Howard Zinn‘s 1980 book A People’s History of the United States has long been a staple of high-school and college syllabi. Indeed, as Daniel J. Flynn has noted, it’s “so popular that it can be found on the class syllabus in such fields as economics, political science, literature, and women’s studies, in addition to its more understandable inclusion in history.”
But it’s not popular because it’s good history. It isn’t. it’s popular because the teachers that assign it agree with its politics. For left-wing “educators” eager to sell their students on a crudely, relentlessly anti-capitalist and pro-socialist account of American history, it’s a veritable Bible.
Zinn himself admitted that he wasn’t out to record history objectively but to spin it in a way that would, in his words, “advance causes of humanity.” In other words, he was selling propaganda – specifically, Communist propaganda. His book viewed every historical event through a Marxist lens. Everything was about class struggle. Every act was motivated by greed. All people were either oppressors or oppressed. Every single fact that was at odds with Zinn’s ideology was either suppressed or distorted by him to fit that ideology.
Where other historians had told the story of America as a story largely of inspiring heroes, for Zinn virtually all of those heroes were really ruthless exploiters of their fellowman. That included the Founding Fathers. “Rather than an event that inspired movements for freedom and self-government throughout the world through the present,” Flynn observed, the founding of America represented, in Zinn’s view, the establishment of “a virtually totalitarian system of oppression.”
Of course, Zinn’s attitude here is easily refuted. “If the Founders wanted a society they could direct,” asks Flynn,
why didn’t they establish a dictatorship or a monarchy and model their rule on what was the universal form of government at the time? Why go through the trouble of devising a Constitution departing from a repressive status quo and guaranteeing individual rights, mass political participation, jury trials, and checks on governmental power? Apparently inhabiting an alternate reality, Zinn doesn’t feel the need to account for this and merely explains it away as a charade designed to prevent class revolution. This is conspiracy theory with a vengeance.
So it goes throughout the book. Slavery? Instead of understanding how remarkable it is that an army of free citizens fought a bloody four-year war to liberate other men from slavery, a large percentage of young people today actually believe – thanks largely to Zinn’s selective, slanted reporting and frequent outright disinformation – that no other country than America has ever had slavery. So determined is Zinn to demonize the principal actors in every major event in American history that, for him, emancipation is just as bad as slavery. For both, as Flynn notes,
are explained by the same factor: greed. Whether the U.S. tolerates or eradicates slavery, its evil motives remains the same. To Zinn the important thing about the emancipation of the slaves and the Civil War that brought that about is that they served as distractions from the impending socialist revolution.