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December 20, 2011



You aren't seriously suggesting that the Left/Right political divide somehow relates to history? I can see how interpretation is very useful to both sides in a debate. There is no objective history, there is just a story to confirm a prejudice. Every intentional act reverberates for forever. This is a truism.

America also suffers from the fact that religious oppression here caused it to be seeded by puritans. That Dr Dee advised Queen Elizabeth that an Empire was worth pursuing. Perhaps America's current problems stem from the storm that saved us from the Spanish Armada. Much of the reason we are wealthy today is as a direct result of English character - defiance of Rome (and Romans before that) anybody that wishes to shove ideology down somebody else's throat (for their own good in the face of ignorance). Which does bring matters back to politics...

Tim Worstall

"that states which had lots of slave labour in 1860 have today larger racial inequalities in educational attainment and - because of the lower human capital of its black population - have also suffered slower income growth."

I wouldn't say it's wrong. But I also wouldn't say I'm hugely convinced. For if you're going to try asnd explain anything about the 1940-1970 experience for Black Americans you really do have to take into account one of the great migrations of history. Rural Southern blacks migrated into urban Northern blacks over this time period. In huge, huge numbers.

They don't even refrence this and yes, I would expect migration to have an influence upon education levels 30-40 years later.

Luis Enrique

being rather more generous, don't those who believe the self-made, product of own decisions style world view, believe that conditional on the environment one finds oneself in? That is to say, you don't have to deny history, you just have to think that within its constraints, in the present day, wherever one finds oneself, there is scope for meaningful variation in outcomes and that own decisions play a big role in creating that variation.

Sir Watkin

"We are who we are because our ancestors did what they did. [...] In this sense, Tories are the last people who should want history taught."

Eh??? "We are who we are because our ancestors did what they did" is surely the essence of Toryism, not its contradiction.


@Sir Watkyn - it might be the essence of Burkean/Oakeshottian Toryism. But that Toryism is a long way from the managerialist mush of the actually-existing Tory party today.

Sir Watkin

I didn't realise there was an actually existing Tory party today (hence my confusion).


However, Sellar and Yeatman were wrong.

But Wromantic.


The desirability of teaching or learning history does depend on the question of the possibility of getting at historical truth. The kind of tory you are criticising is not a believer in truth but in history as a kind of properganda. i.e. he who controls the past controls the future. Real history is hard to teach especially at the primary or secondary level as it can degenerate into some ones properganda. For example anachronism creeps into political debate and historical debate very easily. People and their culture are not fixed but evolve over time and this historical insight contradicts conservative ideas about race and class. And nationalism. The idea that "we" defined as a given race or nation or class of people are the same as "we" were at some arbitrary point in the past is clearly untrue. "We" today are clearly far more civillised than "we" were. It is strange (Jorjun ) to immagine that closing the monasteries and stealing the land of the Catholic church did much for most English people in the time of Henry eight or Elizabeth 1. Enriching grasping protestant puritans and destroying the charitable system of arms for the poor was no progress. Henry and co used Torture just like the papists on the same theory. Many secular rulers have defied the pope before Henry 8 in England and that tells us nothing about any ones character! The Catholic rulers of Spain after the reconquest used the Inquisition to steal the property of the Jews and Moslems forcing them to leave. This merely shows that the character of the Spanish and the English was much alike at the time. Persecution and confiscation. Not something any one can be proud of. Tories like Gove should explain why Conservatives like him in the past opposed all the social reforms that today we are supposed to attribute to our special date with history as a progressive culture. Who opposed Catholic emancipation? Who wanted to keep the corm Laws and the Test Acts? Who opposed votes for women and the NHS? Who wanted to keep the Jibbet and the cat of nine tails? The black cap and the long drop? Who wanted to restore the poll tax, a system of taxation "fit only for slaves" ( Adam Smith )?
People like Gove and Cameron are the last people to claim the right to a monopoly on progress or humanitarian reforms. How absurd. And insulting; only people very ignorant of History could take them seriously.


nice post , thanks

Tim Newman

"In this sense, Tories are the last people who should want history taught."

Not quite last...several places in front of those who have still to accept the appalling and lasting legacy of Communism on the world.


So, Chris, what you mean is the modern Conservative party, not 'Tories'. And since the modern Conservative party is, essentially, the party of the Whigs, who definitely wouldn't want history taught, maybe you should have been a bit clearer, because history and the democracy of the dead as well as the living is fundamental to actual Toryism.


Interestingly, one of the main reasons for the Greek crisis is tax avoidance, which is only such a big part of Greek culture because the Greeks have historically been invaded so many times.


What would you recommend as a couple of good history books?


There's been more written about Jesus than any other man in history.

Guess which side wants to delete it.


De Tocqueville noted the enervating effects of slavery itself before its abolition; see the famous comparison of the two banks of the Ohio, with Kentucky (a slave state) to the south and Ohio (a free state) to the north. Woodrow Wilson (a southerner) made similar remarks long after the civil war. It is clear that slavery sapped the enterprise of free men, leaving aside its effect on the slaves themselves.


I think youn are a little bit partial in your ante right wing criticisms of the view of History. We are surely the product of both the build up of total decision making of the past and what we contribute individually today in a self sufficient manner. It is surely, both not either or.

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