A Major Take-Down of Howard Zinn by David Greenberg in TNR. Don't Miss it!
In The New Republic Online today, the magazine has finally posted David Greenberg's major take-down of both radical historian Howard Zinn, and of Zinn's biographer, Martin Duberman. The influence of Howard Zinn on the culture and of our country's understanding of the past cannot be overstated. As Greenberg points out, Zinn's book has sold millions of copies, and each year, more and more students in high schools and colleges are assigned his "People's History" as a text.
Zinn reduced historical analysis to political opinion. He assessed a work of history by its author’s partisan loyalties, not its arguments about causation, influence, motivation, significance, experience, or other problems he deemed “technical” in nature.... the fatal flaw of Zinn’s historical work is the shallowness, indeed the fallaciousness, of his critique of scholarly detachment. Zinn rests satisfied with what strikes him as the scandalous revelation that claims of objectivity often mask ideological predilections. Imagine! And on the basis of this sophomoric insight, he renounces the ideals of objectivity and empirical responsibility, and makes the dubious leap to the notion that a historian need only lay his ideological cards on the table and tell whatever history he chooses.
Later towards his conclusion, Greenberg says:
Zinn’s position wormed its way into the thinking of generations of graduate students, and it is distressingly easy today to find tendentious scholarship that exhibits a Zinn-like habit of judging historical acts and actors by their contemporary utility. As much as radical history contributed invaluable new arguments and perspectives to historical scholarship, it has also left an unhappy legacy of confusing or commingling political and scholarly goals. At its most egregious, this confusion takes the form of polemical potboilers such as Zinn’s or, worse, propagandistic screeds such as Peter Kuznick’s and Oliver Stone’s The Untold History of the United States.
Read the entire article. Kudos to David Greenberg, an honest and fearless liberal historian, for penning this important critique.