A Patriot’s History of the United States

This book published by Sentinel (a new conservative imprint of Penguin) intends to challenge the hegemony of “mainstream U.S. history textbooks,” whose multicultural obsessions allegedly distort the plain truth of the nation’s past. Proceeding from the premise that American history “is a bright and shining light,” A Patriot’s History offers a ponderous, distracted 900-page ode to “American character,” private property, and godly virtue. Here, Schweikart and Allen slay the predictable assortment of dragons — the New Deal, secularists, Dr. Spock, the Clintons — while salving the wounds of Columbus, the Founding Fathers, industrial capitalists, and other aggrieved parties whose place in history has been reduced by liberal historians who believe “there is no such thing as virtue” (p. xi-xii). Written for an audience of the previously converted, this book is hardly worth anyone else’s time.

It should be noted, however, that most historians would probably find nothing troubling about a text that emphasizes political, military, and business history (as this one does), nor would they automatically dismiss a book for celebrating the United States as a moral beacon to the world. Aside from its more “traditional” emphasis on Great Men and its heavy reliance on historical works published prior to the 1970s, the broad narrative of A Patriot’s History is unremarkable. But the devil lives in the details. What are readers to make of a book that devotes a single paragraph to the Japanese internment while squandering an entire page with denunciations of liberal historians and their treatments of the subject? How seriously should anyone take a textbook that devotes seven pages each to the Spanish-American War and the Clinton impeachment while covering the Iran-Contra scandal in six sentences? How much is our understanding of woman suffrage aided by a rambling discussion of Margaret Sanger’s eugenic obsessions? Does a history survey — patriotic or otherwise — require a two-page essay on the question “Did Columbus Kill Most of the Indians?” Although this reviewer has never heard that question asked by any historians aside from the authors of this book, the answer is evidently “no.”

We might continue in this vein, but the more distressing problems with A Patriot’s History appear in the footnotes, which the authors clearly do not expect intelligent people to read. Any responsible survey text should strive to represent accurately the range of views available on a particular issue. Indeed, even “liberal” textbooks provide helpful bibliographies that include traditional as well as revisionist scholarship. In this book, however, the authors repeatedly ignore canonical historical scholarship, as when the authors manage somehow not to footnote anything by John Lewis Gaddis, Robert Grogin, William Appleman Williams, Melvyn Leffler or Walter LaFeber in a chapter on the Cold War. Other chapters suggest comparable ignorance of the basic parameters of actual historical scholarship; this represents a disservice to the book’s readers.

Worse, in their chapters on recent U.S. history, the authors make claims that are not even remotely endorsed by the footnoted sources. In excoriating the Great Society, for instance, Schweikart and Allen observe that one “malignant result of AFDC’s no-father policy was that it left inner-city black boys with no male role models” (p. 689). In support of this Gingrichian pronouncement, the authors cite a single 1989 study from Social Forces— an article that makes no mention of AFDC, inner-city black youth, or role models and indeed has almost nothing to do with the argument to which it is attached. In the same paragraph, we read further that after the 1960s, “gang leaders from Portland to Syracuse, from Kansas City to Palmdale, inducted thousands of impressionable young males into drug running, gun battles, and often death” (p. 689). For this dramatic observation, the authors rely on two broad studies of family structure and drug use, each published eight years apart in the Journal of Marriage and the Family. Among the phrases that do not appear in either study: “Gang leaders,” “Portland,” “Syracuse,” “Kansas City,” “Palmdale,” “impressionable young males,” “drug running,” “gun battles,” and “death.” With little effort, this reviewer has identified nearly a dozen such cases in which the authors have tortured their sources to score points against social programs they oppose, political philosophies to which they object, or historical actors whom they do not like.

Evidently, the virtues endorsed by A Patriot’s History do not apply to the authors themselves. As “intelligent design” simulates the language and structure of evolutionary biology, A Patriot’s History simulates the language and structure of historical writing. Discerning readers will not be fooled.

 

 

By: Larry Schweikart and Michael Allen