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Living The 1619 Project Lie

Liberal historian Sean Wilentz's brave witness against the New York Times's prizewinning ideological fabrications
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A reader sends this link to a powerful essay by Princeton’s Sean Wilentz, one of America’s leading historians, who writes about the scandal of The New York Times‘s 1619 Project, and the moral and intellectual capitulation of American historians to its fraudulent claims. Wilentz is a prominent historian of the slavery era, and a man of the Left; as such, he writes that he initially was pleased to hear about the 1619 Project. But then he actually read its lead essay:

And then Wilentz set out to use his prestige, and his credentials as a leading intellectual of the Left, to correct the record. He writes about running into a stone wall, both at the Times, which refused to admit error, and among professional historians, who were too afraid to be seen as racist to go public with their criticism. More:



Read it all. 

It is interesting that this essay appeared in a Czech historical journal. I wonder if Wilentz couldn’t get it published in the US. He says in his conclusion that

subordinating truth to the demands of justice cannot be just, and may be a big step toward creating injustice, even tyranny. [Emphasis mine — RD] You in the Czech Republic have had to learn that lesson the hard way, repeatedly, over many difficult decades. “Living in truth,” as Václav Havel described it, must be the basis for more than politics, including the study of history. It appears to be a lesson that many American historians, in far less onerous but still fragile and worrisome situations, must now learn for themselves.

The creation of tyranny. This is an extremely important point. In Live Not By Lies, I cited the 1619 Project and its defenders as an example of the kinds of ideological falsifications of history that are common in totalitarian, or pre-totalitarian, societies. The fact that virtually the entire academic and media elite in the US is willing to pretend that the 1619 Project is true (because it advances a cause they believe in) is staggering testimony to corruption. In my previous post, I called out Donald Trump and his campaign for allowing the “stop the steal” narrative to go forward even though an internal memo reveals that they had concluded the claims were baseless. And now we see the same thing from the Left, though this one is far more consequential. When you have professional historians afraid to contradict what they know to be a lie, and when you have both academia and the media collaborating to defend a politically useful lie, you know the rot is deep. The corruption in that case is not just from a single politician and those around him, but with entire institutions vital to liberal democracy.

From Live Not By Lies:

Heda Margolius Kovály, a disillusioned Czech communist whose husband was executed after a 1952 show trial, reflects on the willingness of people to turn their backs on the truth for the sake of an ideological cause.

It is not hard for a totalitarian regime to keep people ignorant. Once you relinquish your freedom for the sake of “understood necessity,” for Party discipline, for conformity with the regime, for the greatness and glory of the Fatherland, or for any of the substitutes that are so convincingly offered, you cede your claim to the truth. Slowly, drop by drop, your life begins to ooze away just as surely as if you had slashed your wrists; you have voluntarily condemned yourself to helplessness.

You can surrender your moral responsibility to be honest out of misplaced idealism. You can also surrender it by hating others more than you love truth. In pre-totalitarian states, Arendt writes, hating “respectable society” was so narcotic, that elites were willing to accept “monstrous forgeries in historiography” for the sake of striking back at those who, in their view, had “excluded the underprivileged and oppressed from the memory of mankind.” For example, many who didn’t really accept Marx’s revisionist take on history—that it is a manifestation of class struggle—were willing to affirm it because it was a useful tool to punish those they despised.

Here’s an important example of this happening in our time and place. In 2019, The New York Times, the world’s most influential newspaper, launched the “1619 Project,” a massive attempt to “reframe” (the Times’s word) American history by displacing the 1776 Declaration of Independence as the traditional founding of the United States, replacing it with the year the first African slaves arrived in North America.

No serious person denies the importance of slavery in US history. But that’s not the point of the 1619 Project. Its goal is to revise America’s national identity by making race hatred central to the nation’s foundational myth. Despite the project’s core claim (that the patriots fought the American Revolution to preserve slavery) having been thoroughly debunked, journalism’s elite saw fit to award the project’s director a Pulitzer Prize for her contribution. Equipped with this matchless imprimatur of establishment respectability, the 1619 Project, which has already been taught in forty-five hundred classrooms, will find its way into many more.

Propaganda helps change the world by creating a false impression of the way the world is. Writes Arendt, “The force possessed by totalitarian propaganda—before the movement has the power to drop the iron curtains to prevent anyone’s disturbing, by the slightest reality, the gruesome quiet of an entirely imaginary world—lies in its ability to shut the masses off from the real world.”

We have become a country in which people are eager to be lied to, if it satisfies what they wish to believe. This is not going to end well for us.