I reckon most of you have heard about the review of Edward Baptist’s book The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism published in The Economist earlier this week. If not, you missed a doozy: The anonymous reviewer gave the book a negative review for failing to describe the benefits of slavery:
“Mr Baptist has not written an objective history of slavery; almost all the blacks in his book are victims, almost all the whites villains — this is not history; it is advocacy.”
Needless to say, The Economist swiftly retracted the review.
Obviously, the reaction was swift and strong, with the vast majority of writers excoriating The Economist for publish such an incredibly racist review. The rest of the internet has been kind of scratching their collective head, wondering why any respectable magazine would publish such a deeply weird review. Speculating about their reason for publishing the review is far more interesting than simply bashing them for doing so. The best piece I’ve read on the subject thus far comes from historian Will B. Mackintosh.
Mackintosh’s speculation is very familiar to me and I think he’s on the right track. He suspects that the review was the result of some outcome-oriented thinking on the part of the staff at The Economist. If the positions put forward in the book are true, then American capitalism is monstrous. Ergo, the positions must be false and biased (“advocacy”).
I’ve seen this sort of thing over and over again in American conservatives. Michele Bachmann believes that the founding fathers worked tirelessly to end slavery.* The National Review and others can publish stories about how the conservatives were the real heroes of the American civil rights movement.** Ronald Reagan believed he didn’t trade arms for hostages even though he did.*** Rush Limbaugh believes that a Bible verse demonstrating the wisdom of taxation is actually about lowering taxes**** and, hell, just take your pick of just about anything about global warming on Freerepublic.com. The consequences of the truth are ruinous for their politics, so it can’t be true!
Isn’t this what ought to be called “political correctness”? A fact that supports you political beliefs is true; a fact that contradicts your political beliefs is false. Doesn’t that make “political correctness” a much more intuitive and evocative expression? I’m certain Orwell would heartily approve.
** Alas, the National Review has removed the original story, but here’s my source.
*** “A few months ago I told the American people I did not trade arms for hostages. My heart and my best intentions still tell me that’s true, but the facts and the evidence tell me it is not. As the Tower board reported, what began as a strategic opening to Iran deteriorated, in its implementation, into trading arms for hostages.” – President Ronald Reagan
**** “the lowering of tax rates on grain from 90% to 20%, giving 7 fat years during the days of Pharaoh in Egypt. You can trace individual prosperity, economic growth back to the Bible, the Old Testament.” Rush Limbaugh