Wednesday, December 20, 2006


As I recently blathered on about, I think that part of being a "good" historian is to tone down the rhetoric and hyperbole while debating both the historical and contemporary. Also, it is also wise to avoid getting sucked into believing that there are always simple (reductionist) explanations for historical causation. Add to these the related temptation of scapegoating as explained by Mary Eberstadt.
... a flight from political reality has indeed been underway on both the left and the right in America in the years since that event, as well as accelerating into more advanced forms in much of Europe. To switch metaphors, in the wake of the 9/11 attack -- and later, related Islamist attacks on civilians, most notably in Spain and Britain -- many Western observers have responded not by absorbing what we now know to be true about our world, but rather by transposing those brute facts into other, safer, more familiar keys.
In other words, instead of focusing on the potential world-changing force that is radical Islam, many in the west are taking a sort of perverse comfort in turning towards familiar scapegoats.

Eberstadt explains that some on the right have taken to blaming "immigrants" for all of America's ills, while some on the left (including some libertarian's) have glommed onto the idea that "christianists" and/or "fundamentalists" are marching America toward Gomorrah. Then there is the popular Bush scapegoat, which many in the general public and the intellectual class find particularly appealling. But, Eberstadt explains, there are problems with this:
[One example is] Frank Rich's The Greatest Story Ever Sold: The Decline and Fall of Truth from 9/11 to Katrina (Penguin Press). Like so much else now dominating the nonfiction aisles, it apprehends one large truth -- that the current balance between reality and rhetoric has been altered in a way deleterious to us. It then scrambles that message, again like the other scapegoaters, into a version more palatable than what the actual one would require. In this case, the scramble ends in focusing blame and hatred onto one single man -- George Bush -- who also shares a key feature of attraction alongside other scapegoats: He is not going to strike back.

Like others who are Bush-haters simpliciter, Rich is too bilious to make a systematic argument. The result is a burning effigy of a book whose smoke obscures one fundamental point: Whatever else George W. Bush is about, what the record does seem to show and what even many of his enemies feel forced to concede is that he does actually believe in what he is doing. Because it can't allow itself to go there, The Greatest Story Ever Sold becomes as two-dimensional as its subject...

The trouble with putting Bush personally at the center of what ails us is much like the related trouble of relocating the illegals or the theocrats there instead: i.e., it tries to explain too much. In this, too, the parallelism of the scapegoats can be seen. He is a child of privilege who believes in nothing. No, he is an ideological Christian possessed of an unwavering and therefore dangerous faith. Which is it? He is a tool of the oil interests, of the neoconservatives, of the Christians; no, he is a puppet master of them all; no again, he is himself a puppet of Karl Rove. He is "someone who likes to compete and win at all costs" (Frank Rich); he is someone who has had everything handed to him and doesn't know what it is like to struggle (also Rich). And so on.
There are also those--Eberstadt points to a recent issue of Foreign Affairs--who have concluded that "9/11 was not that big a deal after all." Then there is Europe, which has closed its eyes to the Islamist threat in its own backyard and instead resorted to a ramping up of anti-American rhetoric. Yet, Eberstadt thinks that anti-Americanism may be nothing more than misplaced anger:
Perhaps these days, on the Continent, the widespread, all-explaining urge to lay everything at the door of the U.S. has little to do with America proper. Perhaps it does not have much to do either with the post-Cold War unipolar world. Perhaps it is not even really about Iraq.

No, perhaps the anti-Americanism of today is best understood instead as a way of being furious in public with somebody for the insecurities and anxieties wrought by Islamist terrorism in this world, including in increasingly Muslim Europe -- an option made even more attractive by the safe bet that Americans, unlike some other people, are unlikely to respond to this rhetoric, let alone to editorial cartoons, by burning cars, slitting throats, or issuing death threats in places like Paris and Amsterdam and Regensburg and London.

In the end, people are comfortable with scapegoats because they can understand them. They are "problems" that have been solved before. Throw out the illegals, demonize the motives of religious people, blame Bush or America for everything or put our head in the sand. All are easier than dealing with an entity that simply doesn't think about life and society like the West.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

American Historical Association Against the War

Historians Against the War is going to present a resolution at the Business Meeting of the annual American Historical Association confab in Atlanta. Here's the proposed resolution:
Resolution on United States Government Practices Inimical to the Values of the Historical Profession (this resolution did not appear in the print version of the December Perspectives)

Whereas, The American Historical Association’s Statement on Standards of Professional Conduct emphasize the importance of open inquiry to the pursuit of historical knowledge;

Whereas, the American Historical Association adopted a resolution in January 2004 re-affirming the principles of free speech, open debate of foreign policy, and open access to government records in furthering the work of the historical profession;

Whereas during the war in Iraq and the so-called war on terror, the current Administration has violated the above-mentioned standards and principles through the following practices:
*excluding well-recognized foreign scholars;
*condemning as “revisionism” the search for truth about pre-war intelligence;
*re-classifying previously unclassified government documents;
*suspending in certain cases the centuries-old writ of habeas corpus and substituting indefinite administrative detention without specified criminal charges or access to a court of law;
*using interrogation techniques at Guantanamo, Abu-Ghraib, Bagram, and other locations incompatible with respect for the dignity of all persons required by a civilized society;

Whereas a free society and the unfettered intellectual inquiry essential to the practice of historical research, writing, and teaching are imperiled by the practices described above; and

Whereas, the foregoing practices are inextricably linked to the war in which the United States is presently engaged in Iraq; now, therefore, be it

Resolved, That the American Historical Association urges its members through publication of this resolution in Perspectives and other appropriate outlets:

  1. To take a public stand as citizens on behalf of the values necessary to the practice of our profession; and

  2. To do whatever they can to bring the Iraq war to a speedy conclusion.
Now, it is curious that the "anti-war" resolution was somehow left out of the printed version of Perspectives, the AHA's monthly magazine while a rather mundane Informed Meetings Exchange resolution and a more important (and less controversial) "Resolution Opposing the Use of Speech Codes to Restrict Academic Freedom" were included. But I don't want to conspiracy monger...perhaps there was a technical delay or something.

I added the hyperlinks in a good faith effort to help explain the "story" that lay behind some of the specific charges. Specifically, I can understand why the AHA would be concerned with the first three issues listed as justifications for part 1. of the resolution. But I don't get the particular significance that the 4th and 5th justifications--in concert with part 2 of the resolution--have to practising History. Don't get me wrong, the AHA and its memebers have every right to make a political statement, but, to put it bluntly, I don't think anyone particularly cares whether or not the AHA wants people "[t]o do whatever they can to bring the Iraq war to a speedy conclusion." In fact, I doubt if most people find the AHA any more or less worth listening to on the subject. To Joe Sixpack, this statement is about as relevant as if the local little league said the same thing. Just another bunch of pointy-heads throwing in their 2 cents. But I guess if it makes everyone feel good...

Friday, December 15, 2006

The Historian's Responsibility

In "Democracy and Greatness," Harvard University professor Harvey Mansfield offers "an argument for the use of great books in our education, based on the need for greatness in human life." It is this "need for greatness" on which Mansfield focuses and he explains that the "[t]wo obstacles to education in greatness loom before us, modern science and modern democracy." Of these, I'd like to focus on modern science and social science in particular. I take my cue from Mansfield, who believes:
Social science, moreover, has difficulty in understanding human greatness. It looks for the cause of greatness in the circumstances of mass movements or trends that make greatness inevitable, hence not really great. It is based on a simplistic psychology of maximizing the power of one's preferences or of overcoming one's necessities. It is blind to the psychology of greatness because it cannot see actions that sacrifice self-interest to espouse a cause. It has no inkling of human spiritedness, the quality of soul discussed by Plato, called thymos, that prompts us to assert a principle by which to live--and for which to die--as opposed to surviving by any means possible.

Though social scientists would hate to admit it, social science is still a form of Social Darwinism which suffers from the attempt to explain the evolution of man by a principle, the principle of survival, that is manifestly untrue to the facts of human life, and above all to human greatness. Any education that wants to appreciate greatness would have to be critical of social science.

Now, I don't necessarily agree with Mansfield here, and that is because I'm not sure whether he is lumping History in with the Social Sciences. But I think what he has to say is interesting in how it relates to the thoughts of Ohio University professor Kevin Mattson.

Mattson's "History", in the latest issue of Democracy, is a must read for those of us who look to the past with the hope that it can help us understand the present. The sub-title of the piece, "[t]hose who don't know history are doomed to distort it–and our political discourse," is an accurate thesis statement. For example, Mattson uses recent historical analogies offered by Donald Rumsfeld and Jacob Weisberg, both of which he believes were facile and not rigorous enough to withstand serious historical scrutiny, as a jumping off point for a well-considered essay on the role of the historian in contemporary political discourse (so go read it!).

But if such analogies are so specious, why do politicians and pundits continue to deploy them? Simply put, because they can. Today the public, even the educated public, has little knowledge of history, or even an appreciation of history as anything other than a grab bag of unrelated facts to be picked from as one sees fit...But even in their ignorance, audiences are still sufficiently impressed by history’s power that even the weakest analogies provide immediate faux expertise, an instant credibility. Thus history is both poorly understood and everywhere present; we shape our public discourse with a discipline we don’t understand.

And where are the professional historians who are trained to understand the past and could scrutinize such claims? They’re in academia, churning out esoteric articles that move fast onto resumes but rarely into public debate.

Mattson then turns to Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. (no politically impartial historian he!) to provide historians with a history lesson: historians should attempt to use history within contemporary political debates. If not us, then who?:
Four months before his then-boss, John F. Kennedy, was assassinated, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. argued in the Atlantic that when scholars abandon engaged history and leave public life behind, they empower "prophetic historians" who replace complexity with a big overarching idea (Schlesinger had in mind Marxism). Today, scholars are leaving behind the public world not to communist theory but to the History Channel, where the imperative of entertainment trumps veracity, where shows about absurd conspiracy theories run alongside more serious fare, all formatted to work in between commercials. Or they leave it behind to blockbuster historians–think David McCullough, Doris Kearns Goodwin, or the recently deceased Stephen Ambrose–whose books, though widely bought, lack analytical power and critical insight. But most worrisome of all (and here is where Schlesinger was most prescient), professional historians have left a void to be filled by radical historians, who eschew nuance and objectivity in favor of simplistic morality tales.
I think Mattson is too tough on the "blockbuster historians," but his fears of the proliferation of history as a "simplistic morality tale" are, I believe, well-founded. I also agree that History as entertainment has a tendency to stoop down to the lowest common denominator. Unfortunately, there are more people interested in the "history" of UFOs then in Enlightenment thought. (Besides, there was no film or movie cameras back then!) But I digress. As Mattson explains, "it wasn't always this way." There was a time when the likes of "C. Vann Woodward, Henry Steele Commager, Richard Hofstadter, and Schlesinger himself" actively maintained a foot in the past and the present and the public was better off for the work they produced.

From here, Mattson offers a comparative book review of Howard Zinn's A People's History and C. Vann Woodward's Strange Career of Jim Crow to offer his perspective on the responsible contemporization of History. He shows that Zinn's "sweeping, ideology-heavy narrative that leaves no room for contingency or nuance" only serves to simplify history for the left and made it simpler for those on the right to hold Zinn up as a cipher for all that is wrong with the liberal academy.
Rather than ignoring Zinn, they place him at the center of the American historiography, just to show how widespread his approach has become...And once Zinn is accepted as the model historian, it’s easy for the right to prepare the necessary takedown.
Contrast Zinn's simplistic, "blame-it-on-the-man" approach to Woodward's more nuanced and even-handed method, as displayed in Jim Crow:

When he explained the historical rise of segregation, he knew enough to explain his story’s complexity and contingency...Though Woodward was clearly an opponent of segregation and racism, his story didn’t unfold as a morality play of good versus evil but rather as a clash of "real choices," some less harmful than others. He explained: "The policies of proscription, segregation, and disenfranchisement that are often described as immutable ‘folkways’ of the South, impervious alike to legislative reform and armed intervention, are of a more recent origin."

...Woodward’s real contribution, though, was to show that the central philosophical pivots of history–the intersection of social, economic, and political trends with the contingency inherent in all human endeavor–had great relevance for the present. Woodward didn’t seek facile analogies; he sought a clear and thorough understanding of past events as a defining factor of the present...

Woodward showed how the past was complex and made up of the acts of varied players making choices that were in no way inevitable; he would have seen as silly the telling of a narrative in which always virtuous people battle an always villainous power elite. Though he certainly sided with those who wanted to achieve justice, he didn’t toss aside the importance of scrutinizing the past in order to accomplish a better world.

Mattson conludes:
Our culture nurtures instantaneous debate and over-the-top diatribes, rather than thoughtful rumination. But this is precisely what makes Woodward’s legacy all the more important. As the liberal historian Alan Brinkley (sounding conservative to some, perhaps) pointed out in his book Liberalism and Its Discontents, "Reminding our personality-obsessed and result-oriented culture that there are forces shaping our world beyond the actions and characters of individuals–and that we will be more successful if we adjust our expectations and our goals to the reality of those forces, and to the difficulty of our fully understanding them–is one of the things [historians] are best equipped to do." Our culture could use reminding of this right now.
This seems to be a refutation of Mansfield's earlier-mentioned, broader critique of the tendency of the social sciences to focus on the inevitability of social movements and thus reduce the importance of the individual. However, I think that Mansfield and Mattson (assuming that he's sympathetic to Brinkley point of view--he did quote it, after all)--though coming at the problem from different sides--are offering the same solution.

Mansfield and Mattson (and Brinkley) are each correct. It seems to be human nature to want to reduce explanations of historical causation to the most simple explanation (and all the better if served with a large dose of cynicism). If it's not all Bush's fault or the liberal media's, well, then it's the Illuminati or the Trilateral Commission or the CFR or the Masons (always the Masons...). Mansfield and Mattson both argue against the simplification of historical analysis.

For Mansfield, it can't always be about movements: sometimes individuals--Mansfield's "great men"--really do make a difference. For Mattson (and Brinkley), even powerful individuals can't control everything and events overtake them, no matter what they try to do to prevent it. Contra to the tendency to oversimplify, responsible historians can show the nuances and complicatons and contingencies that led to the particular characteristics of a given historical event and how it was caused. Usually it had to do with both great men or women and large forces. It's never as simple as it seems.

Thus, as Mattson explains, historians need to buck up and wade in to the public dialogue. In particular, here in the blogosphere, we blogging historians probably need to cut back on the pithy jeremiads-as-blog posts that we tend to pump out. All such posts do is feed the beast. They are grist for the ideological mill and only exacerbate the problem that Mattson describes.

Perhaps one solution would be for us history bloggers to concentrate more on being accurate and fair with how we do our history and less on using it to further political agendas--especially to score quick political points. Or maybe, at least, we should just be more aware of how our history related posts may be used irresponsibly. For instance, if we see a bad historical analogy, instead of going right for the jugular, spewing invective and hyperbole against the poster, we should deal with it in a more professional manner. I know that invective is "sexy" and hyperbole "sells," but I can't help but think that a measured response would be regarded more seriously and respectfully by those with whom you differ.*

I think this all stems from one of the pitfalls of the online world; namely a lack of civility in debate. The remoteness of the keyboard and monitor provides the sort of insulation not encountered when debating face to face. And that insularity too often results in uncharacteristic boldness (or rudeness). Now, before I get accused of going all rainbows and ponies, I want to say that I'm not opposed to rigorous debate and questioning of facts, theories, etc. Instead, historians should try to give each other the benefit of the doubt and accept the sincerity of those involved in the dialogue.

Just because we disagree, doesn't mean I'm Satan or you're Hitler. We just disagree (reminds me of a song). It's the well-intentioned debate over that disagreement that will serve to educate others, perhaps even non-historians, and show that determining historical causation is far from a simple task that ends up with a simple answer.


*I don't know how many times I've seen a potentially good on-line historical discussion sidetracked immediately by one or another commenter casting negative aspersions on the motives of someone with whom they disagree. It's History 101 isn't it: assume that the "source" is genuine, ie; they really believe what they say.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Concert of Democracies: Global Politics Played to a Different Tune

America unbound alienated allies, empowered adversaries and divided Americans" and has returned to multi
Democracies understand that international peace and justice in an era of global politics rest on protecting the rights of individuals. Nation-state sovereignty can no longer be the sole organizing principle of international politics. Since what happens within a state matters to people living outside it, tackling these internal developments cooperatively is vital to the security and well-being of all. Threats to security arising within states are matters of concern to the commons, and so must yield to legitimate cooperative action arising from the commons. Democracies are open to cooperation to preserve the common good—it is the very essence of how they govern within their own societies, after all—in a way that non-democracies very often are not.
Their three general steps are:
First, the Concert would be a vehicle for helping democracies confront their mutual security challenges...

Second, the Concert would promote economic growth and development...

Third, the Concert would promote democracy and human rights...
Their proposal is much more detailed than this very brief summary and they do understand that it is a long road to actualizing their vision. In one sense, it's a broader version of the Anglosphere idea. I don't know if it's possible, but it worth a shot.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Defining History and Adding A Warning Label

As most historians probably do, I have a habit of accumulating various articles that have piqued my interest over the years. In particular, I have a penchant for ripping book reviews out of magazines and journals. Well, every now and then I wade through the detritus. What often happens is that about 1/3 of the articles and reviews don't seem quite so germane or important as before. Of the rest, a few are digested and set aside for further reflection, but others warrant immediate action. That is what I'm doing now.

One such clipping was a book review of Franklin Delano Roosevelt: Champion of Freedom by Conrad Black, written by Forrest McDonald for the November 24, 2003 edition of National Review. I originally had kept the review because of McDonald's rather acerbic explanation of what makes a historian:
What historians do is make generalizations. They study and tke notes from the relevant documents and secondary literature. As they ingest the data, they digest them and reduce them to general propositions. When they sit down to write they select and report only that which makes cogent the story they are telling or the analysis they are offering. Two other kinds of folks who study the past go about their tasks differently. Antiquarians delight in learning details for their own sake and are likely to report them accurately and fully, if somewhat randomly. Authors of academic history characteristically record their research on note cards, arrange them in chronological order, and write by turning the cards over one by one. The results in either case are well-nigh unreadable.
Quite some time after reading McDonald's review, I picked up the book in the bargain bin of a local discount chain. (Mostly because it was big and thick and cheap and had to do with history, I must confess). I had forgotten what McDonald had written about Black's FDR:
Conrad Black's unconsionably long biography of Franklin Roosevelt shares almost none of the characteristics of genuine history and fall halfway between the work of antiquarians and academicians. Like them, he includes every detail, however irrelevant, though he is not always accurate and sometimes arranges his note cards out of sequence.
I have now tucked McDonald's review inside the book as a "warning label." I wonder if this might not be a good practice to follow in general? Does anyone else do such a thing? Seems like keeping a critique of a book that one might fall in love with may be a good hedge against literary or historical cupidity.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Historian Resigns over Carter Screed

I previously referred to Alan Dershowitz's scathing review of former President Jimmy Carter's Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid. Dershowitz took Carter to task for playing fast and loose--if not outright ignoring--history. Now, Dr. Kenneth Stein, Professor of Contemporary Middle Eastern History, Political Science, and Israeli Studies at Emory as well as the Director of the Middle East Research Program and Emory Institute for the Study of Modern Israel has resigned (via John Podhoretz) as Middle East Fellow of the Carter Center at Emory.
This ends my 23 year association with an institution that in some small way I helped shape and develop. My joint academic position in Emory College in the History and Political Science Departments, and, as Director of the Emory Institute for the Study of Modern Israel remains unchanged.

Many still believe that I have an active association with the Center and, act as an adviser to President Carter, neither is the case. President Carter has intermittently continued to come to the Arab-Israeli Conflict class I teach in Emory College. He gives undergraduate students a fine first hand recollection of the Begin-Sadat negotiations of the late 1970s. Since I left the Center physically thirteen years ago, the Middle East program of the Center has waned as has my status as a Carter Center Fellow. For the record, I had nothing to do with the research, preparation, writing, or review of President Carter's recent publication. Any material which he used from the book we did together in 1984, The Blood of Abraham, he used unilaterally.

President Carter's book on the Middle East, a title too inflammatory to even print, is not based on unvarnished analyses; it is replete with factual errors, copied materials not cited, superficialities, glaring omissions, and simply invented segments. Aside from the one-sided nature of the book, meant to provoke, there are recollections cited from meetings where I was the third person in the room, and my notes of those meetings show little similarity to points claimed in the book. Being a former President does not give one a unique privilege to invent information or to unpack it with cuts, deftly slanted to provide a particular outlook. Having little access to Arabic and Hebrew sources, I believe, clearly handicapped his understanding and analyses of how history has unfolded over the last decade. Falsehoods, if repeated often enough become meta-truths, and they then can become the erroneous baseline for shaping and reinforcing attitudes and for policy-making. The history and interpretation of the Arab-Israeli conflict is already drowning in half-truths, suppositions, and self-serving myths; more are not necessary. In due course, I shall detail these points and reflect on their origins.

{emphasis added}

I'm not familiar with Dr. Stein's work, but I would imagine that his c.v. is strong enough to withstand any attacks of him being some sort of neocon hack. I'll be interested to see what he provides as evidence of President Carter's skewed scholarship.

UPDATE (12/7/06): Jake Tapper adds:

Speaking to the NEW YORK TIMES Tulane historian Douglas Brinkley, author of the 1988 Carter biography, "The Unfinished Presidency," paints the dispute as more ideological than ethical.
"They've never been on the same page in the Middle East. They've been in an almost constant state of disagreement. Carter has used him as a sounding board but apparently Carter went too far and the sparring partner decided to bloody him up," Brinkley said. "Ken Stein ... doesn't trust the Palestinians as much as Carter."

As a college student, I interned for Dr. Stein at the Carter Center in 1988. He's a stand-up guy, one committed to trying to find a peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and one certainly open to the Palestinian point of view.

My work for Stein revolved around research about THE BENELUX STATES -- the economic union that allows Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxemboug to function together while existing separately. I also researched ways in which Israel and the Palestinians were intertwined infrastructurally -- water supplies, for instance. This is not the work of a man turning a deaf ear to the needs of the Palestinians -- it's the work of a man researching ways to achieve peace.

Medieval Weather

The "Medieval Warm Period" is one of those scientific/political footballs that is constantly being passed around. As a medievalist, I'm familiar with the historical evidence (or interpretation) that suggests the weather must have been nicer c. 1000 A.D. because why else would the Vikings believe that Iceland and Greenland would have viable farming land. Of course, it was only viable, not necessarily very productive. Then there is the research of NOAA and the findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which both indicate that the Medieval Warm Period wasn't really that much warmer and that, contrary to being a global event, was much more regionalized.

The reason that the MWP is important is because those who are skeptical of human-created global warming believe that the MWP and the Little Ice Age indicate that changes in global temperatures occurred well before 20th century industrialization. While NOAA admits that attempts pin down temperature patterns in periods as early (and earlier) than 1000 A.D. are tough because of the lack of reliable data, they also point out that the warming that has ocurred in the 20th century easily eclipses any previous rise. Of course, that is, any measure rise.

What does this all mean? Science as politics ain't going away and, frankly, I'm not too interested in that debate. Sometimes it seems that the role played by contingency is forgotten in history and the MWP debated offers an important reminder that weather can affect history in multiple ways. What if the MWP continued and even got hotter? Would we all be talking about our Viking forefathers here in the U.S.? Or would more--and better--wine be coming out of Britain?

Friday, December 01, 2006

Slate publishes a Bushitler piece

Frederick Smoler at the American Heritage Blog is rather surprised that a mainstream (web) 'zine like Slate would stoop to publishing a Bush=Hitler piece. Especially one that is filled with poor historical analogies:
Diane McWhorter published a piece sneering at the tendency to avoid comparing the Bush administration to the Nazis. She wonders why “nobody seems eager to delve too deeply into what exactly it was about George W. Bush that the voters so roundly rejected . . . polite discussion of that question does not contain any derivative of the words fascism, propaganda, or dictatorship. God forbid Nazi or Hitler.” Early on, Ms. McWhorter points out that the Bush administration, like the Nazis, engages in propaganda. I do not think this successfully isolates the more distinctive qualities of National Socialism.

Ms. McWhorter handsomely acknowledges that the Bush people have avoided exterminating the Jews, but insists that this does not get them off the hook. She concludes by assuming the point at issue: The United States is like Nazi Germany because ordinary Americans went along with Bush for a number of years. Before that dazzling display of circular reasoning, she makes a number of other comparisons, and one core of her argument focuses on the brief threat to change the Senate’s rules on the filibuster, which, had it happened, “struck me as a functional analog of the Enabling Act of 1933, which consolidated the German government under Chancellor Hitler and effectively dissolved the Reichstag as a parliamentary body.” For this analogy to hold, you have to assume, at a minimum, that in the event the Republicans had changed the filibuster rules on confirming Federal judges, there would never again have been an election in the United States. And to assume this, you have to be an idiot.