The Misplaced Libertarian Phobia of Social History
I could never really understand the source of this aversion to the study, and enjoyment, of social history. Perhaps the Randian influence has something to do with it. A more general cause perhaps is the libertarian focus on self-evident natural rights and a priori explanations. There is nothing wrong with this per se but in my experience it has encouraged a belief that that"we already have the answers" and that the only role for history (if any) is to"plug in" illustrative facts.
Of course, if the findings of social historians are merely"tools" to illustrate self-evident conclusions, it is easy to understand why so few libertarians would want to get their hands dirty with musty primary documents.
As Jason indicates, this common belief is regrettable for several reasons. Most importantly, those who hold it are throwing away an opportunity to better understand the historical role played by spontaneous order and voluntary cooperation in shaping the lives of ordinary individuals. By shying away from social history, libertarians are missing out on a chance to study the influence of ideas among non-elites who, after all, form the backbone of any extended social order.
If they can learn to appreciate social history, and the nitty gritty of research based on primary documents, libertarian and classical liberal historians are in a great position to provide valuable insights. They can shed light on how movements as civil rights and feminism have contributed (and also failed to contribute) to the encouragement of freedom and individual rights. For their part, leftist social historians, who often have a woeful ignorance of the basics of economics and the role played by spontaneous order, are desperately in need of having their views challenged and tested by a competing approach.
comments powered by Disqus
- Moving Photographs of Japanese American Internees, Then and Now
- A One-of-a-Kind Trove Reveals What 19th-Century American Boyhood Was Really Like
- St. Louis University moves controversial statue after protests
- UNC Renames Building That Honored Ku Klux Klan Leader
- A Wartime Bomb, Unearthed in Germany, Recalls Darker Days
- NYT hosts debate including Eric Foner: How Americans should remember Reconstruction
- William Leuchtenburg says historians and the media have been too hard on Obama
- Hugh Ambrose, historian who helped develop WWII Museum, dead at 48
- Historian discounts claim that Churchill and other British PM's were gay
- Nick Bunker Wins $50,000 2015 George Washington Book Prize