Vital Signs

A Confederacy of Dunces

The death of a social movement is an instructive and sobering phenomenon. After years of greatness and influence, an idea eventually sickens and dies, until its adherents are reduced to a pathetic handful. Somewhere in history, there must have lived the last Albigensian, the last Ranter, the last native practitioner of ancient Egyptian religion. Somewhere in the not-too-distant future, this select band of ultimate diehards will be joined by yet another, when Marxism breathes its last. And while I do not know the name of the last Marxist, I can, with some confidence, identify the profession of this heroic loser: He or she will unquestionably teach humanities at an American university—and almost certainly in the history department.

Academic historians rarely make much impact on the wider world, which explains why the public at large generally pays so little attention to their weird and wonderful tribal practices. Over the last year or two, however, historians have ventured beyond the forest clearing and into public view, and the sight has been something to behold. I suppose the new age started in the mid-1990's with the controversy over the Smithsonian's scheme for a revisionist exhibit of the Enola Gay, which condemned the U.S. decision to drop the atomic bomb. Crucial to the controversy was the exhibit's insanely inaccurate projection of the number of casualties the Allies were likely to incur in an invasion...

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