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.
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.
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?
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.
Hrafnkell Haraldsson, a social liberal with leanings toward centrist politics has degrees in history and philosophy. His interests include, besides history and philosophy, human rights issues, freedom of choice, religion, and the precarious dichotomy of freedom of speech and intolerance. He brings a slightly different perspective to his writing, being that he is neither a follower of an Abrahamic faith nor an atheist but a polytheist, a modern-day Heathen who follows the customs and traditions of his Norse ancestors. He maintains his own blog, A Heathen’s Day, which deals with Heathen and Pagan matters, and Mos Maiorum Foundation www.mosmaiorum.org, dedicated to ethnic religion. He has also contributed to NewsJunkiePost, GodsOwnParty and Pagan+Politics.