While we were all caught up in the furor of Obama’s tragicomic State of the Union address, or STFU address as some have called it, Howard Zinn, fabulist, historical vandal, and America basher used the opportunity to die unnoticed.
For those who don’t know of him, Zinn has probably done more damage to the ancient academic discipline of history than any other person or group of persons, including the air brush wielders of the USSR. His influence continues to deform academia today with the Balkanization of history into women’s history, GLBT history, dwarf history, ugly people history, etc.
The definitive critque of Howard Zinn is available over at The New Ledger. Some of the best is below:
Indeed, the best that one can say about A People’s History of the United States, besides the fact that Zinn managed to publish nothing else of any significance despite his long career, is that it may be many things, but it is not history. It is not even a revisionist history, since what it sets out to revise is, at best, a figment of Zinn’s imagination. It is something of a chronicle – more medieval than modern in its style – a collection of testimonies, usually presented without criticism and with strikingly little attempt at context or analysis. What analysis does exist is so tendentious that it usually offends the readers intelligence, and to the extent that the book has an overarching theory of the events it recounts, it is frankly a ridiculous one. Zinn’s thesis can be summed up in a single sentence: The “elite” – which is left unnamed and undescribed throughout – is always and everywhere oppressing everybody else.
Needless to say, this is not really a thesis. It is not even really an idea. It is a sentiment, an unfalsifiable article of faith that bears out Karl Popper’s merciless but valuable observation that vast explanatory power is not a virtue but a vice; since any theory that explains everything by definition explains nothing at all. Indeed, Zinn’s “elite” is more akin to a conspiracy theorist’s villain than anything that has ever actually existed or acted upon human history. However, this singular concept does do us the service of making nonsense of Zinn’s claims to Marxism. Many charlatans in search of intellectual respectability have attached themselves to Marx, and Zinn was not the worst of them, but he was perhaps the most amateurish. Indeed, if A People’s History is any indication, Zinn never actually read Marx in the first place. His version of American history has no dialectical materialism, no examination of the means of production, no analysis of class struggle, alienation, or the larger historical and economic forces behind them; there is simply a wicked elite going up and down upon the earth, spreading evil and suffering wherever it goes. This is, at best, vulgar Marxism of the type Marx himself despised and, at worst, a semi-theological form of paranoia. Indeed, the work that A People’s History most resembles in spirit is probably The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.