The Undergraduate History of the World

With the consignment of the communist ideal to the ash-can of history, liberalism would quickly fall back on smouldering sixties-era resentments. New Soviet Man may have been temporarily discredited, but Old European Man still had a passel of sins to atone for. And as any high school graduate can tell you, the history of the West has been one, big, stinking miasmal swamp of racism, sexism, colonial genocide, and environmental rapine.

These had already, by the early seventies, become the organizing motives for the teaching of history (or rather “Man in Society” as it was carelessly called then, in the days before feminism had found its legs). And Man in Society seems to have changed the world in a way that the Soviets could only have dreamed of.

As one who escaped from high school before the seventies, I was surprised to learn from my undergraduate students that the defining events in Church history were (in chronological order): Charlemagne’s forced conversion of the barbarian hordes (oops! indigenous peoples) in the River Elbe; the Crusades against the Infidel; the Spanish Inquisition, and the heresy trials of Copernicus and Galileo; the Salem witch hunts; and papal complicity in the Holocaust. That more of less covers it. And students who didn’t know their Beatitudes from their Bernard of Clairvaux were able to describe each of these Christian crimes against humanity in all their horrific detail.

It’s so superb a feat of ideological reductionism that one almost has to admire it. No one is denying that such things took place, of course; but to reduce the complex history of Christendom to a catena of those events that happen to most offend modern liberal sensibilities is surely a grotesque act of manipulation. One can imagine the liberal howls of protest if the history of the civil rights movement were similarly treated, beginning with King’s philanderings, mob connections, and flirtations with communism, moving on to Jesse Jackson’s philanderings, embezzlement of Church funds, and Hymie-town remarks, and ending with the Reverend Sharpton’s assorted hoaxes and fraudulent allegations of racism.

The History of the West According to Undergraduates is just one such revisionist fantasy after another. You thought Christopher Columbus was doing a good thing by opening up the continent for the longest-running experiment in human liberty since Pericles’ Athens? Think again. Chris was acting at the behest of greedy European venture capitalists, who wanted nothing more than to massacre the natives, drive them off, or swindle them out of, their lands, and, worst of all, convert them to Christianity. You thought the Greeks were the beneficent founders of Western architecture, art, lyric poetry, the drama, philosophy, democracy. Uh uh. The main fact about Greek civilization, and the reason for studying it, is that the Greeks owned slaves and denied their women-folk the vote. You’ve really got to hand it to the designers of our new curricula: in one short generation they’ve managed to re-write the entire history of the world. Not even Stalin, Pol Pot, or Kim Jong Il have been able to do that, at least not without the threat of imprisonment.