the good and the bad in a way which is reasonable? Who doesn’t oversimplify but shows important nuances on various topics?

  • Joe Green says:

    D.L., you make some good points. Permit me to piggyback in that I think the “best” history, which is to say the most accurate, necessarily must be that which comes from contemporary witnesses.

    Even though I am the designated TAC “agnostic,” I nonetheless attach much credence, for example, to the Gospels, which read as though they were newspaper dispatches by reporters on the scene (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John), who lived with Jesus, made mental and possibly written notes and later recorded them. Now they could have been “biased,” shall we say, but the fact that they agree in the main except for some minor discrepancies and were written separately mitigates against accusations of collusion and conspiracy.

    By contrast, historians who are far removed from the times they are writing about seem less credible in that they have to rely on second-hand accounts, hearsay and other sources that are blurred by the passage of decades or centuries in a haze of reinterpretation.

    Zinn would seem to fall into this category, writing subjectively about events he never witnessed first-hand and in some cases building upon myths or prejudices that fit his own worldview. The “historian,” then shapes the past in a way that suits his purpose or agenda. Hence, Winston Churchill’s wry remark: ‘History will be kind to me for I intend to write it.’ And, he added, ‘History is written by the victors.’

    Napoleon, eventually a loser, said that history was nothing more than
    the version of past events that people have decided to agree upon. In Zinn’s case, however, he did not agree with other historians who took a more sanguine view of American history.

    Perhaps, then, contemporary accounts deserve the most respect. Matthew Arnold said, “journalism is literature in a hurry.” And while it is often flawed and inaccurate, a newspaper story is sometimes the most truthful of all tellings of an event because of its immediacy, and the longer you get away from the event the easier it is to distort the facts. But then facts alone are insufficient for complete understanding of the past. The real historian is one who can provide the true meaning of events and that, I would submit, is rarely achieved.

  • Art Deco says:

    When does American Exceptionalism become a form of triumphalism?

    Here the subject of your inquiry is not America but ‘American Exceptionalism’. That would seem to be the work of cultural or intellectual history (the former a sketchy subdiscipline). That would be of interest only to a certain niche audience.

    There is both good and bad in our history. Howard Zinn is not the only one who has pointed this out.

    mmmmmm

    Anyone who has read history from a minority perspective knows this, regardless if it’s Native American, African American, etc.

    It is hardly necessary to read anything by Zinn or from a contrived ‘minority perspective’ to realize that institutions and events that emanate from flawed human beings are unlikely to be flawless.

    I would like to know why a leftoid history professor, writing in 1980, is to be assumed over and above anyone else to manifest a ‘minority perspective’ or to have any peculiar empathy for displaced hunter-gatherers or abused agricultural labor. This man was not Eugene Genovese. He was not drawing on diaries and letters produced by this population or by people proximate to them.

  • Mark Noonan says:

    DL,

    There is no such thing as a “minority perspective” – that is just a phrase which makes a lie go down easy. There is truth and there is falsehood…a historian is not a prosecuting attorney, nor is he counsel for the defense. A historian, if he is worth anything, gathers all the relevant facts and tells the story of what happened to the best of his ability…if he’s done his job right then even if he makes some mistakes in interpreting the facts he has still done a service to human knowledge. Zinn’s problem is not just that he misinterprets the facts (we can all do that, even when we’re honestly trying not to) but that he selects his facts in order to advance a pre-conceived notion…and in so doing he ignores all facts which don’t fit his desired narrative. In the end, Zinn’s history is a lie because of this.

  • Phillip says:

    “I wouldn’t get so caught up debate the value of Howard Zinn…”

    Then next time don’t link his flawed “history”, which is universally panned and factually flawed, as a source to read.

    “The “historian,” then shapes the past in a way that suits his purpose or agenda.”

    Then perhaps I might recommend this:

    http://www.amazon.com/Politically-Incorrect-Guide-Islam-Crusades/dp/0895260131

    “And while it is often flawed and inaccurate, a newspaper story is sometimes the most truthful of all tellings of an event because of its immediacy, and the longer you get away from the event the easier it is to distort the facts.”

    But it is the truth we seek as Catholics. Not immediate impressions and feelings. Such is emotionalism and contrary to the faith.

  • D.L. Jones says:

    Mark – Every historian has bias and is fallible. They all view history through the lens of their culture, education, experiences and many other factors. For example, how close they are to the actual events as well is a factor. Distance of 50 years or more is often needed to see the full effects of historical events. What is their use of primary sources versus secondary sources? History is often written from the victor’s perspective but history, and human life in general, are much more complex. The loser’s perspective among a variety of personal perspectives of both sides should also be considered to get a more full and complete understanding of events.

    Phillip – thanks for the book recommendations. I think Glenn Beck is a big fan of Larry Schweikart. He promotes his books and has videos of him on his website. For example, GB shows his lecture(s) that he gave at Hillsdale College. Glenn Beck can at times be quite superficial and make overly broad generations about a number of different things. That is not to say Dr. Schwikart does that though, but it does make we wonder about him if GB is strongly endorsing him. It would be accurate that he is definitely giving a standard conservative spin on our history. That is just one perspective, an important one, but it’s not the only one we should consider.

    Joe – Once again thanks for you comment(s).

    Team American Catholic – Has anyone read Paul Johnson? If so what is your opinion of him, Schwikart or any others?

  • Phillip says:

    “I think Glenn Beck is a big fan of Larry Schweikart. He promotes his books and has videos of him on his website. For example, GB shows his lecture(s) that he gave at Hillsdale College. Glenn Beck can at times be quite superficial and make overly broad generations about a number of different things. That is not to say Dr. Schwikart does that though, but it does make we wonder about him if GB is strongly endorsing him. It would be accurate that he is definitely giving a standard conservative spin on our history.”

    Though a critique of Schweikart because Beck endorses him does seem far weaker than a critique of Zinn because he is factually incorrect (as comments above have shown.)

    In turn Beck may like him because Schweikart puts on a Conservative spin. Alternatively, it may not be spin, but rather a correct analysis.

    Schweikart does not take a “My country right or wrong” attitude. He does point out the errors that existed. He seems far less prone to distort or outright fabricate history as Zinn does. He also extensively footnotes. Not to have others think for him. Rather, to show his sources for his historical understanding.

    Of course no history is perfect. But that is quite distinct from outright fraud in presenting the facts.

  • D.L. Jones says:

    Phillip – I think you understand my concern about GB’s (or Oprah’s) endorsement. It’s good for sales, but is it really a good thing?

    Nobody desires fraud. I am not saying Schweikart is not correct, but does he give a full/complete picture? Can anyone? That’s why reading a variety of folks is important because it one brings something important into the discussion. Maybe telling the same event from a different perspective or in a different way. I think folks probably need to read Zinn, Johnson, Schweikart and any others who are not mentioned here. You also need to read primary sources and not rely solely on secondary sources.

    Team American Catholic – In the first post on this topic and in the second post I am trying to get at something deeper. What is the role of faith and nationalism? Is to be Catholic (or Christian) to be American? At what point is our faith distinct from our nationality or culture?

    Is it important to look at our history from a variety of perspectives to get a more full understanding of it? Often times folks don’t like being pushed out of their comfort zones (or understanding of the world) but how can you grow if you live is a bubble? Is that bubble really real?

  • Phillip says:

    ” What is the role of faith and nationalism? Is to be Catholic (or Christian) to be American? At what point is our faith distinct from our nationality or culture?”

    First I would say that the question is flawed for two reasons. First, nationalism is distinct from patriotism. Patriotism would be an preferential but ordinate love for one’s country that in turn, would respect the good in others much as one has a preferential but ordinate love for one’s family. Nationalism on the other hand would set one’s country necessarily and without proper reason above other countries. Patriotism is the virtue to the vice of Nationalism.

    The second error of the question is the opposition between faith and one’s reality of life. This from the first post:

    “Are we Catholics first and Americans second or are we Americans first and Catholics second? Should not the name of this website be Catholic American? ”

    When I hear comments like this I think of Bl John Paul II. When one reads his comments about his beloved Poland, one sees no contradiction between and virtuous love of one’s country and one’s faith. In fact, when one reads his comments about Poland one is readily reminded of how many positively comment about America.

    That doesn’t mean that JP II was conflicted about whether he was Polish or Catholic first. I think such a dichotomy wouldn’t even have come up in his thought – just as one doesn’t separate being a spouse or parent from their Catholicism (i.e. I am a Catholic first and a parent second.) Being a spouse and parent is informed by one’s faith. But one’s faith is also informed by one’s realities of life. I am a better father and husband because of my Catholicism. But I am also a better Catholic because of my parenthood and marriage. Each enriches the other in living a unity, and not a dichotomy, of life.

    Just so, those positive aspects of my country, including truly great men – flawed as they may have been, informs my Catholicism as in turn my Catholicism informs my patriotism.

    The bottom line, I believe the question you pose comes from a flawed perspective of a truly lived Christian life.

    “…but does he give a full/complete picture? Can anyone? That’s why reading a variety of folks is important because it one brings something important into the discussion. Maybe telling the same event from a different perspective or in a different way. I think folks probably need to read Zinn, Johnson, Schweikart and any others who are not mentioned here.”

    But again, there is a difference between an incomplete picture (in which one needs to read others to fill the gaps) and a fraudulant one (which is a deliberate waste of time to read.) Zinn is in the later.

  • Phillip says:

    “Is that bubble really real?”

    If it is consistent with the truth. Again, which is why some things (Zinn included) need not be read so as not to form a distorted bubble.

  • “Is to be Catholic (or Christian) to be American?”

    This question was answered before. If one is an American citizen, then one cannot be authentically Catholic without being authentically patriotic and vice versa.

    The same is true of a Polish citizen, or a British citizen, or a French citizen. Yes, we are called to be Catholic first and foremost, and yes, Jesus’ Kingdom is NOT of this world, and NO, we CANNOT create the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth through that parody of social justice and the common good that leftist liberalism promotes and supports. BUT as Catholic we are called upon to be the very BEST of all citizens. We are supposed to be the example.

    That doesn’t mean blind obedience to wrongful laws like abortion. But it does mean being a useful, helpful, conscientious, productive member of society. It does mean contributing to the common defense (maybe that’s military service, Peace Corps, police service, etc.). It does mean voting and being a part of the political process through letter writing to Congressmen and Senators, and other measures. It means staying informed on the issues an intelligently evaluating them against the teaching of Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition and the Magisterium of the Church. It means helping out our neighbor whether next door, at work or elsewhere. It means volunteering in our community for those causes worthwhile and necessary for what is truly the common good and not some Marxist pre-tense at social justice. It means opposing what is wrong in the nation and advancing what is right, and we can objectively know that from the teaching of Holy Mother Church even if we differ on the means to bring that about.

    And yes, it means supporting our troops and flag waving. If I were a Polish citizen, then I hope that I would be proud to wave the Polish flag. Why should that NOT be the case with the best nation on the face of the Earth (in spite of the man – I could use other words – currently in the Oval Office)?

    Yes, we have messed up – slavery, genocide of the American Indians, etc. We aren’t the best because we are sinless. We are the best because like King David of old, we faced our sins. So if anyone doesn’t believe this is the best nation on Earth, then let that person move to the nation which he thinks is the best nation. I won’t begrudge him that.

  • D.L. Jones says:

    Phllip – If Zinn is as you claim he is, then we should reject him. I agree with your comments more than less. I would only add that truth is both big and complex. I would also state that the boundaries between nationalism and patriotism are not always so clear. Even considering our Catholic history here in the U.S., it’s not always clear. Catholics have always struggled with being American but remaining Catholic.

  • DL, Jones,

    Maybe other Catholics (e.g., yourself?) struggle with being American and remaining Catholic, but not me, and I suspect not a few others here at TAC. That said, I deplore what people like Zinn and Obama and the other liberal / socialists / Maxists / whatevers have done to this country. They don’t deserve the name American (nor does someone like Obama deserve the name Christian, but now I will be accused of being judgment because I have observed their fruits and thus know them). And yes, that’s exactly how I feel.

    I agree that in the beginning many in this country persecuted Catholics. But George Washington welcomed their help during the Revolutionary War. As I pointed out elsewhere, if you’re an American citizen, then to be authentically Catholic you must be authentically American and vice versa. But I suspect that those with your complaints don’t hold this as their favorite country. If so, then may they move to one in which they would not have this struggle of which you speak. Again, no offense intended, but I am sick of this credence given to anti-American men like Zinn.

  • D.L. Jones says:

    Paul – Like with Phillip’s comment, I agree with you more than less. I think it would be fair to say that is the theme of Paul Johnson’s work on U.S. history.

    Team American Catholic – I wonder though if “American Exceptionalism” is more nationalism than patriotism, at least among many of the national pundits of it. Does Santorum understand the distinctions you have made? Probably so. Does Gingrich, Romney, Hannity, Limbaugh, etc? I am not so sure. Or are they using this year’s Republican campaign theme as a political tool? Probably so and is that being truly “patriotic”? You be the judge.

  • Phillip says:

    “I would also state that the boundaries between nationalism and patriotism are not always so clear.”

    As virtue defined by Aristotle is in the mean of activities (that is between the excess and the deficit of a given activity) there may always be conflict in the decision. This does not mean that patiotism as virtue and nationalism as vice do not exist. Practical reason in regard to a particular action will discern.

    “Catholics have always struggled with being American but remaining Catholic.”

    Such is the struggle of the interior life. But my point is that living that true, Catholic unity of life does not set an opposition between our faith and our daily realities of life. They inform each other and are the ground upon which we sanctify our work, our lives and those of others.

  • Phillip says:

    “I wonder though if “American Exceptionalism” is more nationalism than patriotism, at least among many of the national pundits of it.”

    I suspect that would depend. Is there something or group of things that is/are distinct about America. If so, it would seem that this makes this country in regards to those things exceptional.

    For example, there is democracy. I remember in Cardinal George’s book of a year or two back in which he denied this was exceptional about America because so many countries of the world are also democracies. But I think he was too general in his conclusion. How many countries formed their democracies in the Eighteenth Century when such was not the norm and did so (while not imperfectly) in a manner that has had such stability for over 200 years.

  • D.L. Jones says:

    Paul – Keep charity in your heart and please refrain from making personal judgments of others of whom you do not really know. As friends and as Catholics we should be able to dialog. So you can begin to see more of my human face please drop me a personal email @ ltdan4123@yahoo.com, if you or any others desire to do so.

    You must understand I do not pretend to have all the answers and I do appreciate my friends at The American Catholic for helping me to see more of reality, to judge current events to figure out where we should stand as Catholics on them, etc. My intention(s) have been never to provoke in a negative way, but to get folks to go more deeply into reality and that includes myself.

  • Phillip says:

    “We aren’t a Democracy. We are a Constitutional Republic. There is a difference. Is there any “Democracy” in the world?”

    Yes, a bit unclear in my wording.

    One final point (at least for now.) As noted, patriotism is a virtue and nationalism a vice as the later is an extreme (disordered) love of one’s country. By the same token, the lack or deficit of an appropriate love for one’s country is also disordered and is vice. I would say Zinn clearly fell into this latter category.

  • Mark Noonan says:

    DL,

    There is a difference between a historian’s interpretation of the facts and the historian suppressing facts which flatly contradict the historian’s interpretation. Zinn suppresses facts – he doesn’t want the reader to know certain things about the past because that knowledge would call in to question his leftwing ideology.

  • D.L. Jones says:

    Team American Catholic – Something(s) to consider which impact how we view American Exceptionalism, specifically the view of our founding. Is liberalism, even the classical liberal form of it, compatible with Catholicism? Does liberalism infect our founding documents? If so, is that problematic and therefore should that lessen our view of our so-called American Exceptionalism? It’s not just looking at our history from a “minority perspective,” which I think is a necessary thing to do, but looking at our history (& problems) more from a philosophical and ontological perspective.

  • Maye you have a point, DLJ, but I for one will be glad to see Obama leave the Whitehouse in defeat in January of 2013. True, I let my feelings get the best of me when I should be keeping charity in my heart. But the truth is that I don’t dialogue with liberals. Maybe I should, but what I see they have done to this country is “Obamanible”. They are everything that I don’t want America to be, and thus my disgust for people like Zinn.

    But as you indicated, I need to work on the charity part.

  • T. Shaw says:

    I think Mark hits it.

    I don’t have time to do justice to the review. But, I suggest guys like Zinn, Chomsky, Ward Churchill, Col. Bacevich, et al subtitle all scholarly works: “Here are Reasons Number ### through #### Why I HATE America.”

  • D.L. Jones says:

    Paul – Thanks for you reply comment. I also share many of your concerns about the direction of our country.

    For me, I don’t have great hope in any political party, Republican or not. Neither patriotism or politics are that which saves us. Christ is the one who saves us.

    As citizens of this country we must navigate the waters of politics, economics, etc. with a firm reliance on Him who gives us hope. I am not proposing a disengagement with politics, but recognizing somethings are more important than our party identification. As Catholics we should be able to move beyond the common level of chatter or rhetoric among the pundit class.

  • D.L. Jones says:

    T. Shaw – Bacevich doesn’t hate America. He, probably more than the others you mention, has a real right to express his thoughts. Just because folks are critical doesn’t make them unworthy. Are those criticisms based in truth and in how much truth? Those are the questions that we should be asking ourselves.

  • Mike Petrik says:

    I dialog with libs all the time and count many as friends even though we disagree on many things. It is not healthy to live in echo chambers.

    Also, the republic versus democracy obsession within conservative quarters is getting tiresome. It is a pedantic distinction precisely because democracy is impractical and pretty much relegated to referenda and the like. People who care are well aware of the difference and don’t find it especially interesting, except perhaps to note that a republican form of government is in fact an indirect democracy. There are those of course who insist that each representative should vote in keeping with the wishes of a majority of his constitutents, but those “d”emocrats are at least as likely to consider themselves conservative as liberal. Folks like Boortz harp way too much over this non-issue.

  • It is this very type of imprecision in communication that helps the liberals to get away with their campaign of dishonesty and deceit. We are not a Democracy. We were established as a Constitutional Republic in order to prevent the condition of two wolves and one sheep voting on what’s for dinner. But as liberals continue to gain ascendency, the rise of an “American” secular national democracy continues as the Constitution is trampled over in the interests of “enlightenment” and Christianity is marginalized in order to be more tolerant to Islam and to equivocate with atheism. And the flip side of the coin whose head is democracy is socialism.

    We need to keep reminding people that this isn’t a Democracy and no majority ever gets by popular vote to remove the inalienable rights of the individual to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness – a right denied the unborn in the very name of democracy.

    Sorry for the rant.

  • Paul Zummo says:

    I’m going to have to agree with Paul on this one. It is precisely because so many people don’t understand the distinction between democracy and republicanism, and don’t realize that pure democracy cannot function, that it is incumbent upon us to emphasize this distinction. One of the reasons that we’ve lost our way, for lack of a better way to phrase it, is because we have stripped away some of the republican or non-direct democracy features of our system of government in favor of more populism.

  • Since this blog entry is about American Exceptionalism, maybe we should consider that what made America exceptional is her Consitution. Here we have a form of governance that prevents both rule by mob and rule of dictator or oligarchy. The many cannot impose its will over the human righs of the one, and the one cannot impose his will over the many. This is exactly the system under attack by the liberals. They say that they want rule by the many. But in reality, all democracies (dictatorships by the many over the few) always devolve into dictatorships (rule by the one).

    Robert Heinlein (whose atheism and sexual amorality are detestable) nevertheless wrote something quite true in the Notebooks of Lazarus Long (his chief protagonist in Time Enough for Love):

    “Democracy is based on the assumption that a million men are wiser than one man. How’s that again? I missed something. Autocracy is based on the assumption that one man is wiser than a million men. Let’s play that over again, too. Who decides?”

  • American Knight says:

    Our Constitution is exceptional, yet we ignore it. Our Declaration of Independence is exceptional and amounts to a sort of National Creed, yet we ignore it. We are founded as a Constitutional Republic of Confederated Sovereign States and Commonwealths, yet we allow Penn Ave. (Wall St.) to control everything.

    To state that these are the things that make us exceptional is to miss the point. We are living in an oligarchy that poses as a democracy and keeps the trappings of a Constitutional Republic. We can restore the right order, but we are currently beyond disorder. We essentially live in Nazi America and choose not to see it. The holocaust we are perpetrating is even more insidious that the one the Nazis did. Our elevation of Sodomy to the highest virtue, just below ‘tolerance’ and ‘diversity’ is even more pronounced than the Nazis and most them were Sodomites! Since this has already occurred and is accelerating, how can we say that our founding documents make us exceptional? We cannot, because we ignore them and trample on them and yet we Americans are still an exceptional nation.

    We are exceptional because we have done that which no other nation has ever done. We got up, we left home, we traveled a hard road and arrived on these shores with nothing but the love of Christ and the desire to be good stewards of God’s creation and in cooperation with Divine Providence to give our children more than we have, both materially and spiritually. That is what makes us exceptional, we are immigrants who came here to make a better life knowing that it cannot be perfect. Although the structure was ‘liberal’ in the classic sense and Protestant, God made America exceptional, despite that. We are the greatest nation that the earth has ever seen and we will probably be the greatest that she will ever see. We are the New Jerusalem, although not the Heavenly Jerusalem. Sadly, we are also Babylon. Will we remain exceptional or we will decay into the whore that perverts the world? That is up to us and as Catholics we MUST be active Americans who seek to restore Jerusalem and destroy Babylon – the outcome belongs to God.

  • Mike Petrik says:

    But it is just that — a rant. First, the left is not trampling anything by virtue of reliance on democracy. We are in no danger of directly voting for legislation. Second, while it is true that libs have been famously dishonest about the constitution, their dishonesties actually typically rely precisely on their pro-constitution mantras — i.e., they claim novel rights found in the various penumbra of amendments at the very expense of the rights of states and the legislature. While it is true that we are a constitutional republic, more precisely we are a constitutional federal republic, and it is the “federal” piece of that description that is in the most danger of being diminished due to misunderstanding; not “republic,” which simply places legislation in the hands of elected representatives — something few people fail to acknowledge.

    I would add that the inalienable rights you mention are not founded in our constitution as such, but in the Declaration, which was intended as a brief or bill of indictments, not a governing instrument. Yet the Framers certainly believed in inalienable rights as such and sought to enumerate them in the constitution. The extent to which those enumerated rights are exhaustive (at least in the legal sense) or whether others are implicitly secured by the 9th and 10th Amendments is a matter of ongoing debate of course, but I would caution the pro-9th and 10th Amendment crowd to remind themselves that the most famous “right” ever identified as protected by the 9th Amendment is abortion. Indeed, in this you have it backward. It was the democratic impulse that outlawed abortion through state legislatures, and it was the judiciary exercising its muscle under article 3 of the constitution that gave us Roe, thereby frustrating the normal democratic processes.

    Finally, the constitution’s protections are protections against government actions. Roe was an abominable decision, but without it there still is no “right” to life embedded in our constitution. Only the police power of states to prohibit abortion if they so choose, which many would but for the judiciary’s abuse of the constitution.

    Private abortion is immoral and evil, but it is not unconstitutional. Nor is murder, rape, etc. for that matter.

  • Joe Green says:

    As Churchill said, the best argument against a democracy is to spend 5 minutes with the average voter.

    Actually, a minute is all you need.

    According to latest polls, 55% of Americans now accept gay marriage. America, like all those decaying civilizations that preceded it, has seen better days. Spengler wrote about it in The Decline of the West.

  • I like what the American Knight wrote. Well, maybe like is the wrong word. I certainly don’t like the condition of our nation where baby murderers and sodomites apparently reign supreme. But he is more correct than I am. In fact, what he writes puts what I wrote in its proper place. We will never ever regain our “exceptionalism” till we repent of our murders and sexual perversions. Or will we fulfill that verse from Revelation 9:20:

    “The rest of the human race, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands, to give up the worship of demons and idols made from gold, silver, bronze, stone, and wood, which cannot see or hear or walk.”

    We have had an “awesome” winter, and now flooding in the mid-section, and tornadoes in the south. Is anybody repenting?

  • Mike Petrik says:

    Joe,
    That may be true, but if you are expecting the legislative (or judicial) branch to stand in the way of gay marriage if that is what voters want, you will be disappointed. If anything, Americans as a whole are more conservative than their elected representatives (and much more conservative than their unelected judges). For this reason such polls are very discouraging if accurate, but to some extent they represent nothing more than America’s very highly developed libertarian streak which will get tested once the principles behind gay marriage morph into movements favoring polygamy, etc.
    The constitution affords no protection against such developments; and the fact that polls are not votes is at most a temporary brake.

  • Joe Green says:

    Mike, repeal of don’t ask, don’t tell was the first step in what will lead eventually to legalization. I probably won’t live to see it given I’m on the wrong side of 60, but you younger folks likely will. Also, look for more states besides Oregon, Montana and Washington to adopt “death with dignity” laws (physician assisted suicide) in the coming years. The conservative streak you speak may exist among the masses, but the Liberals are very much calling the shots these days. Obama looks like a lock for a 2nd term.

  • American Knight says:

    Paul,

    I too like a lot of what you have written above. I also do not think it is uncharitable to call Obama and his ilk what they are. How is the fool expected to repent if no one tells him that he is working very hard on a fast track to Hell? I don’t feel it, but I do will to love him. That means I want him to repent, ask God’s Mercy and live as a Christian. I do hate EVERYTHING he does and that he stands for, it seems he only stands when it involves the murder of innocents. If I met him, I’d probably go to prison, because I might love him into bloody little pulp. God have Mercy on us all.

    I acclaim that we Americans are still exceptional. Many people who live here are not Americans in their hearts, many born here, like say, Zinn or Obama (that is if he was born here ;) ) We are exceptional because of the Constitution written on our hearts that inspires us to patriotism, love of our land under the guidance of our Pater of the Patria, God.

    Sodomy, infanticide, atheism, occult, New Age, materialism, etc. are a gross disease, yet we have the most organized army combating these evils because we Americans are a unique race. The world’s pro-life movements all had their genus here in the USA. Europe (used to be Christendom) is so far ahead in sin, that even some of our sick sinners here would be shocked by what goes on there. Of course, evil chooses to corrupt the good and so global evil has decided to become a parasite on the host of America. We are exporting evil because a small oligarchy of Satan’s spawn has hijacked our country.

    We are exceptional because we are going to take it back, or die trying. Yippy-Kai-Yay!

  • Mike Petrik says:

    Frankly, Joe, I disfavor re-criminalization of consensual homosexual behavior just as I disfavor normalization of such behavior. I favor tolerance and accommodation. Imprisoning grown men or women for consensual same sex relations is not a proportional or prudent social response to the sin in my view; I have some gay friends and they remain friends notwithstanding the fact that I make no secret of the fact that I view their conduct as seriously sinful and as something that society should not normalize. This is because I acknowledge that I am a sinner too and make no pretense to being closer in line to Heaven than they. We are all weak, just in different ways.

  • Joe Green says:

    Mike, it’s the old hate-the-sin, love the sinner dilemma. Often it is difficult to separate the two. Bishop Sheen said there is a marked difference between true compassion and false compassion. Are all sins equal? No. The Catholics separate them into venial and moral and if I remember my cathechism there’s a world of difference between how they are punished. Homosexual acts, referred to in the Bible several times, are tantamount to deadly, as I recall. But I do not need the Bible to confirm my belief that such behavior is especially repugnant. Then again, I have my own sins to answer for so I leave the final judgment to the Judge, Whomever He may be.

  • Art Deco says:

    Bacevich doesn’t hate America. He, probably more than the others you mention, has a real right to express his thoughts.

    I am sorry, but the freedom I have to ‘express my thoughts’ on American foreign policy is not contingent on losing my son in a war.

    Dr./Col. Bacevich does not ‘hate America’. He is, however, a votary of William Appleman Williams. His thesis, consistently offered, is that the United States Armed Forces are incapable of accomplishing anything worthwhile.

    It is precisely because so many people don’t understand the distinction between democracy and republicanism, and don’t realize that pure democracy cannot function, that it is incumbent upon us to emphasize this distinction. One of the reasons that we’ve lost our way, for lack of a better way to phrase it, is because we have stripped away some of the republican or non-direct democracy features of our system of government in favor of more populism.

    Where? That might be a reasonable complaint regarding California or Wisconsin, where voter initiatives are common (though one might note that Wisconsin’s politics do not seem particularly pathological). Where I live, voter initiatives are rare and the legal scope for them is quite circumscribed. In nearly 30 years of voting, I have cast a ballot in one, a minor school district matter. There are usually ballot propositions, but these are referenda originating in the state legislature. The subject of these is generally bond issues, with a constitutional or charter amendment every now and then. Many school districts put their annual budget to a popular vote as well.

    We do have, hereabouts, a wretched excess of elected offices. It is much the same elsewhere, but there is nothing terribly novel about that and this has been the case at least since the ratification of the Constitution of 1846. (If I am not mistaken, it used to be worse than it is now in most places).

    We have tenured appellate judges imposing whatever public policies they damn please (and who are now extending their reach into foreign policy and military discipline), we have provincial and local legislatures hopelessly constrained in their discretion by funded mandates, unfunded mandates, conditional grants, and, of course, case law galore; we have legislatures like New York’s whose members have proprietary rights to their seats which resemble those of the king’s bureaucracy of Bourbon France; we have conceded parastatal authority on public employee unions and occupational guilds (enforced by the usual lawfare scammers); and we have bicameral legislatures which cannot pass a budget to save their skins. Your diagnosis is that there is an excess of direct democracy and populism. You tri-cornered hats need to come back and live in the same time and place as the rest of us.

  • Paul Zummo says:

    I’m also not just talking about initiatives and referenda. 17th Amendment ringing any bells, Art? It was that amendment that did much to damage the federalist system by removing one of the ways states had some influence on Congress.

    we have legislatures like New York’s whose members have proprietary rights to their seats which resemble those of the king’s bureaucracy of Bourbon France;

    These are all elected officials, no? People have the ability to vote these gentlemen out of office. That they continue to elect such “distinguished” individuals does not speak well of their ability to better handle the affairs of state if they had a more direct influence.

    we have conceded parastatal authority on public employee unions and occupational guilds (enforced by the usual lawfare scammers)

    Yes, again because of the actions of elected officials.

    and we have bicameral legislatures which cannot pass a budget to save their skins.

    Next verse, same as the first.

  • Art Deco says:

    I am aware of the 17th Amendment. It has been on the books for a century. You and Prof. Zywicki are welcome work for its repeal. The U.S. Senate will be a most august body populated with the likes of Al d’Amato and Dede Scozzafava.

    Next verse, same as the first.

    Paul, either bicameralism, executive vetos, and supermajority threshholds have a function or they do not. You cannot make an argument that these features promote prudent public decision-making and then turn around and blame the exercise of discretion on the part of legislators when these structural features promote dysfunction. Our bicameral legislature cannot pass a bloody budget because you require concurrent majorities and those majorities have disparate composition. This is the way you profess to want it while the rest of us are in the box cars rolling over the sovereign default cliff.

    Elected officials make decisions within a certain matrix, the mobilization of attentive publics such as Local 1199 among them. Introducing more counter-majoritarian features does not do diddly to remedy the effects of general demobilization (seen in our election results) or to remedy the effects of the capture of the government by rent-seeking private parties.

    You might ask yourself why the electorate is so demobilized here. I will offer you a multipart hypothesis:

    1. Elected officials at all levels have their hands tied by the sinews of conditionality attending public finance. It hardly matters who wins and who loses because there is never any kind of obtrusive change in public policy.

    2. The thrust and parry of political competition and co-operation have led to a quite stable equilibrium. Active participants (i.e. elected officials, public employee unions, state dependant occupational guilds and business sectors, the press) have little incentive to change much of anything given calculations of risk and reward.

    3. Elections do not generally give you an idea of what people want, but of what they will tolerate. They will tolerate a great deal. The question you have to ask is what screens and paths of recruitment generate the body of persons who supply public policy.

    Every once in a while, you can mobilize people. Some of George Pataki’s camarilla conjoined to insiders in the Republican state legislative caucus leaned on a bunch of reluctant county chairman to nominate Deirdre Scozzafava. All Douglass Hoffman had to do was send out a mailing with a xeroxed page indicating where the three candidates stood on a series of issues and dear DeDe burned up like a fly under a magnifying glass. She had never received any scrutiny of that kind before due to the interplay between the press, careerist elected officials, and the public. What this state needs is more information flowing, more public attention, and more reason to pay attention. Tying up public business in litigation, in filibusters and in in camera tricornered negotiations between the Governor, the Assembly Speaker, and the President of the Senate do not get you there.

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