02 Mar 2007

Good Writer; Terrible Historian

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Norman Podhoretz is unkind enough to give Arthur Schlesinger the obituary he deserves.

There are three things to say about the work of Arthur Schlesinger, who has just died at the age of eighty-nine: (1) He was an exceptionally good writer, commanding a lucid, vivid, and often elegant prose style. (2) He was an exceptionally bad historian: incapable of doing justice to any idea with which he disagreed, and so tendentious that he invariably denigrated and/or vilified anyone who had ever espoused any such idea. Like the so-called “Whig interpretation of history” in England, Schlesinger’s voluminous work as a historian amounts to the proposition that the story of freedom in America is the story of the Democratic party, and specifically of its never-ending struggle against the sinister bastions of privilege, oppression, and ignorance represented by the Republicans of the modern era and their forebears. (3) This unshakable conviction not only made his wonderfully readable accounts of the past unreliable and in many cases even worthless; it also warped his political judgment in the present, leading him in the last forty years of his life to support the forces that were pushing the Democratic party to the Left. In becoming an apologist for these forces, he betrayed the liberalism that he himself, in The Vital Center, had earlier espoused and whose banishment from the Democratic party has been, and will continue to be, a calamity for this country.

A dead accurate summation, I’d say.


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