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Saturday, March 19, 2016

'Bias and Ill-Will: Poverty of Today’s Historians'

Branko Milanovic:

Bias and ill-will: poverty of today’s historians: ... I was ... happy to discover that London has (yet) not dispensed with having bookstores. ...
As I more closely looked at the books displayed, I noticed a peculiarity. Almost all books ... on the French, Russian and Chinese revolutions were not only critical of the revolutions, focused on the destruction they wreaked, but were exposés of their leaders, of their murderous natures and sexual perversions. Robespierre is a green-spectacled misanthrope who never had sex; Lenin hated people and loved only his mistress; Stalin was not only a mass murdered but also a serial Georgian (thus, swarthy, dark and hairy) sexual predator; Mao was an obsessive, maniacal murderer who enjoyed deflowering young girls.
It was a weird feeling. The writers who seemed to belong to the tabloid school of journalism rather than to be historians, reacted, I suppose, to the deification of these leaders by their followers, by trying to do the reverse. ...
But what I thought these tabloid historians (many of whom teach at the most prestigious universities) miss out is that it is impossible to explain a movement, whether it is “good” or “bad”, by the personal virtues or vices of their leaders, or by whether they were born rich or poor, in a small or big family. I was told that Germany was recently transfixed by several months of debates about Hitler’s testicles (whether there is a plural or singular there). Does this tell us anything about the Nazi ideology, movement, its rise and fall? Similarly, do sexual habits of Lenin, Stalin, Mao, or to take also Roosevelt and JFK tell us anything about why people supported and followed them? Or about the policies and choices they made?
I think it is an unfortunate development which is destructive of serious scholarship and reflects the predominantly tabloid culture of today: all actions ought to be explained or reduced to sex, money; and, among those who “suffer”, explained by fear. No room is left for economic interests of the classes, ideology and beliefs, emulation or self-abnegation.
It could be that these “histories” are not really histories of the past but rather histories of the time when they are written, that is of today. At the time where there are no beliefs and everything is individualized and commercialized, all history needs to be explained as having been the product of crass self-interest of few individuals. ...
How these individuals managed to convince millions to follow them, or how, more accurately, the millions found them to make them their champions and leaders, is ignored and left unexplained. Moreover, the explanation is consider superfluous. We go back to a view of history where there are no social forces, no classes, but only individuals: leaders and those being led, the lions and the sheep in Pareto’s terminology.
So perhaps that after all we really do have the historians we deserve.

    Posted by on Saturday, March 19, 2016 at 08:15 PM in Economics | Permalink  Comments (41)


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