In recent days, Truthout—yes, the organization repeatedly discredited by Plamegate truther Jason Leopold—has generated some small amount of attention for itself by publishing an article by an obscure radio talk show host, which claims the Second Amendment to the Constitution was ratified to preserve the institution of slavery.
Don’t laugh… he appears to be earnest. At least, don’t laugh yet.
The Truthout piece was a lazy summation and further spinning of an actual academic article by a University of California academic named (appropriately) Bogus, called, The Hidden History of the Second Amendment. It was a history so hidden that it wasn’t discovered until 1998, more than 200 years after the Constitution and Bill of Rights were ratified.
Bogus was such a thorough researcher that he discovered that the Second Amendment had very little at all to do with the fact that a fledgling nation birthed from an failed attempt at gun control would actually want to make sure that future tyrants would not attempt to disarm them again. Nope… that was too obvious, too in your face, too accepted by two hundred years of academic scholarship, the Founder Father’s own writings, contemporary news from that time period, feeling, and social mores.
After all, who can build up an academic reputation based upon conventional, reasonable thinking?
No, Bogus needed something new, and found that if he stitched together minor themes in a way so that it supplanted the master narrative, he could create a brilliant work of fiction that paid homage to the original, just as brilliant novelist John Gardner’s Grendel was a retelling of the epic Beowulf from the monster’s point of view.
And did Bogus loved to create monsters.
The “acceptable” boogeyman for Bogus was the same now as it ever was for bi-coastal academics, the much vilified Southern White Male. Bogus elected Founding Father Patrick Henry to play the lead villain, and it wouldn’t be at all surprising if we found out that Leonardo di Caprio’s cartoonish Calvin Candie in Django was based upon the caricature of Henry offered up by Bogus.
But perhaps we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
The first indication we have of Bogus’ academic “neutrality” is when he sought to vilify Second Amendment scholarship from the individual rights perspective, which he dismissed as the “insurrectionist” viewpoint. Bogus made sure to mention that the pro-gun rights lobbying organization, the National Rifle Association, provided grants to writers who shared their individual rights interpretation.
Dishonestly, and one must assume purposefully, Bogus neglected to mention that the NRA only joined the gamesmanship of legal scholarship to counter-balance the funding of the left-wing Joyce Foundation, led in part by a then-unknown Barack Obama, which purchased entire law reviews and refused to publish or even consider authorship of the less controversial and longer-established individual rights views.
After the frustrated character assassination of his academic rivals, Bogus wove a tale around the very real concerns of several of the southern states, that slave insurrections (which did occur, and not without great merit) threatened the white populations. I cannot stress enough that this was true. Nor can I stress any more than this was a minor theme in the ratification of the Second Amendment. Was it important factor to several key politicians among the anti-federalists? Certainly. Was it the linchpin on which the entire Constitution, Bill of Rights, and fledgling republic hung?
I wanted to complete reading Bogus’ scholarship (or bogus scholarship; either one is as seemingly accurate as the other), even after hearing his “insurrectionist view” whine repeatedly, but had to abandon my quest when I discovered that a significant crutch for Bogus’s work of historical fantasy was Michael A. Bellesiles’ work, Arming America: The Origins of a National Gun Culture.
Does the name Michael A. Bellesiles, or the book Arming America: The Origins of a National Gun Culture sound vaguely familiar? It should, as the New York Times, of all places, begrudgingly reminds us:
His book “1877: America’s Year of Living Violently,” which will be published next week, is an attempted comeback for Mr. Bellesiles, who has languished in a kind of academic no-man’s land for the past decade after a scandal surrounding his previous book cut short what looked to be a promising career. “I’d like to think that anyone reading it would give it a fair chance,” he said of his latest work.
So far, the energetic debate about Mr. Bellesiles, scholarship and second chances on academic and education Web sites has focused mostly on his 2000 book, “Arming America: The Origins of a National Gun Culture.” It argued that most Americans did not possess firearms until after the Civil War, a radically different interpretation of the country’s gun-owning history and one that entangled him in the bitter and shrill argument over Second Amendment rights.
The ideological debate turned into a scholarly inquiry when critics pointed out several significant errors in fact and sources. An independent panel of three prominent historians concluded in 2002 that Mr. Bellesiles was “guilty of unprofessional and misleading work,”and raised questions about falsified data. Columbia University’s trustees took back the Bancroft history prize it had awarded the book, and Mr. Bellesiles resigned from the faculty at Emory University.
Bogus’ Hidden History is built upon naked political partisanship, masquerading as scholarship, built upon a foundation that included a source “unprofessional,” “misleading,” and possibly falsified so badly that the author had to resign in disgrace.
Admittedly, I stopped reading at this point, perhaps less than a quarter of the way into this self-impeaching “scholarly work.”
Perhaps such poor scholarship is enough for a relatively unknown radio host to stake his reputation on, in a missive posted on fringe web site with known credibility problems, but it doesn’t warrant study by serious adults. I didn’t waste any more of my time on reading such fantasy, and I wouldn’t recommend it to you, either.
I were to recommend spending more time reading touching upon the subjects of fantasy, firearms, and slavery, I’d at least recommend Harry Turtledove’s The Guns of the South, which is both more plausible, and better written.