This will probably be the first in a series of posts on revisionism in history, because it’s an AWESOME topic.
Mir, thanks for bringing up Beck. I’ve been dying to talk about his sloppy invocations of history. There are a number of things to talk about. First, I want to make a plug for the value of academic credentials. A quick scan through the list of Beck University’s “professors” yields pretty dismal results: only five of the nine featured teachers possess a Ph.D. Two of those teach at Hillsdale College, which the National Review called “a citadel of American conservatism.” Another is a professor at tiny Montreat College, a Congregationalist Christian college in Asheville, NC. One teaches at Louisiana State University; the rest lack advanced degrees in history. Beck’s favorite among them, David Barton, is not well-loved by Wikipedia.
At the risk of sounding like an elitist, I’m just going to say it: if people want to tell us about history, we should demand that they have at least a Master’s degree. If they want to teach courses, they ought to have a doctorate.
You brought up Beck’s use of symbols in his infamous chalkboard knowledge-dropping sessions, and you’re right to bring up the fact that he sounds more like a Dan Brown groupie than a historian. Reference to symbols as evidence of a “secret” history is a good sign that someone is trying to pull something over on us. Claiming privileged communion with a body of knowledge unseen by the masses is a great way to get people to listen to you…it’s worked for seers, prophets, revelators and mediums for centuries. But it’s usually bullshit, as are Beck’s references to secret plots by socialists/communists/fascists to take over the American polity from the inside. It’s ridiculous, this idea that there’s an unbroken line of malicious intent stretching from Wilson all the way to Obama. But it’s enticing in its simplicity. (Just blame Wilson and Progressivism! And never mind that Progressive front man and proud Republican Teddy Roosevelt…he doesn’t fit the mold.) It’s maybe even more enticing because conspiracy theorizing like this invites Beck’s viewers to be part of a super-secret club, the Club of People Who Really Understand History, unlike those droves of pointy-headed professors.
More thoughts on this to come.