Friday, April 22, 2005

An Inaccurate Interpretation of Beard

I agree with much of what Thom Hartmann has written, but this article is very disturbing to me.
It's titled, "How Rich Is Too Rich For Democracy?"
And it's posted here:

Hartmann is trying to disclose the thesis of Charles A. Beard's history, An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States, published in 1913, and reissued in 1935 with a new introduction written by Beard.

The myth/theory of the "greedy white Founders" was first widely advanced by Columbia University professor of history and self-described socialist Charles Beard, who published in 1913 a book titled "An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States." END QUOTE.

First of all, Beard was not a socialist. In no part of either the original or re-issue does he describe himself as a socialist. Hartmann never quotes Beard directly, and that indicates that either he has never read Beard, or he has only read Beard's critics and is trying to ascertain Beard's stance and thesis in terms of his critics.

Numerous historians - on both the right and the left - END QUOTE.

Names please?

QUOTE: have since cited his work as evidence that America was founded solely for the purpose of protecting wealthy interests. His myth unfortunately helps conservatives support ending the "death tax" as "the way the Founders would have wanted things" so that the very richest few can rule America. END QUOTE.

Is that how conservatives view his work? Are you sure?
I don't think so. And here is Beard in 1935.

QUOTE: “When my book appeared, it was roundly condemned by conservative Republicans, including ex-president Taft; and praised, with about the same amount of discrimination, by Progressives and others on the left wing. Perhaps no other book on the Constitution has been more severely criticized, and so little read.” END QUOTE.

And one of those critics and non-readers is Thom Hartmann.

QUOTE: Beard thought he saw his own era's Robber Barons among the Colonial economic elite. END QUOTE.

Not true. Beard was a historian, not a politician. He knew that there was a vast gulf between the practices and times of the early 20th and late 18th centuries. If anything, his extreme right-wing critics believed they saw themselves as the Founding Fathers of their own time and resented the implication that they governed to secure and maintain their economic interests.
Hartmann sets up a straw man here, putting the words of Beard's critics into Beard's book and passing it off as the genuine thesis of the work. From there he attacks Beard.

In this 1935 introduction, Beard explains both his stance and thesis exactly.

“Many fathers of the republic regarded the conflict over the constitution as springing essentially out of conflicts of economic interests which had a certain geographical or sectional distribution.” END QUOTE.

“[…] I called my volume An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution. I did not call it The Economic Interpretation or The Only Interpretation Possible to Thought. Nor did I pretend that it was The History of the Formation and Adoption of the Constitution. The reader was warned in advance of the theory and the emphasis. […] I simply sought to bring back into the mental picture of the constitution, those realistic features of economic conflict, stress and strain, which my masters had, for some reason, left out of it […]” END QUOTE.

Oliver Wendell Holmes praised Beard's book as the critics howled.
QUOTE: Oliver Wendell Holmes “[…] once remarked to me that he had not gotten excited about the book like some of his colleagues, but had supposed that it was intended to throw light on the nature of the Constitution. And in his opinion, did so in fact.” END QUOTE.

To throw light on the nature of the Constitution.
Nothing more. No myth here.
I defy Mr. Hartmann to prove to me that he has read this book and not read its critics.
I don't mind people using historical sources. I do mind it when they try to induce a book's thesis from what several critics have written about it.

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