Wednesday, December 01, 2021

The Elite Anti-Historical Method Is Nearly Identical To The Elite Anti-Scientific Method

WSWS  |  In a highly revealing passage, Silverstein writes that, in “privileging ‘actual fact’ over ‘narrative,’” critics of the 1619 Project “seem to proceed from the premise that history is a fixed thing; that somehow, long ago, the nation’s historians identified the relevant set of facts about our past, and it is the job of subsequent generations to simply protect and disseminate them.” This passage comes after a lengthy discussion of efforts by far-right Republicans who have sought to censor the 1619 Project—efforts which the WSWS opposes. Silverstein’s aim is to conflate scholarly and left-wing criticism of the 1619 Project with the likes of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton, who have seized on the 1619 Project’s attack on the American Revolution to posture as defenders of democracy, and with earlier efforts by the Republican Party in the 1990s to eliminate what they derided as “revisionist history” from high school textbooks.

That the writing of history involves interpretation of evidence is the most elementary proposition of the profession. To suggest that historians such as Gordon Wood and James McPherson have viewed their task to be to “protect and disseminate” facts reveals far more of Silverstein’s own ignorance than it does these historians’ monumental achievements in researching and writing the histories of the American Revolution and the Civil War.

But it is not really interpretation of the archive that Silverstein has in mind. His brief and reckless foray into historical methodology aims to provide a permission slip for the 1619 Project’s disregarding of facts, whenever these contradict the settled-upon “narrative.” Silverstein gives away the game by his placement within cynical quotations marks the word facts, and by his admission that he does not view history to be “a fixed thing.”

But history is “a fixed thing” in at least one sense. The past actually happened. Generations of people lived, worked, created, struggled, loved, fought and died. They did so under conditions not of their own choosing, but those handed down to them from preceding generations. And they did not do so alone. Out of the development of the productive forces, as Marx long ago explained, classes emerged—lord and vassal, master and slave, capitalist and worker—now in hidden, now in open conflict. On top of all of this culture, law, politics, language, nation—and, with apologies to Hannah-Jones—race developed, always reflecting the ideology of the ruling layers, and always interacting dynamically with the class structure.