All posts filed under: History

A Liberal’s Case for Conservatives in History Departments

I am a liberal historian, and in my four years as a Ph.D student in history, I have found that my conversations with conservative peers have often been most productive in challenging my biases. This benefit may be rare within the discipline. According to research cited in Jon Shields and Joshua Dunn’s book Passing on the Right, only around 4-8 percent of professional historians are registered Republicans.1 This experience suggests that the liberal-to-leftist makeup of the discipline significantly influences the questions historians ask, the answers that we privilege, and the ways we teach and engage with the public. We devote our lives to certain subjects largely because we believe they have great moral weight and relevance, but we often overlook how our political tilt shapes what we see as important. We also possess the human tendency to gravitate toward answers that fit our preconceptions. These observations raise an important question: What does the discipline of history miss by not having conservative historians in the room? To explore this question, I conducted interviews with eight conservative …

A History of the Struggle for Gay Equality: Civil Rights or Counterculture Movement?

The history of the gay rights movement in the United States is fascinating, and its progress raises an interesting question about the nature of its activism. Has the struggle for gay equality been primarily a universalist drive for equity and civil rights, with the inter-related goals of individual liberty, respect, and freedom from persecution? Or is it a social justice movement driven by a countercultural constituency intent on separating itself from mainstream culture? The answer is that the gay rights movement in the United States is a complicated combination of both perspectives. To date, the successes of the gay rights movement in the United States have been laudable. The repeal of laws that criminalized homosexual sex was a significant gain. As a consequence, gay people can now live openly and are free to marry. It is true that elements of anti-gay prejudice linger, mainly among the ranks of the religious and the socially conservative. It also remains the case that only a patchwork of laws exist across the 50 states prohibiting discrimination in employment on …

The Elites and Inequality: The Rise and Fall of the Managerial Class

In analysing the political upheavals across Europe and America in the past several years, it has become customary to talk about ‘the elites’ and about ‘inequality’. This article will explore both concepts in political and socio-economic analysis, and posits that certain elites in the West need narratives of inequality to maintain their stranglehold on power. It concludes by suggesting that we are witnessing the passing of an old and increasingly irrelevant class of elites, whose wild attempts to cling onto the old order will see them lash out in unpredictable directions. When the political left talk about elites, they typically refer to ‘the haves’ (as opposed to the ‘have nots’), that is the top 1% of income earners, a concern which has a legacy in outmoded and demonstrably incorrect Marxist analysis. Thus, here in the UK, Jeremy Corbyn’s far left Labour party routinely trot out the old line that ‘the rich keep getting richer while the poor are getting poorer’. However, even The Guardian – albeit through gritted teeth – pointed out in 2017 that …

On Quasi-Religious Appeals to the Judgment of History

I was outside the Supreme Court the day that equal marriage was legalised in the US. My office at the Library of Congress next door enabled a swift venture to join in the celebrations. That sunny Friday I duly picked up my purple ally flag and wandered around the scenes of jubilation. For months leading up to the judgment, a mom-ish lady had stood out in front of the court, holding a bright red sign emblazoned with a biblical warning for homosexuals and their enablers. Morning and afternoon, she’d fielded the objections of woke kids on school trips, batting back their arguments with assurances that, tolerate this, and one day soon it would be legal for a man to marry his mother. The day the court upheld equal marriage, I couldn’t see the red sign lady, but I found another clutching a cardboard banner scrawled with warnings that Obama was an undercover Muslim. I am British, but by this point I was used to seeing the infamous American culture wars up close, so I barely …

The Privilege Paradox

Check your privilege. This is a phrase that many of us, especially from the college-educated class, have heard or read with increasing frequency in recent years. It is sometimes used to counter the views put forward by an opponent belonging to a supposedly ‘privileged’ social group, without necessarily having to refute them. It is also just one of a series of comparatively new phrases using the word ‘privilege’ that have proliferated in current social and political commentary. A quick search of the headlines on a single given Sunday in February shows the word appearing in large print in the New York Times (“Black With (Some) White Privilege”), the Seattle Times (“White Privilege Diminishes Our Humanity”), and Teen Vogue (“Kylie Jenner’s Privilege Helped Her Avoid the Stigma Other Pregnant People Can’t Escape”). Even this cursory glance reveals two important facts about the usage of the word ‘privilege’ today: first, it is usually paired with an adjective linking it to the putative advantages of a particular racial, sexual, or other identity group, especially ‘white privilege’; second, it …

“What Have the Romans Ever Done For Us?” A Discussion of Helen Dale’s Kingdom of the Wicked

It’s 31 AD or 784 AUC (ab urbe condita) in the Roman calendar. Jerusalem is packed with visitors for the Passover, and Pontius Pilate returns home from the office with a thick dossier on the recent riot at the Temple, caused by Yeshua Ben Yusuf and his rowdy followers. He greets his wife (hi honey), pats the dog, welcomes his young daughter’s handsome lover, has a bath, turns on the TV, and orders pizza for dinner, home delivered by a Greek boy on a motor-bike. It’s the Easter story, but not as told in the St Mathew Passion: the Rome of Kingdom of the Wicked has experienced an industrial, electronic and medical revolution and, with all our domestic comforts, sophisticated weaponry, computer equipment and wonder drugs, it is in many respects indistinguishable from the world of the 21st Century. The plausibility of this scenario is less important than the creative use that Helen Dale makes of it, but let us consider the case that she puts forward. Are there any reasons for thinking that the …

The Tyranny of the Subjective

We are living in socially and politically bewildering times. One of the reasons for this is the sheer number of other people’s lives we are touched by on account of exponential developments in communications. The early 21st Century – perhaps specifically the second decade of it – will, I suspect, be remembered for the centrality of the subjective narrative, or what has become known as the ‘lived experience.’ There is nothing wrong with a flourishing of narratives, per se. We all have our stories to tell and, now more than ever, the means with which to tell them. We must, however, remain vigilant. The proliferation of this aspect of the social ecosystem impacts other areas, and granting the subjective narrative sacred status diminishes the power of other important ways of understanding the world. In a recent post for Arc Digital, Ryan Huber argued that the emphasis placed on personal experience in political activism, such as the role high school students are playing as commentators in the gun control debate, comes at the expense of an emphasis …

Britain’s Grooming Gang Crisis

The scale of the street grooming crisis in the UK almost defies belief. Hundreds of girls and young women were raped in the city of Rotherham, and hundreds by similar exploitation rings in Rochdale, Peterborough, Newcastle, Oxford, and Bristol. Now, up to a thousand girls are thought to have been drugged, raped, and beaten in Telford between the 1980s and the 2010s. This is, of course, a highly emotive subject. How could it not be? Yet if the phenomenon is to be understood it is important to evaluate the data objectively. Otherwise we have a lot of heat and little light. Responses to the crisis are contentious because most of the perpetrators are British Asians; specifically British Pakistanis and Bangladeshis. Child abuse is not uniquely or largely a problem of particular demographics but grooming gangs – that is, multiple offenders exploiting women they have met, manipulated, and abused outside their homes – are 84 percent Asian, and this does not mean Chinese, Korean, Japanese, or Indonesian (other perpetrators have been Somali, Romani, Kosovan, Kurdish, and …

The Behavioral Ecology of Male Violence

“Aggressive competition for access to mates is much more beneficial for human males than for females…” ~Georgiev et al. 1 Understanding patterns of lethal violence among humans requires understanding some important sex differences between males and females. Globally, men are 95 percent of homicide offenders and 79 percent of victims.2 Sex differences in lethal violence tend to be remarkably consistent, on every continent, across every type of society, from hunter-gatherers to large-scale nation states. In their 2013 study on lethal violence among hunter-gatherers, Douglas Fry and Patrik Söderberg’s data showed that males committed about 96 percent of homicides and were victims 84 percent of the time.3 In her study on violence in non-state societies, criminologist Amy Nivette shows that, across a number of small-scale pastoralist and agriculturalist societies, males make up 91-98 percent of killers.4 To illustrate the consistency of this relationship even further: we see the same pattern among chimpanzees, where males make up 92 percent of killers and 73 percent of victims.5 To be sure, there is some cross-cultural variation. While I can find …

Thinking Critically About Social Justice

Yesterday, the U.S. National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) released a memo written by an attorney, Jayme Sophir, which determined that Google did not violate United States federal law when it fired James Damore. Sophir reasoned that references to psychometric literature on sex differences in personality were “discriminatory and constitute sexual harassment,” and on these grounds, Damore’s firing was justified. Following the release of the NLRB memo, a number of scientists on Twitter expressed alarm at the justifications provided within the memo, which appeared to relegate the discussion of sex differences outside the realm of constitutionally protected speech. The NLRB’s determination has emerged after Damore, together with another former Google engineer, filed a class action lawsuit against the company alleging an institutionalised culture of harassment towards people with conservative or libertarian political views. Their complaint is eye-opening. Damore and Gudeman lay out in detail the many ways in which this harassment occurs: a pervasive environment of disparaging jokes and demeaning language amongst colleagues; a climate of bullying, mocking, and personal attacks from superiors and others in power; an open endorsement …