Next to the study of literature, the discipline of history has suffered most from the depredations of multiculturalism, political correctness, and all the unlovely epistemological cesspits that congregate under the rubric of “postmodernism.” Even the idea of empirical truth—an idea without which the discipline of history is impossible—has been widely and variously attacked, as the Australian historian Keith Windschuttle shows brilliantly in The Killing of History (Free Press). We were heartened, therefore, when we heard that a group of distinguished historians, including Donald Kagan, Eugene Genovese, Gertrude Himmelfarb, Forrest McDonald, and Alan C. Kors, had decided to form the Historical Society, a new academic group “open to all who want to do serious history.” Currently, the profession of history in this country is dominated by the American Historical Society, an increasingly ideological organization that stands in relation to the discipline of history as the Modern Language Association stands to the discipline of literature: namely, as a bastion of PC orthodoxy and radical sentiment. If the Historical Society can successfully challenge such orthodoxies, it will have made an immense contribution to American intellectual life. The distinction of many of its charter members gives us hope. Nevertheless a caveat is in order. Reform does not come without struggle, and struggle inevitably involves controversy. In the press release announcing the formation of the Historical Society, we were dismayed to read that its members “have no interest in endless controversies and ‘culture wars.’” The “culture wars,” alas, are a given of American intellectual life in the 1990s: any organization hoping to fight for truth will have to engage in them. To pretend otherwise—to pretend that the battle is taking place elsewhere or can be successfully ignored—is a guarantee of impotence. Today, the decision “to do serious history” involves a decision to stand up publicly for the truth.

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This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 16 Number 8, on page 3
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