I reflected in my last (and first) American Memories on "how Americans are united and divided by their stance toward the past" and how the unifying and dividing lines "are drawn and redrawn in the academic and political disputes of successive generations." Looked at another way, our different views of the past reveal fundamentally different assessments of the course of human events, the nature of politics and human beings, the kind of country America is, the kind of people Americans are, the kind of world we live in, and the kind of country and people and world we should wish for. In this respect, as Steve Hayward observes in the recent Claremont Review of Books, "Historical argument...is a proxy for the fight over fundamental political principles."
Hayward is writing, in particular, about the Cold War and about "[t]he tides of Cold War historiography," which are "likely to ebb and flow for centuries." An American's views about the Cold War, like his views about the Civil War or the American Founding, will tell you a lot about his political predilections. Was the Cold War a reasonable and just (even admirable) response by America and the Free World to a genuine strategic and ideological threat from Soviet communism? Or was it a response to American imperial aggression by a justifiably "insecure" Soviet Union? To put the matter in a nutshell, as our politicians and statesmen are sometimes obliged to do: Was the essential problem an "inordinate fear of Communism"? Or was the essential problem the "Evil Empire"? Who was closer to the truth: Jimmy Carter and the Democrats, or Ronald Reagan and the Republicans?
Everyone knows that the vast majority of today's American intellectuals sneer at the phrase "Evil Empire," just as they cringe at the phrase "Free World." And everyone knows why: because they inhabit a moral and philosophical and social universe in which talk, or thought, of good and evil is inadmissible and in which "freedom fighters" and "terrorists" are indistinguishable. Such talk and such distinctions literally make these otherwise quite comfortable elites uncomfortable at polite cocktail parties among their peers. Everyone also knows that virtually all of the intellectuals holding these predilections vote Democrat. More than that: that it is precisely these opinions that form the intellectual foundation of today's Democratic Party.
That is why Americans, to the extent that they feel vulnerable at the moment to serious dangers, tend to prefer Republicans. When Americans ask themselves, "What should we be more worried about: 'Islamophobia' or 'the Axis of Evil'?" the answer seems pretty clear to most of them. And they know that the answer is by no means clear to liberal Democrat intellectuals. They know, in fact, that the Republicans themselves are a little shaky on the question.
But to return from politics to historiography, Hayward highly recommends Derek Leebaert's Fifty-Year Wound as "a stunning and original contribution to Cold War history," which "deserves to take its place among the classics" of the genre. It has had an uneasy reception among Republicans and Democrats alike. Read it, and raise a proud glass to the Free World at your next cocktail party, as you pass around handsome copies of the latest CRB.