Foreword
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Foreword T he essays and commentariesthat follow are of differing length and deal with miscellaneous subjects. Autobiographical sketches can be found at the beginning and end of this anthology, where I present material that was not included in my Encounters.1 Since that earlier work centered on famous political and intellectual figures, I could not weave into it the personal reminiscences that grace this volume. Besides including previously unpublished autobiographical material,this anthology addresses a variety of historical and topical themes. Here, as well as in my earlier writings, I approach these themes in an unorthodox fashion, from beyond the parameters of discussion that prevail in universities and the national press. My critical engagement with political correctness is already well-­ known and has made me persona non grata in many circles. Early in life, that is, already during my graduate school years at Yale, I was struck by the dogmatic way in which certain interpretations of modern history were presented. This anthology offers alternative views to ideas that never seemed quite right. The“revisions and dissents”mentioned in the title are directed against positions that I would argue need to be reexamined, and both the longer and shorter essays target such positions. The “revisions” that appear in the title therefore apply less to my work than to certain contemporary interpreters of the past. Originally I was tempted to borrow my title from one of my favorite thinkers and stylists, Arthur Schopenhauer. His gallimaufry of occasional pieces, Parerga und Paralipomena, which may be translated from Greek as “Addenda and Fragments,” was published in the 1850s, when its author had already attained some degree of eminence as a philosophic gadfly.2 Contrary to the implication of the title, however, Schopenhauer was not serving his readers with mere addenda or fragments. Like me, he was offering detailed discussions of various topics that were intended to arouse controversy. A chief inspiration for my anthology came from Schopenhauer’s withering analysis of sham “academic philosophy” and the “salvation-­ bringing” confidence with which honored academics trot out their hobbyhorses.3 Almost everything Schopenhauer attributed to pompous philosophy professors in Germany during the late 1840s applies equally well to what I have witnessed in today’s historical profession. My oft-­stated attraction to the Frankfurt School Marxist Herbert Marcuse as a teacher did not flow from sharing Marcuse’s admiration for Lenin or his shotgun marriage between Freud and Marx.4 I respected this professor for his willingness to consider historical questions from more than one angle. As a student I never hesitated to put forth in his presence an “illiberal” view of past events, x foreword such as the revolutions of 1848 or the Spanish Civil War. Unlike other professors I encountered, Marcuse never berated me for being morally wrong in my historical judgments. This was not true of my exposure to German history, where my“liberal democratic ” instructors were caricatures of the authoritarian German personality that they railed against. Their views on any aspect of their field of study were easily guessed, even before they and their students looked at an original source. It has never ceased to amaze me how closely their historical interpretations followed certain ideological guidelines. I have often wondered whether, borrowing the phrase of Antonio Gramsci, historians help to frame the “hegemonic ideology” in their societies as members of the master class, or whether they reflect and convey the political belief system that has originated elsewhere, for example, in the media. In any case it is clear to me that many leading historians are not engaging in balanced inquiry when they purport to be saying the last word on a topic. Their settled views usually embody what are “acceptable” ideas, particularly when historians write about race, gender, fairness, human rights, and other political concerns. Contemporary historians also generally display a bias against certain groups and their histories, namely against those human aggregations that do not enjoy“liberal” respectability. A list of these unpopular groups that stopped with the Germans, the French peasantry after 1789, southern whites, and medieval Christians would be woefully incomplete. This enumeration would leave out other groups that respectable academic and popular historians now scorn and even diabolize. Those who take the arbiters of moral and professional respectability more seriously than I do have often complained about my quarrelsomeness. If a historian is featured in such publications as the New York Review of Books, the Economist, or Weekly Standard, then it behooves me to accord that person...


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Subject Headings

  • Conservatism.
  • Liberalism.
  • Right and left (Political science).
  • Political science -- Philosophy.
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