Monday, May 23, 2016

New Testament progressives versus authoritarian continental ideologies of the left

I think this is the second time I have done this in the past twenty years.

I go into a used bookstore. I spot a book by Cecil Woodham-Smith. I read her The Reason Why (historical investigation of the Charge of the Light Brigade during the Crimean War) and The Great Hunger: Ireland: 1845-1849 (a history of the great Irish potato famine in the 1840s). I enjoyed both those books and am happy to read more of her writing.

Buy book and bring it home.

One page in I realize that this isn't a book by Cecil Woodham-Smith, a British historian writing from the 1950s on. This is a book by C. Vann Woodward, an American Historian of the South. His two most famous books are The Strange Career of Jim Crow and Origins of the New South, 1877-1913. The book I picked up was his autobiographical essays, Thinking Back: The Perils of Writing History. Looks good, so I'll probably read it anyway. I do wish though, that I would quit making this mistake. I guess its the names that throw me off, Cecil Woodham-Smith vs. C. Vann Woodward. Not really that similar but multi-barrel names with Wood in them. Not much of an excuse, but that's all I have.

In thinking about Woodward's journey from Left to Right, a journey so common in the US as to be a trope, it led me to the following formulation. In the 20th century, especially the early decades, we had a lot of New Testament civil rights progressives whose political views were jolted rightward by the Frankfurt School and its derivative ideological children of the left. The authoritarian, dogmatic, and repressive dogma of the Continental Left was too incompatible with the New Testament progressives which is what drove them rightwards. What is notable, to me, is that most these New Testament progressives never really lost their idealism, and were not really ever natively of the right. They simply had no where else to go.

I don't know if that is true but it seems to apply to a handful of cases of which I can think.

As for Cecil Woodham-Smith, I do admire this biographical note from Wikipedia:
She attended the Royal School for Officers' Daughters in Bath, until her expulsion for taking unannounced leave for a trip to the National Gallery.

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