“The Real Origins of the Religious Right” – POLITICO Magazine

“They’ll tell you it was abortion. Sorry, the historical record’s clear: It was segregation.”

Source: The Real Origins of the Religious Right – POLITICO Magazine

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The Politics of Deception: History, Knowledge, and the First Amendment

 In a 1988 lecture Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia declared that originalism was “The Lesser Evil” over other methods of constitutional interpretation. (1) Born out of a resentment against what was perceived as an activist liberal Supreme Court, the movement to make originalism the way to interpret the Constitution did not begin with Scalia’s speech, but his appointment to the Supreme Court in 1986 was a watershed moment for it. In the 1970s conservatives began calling for a return to the Constitution and its “fixed” original meaning as a way to restrain Justices and “depoliticize the law.” (2) As the movement expanded, history, as a resource in which to discover the original meaning, was set to go from a side-show in constitutional law to the main event. A contested past was now required to yield certainties, and to do so without the appearance of ideological bias. Nonetheless, it soon became clear that the push for originalism was a political strategy to reshape constitutional law in favor of conservative principles. (3) But for this to happen, originalism had to yield the “correct” original meanings. This need to yield the “correct” history ensured that the well-known abuse of history in law would reach new heights. Despite their ideological underpinnings, the products of originalist jurisprudence are packaged in the language of certainty and impartiality. For this reason, as noted by Eric Berger, “Originalism is particularly worthy of criticism.” By “creat[ing] an especially misleading illusion of certainty” it operates by deception. (4) Contrary to Scalia’s assertion, originalism is not, in fact, the lesser of two evils, but by virtue of its pretense to objectivity the greater evil. It is politics disguised as legitimate scholarship.

Associate Justice Antonin Scalia during the group portrait of the U.S. Supreme Court at the Supreme Court Building in Washington, Friday, Oct. 8, 2010. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Associate Justice Antonin Scalia during the group portrait of the U.S. Supreme Court at the Supreme Court Building in Washington, Friday, Oct. 8, 2010. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Despite its many flaws, especially the very problematic historical record, originalism has gained in popularity and enjoyed broad application. (5) Given its popular appeal and the fact that so many legal scholars and organizations are dedicated to this method it is unlikely to disappear any time soon. Even if the jurisprudence of originalism faded into obscurity, there is no doubt that history will remain a crucial resource to bolster legal arguments. History is seen to confer legitimacy upon constitutional arguments and enjoys broad popular appeal. But the motives, sensibilities, and training of legal scholars diverge considerably from that of a historian. This makes it more likely that they will abuse history in order to bolster their arguments in favor a pre-determined conclusion.

In response to the frequent misuse of history in law some have recommended that its use by jurists be abandoned altogether, but others recognizing the implausibility of this solution have instead offered advice and/or rules to help them use history responsibly. (6) Regrettably, there is little evidence that lawyers, judges, justices or legal scholars have taken the advice of these well-meaning scholars. With busy schedules and no professional consequences, other than the occasional historian calling them out for their mischief, there is little incentive to change. There are two factors that work in tandem to encourage the abuse of history. The first comes from within the field itself. Lawyers are trained in the adversarial method in which the point is to make the best possible argument in favor of a particular claim. This methodology is well-suited in the service of ideological goals. This gets to the second factor, which gets at the incentives and motives driving the abuse of history, and in part explains why attempts to improve historical scholarship in law have failed. The desire to further one’s ideological agenda is encouraged and supported by the proliferation of partisan political organizations, funded by wealthy donors. To understand how these considerations contribute to the poor state of historical scholarship in the legal profession, it will be necessary to examine each in more detail. Continue reading

“Your Hitler analogy is wrong, and other complaints from a history professor” – Vox

The over use (and abuse) of historical analogies may seem innocent, but as the historian Linford D. Fisher points out, they are not harmless.  The main problem is that “they dumb down our political discourse, cheapen the actual realities of the past, and rob us of the opportunity to genuinely understand and learn from the past.” This outcome is the result of “comparisons [that] are shallow and not rooted in any depth of meaningful knowledge of the past. They rely on caricatures and selective historical tidbits in a way that, indeed, just about anyone can be compared to anyone else.” In other words, they are very bad analogies.

Some of these analogies are a product of ignorance, but too often they are trotted out to serve political ends. If your goal is to discredit Obama, then just keep calling him “Hitler,” “a fascist,” and/or “a communist” (the fact that this is incompatible with the other two is never considered). This kind of extreme rhetoric has been successful at turning a significant portion of the population against the president, making it easier for Congress to oppose him at every turn. Their effectiveness ensures that they’re not going anywhere anytime soon.

But there is hope. One way to combat against this abuse of history is through education. This is one reason why the humanities are particularly valuable. They provide the critical thinking skills needed to see through such crude analogies. And, of course, a broad and in-depth knowledge of history is also helpful.

Done correctly, historical analogies can be very useful. As Fisher notes, “history gives us perspective; it helps us gain a longer view of things. Through an understanding of the past we come to see trends over time, outcomes, causes, effects. We understand that stories and individual lives are embedded in larger processes. We learn of the boundless resilience of the human spirit, along with the depressing capacity for evil — even the banal variety — of humankind. The past warns us against cruelty, begs us to be compassionate, asks that we simply stop and look our fellow human beings in the eyes. All of us — grandstanding presidential candidates and partisan tweeting voters — could use a little more of this kind of history, not less.”

Read Fisher’s germane plea here: Your Hitler analogy is wrong, and other complaints from a history professor – Vox

The Revenge of History: “The Theater of Violence” – The New York Times

We all say we want peace, but at the same time we unwittingly engage in behaviors that perpetuate violence. As philosopher Simon Critchley notes, “we are all players on history’s bloody stage.” Human nature is in large part to blame. However, biology is not destiny. The purpose of civilization is to tame our wilder side. Yet, we still have not been able to end the violence.

Critchley offers an important insight into this intractable problem: “We live in a world framed by violence, where justice seems to be endlessly divided between claim and counterclaim, right and left, freedom fighter and terrorist, believer and nonbeliever, and so on. Each side appears to believe unswervingly in the rightness of its position and the wrongness, or indeed ‘evil,’ of the opposition. Such belief legitimates violence and unleashes counterviolence in return. We seem to be trapped in deep historical cycles of violence where justice is usually simply understood as vengeance or revenge.”

This is not a new insight, but it one that is difficult to sell. If we were reflective enough, we would see this trap we’ve set for ourselves. This insight also requires a broad and deep knowledge of history.  It is much easier to offer simple solutions that satisfy our egos and our intuitions. The good vs. evil narrative is simple and it lets us off the hook for any wrongdoing. Savvy politicians know this and use it to their benefit.

Is there any hope then? Critchley offers art, and music in particular, as a solution. But I don’t think this is enough. It will take a much broader effort to convince enough people that we are in fact part of the problem. We also need leaders willing to take up the cause and inspire a new generation to see the world and our place in it differently.

Source: The Theater of Violence – The New York Times

“Anti-Gay, Pro-Creationism Birther Could Change America’s Textbooks” – The Daily Beast

Mary Lou Bruner, who is likely to win a seat on the Texas School Board, “believes the Civil War was not caused by slavery, Barack Obama is a former gay Arab prostitute, and gays are abominations.” Her views get even crazier (see article)!

First: Where do they find these people?!!

Second: This is further evidence that school boards should not have any say concerning school curriculum or textbooks!

Read the entire article here: Anti-Gay, Pro-Creationism Birther Could Change America’s Textbooks – The Daily Beast

AP U.S. History Update: “Why Oklahoma Lawmakers Want to Ban AP US History” — NYMag

The battle against the AP U.S. History framework continues. Oklahoma and Georgia conservatives are trying to get their way by defunding the program.  They claim the test “emphasizes ‘what is bad about America’ and doesn’t teach ‘American exceptionalism.'”

In other words, they don’t want students to learn history, they want to indoctrinate students in a patriotic vision of U.S. history that ignores all past wrongs. Our future depends on having citizens who can make informed decisions. They cannot do this if they are taught a one-sided, triumphal version of history. We are currently paying the price for the ignorance of a sizable portion of our citizenry. If we want to keep our democracy and create a better future, we need a historically literate population. Let’s hope the efforts in Oklahoma and Georgia fail!

Source: Why Oklahoma Lawmakers Want to Ban AP US History — NYMag

“Ted Cruz’s Phony Supreme Court ‘Tradition'” | History News Network

A history lesson for Cruz (not that the facts matter to him!): History News Network | Ted Cruz’s Phony Supreme Court “Tradition”

Mark Byrnes points out: “This tactic may well work politically. It has already had the effect of framing the debate as “Should Obama nominate someone?” That is truly extraordinary. The actual question should be “Should the Senate confirm Obama’s nominee?” That’s a legitimate debate, but it would put the focus on the nominee and that person’s qualifications. By hiding behind this phony “tradition,” Republicans are trying to avoid having to show that a given nominee should be rejected on the merits. In short, they don’t want to take responsibility for rejecting someone who—in all likelihood—will be eminently qualified for the job. That’s not statesmanship. It’s cowardice. – See more at: http://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153732#sthash.cLVnCGsR.dpuf

“Russian Orthodox Church Blocks Funeral for Last of Romanov Remains” – The New York Times

This is really bizarre! “Despite mountains of evidence, the church says it doesn’t believe the remains are those of the last czar and his family.”  No one knows for sure why the Church would deny the scientific evidence for the identity of the Romanov remains. Not that denying scientific evidence isn’t unusual for the Church, but in most cases we know why (it contradicts theirs religious dogma). In this case, there are no religious principles on the line. So, what’s going on?

The most compelling explanation seems to indicate political motivations. “Rejecting the bones will anger some Orthodox adherents, particularly those outside Russia. Accepting them will incense a conservative domestic faction that believes the Soviet government somehow faked the burial.” But without actual evidence, this is only speculation.

Read the entire article here: Russian Orthodox Church Blocks Funeral for Last of Romanov Remains – The New York Times

“Russian Orthodox Church Blocks Funeral for Last of Romanov Remains” – The New York Times

This is really bizarre! “Despite mountains of evidence, the church says it doesn’t believe the remains are those of the last czar and his family.”  No one knows for sure why the Church would deny the scientific evidence for the identity of the Romanov remains. Not that denying scientific evidence isn’t unusual for the Church, but in most cases we know why (it contradicts theirs religious dogma). In this case, there are no religious principles on the line. So, what’s going on?

The most compelling explanation seems to indicate political motivations. “Rejecting the bones will anger some Orthodox adherents, particularly those outside Russia. Accepting them will incense a conservative domestic faction that believes the Soviet government somehow faked the burial.” But without actual evidence, this is only speculation.

Read the entire article here: Russian Orthodox Church Blocks Funeral for Last of Romanov Remains – The New York Times