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» » The Killing of History: How a Discipline Is Being Murdered by Literary Critics and Social Theorists
The Killing of History: How a Discipline Is Being Murdered by Literary Critics and Social Theorists e-book

Author:

Keith Windschuttle

Language:

English

Category:

History

Subcategory:

Historical Study & Educational Resources

ePub size:

1582 kb

Other formats:

txt rtf lrf docx

Rating:

4.3

Publisher:

Access Pub Network; Revised, Subsequent edition (June 1, 1996)

Pages:

298

ISBN:

0646265067

The Killing of History: How a Discipline Is Being Murdered by Literary Critics and Social Theorists e-book

by Keith Windschuttle


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Windschuttle, Keith, 1942-. Historiography, Historicism. New York : Free Press. ENCRYPTED DAISY download. For print-disabled users. Books for People with Print Disabilities. Internet Archive Books. L on September 10, 2010. SIMILAR ITEMS (based on metadata).

A huge success in hardcover, The Killing of History argues that history today is in the clutches of literary and social theorists who have little respect for or training in the discipline. He believes that they deny the existence of truth and substitute radically chic theorizing for real knowledge about the past. The result is revolutionary and unprecedented: contemporary historians are increasingly obscuring the facts on which truth about the past is built. In The Killing of History, Windschuttle offers a devastating expose of these developments.

Some who violently disagree may be well qualified historiographers, but they offer a deserving target as intellectuals who prey on others who have not been seduced by cultural relativism and the doctrine of (or the complex of value judgments known as) political correctness.

Today, however, the discipline is suffering a potentially lethal attach from . In The Killing of History, Keith Windschuttle offers both a devastating.

Today, however, the discipline is suffering a potentially lethal attach from the rise to prominence of an array of French-inspired literary and social theories, each of which denies that truth and knowledge about the past are possible. These theories claim the central point on which history was founded no longer holds: there is no fundamental distinction between history and myth or between history and fiction. In The Killing of History, Keith Windschuttle offers both a devastating expose of the absurdity of these developments and a defense of the integrity of Western intellectual traditions which are now so widely attacked.

and social theorists who have little respect for or training in the discipline.

The Killing of History : How Literary Critics and Social Theorists Are Murdering Our Past. by Keith Windschuttle. According to Keith Windschuttle, history today is in the clutches of literary and social theorists who have little respect for or training in the discipline. He believes that they deny the existence of truth and substitute radically chic theorising for real knowledge about the past.

oceedings{Fox1996TheKO, title {The Killing of History: How a Discipline .

oceedings{Fox1996TheKO, title {The Killing of History: How a Discipline is Being Murdered by Literary Critics and Social [email protected]@lenges to Labour History}, author {Charlie Fox and Keith Windschuttle and T. Irving}, year {1996} .

Windschuttle, Keith, 1942- author.

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The Killing of History reveals how the trendy academics have garbled the European discovery of America, the Spanish conquest of Mexico, and other topics in an attempt to deny that truth and knowledge about the past are possible. What emerges is an important lesson in the separation of fact from fiction that will do much to rescue history as we know it--and teach it.
Aedem
Windschuttle's book, “The Killing of History”, has been reviewed many times, not just on Amazon, and I note that most reviewers are in substantial agreement with the arguments and conclusions found in the book. Some who violently disagree may be well qualified historiographers, but they offer a deserving target as intellectuals who prey on others who have not been seduced by cultural relativism and the doctrine of (or the complex of value judgments known as) political correctness. The present review is not gentle respecting Windschuttle’s harshest critics, and it is sure to elicit hostile reactions from some of the believers in political correctness and the new isms. So be it, but their attacks in support of the isms must adhere to the full spirit of those belief systems: an argument that is not dependent on subjective truth cannot be an attack, because it would then be in implicit agreement with the present review. Then let’s see the best they can do.

The present review is not designed as an assembly of fresh, never-before-thought-of content, but rather as, on the part of a regular reader, a rebuke of Windschuttle's most violent critics and a consideration of the least intellectually justifiable part of the spectrum of the support within academia for the isms (cultural relativism and the rest) that are taken to task by Windschuttle. Windschuttle's reviewers, in my judgment, have not been explicit enough so far in critiquing the isms. Correctly explaining those philosophies could hardly avoid revealing their deficiencies as to logical discourse and as to their lack of worthwhile intellectual substance, and thus arises the value of Windschuttle. (Not that any of those isms merits the appellation of “philosophy”, as they are rather more like mentalities or even religious faiths (but more on that later).) If anyone should allege that the present review is too subjective, I would just observe that the material under consideration is largely subjective, and from the author of any such criticism (which itself could, naturally, be expected to be free of any objectivity) I would solicit an objective treatment if he or she thought such a piece would be possible and comprehensible. In any case, it is not my intent to say that writings that are purely subjective (e.g., novels) or that involve subjective reasoning (or rather, reasoning with subjective information) never have validity or interest.

In proceeding, I focus on what I see as the foundational notions that underlie the isms. The starting point would have to be Friedrich Nietzsche's belief [see his essay “On Truth and Lie in an Extra-Moral Sense”] that unremitting self-deception afflicts everyone, with (in Nietzsche's mind) himself alone immune to it, witness the fact that he had so much to say concerning the hypotheses and theories by which he extended that belief. Consideration must also be given to Nietzsche's book "Beyond Good and Evil”, which cynically posits that no person (philosopher or not) possesses intelligence or integrity, excepting only Nietzsche himself, witness again his cause-making from such thinking. Absent these writings, the world perhaps would have seen the rise of the isms anyway. But Nietzsche, as characterized above, does represent the proximate genesis of the isms, and to my knowledge Nietzsche’s followers do not deny this.

Let us momentarily dismiss any reluctance to take Nietzsche seriously, since Windschuttle was evidently impelled to take Nietzsche's intellectual progeny (Derrida, Foucault, et al.) seriously. Nietzsche could have taken his own teachings seriously: he then might have seen that his belief that humans cannot avoid self-deception would logically mean that he, as a human, would necessarily be (possibly in some undefinable way) self-deceived in his own propositions and beliefs, and then he perforce would have realized that he could have nothing useful to say. The fact that he did not follow this logic leaves us with the arguable inference that he did not actually accept that he was merely human but instead saw himself as something more, something indeed superhuman. In this case a particular view of the man’s mind would come to the fore, with his own self-deception as the chief element in the picture. Or perhaps he, ungodlike, just had a lapse in applying logic.

We might try to consider Nietzsche's proposition in a spirit of generosity and allow that a somewhat weaker version might be tenable -- namely that humans sometimes or even often, but not always, fall prey to self-deception. Fair enough, but this is hardly an earth-shattering idea that leads necessarily to some inescapable and important new philosophy or guidance for living. It is not new news, it is old news, and it is obvious to any mature human being who does not live in some make-believe world. One of the important aspects of this limited proposition (that people are sometimes self-deceived) pertains to conflicts of interest in daily life and especially in political and governmental affairs. Depending on the degree to which a conflict of interest is hidden and unacknowledged, mischief and even criminality would be practically impossible to limit. The insidiousness of the conflict-of-interest problem arises from the fact that often the conflicted individual is unaware of the conflict until too late to do anything about it, or deceives himself or herself into believing that it either does not exist or is excusable, unavoidable, or unimportant. Indeed, this dismissive mechanism is so powerful that the disclosure, admission, and elimination of the conflict is apparently so unusual it surprises everyone whenever it occurs. This is a topic meriting a great deal of additional discussion beyond the scope of the present review. In any case, the principles pertaining to conflict of interest represent possibly the only useful and important aspect of Nietzsche’s postulate (or rather a version of it limited as suggested above) that humans cannot avoid self-deception -- although it would bear checking by one of our expert historiographers whether, predating Nietzsche, someone else first articulated the conflict-of-interest problem.

It should be easy to demonstrate that following Nietzsche and taking up his philosophy would likely bring one to a state of mental paralysis and profound despair, with no way out. The problems inevitably arising from conflicts of interest as mentioned above not being excluded, it remains correct to say that Nietzschean philosophy offers no solution to any problem at all, at least no solutions that are relevant, new, and non obvious to normal people. Anybody who disagrees with the foregoing statement is invited to present a contrary statement and demonstration. A reasonably happy and productive life is, and always has been, available to normal people who never heard of Nietzsche or cultural relativism or political correctness. Nietzsche’s apologists know this deep down. The world we inhabit, and human thought, knowledge, and awareness, did not begin just before Nietzsche arrived on-scene. Human evolution over millions of years did not culminate in useful and valid new knowledge in the era of those particular recent thinkers (Nietzsche and his academic successors), when happiness then suddenly became possible but theretofore was impossible for lack of the enlightenment gifted to the world by their thinking. It is highly dubious, to say the least, that either happiness or functional effectiveness in life increases when an individual becomes a believer in the new isms and political correctness. Casual observation suggests the opposite: the angriest, most dissatisfied and most unsatisfiable, uniformly most up-settable people around are the believers in the new isms and political correctness. After accepting Nietzsche’s pronouncement that self-deception is unavoidable, an otherwise normal mind engaged in intellectual pursuits must become terribly discouraged, and so the new believer in the new isms (at least such a one who is possessed of normal mental powers) would thereafter understandably be upset continually.

Nietzsche imagines that his Big New Idea -- that self-delusion always afflicts everyone (except him, of course) -- cuts down all earlier philosophers as well as all future philosophers in one stroke, making him greater than them every one. That he succeeded brilliantly in his own estimation left him obsessed by the idea that truth itself is a delusional concept. So he rose tall to state a new truth -- that there is no truth. There is no truth -- and that's the truth! When a philosopher reaches the pass where his or her philosophy is represented by such an internally illogical and self-contradictory statement, it is time for him or her to seek another line of work, and to encourage his or her followers to look elsewhere for somebody to lead them out of the wilderness. How can Nietzsche’s self-image itself then not be regarded as delusional? His philosophical exertions only amount to a parody. The joke is finally on him: he was self-deceived, after all. Still, he was able to drag some other academics and philosophers down with him, which is regrettable enough: real progress in various fields of thought has not been advanced but instead has been impeded if not retarded by Nietzsche. It did not have to turn out like that. Philosophers, early on, could have summarized Nietzsche’s main points as “much of human life involves subjective information” and “articulated human thought sometimes has practical, but never has god-like, accuracy” and “humans cannot avoid self-deception”, and could have just moved on from there. Inexplicably, many philosophers did not do this. For a long time it has not been very adventurous to say that only fools would take Nietzsche’s Big New Idea as a big revelation or as actionable new information (reserving for further discussion, however, the conflict-of-interest problem, where self-deception might indeed be involved).

Nietzsche, though brilliant and often persuasive, suffered no evident restraint in putting his ideas on paper for the world to see, admire, and follow. His big new idea that there is no truth is like the sophomore's paradox stated as "This statement is false", which ties students into knots, with their professors sniggering all the while. So one reads Nietzsche (if one has the stomach for it) and eventually dismisses it -- although occasionally a weak-minded student takes it as enlightenment and becomes a Nietzschean cultist.

Nietzsche's big idea -- that there is no truth -- if taken as a universal, would imply self-referentially that this big idea itself is not truth. So why go to the trouble of conveying it as though it were, as though it were not a trap for naive students? What indeed is Nietzsche's purpose? To see how many people can be made to believe an idea that testifies to its own absurdity? Or does he have some noble motivation instead -- to give the world the useful lesson that not everything is determinable with certainty. Do we have people sprinkled amongst us who were taught otherwise, who would view this lesson as a bombshell-revelation, and who would be forever enlightened by it? If so, such people surely cannot be numerous. Or, does Nietzsche only wish to cryptically prove the validity of his belief that no one has intelligence or integrity by showing that people can be made to believe an absurdity? Considering his adherents, perhaps here one must admit he scored a point.

So much for Nietzsche.

French structuralist Claude Levi-Strauss, one of Nietzsche’s intellectual descendants, quoted in Windschuttle, Chapter 9, says: "Every civilization tends to overestimate the objectivity of its thought, and this tendency is never absent." What brilliance! What perspicacity! Without Levi-Strauss, mankind might never have had a chance to realize that objectivity is hard to attain and maintain, and that not everyone’s mind is always perfectly objective!

It is not to be recorded here that subjectivity must, or can, always be avoided or that solid objectivity is always within reach. It could never be maintained that there is no human experience where subjectivity is unavoidable. Neither is it to be maintained that objectivity is not a matter of degree or that the claim that one is objective is beyond question.

But in examining Levi-Strauss's proposition concerning the objectivity of a civilization’s thought, one can hardly avoid questioning its internal coherence. One has the sneaking suspicion that Levi-Strauss is implicitly acknowledging objectivity as a valid and worthy concept. One even begins to think that, in Levi-Strauss's mind, objectivity not only is good, but is better than its opposite. But surely not! Levi-Strauss couldn't possibly admit such a conclusion, even if it is logically implied in his writing, if only because his academic allies have a mutual pact to deny it. Objectivity must (referencing culture) be held to be impossible, so that Subjectivity is the only usable tool in our tool kit, and therefore is the best tool we could have. Whatever Levi-Strauss actually believed (his writings suggest he did value objectivity) cultural relativists can be relied upon to deny the possibility of human objectivity, to reject arguments based upon purportedly objective data, and to hold that subjectivity is not just always valid but always preferred. Academics who pursue their intellectual goals with reliance upon what they view as the one usable tool in their tool kit, claiming to reason exclusively with subjective information, have a tremendous burden if they desire to maintain their own personal credibility (assuming the idea of credibility even matters to them). It is a wonderment when they try it.

When one believes that (cultural) objectivity is impossible, doesn't that imply that one must know how to distinguish objectivity from subjectivity? When one has the ability to make this distinction, doesn't that imply that, in making that distinction, one can be objective, despite the denial by cultural relativists of the very possibility of objectivity?

To assert (as do the cultural relativists, along with Nietzsche himself in the above-mentioned essay) that (cultural) objectivity is impossible must raise questions even in the classroom. Isn't there something inherently self-contradictory about the assertion? The assertion, in its own terms, even in reference to cultures, is to be a subjective truth, not an objective truth. Yet it is stated as though it were simultaneously somehow an absolute. An objective truth! In the classroom, the cultural relativists can tell (of course) whether the student groks it. And grading, naturally, is subjective.

If one asserts that (cultural) objectivity is impossible, what then makes it possible for one to decide whether another person is objective or operates with objectivity, or makes it possible for one to decide that attaining objectivity is impossible in the first place? Is the case for that belief void of any objective evidence and thereby the more persuasive and conclusive? What gives subjective argumentation such surpassing value in academia? If subjectivity is normative, isn't the norm indistinguishable from faith, operating under which would be tantamount to pursuing a religion? This question cannot be answered in any way that would, subjectively or otherwise, vindicate cultural relativists.

After all, from before Aristotle’s time, intellectuals were always more admired and valued when they sought or employed objective knowledge and argued logically. The strongest minds always strove for greater objectivity and sounder reasoning, not the reverse. Obsessing over the possibility of self-deception, furthermore, is not evident in their works. But neither did they shy away from abstract thought of the highest order. It is arguable (if not demonstrable) that reasoning with or about highly abstract ideas is not subjective but instead is inherently objective, as in the case of mathematical reasoning (e.g., by Euclid in his splendid “Elements” or by the present-day space-exploration scientists who design and calculate complex trajectories for spacecraft to obtain imagery and other data on close approach to, or even landing upon, distant objects in the Solar system (asteroids, comets, planets, and moons)). Objectivity is à la rigueur in the sciences and engineering, if, for example, you want your spacecraft to reach its target and if you want the data collected during the mission to be valid: mathematics, and the hard sciences in general, involves no subjective information or ideas at all. It is hoped that nobody will see fit to attack the present review on this point, without at least stating what definition of “objectivity” makes the point incorrect. As for the so-called “soft sciences”, the more subjective they become, the more unreliable and useless and novel-like they become.

To all of the reviewers who gave, or one day may give, Windschuttle a bad review, let me ask this: When you learned from Nietzsche, et al., (a) that self-deception is unavoidable, (b) that objectivity is impossible and the only (cultural) truth is subjective truth, and (c) that by Nietzsche’s dictate you like all other humans (except Nietzsche himself) can have neither intelligence nor integrity, did you then make a substantial investment of your time in studying and pursuing the related thought systems of modernism, post-modernism, cultural relativism, etc.? And with the amazing new understanding and stunning enlightenment you derived from that study are you leading a life now that is just (subjectively) wonderful?
Berkohi
When western colleges and universities began to accept the relativist theories of poststructuralism, their English and comparative literature departments quickly became the first eager acolytes. It was not long before their history brethren followed suit. In THE KILLING OF HISTORY, Keith Windschuttle lucidly analyzes how this trend began, provides examples of the conversion in the very words of the New Believers, and shows how and why the speed of the general acceptance of historical relativism must surely lead to the killing of traditional history. Windschuttle's book is a scary polemic in that though his main concern is history, his fears apply equally well to the full range of academic disciplines.

Windschuttle begins by noting that the tendency for historians to acknowledge the very real baneful influences of prejudice, ideology, and bias have been self-acknowledged since classical Greece times. Yet, most history writers assumed that they could control these biases while still admitting that there were truly universal concepts like truth, justice, and facts. He adds that the first doubters were the 18th and 19th century philosophers like Nietzche, Hegel, Hume, and Marx. The real problem, he believes began with what he terms the "Paris Labels and Designer Concepts" of such poststructuralists as Derrida, Foucault, and Althusser, all of whom trashed the very notion of the existence of absolutes and replaced them with a basically anything goes methodology of writing history in which the line between fiction and fact becomes intentionally blurred so that the marginalized voices of the tongueless victims of what these postmoderns term a racist cabal of hated and self-hating Western ideologues may find voice.

Windschuttle considers the lamentable practice of writing history under the microscope of such divergent theories as semiotics, structuralism, poststructuralism, anti-humanism, posthistory, postmodernism, relativism, hermeneutics, induction, and even fiction, all of which share a common base in their reckless disregard of acknowledging how literal truth ought to occupy central stage in the writing of history. Windshuttle's favored tactic is to examine how representative theorists of relativism view specific historical events under the lens of their respective ideologies. He targets Cortez in Mexico, Cook in Hawaii, and the Aborignes of Australia. In each case, he uses the very words of the authors to undermine and demolish their premises. Without exception, all these relativist writers manifest a desire to expose what they deem as the not so latent racist underpinnings of western civilization so as to provide a voice of the marginalized. Windschuttle instead cleverly turns their argument that western culture is racist on its head by noting that the reverse is far more likely true.

The breadth of learning and erudition in THE KILLING OF HISTORY is astounding. Windschuttle's chapter of the discourses of Michel Foucault is the best that I have ever read. His closing comments in the Afterword succintly summarize his fear that the killing of his title is one that is not likely to go away anytime soon. THE KILLING OF HISTORY is required reading for anyone who wonders whether what they read in a history book is fact or fiction.

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