For some unlucky readers who stumble here by accident the content of this post will be juvenile. You’ve already decided on your view of history; you’re looking down on me from your perch and laughing at my clumsy attempts to wander to a solution.
For others, you may not realize such a thing as a “theory of history” even exists, or if it did, that it’s at all important or has anything to do with our every day lives.
Well, it’s more important than you think and your perch isn’t as stable as you think.
What I’ll try to do here is outline a few different views of history that are relevant for me; relevant, because I encounter them frequently in my studies, or my friends adhere to them, or they’re popular in the culture.
A historical question that seems to launch us immediately into the conflict between competing theories of history, is “Was Thomas Jefferson a good guy, or a bad guy?”
I’ll highlight five different views of history on the matter:
1. The puritan view of history, often erroneously called the “Christian” view of history, teaches that the borders of the Kingdom of God are defined by the jurisdiction of particular theological beliefs. Of course, the puritans and Calvinists debate among themselves over the exact nature of the “Kingdom” and few would paint it in such clear terms as I have, but in the end, they pledge their allegiance to a particular set of theological doctrines and see all of the warp and woof of history as a playing out of these doctrines in whatever land is under discussion.
Here, I place the likes of C. Gregg Singer and R.J. Rushdoony. Both hold to this puritan view of history, complete with a postmillennial engine designed to advance the jurisdiction (read: boundaries) of the Kingdom. Singer makes it clear that Thomas Jefferson was a bad guy. He was bad because he (and his cronies) helped ring in the age of “deism” in America which caused the downfall of the old Puritan economic and political systems.
Many of my friends hold to this same “puritan” view of history and actively seek a return to some form of puritan-like social and economic order.
2. The “southern” view, which may or may not really represent the worldview of most antebellum southerners, is best represented by the guys over at the Abbeville Institute; specifically, James Kibler, Donald Livingston, and others.
They hold to an agrarian notion of history, and interpret history as a struggle between the rural life and the tendency towards urbanification, with all its petty tyrannies and loss of genuine human interests. They value the Greek and Latin classics, especially as they were used by Southerners to conserve a strain of European conservatism. “Liberty” within the bounds of classically-educated sentiments, is the highest good for these folk and thus, they see Jefferson as a champion of all that was good in the original American Republic.
3. The “libertarian” view of history, best represented by the likes of Thomas DiLorenzo or Thomas E. Woods Jr., sees history in terms of the free market economy, and interprets all events in light of their relationship to the personal economic freedoms they either impart or rob from those involved. They look through the lens of the Austrian business cycle, at historical booms and busts in the economy, and offer their analysis in light of their findings.
Jefferson, on this view, is either a good guy or a bad guy, depending on how well his policies either directly advocated for freedom, or eventually lead to economic freedoms. For the most part, then, Jefferson is seen as a good guy, especially by Woods, who highlights his rejection of the alien and sedition acts, and his advocacy for “interposition” of the state governments to stave off federal excess.
4. Many of my friends hold to something like a “racialist” view of history, where all of history is interpreted as a battle for resources between different races. To go a step further, they might see history as a struggle of a particular race against all the others, (the white race – which is composed of various sub-races)…and as such, there are differing opinions about Jefferson.
Many see the American founding as a triumph of the enlightenment ideals which have been destructive to the white race in general, so, they might claim Jefferson is a bad guy.
Others might see America as a healthy outworking of our people, at least initially, and the Jeffersonian principles as ideal goods. To them, Jefferson’s life and work were positive contributions to the white race, and thus, Jefferson was a good guy.
It could go either way with this view.
5. I should mention the “Marxist” view of history, only because so many of my enemies as well as my instructors at college (and most all of those I associate with in daily life) hold to this view by default, without even realizing it. Marx, of course, meant to turn Hegel’s dialectical theology on its head, and argue for a sort of materialistic version of dialectical tensions.
Where Hegel taught that all history was working itself into higher and higher expressions of spirit – Marx taught that, instead, this is a godless, natural process. The struggle between the economically oppressed and their oppressors, is the engine that drives social and economic change. Either with (or preferably, without) a violent revolution, the proletariat would set up a “democracy” (ie: dictatorship of the proletariat), after which, (eventually) a utopian “commune”-like society would emerge, and no one would want for anything, and people would only work if, when, and how they chose.
In this view, Jefferson was a terrible guy, mostly because of his insistence on naturalistic hierarchy, inequality, and social stratification. Also, he was a slave owner and typical southerner.
There are other common views of history – feminists have their view, homosexuals have a view, etc. But the ones I’ve listed are the most relevant to me.
My study of history has been so confused because I hold in some part to all of the schools (with the obvious exception of the Marxist view, which I wholeheartedly reject).
If I were bold enough to write a “Kinist Manifesto” one day, I’d work to articulate an amalgamation of these schools in such a way that the best aspects of them are taken, while the worst are left. For now, I’m just stumbling blindly through my studies, trying to see history from God’s point of view … which I’ll never be able to do successfully.
Maybe, as finite men, we’ll never have a single “correct” view of history? I don’t believe we’re in that sort of helpless situation, though.