The New York Times continues to be worried that right-wing Texans are now doing what left-wing educrats throughout the country have long done — selectively mangling U.S. history to fit an ideological agenda. The new standards adopted by the Republican-dominated Texas Board of Education are a mixed bag: adding Milton Friedman and F.A. Hayek to the economics curriculum makes sense quite apart from whatever one thinks of their theories. If they haven’t had the influence of Keynes or Adam Smith, they’ve nonetheless had plenty enough. On the other hand, teaching about “the individual right to keep and bear arms; and an individual’s protection of private property from government takings” requires a degree of nuance that I wouldn’t expect of any high-school curriculum board, let alone one as politically charged as this. And while one might be able to draw an intelligible distinction between “capitalism” and a “free-market system,” the economic form that prevails in the United States cannot honestly be called the latter. Not that fine distinctions are what’s at stake here — “free-market system” is evidently intended as an old-fashioned euphemism. ““Let’s face it, capitalism does have a negative connotation,” the NYT quoted board member Terri Leo saying, “You know, ‘capitalist pig!’”
Sam Tanenhaus’s “Week in Review” essay attempts to put the dispute in some context, and partly succeeds. I’m tempted to snark about the propensity of other ideologically changed regimes to rewrite their history books with every new batch of commissars — it seems in the Lone Start State the “revolutionary” Jefferson is about to go the way of the “counter-revolutionary” Yezhov in Stalin’s USSR. But then it occurred to me that Jefferson himself set a terrific precedent for this nonsense: he wanted the University of Virginia to bowdlerize or suppress David Hume’s History of England, as Donald Livingston notes:
Thomas Jefferson considered Hume’s History such a formidable force that he banned it from the University of Virginia. Of the work he wrote to William Duane on August 12, 1810, that it “has spread universal toryism over the land.” Six years later, on November 25, 1816, Jefferson wrote of Hume’s work to John Adams that, “This single book has done more to sap the free principles of the English Constitution than the largest standing army. . . .” Jefferson preferred John Baxter’s A New and Impartial History of England (1796), which was a reworking of Hume’s History from the Whig perspective and which Jefferson called “Hume’s history republicanized.”
This was one of many instances in which Jefferson wanted to make sure the politically correct small-r republican line would be taught at the university he founded. Hume, of course, is a good corrective to the spirit of partisanship displayed by Jefferson and today’s education apparatchiks alike.