- ofta kontroversiella men alltid välargumenterade texter i New York Review of Books, [för hans] monumentala Postwar: A History of Europe since 1945, [och för hans] skarpsinniga och koncisa Ill Fares the Land som [...] jag skulle [vilja utnämna] till obligatorisk läsning åt var och en som intellektuellt och på allvar intresserar sig för politik och samhällsutveckling.
- At the Battle of Stalingrad, the Red Army lost more solidiers than America has lost - soldiers and civilians combined - in all the American wars of the twentieth century.
- I don't think neglecting the past is our greatest risk; the characteristic mistake of the present is to cite it in ignorance. Condoleeza Rice, who holds a PhD in political science and was the provost of Stanford University, invoked the American occupation of postwar Germany to justify the Iraq War. How much historical illiteracy can you identify in that one analogy? Given that we are bound to exploit the past in order to justify present public behavior, the case for actually knowing history is unanswerable. A better-informed citizenry is less likely to be bamboozled into abusive exploitations of the past for present errors.
It's terribly important for an open society to be familiar with its past. It was a common feature of the closed societies of the twentieth century, whether Left or Right, that they manipulated history. Rigging the past is the oldest form of knowledge control: if you have power over the interpretation of what went before (or can simply lie about it), the present and the future are at your disposal. So it is simple democratic prudence to ensure that the citizenry are historically informed.
Here, I worry about "progressive" history teaching. In our childhood, certainly in mine and I imagine in yours, history was a bunch of information. You learned it in an organized, serial way - usually along a chronological timeline. The purpose of this exercise was to provide children with a mental map - stretching back across time - of the world they inhabited. Those who insisted that this approach was uncritical were not wrong. But it has proven a grave error to replace data-laden history with the intuition that the past was a set of lies and prejudices in need of correction: prejudices in favor of white people and men, lies about capitalism or colonialism or whatever it might be.
You cannot teach children American history by saying: it is widely believed that the Civil War was about the abolition of slavery, but ha! - I can assure you that it was really about something else altogether. For the poor little things in the front row are turning to one another and asking: "Wait a minute, what's he talking about? What is the Civil War? When did it happen? Who won?"
These supposedly critical approaches, intended - let's be generous - to help children and students form their own judgement, are self-defeating. They sow confusion rather than insight, and confusion is the enemy of knowledge. Before anyone - whether child or graduate student - can engage the past, they have to know what happened, in what order and with what outcome. Instead, we have raised two generations of citizens completely bereft of common references.3
- More recently, I think we really are the victims of a discursive shift, since the late 1970s, towards economics. Intellectuals don't ask if something is right or wrong, but whether a policy is efficient or inefficient. They don't ask if a measure is good or bad, but whether or not it improves productivity. The reason they do this is not necessarily because they are uninterested in society, but because they have come to assume, rather uncritically, that the point of economic policy is to generate resources. Until you've generated resources, goes the refrain, there's no point in having a conversation about distributing them.
This, it seems to me, comes close to a sort of soft blackmail: surely you are not going to be so unrealistic or unworldly or idealistic as to place goals before means? We are accordingly advised that everything begins with economics. But this reduces intellectuals - no less than the workers they are discussing - to rodents on a treadmill. When we talk of increasing productivity or resources, how do we know when to stop? At what point are we sufficiently well-resourced to turn our attention to the distribution of goods? How would we ever know when the time has come to talk about deserts and needs rather than outputs and efficiencies?