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Posts Tagged ‘colonial period’

This is a cross-post from NewDeal 2.0 — the first entry in a new series I’m doing for that very interesting group blog. The series is a timely one: finance in the founding era, and the founding war between elite high-finance policy and popular-finance ideas of the period — little known today — about economic fairness and radical democracy. This was a war not between Americans and the British government but between Americans and other Americans. A close look at it contradicts Tea Party ideas of founding American history, as well as questioning some liberal preconceptions. And the economic crises of the 18th century will sound surprisingly familiar.

Here’s some of today’s introductory post:

… 18th-century populists came to articulate a radical new idea about the relationship of liberty and equality, anathema to the Tea Party politics of today. Securing true liberty, working Americans of the founding period insisted, requires government to regulate business and finance in the interest of economic fairness. They demanded such things as debt relief, an end to the regressive gold standard, the severing of rights from property, and legal curtailment of mercantile interests. Some wanted progressive taxation; some envisioned a social security program. Their real political ethos directly contradicts current right-wing efforts to cast passive government, unfettered markets, and wholesale tax resistance as the founding values of ordinary America.

Here’s some more:

Historical marginalizing of our founding challenges to economic elites damages current political thinking. Modern progressives seeking precedents in history tend to travel backward through the New Deal, come to a screeching halt at the Populist and Progressive movements, squint approvingly back at Jackson, and fail to focus on the horizon where an economically egalitarian American spirit, more truly radical than Jackson’s, seethes, neglected. Reclaiming that spirit — at the very least exploring it — would have the virtue of denying the Tea Party a monopoly on anything supposedly fundamental about the American founding and American values.

Reclaiming our founding tradition would also give a rest to the endless ideological tug of war over the famous founders. …

I’m expecting to make this series a weekly thing — and I hope people will want to read the whole thing and comment over at New Deal 2.0.

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ho ho ho

Moving on to the next holiday. May we now anticipate an annual revival of the past few years’ flap about the war on Christmas — i.e., how liberal secularism suppresses Christian celebration of the birth of Jesus by removing creches from village squares and forcing everybody to say “happy holidays” instead of “merry Christmas”?

[UPDATE: Yes, we may. See J.L. Bell's comment on the Inhofe holiday parade, below.]

If so, I’d like to bring back those socialist Pilgrims for a reprise role and credit them with starting the war. For of course Pilgrims, and indeed all of Puritan New England, didn’t celebrate Christmas and would have severely prosecuted anyone who did, or at least did so loudly. They hated Christmas, for all the obvious reasons.

No, not because it requires putting toys together at three in the morning on Christmas Eve and having the family over when you’ve just seen them at Thanksgiving. That’s why we hate Christmas. [UPDATE: That's just a joke.] Pilgrims and Puritans hated it because it was a pagan-based feast of the Antichrist Pope of Rome, a sacrificial revelry, a ceremony of the Harlot, and contrary to Scripture. The whole idea of a “Christ mass” was what they’d been fighting to the death for a long time, the work of the Beast.

The point isn’t, of course, that the Puritans would have been sympathetic to modern secularism. Anything but. The point is that the idea of a “Christian nation” denies the antipathy our founding Christians felt, mainly and most significantly, for other Christians. The Pilgrims came here to get away from Anglicans. If a boatload of Lutherans had pulled into Plymouth harbor, muskets would have come out. And if Samuel Adams came back to life, and were forced to walk past the Roman Catholic churches in today’s North End of Boston, he’d be sure that his entire life’s work had been for nothing, wasted in what had become a horrifying enabling of the forces of utter spiritual evil, staining what he’d once hoped would become a Christian Sparta (meaning to him a Congregational one). The ancestors of Bill O’Reilly and the ancestors of Glenn Beck would have been a lot more interested in trying to kill each other than in trying to kill, say, Jews.

Happy Holidays!

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gobble gobble gobble

Now that the Thanksgiving holiday is over, and the MSM no longer even remembers it, I will comment — I actually feel forced to comment! — on the flap about the Pilgrims as socialists that I was drawn into over the past week. The trip began when I was quoted in an interesting Sunday Times “Week in Review” piece, which lays out the controversy.

(Briefly here: For years, Rush Limbaugh and some publications of the Austrian School of economics beloved by American libertarians, and more recently Glenn Beck, have been saying that the story of the Pilgrims is a story of socialism failed — that the Pilgrims began by holding property in common in a socialist-utopian way and starved because of it, then switched to private property and thrived enough to thank God for the bounty of the harvest: the first Thanksgiving. Thus America began in a lesson about the evils of socialism and glory of property. This year, thanks to the Tea Party, the story has received new mainstream attention.)

The Times quoted me near the end of the piece, not on that subject but on the problem that I think arises when people across the political spectrum seize on some historical event and force it to serve an overdetermined purpose for a current position. Bad history, bad politics. As I told the reporter, history is always slanted. How and why it’s slanted, in particular cases, is something we should be keenly aware of. … blah blah blah.

But thanks to that one, general quote, which came with a reference to my MIT Press book Inventing American History (where I write about distortions in public history), and thanks also to my seemingly endless eagerness to promote myself, I went on both Michael Smerconish’s syndicated radio show and ABC News “Good Morning, America” (do they observe that comma?), to weigh in not on my subject, which is the way everybody across the spectrum, each of us, distorts history, but on the current controversy: whether the Pilgrims began as socialists and then learned the error of their ways.

In the interviews I tried both to wrangle with the immediate question about the Pilgrims and to discuss what is, to me, the great, non-seasonal theme, political tension in public history. I also suggested that now and then we might want to lighten up a bit on the whole “lessons of history” thing. It was fun. Smerconish gave me ten minutes, and we had what I thought was an interesting conversation (and I like his unique effort to bring talk-radio intensity to centrism). “Good Morning America,” with its very specific needs, managed to shoehorn three seconds (literally!) of a twenty-minute interview into a piece on the controversy. Not surprising, but startling to watch: my name flashed on the screen so briefly that all I can do is hope that subliminal advertising actually works.

So now that I’m a media-certified expert: Were the Pilgrims socialists?
(more…)

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I’ve put this more obnoxiously elsewhere (Twitter doesn’t allow for much nuance), and inaccurately too, since I ascribed the problem, knee-jerk, to my old favorite target PBS (nervous newbie Twittering inspiring rush to judgment on my part) …

But still! I really am bugged to learn that the upcoming twelve-hour History Channel documentary “America: the Story of Us,” a sweeping history of just what its title implies, moves from the founding of Plymouth Colony to Lexington and Concord in ninety seconds.  Same old story, taken here to nearly grotesque extremes: the colonial period as mere prologue to the “real” thing. But there’s no chance of even beginning to get any realistic feeling for our history without a dive into the first 150 years of European expansion into North America. And with twelve hours…! At least give us Bacon’s Rebellion, the revised New England charter, the Anglo-Iroquois empire!

The producers’ dispiriting decision in this case suggests a tired, foregone AP American History mood to the whole thing. We’ll see. In the meantime, I’m trying to “tweet” more slowly. Or at least less heatedly.

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