While people are being hornswoggled about the good intentions of journalists, they also should consider similar intentions of some historians. You see, there are the historians who report insights and facts about the past, and there are the journalists who then bake these into confections using their own recipes.
Journalists often fancy themselves as writing tomorrow’s history today.
But unlike the press, who people of common sense have always taken with a grain of salt, if we reject our historians out of hand we are taking a great risk, for by believing one can arrive at the truth of the past without their assistance can be fatal for a society.
The Common People and Modern History
In the sixty years since I was in high school (in Appalachia, of all places) I have never witnessed such a complete reversal of the meaning on being “educated” as we are witnessing today in America, where, the more educated one has become the more lacking in even the simplest of critical thinking skills of recognition, what country folks still call “being able to tell a horse from a mule”. (Both of which, I might add, have important uses the other can’t duplicate.)
After two generations of being pushed to the brink, in the past decade, (which ends this week) what remains of the common sense wing of American society has taken note of just what had been done to them (us) simply by noticing that their children aren’t close to half as smart as they are even though they are twice as educated; know-it-alls who can’t tell a horse from a mule.
For what it’s worth, my parents thought the same about my generation, only after what my mother called “our journey through the valley of the shadow of death”, for a few years, they knew our society had transformative powers just by being out there on our own; responsibility, work, family, faith, experience, maturity, when all the things we had been “taught” would come roaring back to us “freshly remembered” as Shakespeare once wrote. I still have a list of other “Famous Common People I have known” stories still yet unpublished, which prove this to be so.
Modern Deplorables became deplorable when they found out is there is much less there, there, for our children to come back to after they’d left their educated cocoon. Around 2010. And it has everything to do with how they were taught, and what they had, or hadn’t read. I think our “Taught” has returned to finish the job.
Over the years, in these pages I’ve mentioned good histories and bad ones, and recommended several books, and modern historians, (Schweikart, Tuchman, Brookhiser) as well as references for the book shelf, especially those about the common man and woman in the founding of America; Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense“ and Alexis de Tocqueville’s “Democracy in America“.
When I was in high school we were taught about Paine and De Tocqueville, but we never read them. But Paine’s book had a direct role in fomenting the Declaration and Revolution because it was probably the first best seller (after the Bible) that the common man made popular before the educated class read it. Outside of “Gone with the Wind”, Dickens and Jane Austin (both required reading in high school English in those days) the average student didn’t read a lot of history or literature.
I’ve mention the role of the common man and women in shaping the United States, leading into what follows below about the importance of History and Historians, because you’ll note that the greatest movers and shakers of history never published any bragging memoirs of their own. It was considered a great vanity.
Jesus never wrote a word about Himself. Neither did any of the Founders. They were only written about. The same goes for the “common men and women” of America, i.e, our modern day Deplorables, who were only written about honorifically as “the People”, as noted in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Federalist Papers, and half a century later, by a French nobleman who came here to see precisely who these “common men and women” were, and if there was something in our water that might improve the water quality in France. (The French nobility resoundingly said “No”, as does most of the world even today.)
Today they are largely about today by their self-appointed betters as yokels.
A Natural History of Historians
So, we need to re-educate ourselves as to where to draw the line with History and the Historians, for it is in the best interests of our very survival to understand that this modern move toward rewriting history in not a new thing, but possibly the most ancient of things.
We need to get a sense of the ancient baked-in biases that sit atop the what we view as modern prejudices. They aren’t all political. Some of what they think and do is based on structures that are as primeval as organized religion itself.
Consider these timelines: The most earth-shatteringly unique political event that has happened in the past five hundred years has been the birth of the United States—which itself was a direct result of that First earth-shattering event over 1800 years earlier. They are inextricably joined.
By contrast, Historians have been around roughly three thousand years longer, so most of what has been baked into their existence goes back to the time when Man mostly worshipped statues that had a snake crawling around at their feet.
The notion that historians should be concerned about things such as facts, or truth, or even underlying virtues, or any distinctions being drawn between Virtue and Vice, Good and Evil, has come about from relatively recent origins.
And those origins can be traced directly to those two just-mentioned events over 2000 and 250 years ago, when the meaning of Fact and Truth no longer was the sole province of kings, their scribes and their coteries of no more than 5% of the population, and who literally did own and operate the entire known world.
It was Ma and Pa Miller of Amherst, Virginia, and their kind, who redefined this system, all with the help of some friends and one Special Friend.
Their only means of self-defense against lies was common sense, hot tar, and a bucket full of chicken feathers. And Ol’ Betsy up over the fireplace.
Americans of the Deplorable kind only recently began figuring out that many of our newspapers and the nightly network newsmen had been stretching the truth beyond recognition, and that they had a much broader political purpose than to just turn us against the war in Vietnam.
It took us a generation to see that they wanted to dumb us down so they could erase, reshape, and retell our history from the beginning, only not from Nixon and Vietnam, not even from the slave-owning Jefferson and Washington, but all the way back to that rat-bastard Christopher Columbus, who opened the flood gates. (Try reciting that 14-stanza poem, “In 1492 Columbus said the ocean blue” in public school these days.
Their purpose is not to take us forward to a brave new world, as depicted by Bernie Sanders, AOC, and apparently the top floors of the entire federal bureaucracy, but rather, to take us back to where their origins began, 5000 years ago, when there were only kings, their court, and gang labor.
You see, the history of civilization began over 5000 years before America was born, and historians were right there recording it, “with advantages”, only with a chisel and mallet instead of pen and paper. And they had only one purpose, from 3500 BC to this day, even after the fall of the king system in Europe, which was to paint as heroic a picture of their employers, the royal class, as money could buy. Even the communist regimes and their smaller copy-cat thugocracies had to have their stories told as well.
Historians probably are the world’s oldest profession. (Sorry ladies, but I think the chronicles of pillaging predates “bedding for hire” by many centuries.)
So, you need to understand just how deep the marriage of the “lie” and “lying for money” (partisanship and the profit-motive) run in the history of Historians. For no matter how hard they’ve tried, it still isn’t natural.
Natural Law and History
The “Natural law” rule is that History has to be “taught”, but there had always been in every society a bias as to who decided what should be taught, and why. Our Founders believed the only “natural” solution would lie in the people themselves being in charge of what they wanted their children to be taught, for that detailed what the people considered should be their children’s “suitcase” when they left home to start their own families.
Besides Ma’s biscuit recipe, that would include some knowledge of the family history about the shoulders they stood on. This they learned at home, as often as not taught by a grandparent. There would also be the passing of some knowledge of their religious faith, both at home and in church, beginning at an early age. And finally the people in America insisted on some knowledge of their nation’s history to be passed onto their children which laid out a whole different set of shoulders they also stood on. This was how they knew they were American and no longer German, except in Oktober.
These natural laws come from “oral traditions” taking Man back to his “pagan” origins, before 3500 BC, where a kind of non-religious Good prevailed before the arrival of civilization. (A favorite subject of mine.)
Natural science, as compared to social science, would call this formula for teaching “survival enhancing”, where, whether a bird colony in Wales, a pride of lions in the Serengeti, or a farm community in the Shenandoah Valley, the operative word would be “survival of the group (species)”. And if the formula continued to work, generation after generation, Science would not say that “this is Good” but rather that “survival in Nature” is the sole criteria for Good.
Social scientists, on the other hand, many of whom would pass themselves off as social-engineering historians, would place their emphasis on the “enhancing” part, de-emphasizing the survival of the many, and stressing the survival of a few. They would then redefine Good as a moving goal post, to suit the needs (and “wants”) of the ones in power.
(That we’re seeing the same sort of slave gang-labor employed by the pharaohs to build the Pyramids that China employs today to become the manufacturing sector for the entire world carries this notion to new, global heights.
The First Historians
One of the defining characteristics of Historians the past 5000 years has been that they made no mention of the many, the 90% of the population who made up the kings labor force, except as part of a larger landscape of fields, rivers, and hills one sees in an artwork. In short, they were all seen as property.
(We could spend thousands of words dissecting and debating this single line of argument, and we try to do this in more congenial and less politically-charged surroundings at Unwashed Philosophy, a creation of an old friend, David Poff. You should come visit, if you want to clear your minds of clutter and enjoy thinking interesting thoughts.)
The luckiest guy in the world was the young man who could read, write and had a skill at storytelling. He was snatched up by an observant minister to a king to come live on palace grounds, with his own room, and do nothing but write songs and stories of the king’s exploits. (He may not have known that when the king died he might be one of the parting gifts to the gods that would escort the king into the after-life.)
I can envision a Dostoevsky turning this story line into a novel, but I can also see Mel Brooks turning it into a film. In fact, the late philosophical novelist, Umberto Ecco (1932-2016), by day a university professor of semiotics (the study of symbols) and author of “The Name of the Rose” a brilliant fictional insight into 14th Century monastery life in France, wrote just such a novel “Baudelino” in 2001.
The story is about a 12th Century Italian teenager from the hills, an unschooled hillbilly, who had a savant-like skill for learning every new language he heard. It might take him years to learn how to read and write those languages but because of a chance meeting with Frederick Barbarossa, the first Frederick the Great, he was adopted into the emperor’s household and was sent to Paris to study at a university at about the time the university system was first rising in the Middle Ages.
Ecco was able to bundle up dozens of philosophical, historical and religious precepts that were being bandied about at the time, and weave them into Baudelino’s hands, where he began a scheme to create “history” whole cloth, from the discovery of the “tomb of the Three Magi”, then gifting it to Frederick’s chief minister, all in order to ingratiate himself with the Court. These were the days of the Crusades and the Saracens had already taken back most of the Holy Land from the Christians, so relics, and the interest, in History had become very popular by the Middle Ages.
The twists and turns of these fictional characters, just to impress their king, are good reads for students of modern conspiracy thinking. (“The Protocols of the Elders of Zion”, a fictional account of a Jewish conspiracy, first published in Russia in 1903, and having great influence on anti-Semitism in America) had roots ( via plagiarism) going as far back as Machiavelli in 1500.
“The rise of the university system in medieval Europe”, which was required reading for Western Civ students when I was in college in the 60s, was based on two major elements: removing formal education from the sole domain of the Church, and making such educations available to a small, but growing middle class arising from the merchant class, and later, landed free-holders.
Fast forwarding to America and its Historians
If you were to search Wikipedia you would think that the European Enlightenment engulfed the entire continent, while it largely remained in rarified air. The natural sciences and engineering benefited all of mankind even though Ma and Pa Grubacher in Hesse knew nothing of Newton’s Three Laws and the apples kept falling from their tree. Philosophy expanded its insights into how things are, a Good Thing, but also took on the notion of how things could be, which naturally led into how things ought to be; not so good. European-based Christianity, after nearly a thousand year solo run in a king-based society, had to retool to face not only competing doctrines inside its own faith, but a growing secularism, from deism to atheism, in their respective intellectual communities.
They had to upgrade the knowledge in the parishes, from reading skills to critical thinking, just to keep the pews filled. Plopping coins in the offering had to become less of a tax and more of a voluntary gift.
But, aside from the men who thought and wrote these wondrous new things, if there was greater wealth to be made in this expansion of knowledge, Ma and Pa Grubacher of Hesse, nor the Vitorrini’s of Lombardy, the Mikula’s of Slovakia, the Kowalski’s of Lodz, not even the Smythe’s of Leeds nor the O’Hanlon’s of Belfast, would know of it or be beneficiaries for a century or more.
And they would never be taught to make that connection between Newton, Adam Smith, or even Kant or Voltaire with their better lives, until someone in their family packed a valise filled with sad memories of family left behind and took a two-week trip buried in the hull of a sailing vessel, to disembark at one of several ports along the American coast, to a very uncertain future.
All in the name of being free to pursue “life, liberty and happiness” in a strange new world. And usually in a generation or two.
For nigh onto 300 years this had to be one of the most terrifying and sad journeys imaginable for strangers to a strange land…exceeded only by the fear and sadness for those who came in chains.
Only in this niche segment of 18th and 19th Century non-fiction writing did there arise a tradition of inquiry and scholarship into History that combined factual reportage with “classical humanism”, used here an as awareness of all of humanity as opposed to only patronizing the wants of the royals and upper classes.
Even the Greeks and later, Germans philosophers never gave their common people much ink. After all, they couldn’t pay to hear or read what they had to say. It took a man named Thomas Paine and his pamphlet in 1775 to prove they Ma and Pa even interested. And to prove to future historians the common people were worth the effort.
This is purely American.
So, for the most part, only in America did “the people” figure into Historians’ equation. Only in America were the teachings of the Christian New Testament, e.g, “reciprocate with thy neighbor as you would have him reciprocate with you”, baked into the social and political contract at the biscuit-making level of our society.
The flip side, of course, with a 5000 year head start, the need to live royally, act royal and beknight ones’ self as royal, runs deep. In Europe, after only a brief flirtation with Ma and Pa-based democracy between the wars, they quickly began to return to type, taking on not only the perquisites of aristocracy, but a ridiculous caricature of royal mannerisms.
While no zanier display of this need to be appear royal can be found than at the United Nations, for deadly serious “popinjay-ery”, I would recommend Brussels, home of the European Union.
Or a gala opening of a Manhattan art exhibit hosted by The New York Times.
Those guys are serious, and among the changes they want to change is how their History of coming to power came about, especially the righteousness of their right to be there.