Why don't historians take Cleon Skousen seriously? U of Arizona prof answers

Historians in the News

If you were under the impression that the United States is a secular, democratic republic founded on the great ideas of the Enlightenment, think again.

We owe our form of government not to the rebellious Founding Fathers but to ancient Israel, whose government provided an all-but-perfect model for the U.S. Constitution.

Thus runs a main theme of a 29-year-old, but newly popular, book called "The 5000 Year Leap."...

The book is among the works of prolific author W. Cleon Skousen, 1913-2006, who developed a fervent following among certain classes of conservatives during his decades as a writer and lecturer. The late Arizona Gov. Evan Mecham counted Skousen as his political mentor and told this newspaper in 1986: "I would enjoy being known as a protege of Cleon Skousen. I have all of his books, suitably autographed. I'm a great fan of his, and we're very dear friends."...

...Eduardo Pagan, who is the Bob Stump Endowed Professor of History at Arizona State University, is well familiar with Skousen's work.

"There is a whole genre of popular writers who write in a pseudo-scholarly manner," Pagan said. "They don't quite meet the standards of bona fide scholarly research."

Skousen, he said, fits into that category. Regarding Skousen's writings, Pagan said, "I would characterize it more as a statement of faith than recognized scholarship."

He said Skousen and others like him often cite sources more than 50 years old, in effect rejecting the scholarship of American history that has accumulated since the 1950s. Pagan contrasted Skousen with historian Barbara Tuchman, whose analysis of the American Revolution differs radically from Skousen's.

She saw the Revolution not as a miracle but as the inevitable outcome of British political and military bungling, a thesis painstakingly set forth and copiously annotated in her 1984 classic, "The March of Folly."

Pagan said he would recommend Tuchman's works as examples of true historical scholarship. As for Skousen, he said, "I would only recommend his work if we were studying reactions to the modern study of history."...

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