Thursday, August 05, 2010

On historical fundamentalism

From Thomas Frank

'In one sense, our historical mania is nothing new. Americans have argued over the meaning of the American revolution since the day it ended. As Harvard historian Jill Lepore reminded me when I talked to her a few days ago, both Whigs and Jacksonians grabbed for the mantle of the Founders, as did Confederates and Unionists during the Civil War. So did the New Left in the 1960s. Claiming some special kinship with the revolutionary generation is simply what American political actors do. It is the oldest game in the book.

What distinguishes the current revival of interest in revolutionary times, according to Ms. Lepore, whose book about the tea party and history will be published this fall, is "historical fundamentalism." It's a way of understanding the past as "an incontrovertible argument. There is a narrowly defined past that is sacred to us as Americans." We have special historical documents, which "can be read as scripture. They come alive for us the way we need them to come alive. They cross time."'
Her upcoming book sounds promising.


C2H50H said...


I'd been wondering about the fact that, suddenly, a few of the usual suspects had been selectively quoting the Declaration as if it presented a fait accompli in winning an argument.


Sheldon said...

Yes it does sound like a promising book. I tell you, I get so sick of this apealing to the "Founding Fathers" as if they were infallible, as if we would just do what they intended, everything would be perfect yadd, yadda! I have been waiting for somebody to write a critique of that nonsense!