Announcing the Next Point of Inquiry: Is There a Republican War on History? With Rick Perlstein

By Chris Mooney | June 13, 2011 4:47 pm

Given all the attacks on history lately (see here), I couldn’t let this topic lie any longer. Airing next week, the next Point of Inquiry will be about the ideological rewriting of history, and it will feature as a guest historian and journalist Rick Perlstein.

Perlstein is the author of Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus and Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America. We’ll talk about anything from Sarah Palin’s recent flub to claims that the U.S. is a “Christian Nation”–and of course we’ll also consider whether there are also leftwing forms of inaccurate or ideological history.

The show airs a week from today. Please leave questions or comments for Rick Perlstein, or myself, as these often get asked on the air and help shape the show.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Announcements, point of inquiry

Comments (12)

  1. Esme Krofft

    “Those who control the past control the future. Those who control the present control the past.” George Orwell, 1984.

    Department of Education schooling is useless, kills inspiration and curiosity, is mind-numbingly tedious, makes no connections to anything, and is forgotten immediately after the test. Let us try other than a literatry source,

    A hero writes history.
    A historian wrights history.
    A nation rites history.
    A politician rights history…
    then more soldiers die.

  2. Jon Winsor
  3. Chris Mooney

    oh yeah definitely we will talk about david barton

  4. Zombie

    The far rights’ war on history has been going on a lot longer than its war on science, especially when you look at the church-state relationship or the Civil War.

  5. Aristigon

    wow, considering this authors history, he doesn’t have an axe to grind does he?
    rewriting history isn’t a republican or democrat tendency, it’s the bias with whomever writes said history has.
    That’s it, both sides are equally guilty and especially annoying

  6. GregM

    Do either Perlstein or Barton accurately represent all or the majority of Republicans in their writings? Presenting it as the “Republican War on History” is a repetition of clash of titans narrative that serves the interests of the extremists, and attention seekers, but may miss the messy majority in the middle. Has the “Republican War On Science” helped move the conversation in a productive direction? I think not. Rather than liberals talking to liberals about how bad conservatives are, I think we need a venue where moderates can discuss their ideas and proposals in a respectful and productive manner. Loud and verbose extremists should be marginalized to the extreme they represent and not given center sage for dramatic effect.

  7. John

    Chris, I could demonstrate for you clearly why there is no republican war on science. I have the calculations on the back of this envelope…but you can’t see it.

    Everyone’s laughing at you Chris for your envelope threat. Its one thing to pontificate propaganda from your Discover blog platform, but I doubt you’re handlers would let you cut off comments to protect yourself from questions.

  8. TTT

    John @7: It’s good to see something cheered Watts up, after what must have been a real emotional blow when his own research showed that the climate station sites introduced no net error into the temperature records and that the real scientists he’d been sliming for years were proven right after all.

    Even though you’re only make-believing, laugh, clown, laugh.

  9. Chris Mooney

    Folks, I’ll leave up these two but there will be no more off topic comments on this thread.

  10. Johnny

    On the topic of : “leftwing forms of inaccurate or ideological history.”

    Does paleo-climatology count? If not I have more.

    Isn’t this entire book a liberal attack on a conservative president? Its an historical rewrite of the Vietnam war and action in Cambodia, blaming Nixon for Pol Pot and every other evil in southeast-asia and north-east America.

    My Questions for Rick:

    1. The Paradigm of Racism

    “Your book cites southern racism as one of the main reasons that southern democrats elected republican Nixon. Are you trying to define the narrative of Obama’s potential upcoming 2012 loss by setting the paradigm to match LBJ’s loss to Nixon?”

    2. American Bombing Deaths wildly overestimated and the Khmer Rouge

    “In your book you cite the figure of 600,000 deaths, but this is simply a guesstimate of later politicians. Why do you ignore the peer reviewed studies by Banister and Johnson who in their 1993 study, estimated 275,000 deaths during the 1970-1975 period.

    Marek Sliwinski carried out a demographic study where he arrives at a comparable estimate of 240,000 war deaths out of which there were only 40,000 deaths as a result of American bombings.”

    3. When you said “… that the French defeat at Dien Bien Phu in 1954 was ‘the first defeat of a European colonial power in 300 years.'”, did you happen to forget about the American Revolution? Even if you did, why not count the dozens of others? Is that not leftism re-writing of history?

    4. Do you think that your book itself displays a naive liberal bias, as you accuse the 1968 Democrats of having, failing to understand that phrase like “Ignorant midwestern nobodies who read TIME and READERS DIGEST might really believe the war was going well, and soldiers spent their spare time helping Vietnamese children. But a daring, Harvard educated journalist discovered the truth . . .”

  11. Mike H

    leftwing forms of inaccurate or ideological history

    And have you heard of postmodernism and critical theory? Its an intellectual process that when applied to history (as can be seen in various ethic/gender studies) is used to literally rewrite historical events to suit modern sensibilities ala Margaret Meade’s “Coming of Age in Samoa”

  12. Dusty

    Another prime example of ideological rewriting of history is the 2010 Texas social studies curriculum adoption, which was orchestrated over more than a decade ago. The elected state board of education approved rewrites that emphasized free market economics, limited government, patriotism and American exceptionalism, and Christianity. Three excellent articles about this are:

    Conservatives believe that liberal ideology pervades academia and K-12 educational curricula, for example in telling a “simplistic narrative in which an ever more powerful federal government is the sole engine of progress and equality. Thus, robber barons, the New Deal, and the civil rights movement are in, but the contributions of inventors and entrepreneurs, the decline of the family, and the failures of welfare programs and public education are out.”

    As Rev. Peter Marshall claims, continuing the unhelpful culture wars narrative, “We’re in an all-out moral and spiritual civil war for the soul of America, and the record of American history is right at the heart of it.” It seems your thesis about a Republican war on history, sciences, and truth/reality, plays right into this culture war narrative.

    On another note, I wonder how this thesis plays out with conspiracy theories, which I see as neither liberal nor conservative. Theories about the JFK assassination, the moon landing, and 9/11 seem to me to span a left-right political divide. The birther theory, however, does not–that’s just fringe conservative radicalism mixed with racism and xenophobia. But what about the theory that circulated in 2004 about Diebold delivering Ohio to Bush? Is that a left-wing conspiracy theory, or the truth?

    The root of this debate, for me, is the advent of postmodern theories. If everything is just a language game and we value a hermeneutics of suspicion, then the fact/fiction binary disappears and we distrust any story claiming to be the truth. Hayden White, a professor of history and a theorist of the philosophy of history, claims that histories are narratives constructed to further the political and ethical aims of their authors, and thus there is no “truth” out there to be discovered but rather just so many personal agendas disguised as authoritative-seeming histories.

    Ron Suskind discovered something similar after talking with an aide to Bush:

    The aide said that guys like me were ”in what we call the reality-based community,” which he defined as people who ”believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ”That’s not the way the world really works anymore,” he continued. ”We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”

    In this regard, Bruno Latour, who helped create the subfield of the social construction of science, raises important questions for liberals in the academy. In a self-reflective article–which I highly recommend reading–he asks whether postmodern social critique is not also like conspiracy theories:

    “In both cases, you have to learn to become suspicious of everything people say because ‘of course we all know’ that they live in the thralls of a complete illusio on their real motives. Then, after disbelief has struck and an explanation is requested for what is ‘really’ going on, in both cases again, it is the same appeal to powerful agents hidden in the dark acting always consistently, continuously, relentlessly.

    What were we really after when we were so intent on showing the social construction of scientific facts? Nothing guarantees, after all, that we should be right all the time. There is no sure ground even for criticism. Is this not what criticism intended to say: that there is no sure ground anyway? But what does it mean, when this lack of sure ground is taken out from us by the worst possible fellows as an argument against things we cherished?

    Well, things have changed a lot, in my village at least. I am the one now who naively believes in some facts because I am educated, while it is the other guys now who are too unsophisticated to be gullible anymore.”

    In this regard, isn’t the “Republican war on history” and climate science an implicit adoption of postmodern theories for political gain?

    And how does our national ignorance of our own history fit into this dialogue? “American students are less proficient in their nation’s history than in any other subject, according to results of a nationwide test released Tuesday.”


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About Chris Mooney

Chris is a science and political journalist and commentator and the author of three books, including the New York Times bestselling The Republican War on Science--dubbed "a landmark in contemporary political reporting" by and a "well-researched, closely argued and amply referenced indictment of the right wing's assault on science and scientists" by Scientific American--Storm World, and Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future, co-authored by Sheril Kirshenbaum. They also write "The Intersection" blog together for Discover blogs. For a longer bio and contact information, see here.


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