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Tocqueville: The Antidote to Revisionist History?
America’s history challenges and puzzles every young American. Howard Zinn, known for his book A People’s History of The United States, produces content and curriculum material for students throughout the country. His work depicts a country built on oppression and horror and pits the United States as a symbol of hatred–one which has a dark history of thieves and tyrants.
Howard Zinn most famously questioned the integrity of the constitution and its transcendent significance. He saw it as an item which gave power to elites, while destroying minorities under the guise of patriotism:
“The Constitution. . . illustrates the complexity of the American system: that it serves the interests of a wealthy elite, but also does enough for small property owners, for middle-income mechanics and farmers, to build a broad base of support. The slightly prosperous people who make up this base of support are buffers against the blacks, the Indians, the very poor whites. They enable the elite to keep control with a minimum of coercion, a maximum of law- all made palatable by the fanfare of patriotism and unity.”
Revisionist history is embodied by Zinn’s work, as it injects partisan virtue signaling over the physical account that historians like Tocqueville give. It’s for this reason that revisionist historians like Howard Zinn shudder at the thought of people like Alexis De Tocqueville. Tocqueville destroys the Zinn narrative. He does so because he was in fact present, and actually experienced the world which Zinn attempts to pontificate upon to his willing students. Tocqueville wasn’t an illiterate common man either; he studied under Guizot and had a rich understanding of classical philosophy. The stories which Tocqueville records in Democracy In America are encouraging and true to life. They should warm the hearts of those of us who believe the American spirit should be based on purity and truth. The value of moral goodness was seen as a cornerstone to America in Tocqueville’s eyes. Goodness was something he observed, and saw in the Judeo-Christian values that average americans held.
Tocqueville foresaw the responsibility of freedom and its delicacy in a world of contempt, and the massive significance of Christian values which shaped our founding:
“…[B]ut there is no country in the whole world in which the Christian religion retains a greater influence over the souls of men than in America; and there can be no greater proof of its utility, and of its conformity to human nature, than that its influence is most powerfully felt over the most enlightened and free nation of the earth.”
Whereas Zinn claims the democratic foundings of this nation were a subtle means of empowering elites to control the weak, Tocqueville says otherwise. He argues that the American experiment, while the first of its kind, was successful. The evils of past democracies were undone, and our success today is thanks to those ingenious and relentless thinkers:
“To evils which are common to all democratic peoples they have applied remedies which none but themselves had ever thought of before; and although they were the first to make the experiment, they have succeeded in it.”
In 2010, Frederick Brown from Yale University Press published Letters From America, a series of letters and correspondence that Tocqueville had with the various people throughout American society during his expeditions between 1831-1832. Tocqueville’s letters reveal some culture shock, but they also demonstrate that Tocqueville acknowledged the bad in our history as well: the evils of slavery, for example, that subjugation did exist. However, of all the failures of the “Great Republic,” none were uniquely American. Tocqueville is aware that all were the fault of a sinful man.
The Zinn narrative is one which has botched history. By teaching that man and his evil ways aren’t individualized, but rather the embodiment of America itself, he’s lead untold numbers astray. Tocqueville, on the other hand, shows America is it was: a unique country founded by imperfect people.
We must never relent on finding truth wherever it lies.
Taylor Samuelson studies Strategic Corporate Communication at Saddleback College. A chairman and activist with Young Americans for Freedom, he has brought speakers like David French, Star Parker, Bay Buchanan, and others to his campus. He is editor in chief of Summit Press Publications.
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