I enjoyed this lively piece at Reason’s website on Glenn Beck’s latest attempts to “teach history.” In fairness, I like some of what Beck says, applaud him for addressing Obama’s racial agenda, and the people I consider myself aligned with instinctually and ideologically seem to like him. But there is also something off-putting about him. He’s herky-jerky in style and disorganized in his thinking. One thing conservative intellectuals can do and should do is provide evidence and reason-based defenses of the prejudices of ordinary people. These prejudices often have great wisdom built into them, but without some defense based on facts, social science, history, and other evidence, they remain mere prejudices and dissipate rather quickly under the assault of vice, propaganda, and false history propagated by th eleft.
But one problem Beck has is that he refuses to take on certain liberal gods. He still thinks America’s history is tainted to the core by racism, but he resolves this conundrum by blaming liberals for all of America’s sins, even the ones that were the product of a certain kind of conservatism. And he does this, often times, by the most convoluted and ridiculous conspiracy theories imaginable, such as blaming the Holocaust on the race prejudice of U.S. President, Woodrow Wilson.
I do believe history is complicated; it’s too easy to find and judge “villains” operating under very different circumstances in the past. On this question of America’s “racist past,” I believe it was often more complicated than commonly presented, with unevenness of practice and local circumstances and other mitigating factors that deserve consideration as part of the entire record. Finally, I think the disorder, violence, and decline of America in the age of “civil rights” counterbalances the scales of America’s earlier, often un-Christian racism, in no small part.
Setting aside the particulars of that rather large question, the big problem I have with Beck is best summarized at the end of Michael Moynihan’s article:
A tiny bit of knowledge (no, McCarthy wasn’t completely wrong), combined with an enormous Fox News constituency and an unflappable trust in one’s own wisdom, is a dangerous thing. Beck doesn’t demonstrate the perils of autodidacticism, but the perils of learning the subject while at the same time attempting to teach it.
Woodrow Wilson was an imperial president who cared little for civil liberties; the New Deal prolonged the Great Depression; the anti-communists were on the right side of history. Yes, yes, and yes. But these stories can be told without exaggeration, without relying on conspiracy, without the rehabilitation of a heavy-drinking senator who believed that Gen. George Marshall was a Soviet agent.
All things to consider when dispatching your application (and $79) to Glenn Beck University.