Tuesday, May 17, 2005

The Scourge of Nationalism

For those readers of this blog who don't check out leftie sites very often, here's a link to a great article by Howard Zinn about nationalism. Here's a brief synopsis of how he views the phenomenon:
Is not nationalism--that devotion to a flag, an anthem, a boundary so fierce it engenders mass murder--one of the great evils of our time, along with racism, along with religious hatred? These ways of thinking--cultivated, nurtured, indoctrinated from childhood on--have been useful to those in power, and deadly for those out of power.

He goes on to make note of the atrocities carried out with the help of the mental poison known as nationalism and is critical of both Republicans and Democrats. I also like the fact that he acknowledges the opinions of both Henry David Thoreau and Kurt Vonnegut on the subject:
Henry David Thoreau, provoked by the war in Mexico and the nationalist fervor it produced, wrote: "Nations! What are nations? . . . Like insects, they swarm. The historian strives in vain to make them memorable." In our time, Kurt Vonnegut (Cat's Cradle) places nations among those unnatural abstractions he calls granfalloons, which he defines as "a proud and meaningless association of human beings."


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I truely believe, that when the smoke clears, and a few hundred years go by, assuming of course that the Earth hasn't been completley destroyed, history will regard Howard Zinn with the same honor that Herodotus and Thucydides are recognized today. His "A Peoples History of the United States" is the most honest and believeable American history book I have encountered.

9:36 AM  
Blogger freeman said...

I have to somewhat disagree on that.

His view on the Progressive era, for example, has been thoroughly debunked by people like leftist Gabriel Kolko in his book The Truimph of Conservatism. Zinn clearly has an agenda that perverts his work, just like practically everyone else. How he can claim to be an anarchist while apologizing for counterproductive statist measures to deal with corporate capitalism is beyond me.

That's not to say though that I don't appreciate his book since there is much to appreciate about it. It's great, for example, to see a history text that focuses on working people as opposed to simply puckering up to the power elite.

There is no single history text that is completely honest and/or all encompassing and trustworthy. Texts by people with one perspective need to be countered with texts by people with different perspectives, since everybody conveniently leaves things out. I think it's important to read different texts and come to your own conclusion about things. That is not to say, however, that I recommend viewing establishment history texts as being worthwhile.

I haven't read any of Murray Rothbard's historical writings, but I have a strong feeling that his work would be a good complement to Zinn's in terms of filling in gaps and questioning the weak points of Zinn's work. The new book by Thomas Woods titled The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History is also worth checking out. Don't believe the nonsense written by people who haven't read the book. It's not the type of history text that neocons would approve of. In fact, neocons HATE the book! Other historians worth checking out include Joseph Stromberg, William Appleman Williams and James Weinstein.

6:07 PM  
Blogger IanB said...

This one is going into my 'Blogs to read' links !! Appreciate the link by the way !!



8:30 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with you, Zinn certainly has an agenda, and I tend to wax poetic when I talk about him. He was the first historian I read, back in High School, that actually interested me and inspired a lot of the ideals I still hold today. And I agree with your point about countering historical texts with opposing interpretations. I didn't mean to imply that his books are difinitive by any means. He offers a view on American history that certainly cannot be found in most classrooms and most history texts. I dont want to get into an argument about his political leanings, and its inlfuence on his writing, because Im sure that you and I look at his work from opposite perspectives, but I think Im safe to say that no author can avoid having his ideology reveal itself in writing. Will check out some of the authors you mentioned--Ive been looking for a good book on the Cuban Revolution, and a credible bio on Lincoln, any suggestions?
(I just finished reading IBM and the Holocaust, by Edwin Black. Its a very scholarly book, and he defends his assertions extremely thoroughly. Definitely worth checking out.)

8:51 AM  
Blogger freeman said...

We don't view Zinn's book from opposite perspectives really. I used to be a typical leftie who held anti-corporatist views. I still hold such views, but simply realized that working through the state to reform things is hopeless and counterproductive since the state is a tool of the ruling class. It always has been and always will be. In other words, my goals are the same, but I've realized that different means need to be used to achieve those ends.

I like the fact that Zinn at least refers to himself as an anarchist, although it makes no sense for him to promote statist measures if he was truly an anarchist. My opinion is that he just doesn't understand who is true class enemy is (the political class) and how to approrpriately fight it.

It's interesting that you're asking me about a Lincoln biography. You know I'm a lifelong northerner who is no fan of the Confederacy or slavery of any kind. However, I have an extremely negative opinion of Lincoln, whom I regard as the nation's first dictator. There certainly won't be any biographies out there that are "credible" in terms of providing a thorough and balanced view of him since most people love him and the rest hate him. Your best bet is to find one of the many bios that paint him in a positive light, and then fill in the gaps with a book called The Real Lincoln by Thomas DiLorenzo. I haven't read the book, but I've read dozens of articles by DiLorenzo about Lincoln, so I have a good idea of what's in the book.

3:57 PM  

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