Saturday, December 10, 2011

Poison in the Well!

Quoth Glenn Reynolds: "Reliance on Bellesiles is scholarly malpractice."

I actually have to disagree with him on this one. The problem with pseudo-histories of the sort that Bellsiles practiced is that it is easy for them to become embedded down through the ages by virtue of the fact that even the most determined scholar cannot check every source. You and I might know that Mr. Bellsiles is unreliable by virtue of our knowledge of current events but can some innocent researcher of the 23rd century necessarily be expected to know this as well? This is how "scholars" such as Bellsiles and Parson Weems thrive. It's in essence the Livy vs. Polybius approach to history in action. Livy felt that the purpose of history is to create accounts of the past that would guide moral behavior while Polybius felt that the purpose of history is to provide accurate knowledge of the past by which we might learn from past mistakes and precedents and thus be prepared when similar events come our own way. As someone who considers himself political scientist and historian I am inclined to consider the approach of Polybius the correct one. The path of Livy is nothing more than poison in the well.



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