Sunday night, the History Channel airs The People Speak, a star-studded presentation of Howard Zinn’s Voices of A People’s History of the United States. Accompanying this series is the Zinn Education Project, a curriculum meant to expose children from pre-school through high school to American history through the philosophical lens of Zinn.
The plan has many critics, and rightly so. For one thing, as Zinn openly admits, his is an activist history meant not only to inform the student, but to inspire them to take up his cause. This puts the teaching of Zinn in public schools on precarious legal grounds at best. Others draw attention to Zinn’s radical views themselves. Zinn says of America, with her representative government and guaranteed freedoms, that, “The American system is the most ingenious system of control in world history,” parceling out just enough wealth and comfort to its citizens to keep them from revolting. But to truly understand Zinn, and why his work has no place in public education, all a person needs to know is this – Howard Zinn is not an historian at all; Howard Zinn is a religious zealot.
Now, this is not to say that Zinn or his followers believe in God. Theirs is a secular religion, but religion none-the-less. It is a faith in what Rousseau called the natural morality of man, an innate goodness that has only been corrupted by the oppressing evil of power, wealth and property. It is a belief that when man is truly free, free from ‘wage slavery,’ from bankers and bosses, from states and from God, he will at last be purged of all sin. Laziness and violence, covetousness and anger, all of these will disappear when the liberation arrives. The religion is Marxism, Zinn’s denomination, Democratic Socialism (or possibly Anarcho-Syndicalism), but all of it, in the end, is simply Communism.
Of course, Christians actually hold similar beliefs. Man is fundamentally flawed by something he cannot ultimately control: Sin. This sin is dealt with by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, through whose Spirit a man’s nature, and ultimately behavior, might be changed. And when Christ appears again in His glory, the world will be made right and all evil will be dispelled.
Another similarity is that faith is required for both, since neither religion can be proven scientifically. The Spirit of Jesus cannot be measured out in beakers and applied in dosage, or the results of faith in Him tracked against a control-set, since His presence in the life of a man cannot be truly ascertained. Examples of evil done in his name are not true metrics since many wield His name for gain or tribal loyalty, but do not place their faith in Him.
For Zinn and his followers, the same holds true. True Communism cannot be judged by failed Communist experiments because true Communism must be global, democratic, and de-centralized, none of which has yet occurred. Point to the failure of the Bolshevik Revolution, and you will hear that all power corrupts. The failure of the Soviet Experiment? Stalin’s misguided belief that single country communism could survive in a world of capitalist forces.
And neither religion can prove that their future Utopia will ever exist, but unlike the Christian who renders unto Caesar what is his and is not called to transform the world into his own image but to trust in God’s will and timing, Zinn ultimately believes that the glorious Communist future will, to borrow from John Hiatt, come through your hands. This is the fundamental danger of Zinn’s world-view. It is far beyond evangelistic. It is a crusade.
“We’re dreamers,” writes Zinn. “We want it all. We want a peaceful world. We want an egalitarian world. We don’t want war. We don’t want capitalism. We want a decent society.”
For the dreamer-crusader, the standard is perfection, and all have sinned and fall short. Zinn points out that radical historians often make the mistake of judging the past by the standards of the present. Thomas Jefferson was not deliberately excluding women from civic life when he penned that, “all men are created equal,” says Zinn. Rather, in his time, the civil rights of women were not even a consideration. However, this does not prevent Zinn from passing judgment. While the past may not be judged by the present, Zinn seems fully content to hold both past and present to the standard of the coming Communist Utopia. Jefferson’s failing was not that he was less sympathetic to select minority interests than we are. His failing and ours is that we both support and uphold a system of power and oppression of the poor. For Zinn, as for Marx and Engels, “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggle.”
For this reason, man cannot look backwards to determine what forms of government are most desirable, or what evils to avoid. There is no past wisdom to preserve. There is only the truth that every effort so far has failed. We must look to the future, gaining from history only those rare glimpses it affords of what might be accomplished when the oppressed stand united against their oppressors. Moments of inspiration that evidence what could be. “Not overwhelming evidence,” Zinn writes on his educational website, “just enough to give HOPE, because for hope we don’t need certainty, only POSSIBILITY.”
Less academic and more religious words were never spoken.
To Zinn, all of America’s wars are evil. It is not that he supports Hitler, or King George, or slavery, or Mullah Mohammad. It is that he views war as merely another excuse for the rich to expand their wealth while controlling the people with words like valor and justice. Rich colonists grow richer in the name of national liberty, rich northerners in the name of ending slavery, rich businessmen in the name of defeating fascism, and on, and on.
If Zinn is occasionally more sympathetic to one oppressor than another (Mao for the as-many-as forty-million people killed in just three years in The Great Leap Forward, over, say, Columbus, who Zinn blames for the ultimate loss of a similar number of Native Americans over three-centuries) he can be excused his mild hypocrisies. In the end, he would consistently denounce both as proof of his master thesis – That power and wealth corrupt. Thus Zinn holds no allegiance to any man, party, or nation. He has written that he may, from time to time, vote for one candidate over another based on the fleeting circumstances of the moment, but his support exists, “only for the minute [he is] in the voting booth.” Beyond that, the perpetual revolution must continue. Those in power, even those put there by Zinn’s religion, must then be opposed until all who are oppressed, children by parents, minorities by majorities (except for the minority which is the bourgeois), workers by employers, are liberated and the millennial kingdom of Communism is ushered in.
The question is whether or not this religious revolution belongs in public schools.