Don’t Know Much About History

Excellent takedown from Jonah Goldberg of an excruciating bit of historical illiteracy written by Kevin Boyle.  Boyle had written a review in the Times of a couple of books about the Klan, and led with this laugher:

Imagine a political movement created in a moment of terrible anxiety, its origins shrouded in a peculiar combination of manipulation and grass-roots mobilization, its ranks dominated by Christian conservatives and self-proclaimed patriots, its agenda driven by its members’ fervent embrace of nationalism, nativism and moral regeneration, with more than a whiff of racism wafting through it.

No, not that movement. The one from the 1920s, with the sheets and the flaming crosses and the ludicrous name meant to evoke a heroic past. The Invisible Empire of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, they called it. And for a few years it burned across the nation, a fearsome thing to ­behold.

There’s a lot more silliness, including a whopper of a closing paragraph that both Jonah and Daniel Foster rightfully mock.  At any rate, Jonah responds:

The average reader with no specialized knowledge and an unhealthy faith in the wisdom and accuracy of the New York Times might find in all of this reinforcement of the conventional liberal tale of the KKK as a quirky and extremist conservative organization.

But that’s simply not the story of the second Klan. I don’t expect Kevin Boyle to hammer home the Klan’s progressive and Democratic ties. But he manages to make them all sound conventionally conservative. He doesn’t acknowledge that Woodrow Wilson was Birth of a Nation’s most famous booster. Nor does he mention that World War One was the Progressives’ war and that “100% Americanism” was touted and promoted by Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson — our two progressive presidents. He doesn’t mention that evil spirits of World War One were orchestrated by progressive wordsmiths, activists, and artists.

The Klan of the 1920s and 30s would have had more sympathy for the populist sentimentality of the Occupy Wall Street crowd than with the tea parties.  Like the OWS group, they thought the reforms instituted by the Democrat in the White House to be not radical enough.  But acknowledging as much would derail an “academic” with an ideological axe to gore.

 

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