Day By Day

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Revolutionary Holocaust

Glen Beck's "Revolutionary Holocaust" is now available on Youtube. It's powerful stuff, check it out.

Politico immediately went out and rounded up some lefty historians to denounce Beck's documentary. Their criticisms, however, are for the most part either wrong or beside the point.

Steven Marks faults Beck for something he didn't say. He claims that the purpose of Beck's film is to illegitimately tar modern progressivism by associating it with the sins of past totalitarian movements. To the extent that such an association is suggested in the film, it is completely legitimate. First, modern progressives such as Hillary Clinton have proudly claimed association with the progressives of a century ago. Secondly, early progressives and mid-twentieth century liberals frequently applauded, supported and apologized for horrific policies carried out by totalitarian regimes. Finally, liberal and left-wing historians have consistently portrayed progressive and liberal reforms favorably while ignoring their negative consequences and associations. Beck is simply trying to restore the balance. Marks' further assertion that "nobody in his right mind" celebrates Che or Stalin is quite simply absurd.

Alan Wolfe argues that the associations Beck points out are trivial and that he ignores important differences between liberalism and fascism, however the only significant difference he notes is the Holocaust and he is left arguing (a la Marge Schott) that if we ignore the Holocaust the Nazis had some pretty good ideas.

Robert Thompson takes another tack -- the timeworn argument launched against all popular histories -- arguing that the film tells us nothing that professional historians didn't already know. That may be true, but the profound associations between progressivism and totalitarianism that Beck rightly notes are absent from the texts used in college survey courses. Beck is quite right in bringing them to the public's attention.

Finally, Michael Kazin repeats Thompson's argument that there is nothing new in Beck's film and admits that Beck has his facts right, but notes that the film presents an incomplete story of twentieth century liberalism, especially during the Cold War when many liberals opposed Communism. But that is to miss the point of the film. All histories are selective and historians pick and choose among the range of available facts to support their narrative or ideological purposes. Beck simply chooses to emphasize a different set of facts than those chosen by left-wing historians. If his film is, as Kazin charges, simply "propaganda", the same could be said of much of the product turned out by academic historians.


Historian Ronald Radosh responds to liberal critics of Beck's film here.