Saturday, 18 February 2017

Historians tell us surprisingly little about current day politics

Political commentary by fine historians is rarely of any value or interest - certainly not that of Eric Hobsbawm, Tony Judt, Norman Davies, Eric Foner, Niall Ferguson or Mark Marzower - nor A.J.P. Taylor. My friend Andrew Roberts did not convince me to admire George W. Bush. 

Politicians and journalists who become historians, like Alan Clarke and Andrew Marr, are the exceptions that prove the rule.

This should be born in mind when reading about the 91 presidential historians who this week rated Obama the 12th best out of the 45 or that Professor Ronald L Feinman has predicted that Donald Trump will last in office somewhere between between the 31 days of William Henry Harrison, who died of a cold he caught at his inauguration in 1841, and the 199 days of James Garfield, who was assassinated in 1881.

Historians cannot usefully predict the future any more than economists can or bookmakers. They do not have any gift of understanding what is happening now. They only know, if they are good, an approximation to how things were in the past.  This is not their fault. It is the human condition.

Once history was written by men (they were all men) who earned their money through
journalism or in other ways, had a rich patron or private means. Those men wrote for the educated general reader as well as scholars which is why older history is usually better written than most things written today. It tends too to reflect the outlook of literate and intelligent, often upper and upper middle class, readers.

Nowadays historians' incomes come from the state, which tends to make them statist, and historians write for one another and for students. 

In fact nowadays historians and academics generally live in a very small bubble. English academics tell me no-one dare admit even to liking Tony Blair much less to voting Tory. And voting for Brexit means losing ones friends. 

Add to this the fact that academics are surprisingly narrow-minded, unlike say taxi drivers. Even a regius professor I know, who has lived in many countries around the world, has lived his life among academics who hold broadly similar political and social assumptions. His life experience has actually from many points of view been surprisingly narrow and, for example, he does not know anyone (apart from me) who supports Brexit. 

If you want to understand current politics taxi drivers, in fact, are often a better bet.


  1. I think "Decline and Fall of Roman Empire" (Gibbon) provides a lucid account of human nature and human institutions (and as someone once said "there is nothing new under the sun".) More importantly it illustrates how empires are susceptible to death just as we are.

    I think primarily what led to the downfall of the Roman Empire was fear, a kind of hubris. And I think that is on the cards now in the West. Implosion. All around us are signs of hedonism and anarchy. And politicians are looking to push responsibility onto the people. Giving votes to leave Europe etc....

  2. Do you read Nassim Taleb? I'm addicted. Finishing his 3rd book now, fourth coming out soon.

  3. Read his 3rd book Antifragile. Pure genius.

  4. Nearly all mainstream history published since 1945 is worthless because it ignores race and genetics which is the primary cause for the decline and fall of civilisations. And so they are not able to explain the modern world or predict what will happen in the future with any real accuracy. At least not the "respectable" ones.

    Disraeli wrote:

    “No man will treat with indifference the principle of race. It is the key to history and why history is so often confused is that it has been written by men who were ignorant of this principle and all the knowledge it involves… Language and religion do not make a race—there is only one thing which makes a race, and that is blood.”

    Had he been living a bit later Disraeli would have changed that to “genes”. And he was ahead of his time because in the late 19th Century and early 20th century our understanding of race and heredity was improving. The intelligentsia and the public alike were reading the works of Madison Grant, Francis Galton, Houston Chamberlain and Lothrop Stoddard. People began to understand that course of history, such as for instance the decline of Mexico and Portugal, was determined above all by eugenic and dysgenic trends. The success of the West was grounded in biology, not religion, and society was a racial construct.

    This nascent awareness was all aborted following WWII. The world since 1945 has been dominated by the opposite belief, the poisonous Boasian anti-wisdom that “race is a social construct” or “race is skin colour”. So as a society we have gone backwards in being able to understand the world. To be a “respectable” historian you cannot depart from the PC narrative that racial change is irrelevant. Not just historians but any mainstream writer. Go into any library and bookshop and you can find books on experiences of 18th century sailors or wartime refugees but in what was the land of Milton and Shakespeare we have no writers with anything to say about what is the great central British experiences of our time: White flight, Islamisation and the dispossession of the native English in their own land without a shot being fired. These are the most revolutionary changes in British history yet there are no books which reflect the ordinary English view on this since they would never find a mainstream publisher.

    1. More to this idea, this forced attempt to mix races that seems to be one of the drives behind the 'refugee' program, painfully reminds me of Stalin and his massive programs to move ethnicities around the USSR, in hope of creating the soviet citizen. If true, this would be the most audacious move yet. Will it work? Do we really want this to work? Will this bring any overall benefit? Based on the latest trends of an adverse reaction to this mix, the audacity of this move may backfire quite spectacularly, although large cohorts of youth having been educated to hate their heritage, seem to embrace this mix. Hard to find reliable statistics, but mixed marriages do seem to have higher chances of dissolution, although the mixing happens quite often apparently outside the marriage.
      Again, I am impressed by the Romanian youth; concert halls and conferences on quite abstract subjects are filled with young people clearly interested and intellectually participating. I apologize for posting a conference in Romanian, which some readers of this blog may not understand, but it is worth observing the public. The conference is on Modernity and Christianity.

  5. I think Dostoevsky should get a reference. My worry is that a Hitler type character will emerge again (a bit like Dostoevsky Grand Inquisitor), because the only way through the difficulties we face is a whole new approach to the way we see ourselves in the world. And with North Korea's horrible leader who resembles an overgrown effeminate baby, we look like we need a strong leader.


    Robert Harris