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Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Revising history

History is written by the victors and can also be revised by the Vladimirs.
Vladimir Putin has put through a law giving the government approval of history textbooks. His concern is that the Soviet era has been portrayed in too negative a light. His government is more interested in some sort of balancing that doesn't make Russians ashamed of their past.

It's not really human to strip all nobility from the narrative. Of course this would not be the only case of revisionist history. Some unflattering things have been watered down in our history texts. Ridiculous versions are available which wildly over correct this. I'm a little more concerned that modes of thought have been subtly altered in ways of which most people are unaware. There are omissions and mischaracterizations in the story which incline people towards statism. (This is beyond even the impulses provided by human nature itself.) Brink Lindsey does a fine job of dealing with this in his book Against The Dead Hand and it is touched upon by Joshua Muravchik in Heaven On Earth:The Rise and Fall of Socialism.

At some point I hope to followup with some posts drawn from source material, that differ from the conventional wisdom regarding important aspects of economic history.


Harry Eagar said...

Funny, I haven't noticed any concern about the heavy sugar coating of tsarism we get from the anticommunists.

As long as we're against revisionism, try this, from an inmate of the Gulag:

'We were creatures of our times, of the epoch of magnificent illusions.'

-- Eugenia Ginzburg, 'Within the Whirlwind.'

It took a long time, as Ginzburg tells it, to decide it had been a mistake. You have to remember that it was Russians who had to live it, not you. They knew there was no hope in tsarism. If they hadn't had hope in socialism, they'd have had to kill themselves.

Those who did lose hope did kill themselves.

Bret said...

Why were tsarism and communism the only choices? Why does anyone have to hope in the government in order to decide to live? I mean, I do hope my government doesn't kill me or fleece me too badly, but other than that I don't even see how one can use "hope" and "government" in the same sentence (except to question the use of "hope" and "government" in the same sentence).

Susan's Husband said...

Mr. Eager also seems to be overlooking the Kerensky regime, which is precisely the alternative to Tsarism and Communism that Bret wonders about.

Harry Eagar said...

Hard to say how Kerensky would have worked out.

My guess is, not very well.

It's possible to ruin a sosciety so thoroughly that it cannot be governed. There are 49 Islamic societies plus Haiti to demonstrate the point.

Russia fits that class, too.

Self-government is a learned behavior, and the most difficult of them all.