Republicanism Kills History on Contact

Republicans are fond of describing liberalism as a disease of some sort which infects the body politic, weakening it and eventually, destroying it. You’ll find this on countless conservative websites and blogs. You will find it on the racist white supremacist site Stormfront. This is no coincidence. You can Google it (feel free to take some time to laugh, or perhaps to cry).

The truth of course seems to be rather the opposite. Liberalism, the idea of liberty, the endorsement of the idea that people possess certain inalienable rights – natural rights – is a development of the European Enlightenment. Liberalism freed Europe from the Dark Ages and from the horrors of state sponsored religion, from inquisitions, holy wars and witch burnings.

Before liberalism, it was impossible to talk about individual human rights.

Disease?

No. Liberalism is not the disease. It is the cure.

Republicans hold that universities are places of evil because they are liberal-leaning – meaning students are not properly indoctrinated per Texas School Board Standards.  Academics are obviously as ill-thought of as under various totalitarian regimes – Communism and Nazism come to mind. In this anti-intellectual atmosphere, education is a weakness and people with book learning are, in a monumental display of insecurity, to be despised and feared.

Any of us who have cited our sources in our writing have experienced the reaction, generally an infantile rejection along the lines of “you’re childish!” – a remarkable claim from people who apparently can’t think without being told what to think. The poster of Reagan shown above is really rather ironic. Conservatives really don’t believe in common sense.

Remember, modern Republicanism, wedded to Christian fundamentalism (Christofascism), endorses the idea that choice is heresy (and yes, that’s the meaning of the word heresy – choice). If common sense and choice entered into it, it is difficult to believe so many Republicans would say the absurd things they say, let alone believe them.

Speaking of absurdities (and childishness), you can’t go far down that road without Glenn Beck’s name coming up.

Media Matters for America presents a truly remarkable example of Republicanism’s historical revisionism. Glenn Beck has become obsessed with historical parallels, mostly recently with the Roman Empire. He fancies himself a student of history (much like Newt Gingrich, I suppose) but he shows the understanding one would expect of somebody who got their history from comic books.

Glenn Beck Invents Roman History

Some of Beck’s mischaracterizations:

  • Beck Points To Beginning of Roman Empire As Example Of “What’s Happening To Us”
  • Beck Ignores Years Of Slaughter To Claim Octavian Rose To Emperor “Without Violence”
  • Beck Misleadingly Claims Roman Republic Was Characterized By “Freedom”
  • Beck Incorrectly Claims That First Emperor Of Rome “Refused To Be Called Caesar”
  • Ignoring Caesar, Beck Calls Octavian “The Last Guy Of The Republic”

If you know any Roman history you are now pulling your jaw up off the floor. Neither Hollywood nor Television are famed for their faithfulness to the historical record, but even the HBO miniseries Rome got history better than Beck. In fact, it is difficult to imagine getting history more wrong.

There are a great many lessons to be learned from history, but as philosopher Georg Hegel observed, “What experience and history teach is this – that people and governments never have learned anything from history, or acted on principles deduced from it” (Philosophy of History, 1832). We can add Glenn Beck and the Republican Party to this list.

But then, we are talking about principles here.

It might seem remarkable that a person who occupies such a public position as Beck would not bother to check his facts, but then Beck knows his audience – his audience won’t fact check. They listen avidly, feverishly, hanging on every word – and believe all of them. They have had their Republican-approved history lesson and they will all feel the required levels of righteous anger at the evil liberals who have brought low the American Republic.

It doesn’t matter that the evidence speaks to the opposite conclusion because they won’t be checking the evidence either.

Beck, like other Republicans, have fabricated a history more congenial to Republican ideology. Real history – that is, the actual facts of the past 2,000 years, are inconvenient – Stephen Colbert’s reality has a liberal bias lament. Since the real history won’t do, a new one must replace it. History books must be re-written in the same way the Communists and the Nazis rewrote the history books. History must be understood from an ideological perspective. The problem is, history does not survive contact with ideology. If you invent the history, what can you learn from it?

Nothing.

You can justify what you have done, but what you have done is in ignorance or defiance of the past and its lessons. Marx’s demonstrably false claim that “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles” (The Communist Manifesto, 1847) comes to mind.  Demonstrably false, yes. Yet millions died for that demonstrably false claim.

If the Republican revision of history runs its course, millions more might die from their demonstrably false claims. Bush made a good start in Iraq. Other Republicans want to continue to pogrom in Iran or North Korea. And they kinda like the idea of state-sponsored religion too. It’s no accident that the only vice-presidential candidate to have a witch hunter for a pastor is Sarah Palin.

Ironically, given Beck’s complete disregard for Roman history, it was a Roman historian who said it best: “The knowledge gained from history is the truest education and training for political action” (Polybius, The Histories).

It’s a shame Republicans seem aware of this, and would rather do whatever they want and then re-write the history books to justify it because they’re not the only ones who will pay the price of their ignorance.

6 Replies to “Republicanism Kills History on Contact”

  1. The Republican Party has been taken over by nuts. We all lament the divide in this country, and yet how can you “debate” with people who are citing inaccurate accounts of history and facts to justify their “ideology”? You can’t. You can try to be patient and educate them, but their minds are closed like cultists. It falls to any sane Republicans left to take back their Party but it doesn’t appear as if that is happening.

    As a student of Roman history, I can only share your shock at the way Beck has twisted reality to suit his own purposes. While interpretation of history can be debated, the facts can not be “debated”. I really enjoyed this piece, Hraf. Thank you!

  2. Thanks, Sarah. One of the first books I read was about Roman history and I fell in love with it at once, and have continued to read and study Roman history. As you say, interpretations can be argued. It’s what historians do as they try to arrive at what actually happened and why. But of course, Beck isn’t interested in that. He is interested in inventing an entirely new history to back up his crazy ideas about what the world should be now. He’s no better a historian than Karl Marx and of the two, Karl Marx may have been the better-intentioned.

    I’d like to have gone on about Roman history in more depth but Media Matters did an excellent job there.

  3. The assumption of equality of sources is ruining any sort of discourse. Is this the result of too much home schooling? Other countries don’t seem to be having these problems, except at the rural/tribal level.

    When respected scientists are scornfully dismissed by ignorant bloggers and corporate flacks, it’s over, folks.

    Lost in the mists of time, I remember reading that if 10% of the population of a technologically advanced society fails to contribute, the society as a whole cannot sustain itself. This was back in the late 80s, when literacy was still a valued skill.

    People who study communications and politics (my little vice) generally agree that post -WWI Germany was susceptible to National Socialism because they had not developed a protective response to new media – radio. 93% were literate, and fairly sophisticated. But they had no inoculation against a voice from nowhere. We’re going through the same thing, at a more complex level. We’ve learned to monitor radio or TV while working on the computer, with a few apps running in the background. Driving. And we’re the Boomers. The new generation was born with an IPad in their hands. Glenn Beck and his ilk will have very little influence with them. His tricks are last year’s news.

    I just try to get on record so down the road, some poor grad student will have sources to cite while researching our problems with new technology. I don’t want to seem too clueless.

    Once again, Isaac Asimov’s “Foundation” is right on the money. Written in 1951, he hit a lot of 21st century America!

  4. and send Beck a copy of Gibbons.

    For our little trolls, every mention of Rome should inspire the question “Can you give me the citation in Gibbons?”

    If we can be consistant enough, they make suspect there is a source document that everyone else uses to discuss the Roman Empire.
    They do it with the bible.

    What do you think?

  5. This is important. Thank you for writing it, and I wish more people were aware of our history being rewritten for the benefit of America’s owners. I don’t believe these people are “nuts” as Sarah suggests above. These peoeple know exactly what they are doing. They are doing what the true ruling class of America wants: keeping Americans ignorant of their own history. In a democracy, it is difficult for the ruling class to keep 51% of those who vote, voting against their own interests. They have to employ wedge issues like abortion, fear, hate, and ignorance. That’s hard work! Thanks for exposing one of the ways they keep Americans ignorant.

  6. A big part of keeping people ignorant is to repeat lies long and loudly enough in the frighteningly true belief that some people will believe them. By condemning liberalism, for example, the modern Republican Party induces many Americans to forget that the progressive movements in this country that have benefited millions were the result of that liberalism. To that end, they demonize labor unions, the women’s movement, and regulations designed to protect people, among other things. They also try to sell the idea that unfettered, unregulated “free market” is the solution to everything. The people they have managed to influence have been swayed by their phony populism which they use “folksy” ignoramuses like Palin to present, as well as fear- and hate-mongering against people they consider “others.”

    I have watched Beck on occasion, and believe me, it is anything but a pleasure to watch him convey his misinformation in a “scholarly” manner, using blackboards and charts to do so. This is the same man who projects his own racism onto the president by saying Obama has a deep-seated hatred for whites. I am quite sure that he laughs all the way to the bank at those gullible souls he has managed to hoodwink into believing he is a font of wisdom.

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