Monday, July 11, 2016

American Counter-Revolution

A Review of The American Counter Revolution: A Retreat From Liberty, 1783-1800, by Larry E. Tise, Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania: Stackpole Books, 1999, 634 pages.

A good historian ought to make it clear where he is coming from rather than assume an impossible Olympian objectivity. Then, if he has handled his evidence honestly, he has fulfilled the demands of his craft—whether or not we agree with the interpretation he has placed upon his evidence. Ideally, interpretation should come separately from, and after, presentation of that evidence.

Two historians, for instance, may agree that the New Deal was not really very radical a program. One of these may be pleased by this conclusion and the other regret it; both, however, in their honest description have done their job as historians. Their opinion about their finding, of course, is another question. (And as Sir Herbert Butlerfield wisely warned long ago, historians’ opinions can too easily become self-centered moral judgments, even preferences of taste masquerading as moral judgments.)

Larry Tise, by these criteria, is a good historian. He tells us up front (self-indulgently, alas, and at a little more length than necessary) what he is and where he is coming from: a liberal unhappy with what he considers the failed promise of the American Revolution. In the period he has under consideration, he believes that liberty (by which he means feminism and egalitarianism) was repudiated by its friends just as it was about to be realized in practice.

No comments:

Post a Comment