The Clare Spark Blog

January 7, 2018

“Are Historians Pundits?”

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Whatever happened to the “context” that postmodernists/hipsters claim to embrace? Of course historians have lost credibility; we are all journalists now, and the “consensus” that “progressives” are imposing on our young people is alarming. The line between (factual) history and (partisan) propaganda has almost broken down. Cultural anthropology reigns supreme in academe and journalism alike, while classical liberalism is defenestrated.

This blog was inspired by interviews in Washington DC conducted by History News Network publisher Rick Shenkman at The American Historical Association. Shenkman is described as both a journalist and historian ( According to his “bio,” Shenkman was educated at both Vassar and Harvard, but appears not to have completed a dissertation, but to have gone with the flow in condemning Andrew Jackson’s lowbrow electorate (?).

There probably is no liberal consensus (, but (liberal) elites are in agreement that the masses are asses ( thus Shenkman could publish a book condemning Trump voters as Stone-Age holdovers, easy prey for demagogues.

Since HNN “published” (but buried) several of my articles, I have followed their progress/degeneration, noting how the profession has developed since the end of World War II, when “the liberal consensus” supposedly took hold, marking the triumph of The Popular Front Against Fascism.

If the profession of history seems one-sided, chalk it up to the New Left of the 1960s, and to the proliferation of social movements the “Left” engendered: civil rights, feminism (and gay rights), the “new” culturally focused labor history, and environmentalism. The “New” Left abandoned the 1930s emphasis on empiricism and class struggle for romantic primitivism/the counter culture. Science, like technology, was Out.

Whatever happened to footnotes?
While in graduate school, I was derided by a Trotskyist as “the last positivist.” And others on the Left claimed that I was an “atomizing” individualist/bourgeois. Apparently, not all radical claims need to be “sourced.” I am reading Eric Foner’s massive and footnoted book  Reconstruction (1988), which seems to me to feed into the most extreme claims of black cultural nationalism, conflating past and present and condemning both ante-bellum and post-bellum Amerikkka for the most horrid forms of racism and “white supremacy.” For Foner’s argument is not always sourced, nor does he explain why there was tension between the original civil rights movement and the followers of Malcolm X who famously followed.

The eminent “liberal” Columbia professor does not warn against present-mindedness (the reading of present values into the past). Neither do many of the social justice warriors who were students of New Left professors, and who may be training a new generation of “cultural nationalists” like themselves, all too given to collectivist discourses in thought and deed.

I suppose that footnotes, like facts, are sometimes atomizing and only convenient when it suits the Social Justice Warriors’ convenience.

October 17, 2016

Is there a liberal consensus?

Women's Strike for Peace, NYC 1969. Getty Images

Women’s Strike for Peace, NYC 1969. Getty Images

I was taught that the correct answer on the PhD oral exams was to claim “yes”; that since WW2, there was agreement regarding the welfare state of the New Deal, including its turn toward emphasizing social relationships as the sine qua non of a healthy society. See or

Classical liberals were invisible, as were the Stalinist underpinnings of this “liberal” line. So when I read historian James B. Gilbert’s summary of postwar political history, Another Chance: Postwar America 1945-68 (Knopf, 1981) eventually I got the message of postwar liberalism/social democracy. Yes, there was majority agreement that conservatives were all crazed McCarthy-ite reactionaries (similar to the conservative Catholic Church); that we missed the boat by not “negotiating” with the willing Soviet Union; and that the 60s movements were necessary, but inadequate to solve the vexed question of (white male supremacy). Hence we need a real revolution (this explains the title, Another Chance…. ).

Although the claim that structural reform was necessary to realize the aims of peaceniks, women, and blacks, was saved until the very last chapters, in retrospect, I could see that Professor Gilbert’s popular book (un-footnoted) was typical of the New Left generation. Gilbert, formerly a full professor at the liberal University of Maryland, now emeritus, like so many other (unconscious?) Stalinists following the tumultuous 1960s, may not have even seen that he was following the lead of the Popular Front against Fascism.

I finally understand the message of Dr. Strangelove (Stanley Kubrick, 1962).

Revolt Against Masses, Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Revolt Against Masses, Hulton Archive/Getty Images


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