Michael Kazin: Newt Gingrich, America’s Worst Historian

Roundup: Historians' Take

Michael Kazin’s latest book, American Dreamers: How the Left Changed a Nation, will be published in August. He teaches history at Georgetown University.

...I am not qualified to judge [Newt] Gingrich’s knowledge of pterodactyls or the merits of establishing a colony on Mars. However, I have just completed his latest book of history: A Nation Like No Other: Why American Exceptionalism Matters. And I can say, with absolute confidence, that it may be the most inaccurate, least intellectual book about our nation’s past I have ever read.

LET’S START WITH his premise. One can certainly make a decent argument that the United States is a nation with exceptional ideals and/or a history distinctive for its economic success—whether that success was due more to brilliant entrepreneurs and industrious workers or to the good fortune of settlers and their progeny who conquered a vast land graced with abundant natural resources, a small native population, and an ocean away from European wars. But, to make that argument convincingly, one would have compare those ideals and that history with those of other nations. After all, something is exceptional only in contrast to some other things.

Gingrich, however, has no time for anything but American history. He merely declares, repeatedly, that the U.S. is different and better than any other place on earth and expects readers to take him on faith. Only America, he asserts, is dedicated to individual freedom, to limited government, to human equality and “to the profound religious principle that recognizes God as the ultimate authority over any government.” The French Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen? The British tradition of divided powers between the monarch and Parliament? The Iranian and Saudi theocracies? Newt the politician-historian seems to have missed all of these....

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