Monday, March 14, 2005

Historically Correct

I haven't read the Politically Incorrect Guide To American History beyond flipping through it in a bookstore. I imagine that if I read it I would find some areas of disagreement with the author, Thomas Woods; but the book's growing ranks of enemies make it sound interesting. The latest attack is by David Greenberg and appears in Slate.

But Woods' book is incorrect in more than just its politics. Take, for example, Page One, where Woods opens with what he calls the "first basic fact": "The colonists were not paragons of 'diversity.' " I don't know any historians who teach that the colonists were "paragons of 'diversity' "—whatever that phrase, scare quotes and all, is supposed to mean. Most students of early America, however, would agree that Woods' elaboration of his claim is far from accurate. The colonists, Woods continues, "came from one part of Europe. They spoke a common language. They worshiped the same God." He then briefly describes the major waves of British immigration that came to American shores in the 17th and 18th centuries, as laid out in David Hackett Fischer's Albion's Seed (though Woods does not cite Fischer).
It doesn't take a Ph.D. to see why Woods' statement is false. Obviously, one large segment of Colonial Americans didn't come from England and didn't, at least initially, share their religion or language: the millions of Africans shipped to the colonies as slaves. But then, slavery doesn't appear in Woods' account until his discussion of the pre-Civil War era, by which time the peculiar institution was 200 years old.
Greenberg, a history professor, is saying that African slaves were "colonists" as well. Africans were captured, sold into slavery, and brought to the colonies against their will. After the Civil War it took a constitutional amendment to grant citizenship to ex-slaves. Would Thomas Jefferson, who said; "nothing is more certainly written in the book of fate than that these [black] people are to be free. Nor is it less certain that the two races, equally free, cannot live in the same government," have described a slave from Africa as a fellow colonist?
From their, Greenberg's article is a mess. He notes the criticisms from some neocons, denounces some of Woods' theories without bothering to justify his positions. He makes some general comments about conservative anti-intellectualism that are not totally unjustified, but it is clear that he didn't do his homework. If he can't tell the difference between Sean Hannity and Pat Buchanan, whom he mentions as proponents of Woods' book; then he his a fool. It is more likely that he did not bother to find out first hand like he didn't bother to actually refute his claims about the Politically Incorrect Guide.


Steve Sailer said...

David Greenberg is useless. Some of the other Slate regulars are good, like Chris Suellentrop and David Plotz (although he seems to have vanished), and others are adequate, but Greenberg is consistently smug and silly.

Cletus said...

Well said.

I haven't read the book either but found the review downright sanctimonious.

I wonder if Woods addresses the role of Irish indentured slaves in early America?

That's certainly a demographic that has conveniently disappeared into the memory hole.

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