The Tea Party and the Founding Fathers

Gordon S. Wood wrote a scathing review of Jill Lepore’s The Whites of Their Eyes: The Tea Party’s Revolution and the Battle Over American History, a book which I heard about last year but have yet to read (I have it on my Kindle and will read, when I can!). Gordon S. Wood starts his analysis by making the observations:

It is very easy for academic historians to mock this special need, and Harvard historian Jill Lepore, as a staff writer for The New Yorker, is an expert at mocking. Her new book, which mingles discussions of the present-day Tea Party movement with scattershot accounts of the Revolution, makes fun of the Tea Party people who are trying to use the history of the Revolution to promote their political cause. From her point of view, “What would the founders do?” is an “ill-considered” and “pointless” question.

As Wood notes, for Lepore the ideas behind these movements are a kind of historical “fundamentalism” that wishes to look back and to somehow teleport or transport today to yesterday, or in this sense to the great past. To conjure up the past in this way means, for Lepore, that it is the ultimate in the simplification and dumbing down of history so as to accept that women could not vote and blacks were slaves (as was the case in 1776). That to look back and ask what the Founder’s would do is an obtuse act. Therefore as Wood observes, throughout her book Lepore’s implicitly asks “Don’t these Tea Party people realize how silly they are?”

So, perhaps, for Academic snobs such as Lepore the only good movement is a Liberal movement? Anyway, a very interesting review of what looks like an interesting, though probably flawed, book that I can’t wait to read.

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3 Responses to The Tea Party and the Founding Fathers

  1. Wow. Professor Wood’s quote sounds like something I could have written. ;o) As a matter of fact, I already had something in the works along this same line. Not a review specifically of LePore’s book (I would not waste my Amazon gift card on that), but some observations on how many on the left (and in the history related blogosphere) are either woefully ignorant of the TP movement or, more likely, intentionally slandering it. I have to admit, I’m a bit taken aback at the intensity and tone of Wood’s criticism, but nonetheless find it quite refreshing! Thanks for the post Chris.

  2. elektratig says:

    Ironically, in a very real sense the Founders could be accused of looking back and trying to somehow teleport or transport today to yesterday. As Wood and others have explained, many of the Founders’ ideas looked back to the English Revolutions and the Glorious Revolution a century earlier. Cato’s Letters, probably the single most influential text in the Founders’ thinking, was published in the 1720s and looked back to a “Country Party” tradition that by the 1770s a discredited anachronism in Britain.

  3. Hondo69 says:

    The more I think about it the more it seems the Tea Party is doing the job the press used to do: keeping politicians honest. Is that why the media works overtime to paint the Tea Party in such a harsh light?

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