Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Woods' is mainly an "Incorrect Guide to American History"

Writing for Claremont, John B. Kienker explains why conservatives should not embrace Thomas E. Woods The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History as some sort of reasonable "untold" history. Yes, many things in it are correct, but there is a disturbing undercurrent.
At its core, The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History is just more wheezy propaganda from the Old Confederacy (the book's cover features a scowling Dixie general). "Thomas E. Woods, Ph.D.," as he refers to himself, a professor of history at the Suffolk County Community College in New York, rehearses all the familiar fictions: the "States had the right to secede," the so-called Civil War was really a "War of Northern Aggression," Abraham Lincoln was probably a racist and only "fought to 'save the Union'… and consolidate its power."

Granted, Abraham Lincoln wanted to save the Union, the Union that the American Founders had established, dedicated to the proposition of human equality and constitutional majority rule. When he was elected president, a minority of citizens refused to abide the results of his legitimate election. But they were in a bind. They hadn't suffered a long train of abuses as their founding forefathers had, and what's more, they couldn't invoke the laws of nature and of nature's God because they were seeking to strengthen and perpetuate a slave system that made a mockery of natural rights.

And so they denounced the central principle of the American Founding as a "self-evident lie" and invented a supposedly lawful "right" to secession— a constitutional right to overthrow the Constitution! This is absurd on its face. But not to Thomas E. Woods, Ph.D. He says that states like Virginia and Rhode Island actually reserved the right of secession when they rati- fied the U.S. Constitution. Though he admits that "[s]ome scholars have tried to argue that Virginia was simply setting forth the right to start a revolution," he finds this interpretation "untenable." Of course, the ratifying documents of those states make no mention of secession but do speak of "certain natural rights." The Constitution itself never condones secession, though it does insist that "No State shall enter into any Treaty, Alliance, or Confederation," and "No State shall, without the Consent of Congress...enter into any Agreement or Compact with another State."

Unable to distinguish between secession and the right of revolution, Woods blithely reproduces quotes from Thomas Jefferson and even Abraham Lincoln that refer to the latter, not the former. In discussing the nullification crisis that was the dress rehearsal for Southern secession, Woods claims that "nullification isn't as crazy as it sounds." James Madison was still alive at that time, and publicly affirmed that the Constitution "was formed, not by the Governments of the component States" and "cannot be altered or annulled at the will of the States individually." Woods suggests Madison's thought lacked "coherency." But then Madison wasn't a Ph.D. like Woods.

It's no surprise to learn that Woods is a founding member of the League of the South, which officially declares: "The people of the South must come to understand that they indeed are a 'nation,'" and may resort to secession if their demands are not met.

Though debunking him is fun, what's really at stake is the conservative movement's respectability and honor. As conservatives, we embarrass ourselves when we promote sloppy scholarship. We disgrace ourselves when we promote books, like PIG and others, that seek to discredit the principles of the American Founding.

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