Who Are the Revisionists?
Many people involved in historical study these days use the word “revisionist” usually in reference to—and as criticism of—some comment or report that doesn’t hold to the accepted orthodoxy. Yet, the word “revision” is defined as “changing a decision … in order to correct or make it more realistic” and further, “amending a text … to update, improve or adapt it.” Obviously, the word does not define a process intended to produce error or misinformation. Indeed, human knowledge is constantly being “revised” as we learn more and more about the world around us. At one point in time, it was believed (and so pontificated) that the atom was the smallest particle of matter. Obviously, that has since been “revised” and no one complains because the original statement was in error. It was not intentionally erroneous but rather reflected the information available at the time.
However, especially with regard to history, “revision” has come to mean—as noted—the deliberate rejection of a settled viewpoint presented and accepted as the final determination of the matter under consideration. Ergo, “revision,” since it refuses to accept the status quo means patent and intentional falsehood. But the matter becomes even more complicated when those presenting what today’s scholars and historians call “revisionist history” declare that they are correcting for the record the original “revisionist history” which itself rejected that which had previously been understood as a correct interpretation of the facts from which scholars could then opine on the meaning of the history involved.
Let us take, for example, the subject of Abraham Lincoln. Even the most fervid of Lincoln’s acolytes admit that the man’s “history” is surrounded by, if not entirely composed of, legend. Even so, when efforts are made to replace legend with known fact, and not speculation, those efforts are dismissed as “revisionist” in nature and the more those facts depart from the legend, the more adamant and hostile “Lincoln scholars” become not only towards the facts but towards those who present and disseminate them. In the end, no effort is made to actually refute this so-called “revisionist history.” It is simply censored from the main stream of academia and the public square and its presenters dismissed as cranks and, worse, bigots. Motives become more important than truth while insults and threats replace rational debate. That which cannot be countered must be hidden and its proponents silenced according to the present orthodoxy.
Now, in the not-too-distant past, this strategy could not have been utilized. Scholars would not be silenced, neither would they permit such actions against others of their kind. They knew that if they allowed censorship, there would be no way they could insure that they themselves would not be censored should the time come that they supported an unpopular point of view. Intellectual honesty and rational decency kept the lines of communication open for even the most unpopular positions as long as that those presenting such provided recognized academic sources for support. In much the same way, the United States protected unpopular speech through the First Amendment of the Constitution which declared that Congress (that is, the federal government) could make no laws limiting that freedom. As a result, there was at least in the early history of the country, a wide range of opinions on many subjects, history being but one. Time alone was considered the means by which gold would be separated from dross.
But, little by little, the right of free speech—even including non-political speech—began to be subject to limitations. These limitations happened most often during war. War is a means by which governments enhance their power while at the same time curbing the power of those who disagree with them. Everyone wants to help their nation—which is understood as represented by the government—in time of war. Criticism of the government at such times is considered “unpatriotic” and giving aid and comfort to the enemy. As a result, during war many ordinary liberties effectively disappear. Going back to Lincoln, we see this happen not only in the invaded South, but in the North as well. By the time the so-called “Civil War” had ended, the American Constitution had suffered irreparable damage which only increased in the years that followed. And the efforts to keep this fact hidden from the ordinary American represents if not the beginning then at least the institutionalization of “revisionist history.” It is this “history” that today’s “revisionist historians” are trying to overcome by presenting facts and well-founded opinions based upon the true meaning of the concept of “revision” as well as the facts and truths of history.
But there is one more facet in the current situation, something that has reset the mechanism of the imposition of the establishment version of history—past and present—making it almost impossible to counter even the most egregious and obvious falsehoods. Whereas Lincoln had his war and all of the opportunities it provided for him to silence debate and dissent, today we have a strategy which came from a contemporary of Lincoln, a man named Karl Marx. Marx was another statist who worshipped at the altar of big government and the god of the State. He knew that it was not always possible to use armed might to set the limits on speech in a society, so he created another way to accomplish the same end, a strategy called “political correctness.” Political correctness utilizes the ordinary individual’s good manners and conscience as a means to stifle debate and dissent. It singles out groups who may (or may not) have been ill-used in the past and makes of them, or rather of the claim of discrimination against them, a sort of shibboleth. Properly done, the mere mention of that claim will silence all but the most courageous. Today we see that in what is called “the race card.” Anyone who does not accept the establishment version of a particular part of the nation’s history or heritage is immediately labeled “racist,” a term created by a follower of Marx, Leon Trotsky. So powerful has political correctness become in this country and in the West, that there is virtually no more debate. One side is permitted to present its own position—frequently in the face of uncontestable fact—while any opposition is immediately silenced by the claim that merely to hold that position, never mind stating it, is by its very nature, “racist.” It is no wonder that “revisionist history” as defined today by the descendants of the original revisionists finds itself condemned out of hand no matter how strong the proofs of its veracity.
We as a people must be strong enough to reject this strategy of censorship and deceit. If we continue to reject the facts of history to avoid being called names, soon the facts of history will no longer matter; indeed, soon the facts of history will be erased and replaced by what is “politically correct.” In his nightmarish novel, 1984, the motto of George Orwell’s Big Brother makes clear what is at stake:
“Those who control the past, control the future.
Those who control the present, control the past.”
If we do not resist the present crusade to destroy history and replace it with the “acceptable orthodoxy,” if we do not become whenever and wherever possible, “revisionist historians,” eventually we will find ourselves living in an Orwellian world in which heroes will be made into monsters, and monsters into heroes.