Literary Saturday: Moral Historians
Published on: January 30, 2010
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  • Personally I prefer Ray Rafael’s less strident telling of “the people’s history,” which manages to highlight the many heroic but unsung contributions of ordinary people without denigrating our society as a whole. And, by the way, did you notice the uneasy silence that fell over the House chamber when Obama referenced earlier generations of American leaders who put the interests of their children and grandchildren ahead of short-term partisan advantage? It was a telling moment.

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  • Joshua Bay

    I thought this was well written and a very telling comparision of the past and present. If history repeats itself we are at the stage in Rome where the masses and the elites have lossed there values, lossed there duty to the common good and depravity has become the ideal, glorified by the media and imbodied from church to state.

    Instead of the masses acknowledging there responsibility in the collapse they place all the responsibility on the banks for giving them what they wanted… a bigger pool, a new car, etc.. The nuclear family has collapsed, the existence of community has been forgotten and our police no longer act as civil servants but instead as a paramilitary unit devoid of the responsibility of upholding justice.

    Our ideals are indeed in a very sad state.

  • Some might be misled by the post into thinking Howard Zinn was Jewish. He was not.

  • “I don’t think our politicians will respect the law more, or our judges interpret it more fairly, unless their ambition and greed is checked by a sense of duty, loyalty and even awe toward the majesty of the American republic.”

    The problem is, people have widely divergent views as to what constitutes the primary values of the American republic. Patriotism without qualifiers doesn’t mean anything. Dick Cheney and Dennis Kucinich both call themselves patriotic. So what?

    “Without the fear of God and the love of the republic, all we have to check our behavior is the fear of the police — and if the police themselves are ‘liberated’ from patriotism and religion — what do we have then?”
    In case you didn’t notice, Howard Zinn didn’t fear God or the police and didn’t love the republic in the way that you are defining it (shallow patriotism). Yet he was an extremely moral man who fought the good fight his whole life. Why did he do that?

  • “Yet ultimately Livy is a more serious student of power and social conflict than Zinn.”

    I don’t think this comparison can even be made. Livy’s writing can be placed into a context of only a handful of other similar “historians,” while Zinn’s history has vast amounts of extant first sources available. There probably was a Zinn of Livy’s day, but we never got to read him (or her). Even more different is Zinn’s politics, which surely influences people’s opinions of his scholarship. We are able to see the enormous complexity that Zinn and other radicals are operating within. That doesn’t make them less a serious student of power and social conflict, in fact, it probably makes them more serious.

  • “Patriotism, understood as the love of the state as the embodiment and guardian spirit of the hopes of all classes of the people, was the link between private virtue and public well being. Patriotism was the private virtue that led both nobles and common people to restrain their baser passions for the common good, and to subordinate their ambitions to the laws.”

    What planet are you living on? Nothing can embody the hopes of all classes of people. And not just Marxist class, but all different categories of people. Different groups have competing, mutually exclusive hopes. Did you not take HS US history?

    Ignoring the inane “nobles and common people” trope, only checks and balances can restrain the “baser passions” of different groups. Bush 43 certainly thought it was patriotic to expand the power of the executive and break the law. The only thing that could have stopped him was Congress and the Courts, not some sentimental feeling.

  • “Zinn, I fear, by making patriotism unfashionable for a generation of students and teachers has endangered and undermined precisely the values he sought to promote.”

    Fear not, for you rightly call Zinn a prophet urging the people to be just, and Zinn did absolutely nothing to endanger or undermine justice. He advanced it significantly.

    (Again with the unqualified “patriotism.” The kind of patriotism Zinn made unfashionable was the worst kind.)

  • “Of Zinn it is enough perhaps to say that he was passionately in love with good things and that if he did not always succeed in advancing the good that he sought, this is the common fate of all of us — and the remedy must lie with that source of all healing and joy in whose gracious presence we may hope that Howard Zinn now rests.”

    It is emphatically not enough to say Zinn was in love with good things, because he did more to bring about those good things than all but a few Americans of our day. He wasn’t always successful, sure, but to be on the right side is worth an awful lot. (See, Iraq, WRM’s support for).

    And keep your paradise in the clouds to yourself, it’s so patronizing.

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  • Yes! I would rmecocend any Zinn you can get your paws on. He is dense, but really gives you an alternate version of events, which is super enlightening.

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