California Literary Review

An Interview With Thomas E. Woods Jr.

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April 3rd, 2007 at 7:41 pm

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Thomas E. Woods Jr.

Conservative thinker, Russell Kirk, opined in his essay, Civilization without Religion, “To most observers, T.S. Eliot among them, it has seemed far more probable that we are stumbling into a Dark Age, inhumane, merciless, a totalist political domination in which the life of the spirit and the inquiring intellect will be denounced, harassed, and propagandized against…” Kirk’s is an unhappy assessment of the future, but if Professor Thomas Woods, Jr. has anything to say about it, we will not submit without a fight. And, it is his remarkable books and essays that acts as a beacon in the darkness of our declining culture. His historical perspective is objective and erudite while being “refreshingly irreverent.” But, most importantly, his scholarship is predicated on a profound understanding of American History and the first principles of the republic. The following is a recent interview Dr. Woods gave to The California Literary Review.

What is the current state of American historical writing? Is the ideological bias of the left still dominant within the profession?
The textbook market is as bad as ever, certainly, but some very good and important books have been coming out lately from prestigious presses, so perhaps there is hope. Just in my own immediate circles I might cite Hunt Tooley’s The Western Front: Battleground and Home Front in the First World War, Bill Watkins’ Reclaiming the American Revolution: The Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions and Their Legacy, Tom DiLorenzo’s How Capitalism Saved America and Jim Powell’s forthcoming Wilson’s War, a masterful demolition of Woodrow Wilson that I had a chance to read in galleys.
Forrest McDonald has commented that many historians do not care to write for publication. However, you’ve written a number of books and essays. Do you enjoy writing?
Very much, and given my workaholic nature, the result is a whole bunch of articles, as well as (by next summer) seven books as author or editor.My second book, The Church Confronts Modernity (Columbia University Press, 2004), was an exhilarating one to write, not only because it was my first really major project (it began as my doctoral dissertation at Columbia University) but also because it was a completely original study. No one had ever written the kind of book I was writing, so the conceptual framework, the historical judgments, and the overall conclusions were entirely my own. That’s about the most intellectually exciting kind of project a historian could ask for. I’ve been delighted at the response: traditionalists have enjoyed it, New Oxford Review just published a nice review, and even Books & Culture, the book review publication of Christianity Today, gave it a sympathetic reading. I honestly couldn’t be happier.

Your new book, The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History, is flying off the bookshelf. In the book you’ve objectively addressed a number of myths that the left holds dear, i.e. Camelot, the Great Society, Wilson’s war, McCarthy and communists in government, just to mention a few. How has the book been received by your colleagues in the history profession?
My immediate colleagues have been nothing but gracious. I don’t think people on the left have had much time to react yet. The New York Times is slated to review it on January 16, so I’m bracing myself. If that one isn’t a hatchet job, I owe you dinner.The praise for the book in conservative and libertarian circles, though, has been so gratifying that I’m frankly unconcerned about the left’s reply. On the year-end McLaughlin Group, I was beyond thrilled to see Pat Buchanan name me the most original thinker of 2004. It’s also appealed to a wider range of conservatives than I expected: Gary Bauer, for instance, included it in his top five books of 2004.

What do you see as the significance of your book?
The book takes a strongly antistatist position, and advances views that used to be common among conservatives but that today you simply don’t hear anymore. How many mainstream conservative thinkers have even the slightest criticism of the Fourteenth Amendment, antitrust legislation, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, etc.? If anything, they try to pass these things off as conservative! So in addition to offering a sweeping revision of the received view of American history, in this ideologically confused post-9/11 milieu the book also may help to recall conservatives and even some libertarians to their roots.
Not surprisingly, you are critical of Bill Clinton, but yours is not the kind of criticism of the former president that we generally hear in the spate of anti-Clinton books that have appeared over the past decade.
Right. My chapter on Bill Clinton criticizes him not for the inane non-reasons of the Republican establishment, but (for example) for his disastrous and immoral foreign policy. In particular, Clinton’s policy in the Balkans, both from 1993-1995 and in 1999 (involving Kosovo) amounted to waging aggressive war against a Christian people, the Serbs, who had never done our country any harm, on behalf of a Muslim population that has since been responsible for terrible acts of ethnic cleansing.The Administration’s 1999 claims that “genocide” was underway against Albanian Muslims in Kosovo at the hands of the Serbs turned out to be rather like those WMDs in Iraq – both in the substance of the claims and in the American people’s utter lack of outrage at having been deceived.
At the time, some conservatives could be found who were skeptical of all this, but we also had people like Bill Kristol and Sen. John McCain, whose only objection was that Clinton’s bombing wasn’t severe and savage enough. Some opposition party!
One of the more important elements of your new book is your explanation of how Congress abnegated its responsibility to declare war, giving rise to the “imperial” presidency. Do you see Congress addressing that failure anytime soon?
The question answers itself. Congress appears to have neither the will nor even the interest when it comes to asserting its war powers under the Constitution. When Congressman Ron Paul reminded his colleagues in 2003 that they alone possessed the authority to declare war, he was told that his was an old-fashioned, outdated view of the Constitution. But my copy of the Constitution has no expiration date on
Who is your favorite president?
Well, I’m not in the habit of heaping praise upon any politician, but despite the skepticism of some of my Southern friends, I am persuaded by Jeff Hummel’s case that the undeservedly obscure Martin van Buren was probably the best U.S. president.
Who is your favorite historian?
My favorite living historian, who really owes it to mankind to write more, is probably Ralph Raico, whose doctorate is from the University of Chicago. Everything the man writes, usually in the form of articles and book chapters, is a revelation, as well as beautifully written and carefully researched. He has had an enormous influence on my own thinking. You can listen to an entire course of his lectures for free here.Certainly there are dozens of great historians whose work I enjoy, a great many of whom can be found in the lengthy bibliography of reliable sources that I include at the end of The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History. A lot of conservatives and libertarians point to Paul Johnson as a great historian. I have enjoyed some of Johnson’s work, particularly Intellectuals and Modern Times, but his History of Christianity is simply abysmal, and I just can’t follow him in many of the judgments he renders in A History of the American People.
Among Church historians I’m partial to some of the greats, particularly Christopher Dawson and Henri Daniel-Rops.
  • Al Barrs

    Any day the truth comes out is a day to celebrate. I have been sick and tired of revisionist’s attempts to write fairy tales about the United States of America, the American Revolutionary War and The War Between the States. Dr. Woods is to be commended for his courage to expose revisionists….Al

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