“If you are going to write history you must sacrifice to truth alone, ignoring everything else…
“Well, my historian should be like that: fearless, incorruptible, frank, a friend of free speech and the truth, determined, as the comic poet puts it, to call figs figs and a tub a tub, indulging neither hatred nor friendship, sparing nobody, not showing pity or shame or diffidence, an unbiased judge, kindly to everyone up to the point of not allowing one side more than it deserves, a stranger without a stake in his writings, independent, serving no king, not taking into account what any man will think, but simply saying what happened.”—Lucian (125-180 AD)
…by Jonas E. Alexis
History, in principle, requires that historians not only ask important questions about the past, but search existing documents to try to give accurate accounts and descriptions about what happened in the past. If the documents are weighed against others and found false, then they must be discarded; if they are corroborated and provide a balanced account of what happened, then they must be preserved.
As a corollary, serious historians are always on a quest for the truth, ask probing questions and weigh alternative evidence in order to give an accurate explanation of the past. Once all rival alternatives are weighed, then inference to the best explanations should be drawn.
The meticulous and honest historians have no other choice but to dig into documents to search what happened—if the documents actually exist.
Furthermore, historians, like scientists or academic professionals, are to be skeptical about their documents, and examine them in light of various sources to corroborate or even challenge accepted views. If the documents show various contradictions, or if they challenge our preconceived vision, then we need to slow down and reconsider our worldviews to see whether they were based on evidence or popular opinion or political correctness.
The first principle in examining any historical account is that truth exists—even if historians do not know what it is at the moment of investigation. If truth doesn’t exist, then ultimately the historian is wasting his time looking for clues and digging into archives to look for and ancient documents which may or may not lead to hypotheses, theories, and ultimately historical documentation.
Moreover, if the historian believes that truth doesn’t exist, why should anyone read the historian’s assessment? This is not a problem for serious Christians precisely because they believe that the founder of Christianity claims to be the truth incarnate (John 18:37). In addition, Christianity declares that the burden of finding out the truth was given by God to His creatures.
History is an enterprise that demands its followers believe that the truth is out there. As critical historian Keith Windschuttle rightly points out, “the essence of history has continued to be that it should try to tell the truth, to describe as best as possible what really happened.”
The historian may not be able to give a full account of what happen due to lack of research, but definitely he has to start with the assumption that truth is, to use Windschuttle’s words, “within grasp,” believing that truth matters, and that the historian’s job is to use all his skills and the available data to find out what the historical account declares.
As sociologist-historian Rodney Stark rightly put it,
“The historian’s task is to try to discover as accurately as possible what took place. Of course, we can never possess absolute truth, but that still must be the ideal goal that directs historical scholarship. The search for truth and the advance of human knowledge are inserapable: comprehension and civilization are one.”
Another vitally important point about historical description is that it cannot solely depend on what the historian feels or what outside forces or political pressures believe should be published. As historian John Tosh rightly points out,
Yet many professional historians do not believe in these principles. British historiographer and postmodernist Keith Jenkins emphatically asserts, “[W]e might as well forget history and live in the ample imaginaries provided by postmodern type theories.”
Jenkens proves to be motivated by ideology rather than rational enquiry, for he certainly knows that this unwarranted postulate opens the floodgate for irrationalism. He is perfectly free to live in his imaginative world, but he cannot force that same imaginative world upon historical events. As historian C. Behan McCullagh declares,
“Imagination is not reliable enough to guide us. Historical knowledge is a precious source of wisdom and essential to the efficient formulation of social, economic, political and military policy.”
Stark once again points out,
“far too many historians these days don’t believe in evidence. They argue that since absolute truth must always elude the historian’s grasp, ‘evidence’ is inevitably nothing but a biased selection of suspect ‘fact.’ Worse yet, rather than dismissing the entire historical undertaking as impossible, these same people use their disdain for evidence as a license to propose all manner of politicized historical fantasies or appealing fictions on the grounds that these are just as ‘true’ as any other account.”
Widnschuttle noticed that the cultural trends of the 1960s energized cultural relativism among many historians and intellectuals. Other historians such as Martha C. Howell and Walter Prevenier traced these cultural trends even further back, arguing that relativism gradually began to take form right after World War II. Those historians and intellectuals were not interested in finding the truth—since they didn’t believe ultimate truth exists—but were largely motivated by Marxist ideologies to pursue their own self-interest.
Marxist historian Edward Hallett Carr is a case in point. He writes in his widely read meditation What Is History?, “The belief in a hard core of historical facts existing objectively and independently of the interpretation of the historian is a preposterous fallacy, but one which it is very hard to eradicate.”
Moving onto liberal theologians, the noted New Testament scholar E. P. Sanders declares that “Historical events could not be verified even if we had a video recording.” But why should we take Sanders seriously here and elsewhere when his foundational tenets tell us that history cannot be verified?
Sanders’ views of history certainly undermine historical scholarship precisely because genuine and honest historians want to dig into the past in order to portray as accurate a description as possible.
Moreover, if historical events cannot be verified, then it really does not matter whether Julius Caesar did exist or whether Rome destroyed the Jewish temple in A.D. 70. Everything boils down to opinion versus opinion—a sort of survival of the fittest of ideas. The strongest opinion wins, regardless of whether it is true or false.
This is not to say that historical descriptions are as black and white—one must be willing to accept that there are historical issues that are debatable. The real issue is whether history itself is a legitimate investigation of what happens and whether history can help us understand who we are from an objective point of view. One of the many reasons as to why people gravitate toward a deconstructive view of history is for ideological purposes, not for truth.
The postmodern system is both philosophically and existentially unlivable, but its intellectual children such as Slavoj Zizek still live on, and it certainly has a grip on academia.
By 1988, Alan Bloom declares in his critical reflection The Closing of the American Mind, “almost every student entering the university believes, or says he believes, that truth is relative.” And by the end of the 1990s, the cultural, relativistic war was fully formed in academia.
This Weltanschauung resembled what the historian Lawrence Stone taught, that “Texts thus become a mere wall of mirrors reflecting nothing but each other, and throwing no light upon the ‘truh,’ which does not exist.” For Stone, “the real is as imagined as the imaginary.”
This, in a nutshell, is the underlying idea beneath postmodernism, and it had a huge following, including French-Jewish philosopher Jacques Derrida. After Derrida delivered a lecture at the John Hopkins University on deconstructionism, postmodernism began to take shape not only in academia but in culture as well.
Intellectual historians Lawrence D. Kritzman, Brian J. Reilly, and Malcolm DeBevoise tell us,
“With this paper [La structure, le signe, et le jeus dans le discourse des sciences humaines] the incipient movement was effectively launched: for the first time the elements of the poststructuralist program were laid out as part of an inquiry that was utterly different from the one that had prevailed under the name of structuralism in the strict sense.”
This form of reasoning became a major part of literary discourse in many academic institutions. As E. Michael Jones rightly points out,
“At around the same time that movie-goers were lining up to see Annie Hall, Jewish literary critics like Stanley Fish and Jacques Derrida were changing the rules of discourse. Interpretations Professor Fish said were the privilege of ‘interpretive communities,’ meaning English departments at prestigious institutions like Johns Hopkins University, where he happened to teach…
“At the same time Jacques Derrida at Yale was saying that the interpretation of texts was so difficult, that no one could do it. Readings were no longer possible; all that was possible were ‘misreadings.’ Neither of these Talmudic forms of literary criticism were compatible with American democratic ideals.”
Deconstructionism and postmodernism face too many challenges to be true. If the real is as imagined as the imaginary, then nothing in the past, present, or future matters. It does not matter whether Bill Clinton was president of the United States, whether Stalin exterminated Russian peasants, whether Jews, Catholics, homosexuals, political dissents suffered at the hand of Nazis, etc.
This ideology simply will not stand. Moreover, if words have no meaning, then Derrida’s words can be easily dismissed on that basis alone. As Amy Orr-Ewing rightly puts it, “How can Derrida tell us that a transcendental signified does not exist and that words only have the meaning a particular reader or cultural context gives them—since he used words to tell us this and expected us to understand them, no matter our culture?”
The principles that make postmodernism were so obviously flawed that critics found them easy to refute. It was in 1997 that the book Fashionable Nonsense: Postmodern Intellectuals’ Abuse of Science was written, by Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont.
Derrida himself was a revolutionary, and he made no apology when he wrote:
“It is true that my interest in literature, diaries, journals in general, also signified a typical, stereotypical revolt against the family. My passion for Nietzche, Rousseau, and also Gide, whom I read a lot at that time, meant among other things: ‘Families, I hate you.’ I thought of literature as the end of the family, and of the society it represented.”
Call it postmodernism, deconstructionism, or relativism, it boils down to one element: a complete reversal of objective truth. Postmodernism “radically challenged the possibility of objective knowledge. Not only was the coherence of history questioned but also the coherence of the author and of the text.”
It must be said in a nutshell that if relativism is true, then there is no real need for serious historical scholarship, for any document is relative to all other documents, though they may pronounce completely contradictory statements. Furthermore, since no ultimate truth exists in the end, one statement is as valid as the other.
Consistent with this frame of mind is the idea that there is no need to sift facts from fiction, truth from error. Astronomy is no better than astrology, and chemistry is no better than alchemy. Theodore Dalrymple, a critic of postmodernism, rightly puts it in The New Vichy Syndrome: Why European Intellectuals Surrender to Barbarism,
“If science is in fact no different from shamanistic divination in its intellectual foundations, then Europe has contributed nothing distinctive or important to the world….If people really thought that there was nothing to choose between, say, witchcraft as practiced by African tribes and modern aeronautics, no one would ever get on an aircraft.”
Dalrymple continues to argue, “The person who wants to keep all his options open does not accept that every gain entails a loss, that turning left precludes arriving at a destination only to be reached by turning.” Therefore it does not correspond to truth.
As philosopher Brian Fay puts it, “Either Caesar did cross the Rubicon on 10 January BCE or he did not; either Oswald was a lone assassin or he was not; either Heidegger joined the Nazi party or he did not…What makes these sentences true is how the world is or was, not whether we believe them to be true or even whether we have justifiable warrant to believe them to be true.”
To follow that principle further, either the Nazis killed six million Jews or they did not; either they gassed people or they did not. Either Hitler wanted to exterminate all the Jews of Europe or he did not. Either there were people of Jewish descent in Nazi Germany or there were not.
The last thing a serious historian wants to do when investigating historical or scientific descriptions is to uncritically and quickly reject or embrace an alternative view without careful thought and much evidence. Had the Jewish soap fabrication not been challenged by “Holocaust deniers,” probably we would all have been absorbing the myth even today.
Now that the myth had been revealed, one would have thought that uncritical historians and the Jewish community would be more careful in labeling individuals anti-Semites or “Holocaust denier” when those individuals are only asking questions that any serious historian should ask.
Noted physicist and postmodern critic Alan Sokal makes the point that postmodern scientists tend to move away from the scientific attitude that should guide all serious scientists in any field. For him, the scientific attitude is a “commitment to testing all our theories through observations and experiments and to revising or discarding the theories that fail the test.”
In that sense, Sokal takes on pseudo-science and prevailing notions that are not based on evidence but on something else. Sokal, a skeptic, concludes,
“The bottom line is all of us—whether we are conservatives, liberals, believers or atheists—live in the same real world, whether we like it or not. And public policy should be based on the best available evidence about that world. In a free society everyone has the right to believe whatever nonsense they choose, but the rest of us should pay attention only to opinions that are based on evidence.”
The historical method agrees with Sokal here. Like scientific enquiry, historical methodology dictates that historical enquiry should not depend on personal preference or feeling or political correctness, but on lines of evidentiary foundation and historical tests.
Furthermore, ideology should never be the historian’s guide, but reason and empirical evidence which can be drawn from historical records. As historians Martha C. Howell and Walter Prevenier put it, “Historians must always consider the conditions under which a source was produced—the intentions that motivated it—but they must not assume that such knowledge tells them all they need to know about its ‘reliability.’”
For example, if someone happens to say that Soviet Russia under Stalin was very nice to the peasants and other civilians, he should never be harassed or put to jail for that claim. What he has to do is to provide a line of converging evidence proving that Stalin indeed treated the peasants fairly.
Moreover, he also has to give a logical, historical, and rigorous answer about all the accounts available that says that Stalin indeed exterminated those the Soviets called “swine,” “dogs,” “cockroaches,” “scum,” “vermin,” “filth,” “garbage,” and other names.
This is the Western world, and ideas should be proved or disproved by reason, logic, and historical enquiry, not by putting people behind bars. Historian John Lewis Gaddis of Yale says that “there is no ‘correct’ interpretation of the past, but the act of interpreting is itself a vicarious enlargement of experience from which you can benefit.”
Yet some people have already gone to jail for even asking probing questions about the past. If there is no “correct” way, why should those people be fined if they “interpret” history a certain way? Maybe the next time those “Holocaust deniers” get arrested they need to hire Gaddis as a defense historian.
In education, if there are two or three alternatives regarding an important issue, the educator must expose his students to all three and examine the evidence for them, including the strengths and weaknesses of each alternative. If the educator says, “Alternative number one is just nonsense” without saying why it is nonsense, then there are a number of possible assumptions that could be drawn about the educator.
First, he is probably incompetent or too lazy to examine alternative views; second, he probably does not know what the other alternative is actually saying; or third, he is probably following an ideology that will help him advance his career.
One individual I highly esteem is evolutionary biologist and atheist William Provine of Cornell. Provine does not mince words with creationists or intelligent design theorists. But when the book Darwin on Trial came out, he invited its author, Philip E. Johnson (a former professor of law at the University of California, Berkley), to debate him not only publicly but in some occasions even in his class!
Now that is what I call a real educator—a man who has some intellectual backbone and who can articulate what he actually believes.
Individuals are not free to pursue historical or academic research if they are bound by political ideology, which eventually will stifle their historical research. Detrimental, sometimes embarrassing, consequences follow those political ideologies. We will deal with that in more detail in subsequent articles.
The Problem of Anti-Jewish Reactions in Western Culture
In a nutshell, I agree with historian Margaret MacMillan when she wrote that
“Professional historians ought not to surrender their territory so easily. We must do our best to raise the public awareness of the past in all its richness and complexity. We must contest the one-sided, even false, histories that are out there in the public domain. If we do not, we allow our leaders and opinion makers to use history to bolster false claims and justify bad and foolish policies.”
One bad and foolish policy that has been preserved over the years is that Jewish leaders such as Benjamin Netanyahu and Rabbi Naftali Estulin can praise the Red Army without a single consequence. More recently, one rabbi has even honored Jews who participated in the Red Army, and this is published by the New York Times.
Imagine the outrage if Angela Merkel happens to praise the Germans who served in Nazi Germany. How would the Jewish world react?
About two months ago, Krzysztof Jasiewicz, a professor at the Polish Academy of Science got fired from his position simply because he declared that Jews were largely responsible for Polish pogroms. He declared,
“This nonsense about Jews being killed mostly by Poles was created to hide the biggest Jewish secret: The scale of the German crime was only possible because the Jews themselves participated in the murder of their own people.
“The Jews have a problem because they are convinced they are the chosen people. They feel they are entitled to interpret everything, including Catholic doctrine…
“I am convinced that there is no point in dialogue with the Jews, because it doesn’t lead anywhere. I am completely convinced that the crime at Jedwadne and other pogroms were not committed to seize Jewish property or as revenge for the many terrible things that Jews did to the Poles in the past. The pogroms were mostly motivated by great fear of the Jews.
No questions asked about why he made the statement. Jasiewicz, 61, was removed from his post.
Katidis begged for mercy saying, “Unfortunately I cannot take the clock back but I want to clarify that I am not a fascist or neo-Nazi or racist. I have a step brother from Puerto Rico and all my family are from the Black Sea and have experienced racism in the worst ways.”
I remember when I first came to Korea in 2009, I was shocked to see the inverted swastika in many places. My first reaction was, “Are there some neo-Nazis around here?”
The simple fact is that the inverted swastika has been around for centuries, long before it was adopted by Nazi Germany, and once I began to talk to some of the people about the sign, they virtually had no clue that it was also embraced by the Third Reich.
Katidis’s coach declared that Katidis had no political views and probably saw the sign on the Internet or somewhere else. The coach is probably right. But it was already too late for redemption.
The Hellenic Football Federation quickly released an apology saying, “The player’s action to salute to spectators in a Nazi manner is a severe provocation, insults all the victims of Nazi bestiality and injures the deeply pacifist and human character of the game.”
Nazi bestiality? How about the Red Army “bestiality”? How about raping women as old as eighty years old and children as young as ten? Aren’t Netanyahu and Rabbi Estulin being disrespectful to the millions of precious German civilians who were raped after the WWII as well? Are we to believe that people the Jews have value and the Germans do not? More recently, Germany has promised to pay $1 billion for alleged Jewish victims.
And it becomes even more pathetic that Alan Dershowitz of Harvard cannot see that things like that will astronomically provoke anti-Jewish reactions. And this has been largely the case throughout history.
In his 1991 propaganda book Chutzpah, Dershowitz declares: “How does one understand—not even forgive, simply understand!—the virulently anti-Jewish statements of intellectuals throughout history?” For Dershowitz, people like Immanuel Kant, T. S. Eliot, Thomas Edison, Tacitus, Cicero, etc., were all anti-Semites!
How absurd can it get? T. S. Eliot in particular sent many of his poetry to Jewish friends such as Sidney Schiff, and none of them saw his work as anti-Semitic. In fact, Eliot’s poetry was released by Jewish publishers such as John Rodker and Leonard Woolf. Moreover,
“In 2003, Professor Ronald Schuchard of Emory University published details of a previously unknown cache of letters from Eliot to Horace Kallen, which reveal that in the early 1940s Eliot was actively helping Jewish refugees from Germany and Austria to re-settle in Britain and America. In letters written after the war, Eliot also voiced support for the state of Israel.”
If Dershowitz and Bloom still consider Eliot an anti-Semite, then they may want to read Israel Jacob Yuval’s and Ruth Langer’s studies Two Nations in Your Womb: Perceptions of Jews and Christians in Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages and Cursing the Christians?: A History of Birkat HaMinim.
Both scholars make the point that Jews have consistently and persistently hated Christians throughout the Middle Ages and beyond and have even placed curses on them in the synagogues and religious places.
Moreover, if Dershowitz is still confused about anti-Jewish reactions, we are here to help. Let us give him some homework here.
Right now student loans are destroying the lives of our precious college students. One particular student, who majored in psychology and music, owes $80,000. The economy is currently not in a stable condition and nearly 20 million people are out of work in Europe.
It is foolish to continue perpetual wars in the Middle East—wars that are based on lies. More recently, the Turkish government arrested twelve members of the Syrian rebels/terrorists with chemical weapons. All the major news outlets were completely silent about this. Commenting on this particular issue, former presidential candidate Bill Van Auken writes,
“The silence of the US media on the incident only demonstrates that it is prepared to play the same role that it did in Iraq, working to sell a war based upon lies to the American public. The experience of the past decade of unending war, however, has made this task more difficult.” Gordon Duff certainly has a point when he declares that “Al-Qaeda militants form US neocons’ private army in Syria.”
Arnold Ahlert of FrontPage Magazine recently declared that “After almost a century of existence, the borders that form the modern Mideast nation states appear to be on the verge of disintegration. Part of the driving force behind this meltdown, as observers are beginning to acknowledge, is of course the intractable sectarian war in Syria.”
It never dawns on Ahlert that neoconservatives hawks like himself are part of the problem.
If Dershowitz can help us persuade the Jewish neoconservative hawks to stop the Muslim and Christian genocide in the Middle East, and if those neocons can apologize to the American people that they have messed up the economy and destroyed thousands of lives; if Dershowitz can talk to the Jewish bankers such as Goldman Sachs and tell them to stop destroying lives through rapacious usury, and if those bankers follow Dershowitz’s advice, then anti-Jewish reactions will plummet.
Last summer, Bernard-Henri Levy, a Talmudic philosopher who has become “France’s most famous public intellectual,” was trying to implement Talmudic ideology in Syria by declaring that Assad had to go. Levy, of course, calls it democracy, but we all know that this is plain semantic.
This is why anti-Jewish reactions are ubiquitous and it is not an irrational hatred toward Jews, who have problems just like everybody else.
Now that the historical foundations have been put to rest, it is time to meet probably the most controversial historian of our time.
 For some study on this, see for example John M. Ellis, Literature Lost: Social Agendas and Corruption of the Humanities (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1997); Paul L. Gross and Norman Levitt, Higher Superstition: The Academic Left and Its Quarrels with Science (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997); Alan Sokal and Jean Brickmont, Fashionable Nonsense: Postmodern Intllectuals’ Abuse of Science (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1997).
 “Alan Sokal—Beyond the Hoax—Meet the Author,” www.youtube.com,
 Israel Jacob Yuval, Two Nations in Your Womb: Perceptions of Jews and Christians in Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages (Berkley and Los Angeles: The University of California Press, 2006); Ruth Langer, Cursing the Christians?: A History of the Birkat HaMinim (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012).
 Katie Roiphe, “Bernard-Henri Levy on Art and Philosophy,” NY Times, May 31, 2013. In my opinion, if Levy is “France’s most public intellectual,” then France has lost its intellectual heritage, for Levy has produced virtually no scholarly work as a philosopher. As we argued in a previous article, Levy’s philosophy of life largely springs from the teachings of Judaism with its Talmudic text. http://www.veteranstoday.com/2013/03/13/jewish-intellectual-bernard-henry-levy-and-the-war-in-lybia/.