Jeff Riggenbach's book is a godsend for anyone who needs a crash course in revisionist history of the United States. What is revisionism? It is the retelling of history from a point of view that differs from the mainstream, which always treats the victor (the state) as glorious and the conquered (individual liberty) as deserving of its fate.
Obviously the libertarian telling of American history is going to be different. The state and its creations are not the heroes. The producers of capital, the average people, the voluntary society: these are the forces that make up civilization.
There is a massive literature of revisionist American history. It is so vast, in fact, that people whose field is economics, law, or philosophy can feel intimidated by it all, especially since this material is not taught in class. Must we accept the idea that the architects of the Constitution loved liberty, that Lincoln was a liberator, that the United States had to crush Spain in the late 19th century, that World War I was unavoidable, that the U.S. was always the good guy in the Cold War?
No, not at all, say the revisionists. They tell a version of events that turns every convention on its head. But there is yet another problem here: most of the major revisionist historians are writing from the point of view of the political left, and their interpretation is skewed by that bias. What Riggenbach does is offer a thoroughgoing critique of leftwing revisionism in favor of a distinctly libertarian form of revisionism.
This book is a roundup of the major figures and the most important books; it is also a clear-headed assessment of all the major controversies. What you get from this one book is what would otherwise take a student months or years of searching in the library to locate and learn. There has never been anything like it.
He covers the work of Kenneth Roberts, John Dos Passos, Gore Vidal, Harry Elmer Barnes, James J. Martin, Charles A. Beard, William Appleman Williams, Murray Rothbard, Thomas Woods, among many others. He weighs on the great issues of whether the Old Right was really part of the "right" and how the definitions of these terms change. He defends Thomas Woods against his critics among the mainstream while arguing that Woods is not a conservative at all but rather an old-style liberal.
This book is written in an engaging style, with the goal of sharing as much knowledge of this literature with the reader as is possible. In this way, this book opens up whole worlds you never knew existed.
There is no longer any reason to feel lost in the thicket of interpretation and reinterpretation. Like Virgil in the Inferno, Riggenbach is your guide.
This fine little book reminds us that there is a vigorous AND rigorous US historiographical tradition that stands counter to American imperialism, central economic planning and other abuses of liberty. Budding libertarians---and other new enemies of the expansive state---must learn that "court" historians and statist screed-scrawlers need not have the final say about American history. Indeed, if we are to fight tyranny, we need more than rhetoric and theory; we must have history on our side, too. In this sense, Riggenbach's work is a call to arms.
If the book has any fault, it is a tendency to be a bit discursive. The need for somewhat tighter organization aside, however, Riggenbach's prose is highly accessible and packed to the brim with information. Indeed, I find the previous reviewer's charge of unintelligibility somewhat baffling. The section in question CLEARLY reminds us that liberty's enemies sometimes usurp names as well as history.
More to say, but I'm out of space!
New left is old liberal or is it new right is old liberal? The terminology problem makes the book almost unintelligible. don't waste your money. Buy Thomas Woods instead.
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