January 14, 2009

Responding to DiLorenzo

In a January 14 blog entry at LewRockwell.com, Thomas DiLorenzo validates my characterization of his dabbling in historiography as ?overheated.? In the process, he makes several misstatements that anyone cognizant of basic English and possessed of access to the Internet can easily find to be untrue.

First, he refers to my recent TakiMag article as ?labeled as a book review of Hamilton?s Curse.?  Take a look at the essay.  It is not ?labeled as a book review of Hamilton?s Curse,? which I don?t consider worthy of a book review. The book adds nothing to the general store of knowledge of Hamilton, but is notable only for being ? well, overheated.

That I know this disproves DiLorenzo?s statement that I have ?obviously not read it.?  Indeed, I did force myself through DiLorenzo?s latest exercise in semi-historical splenetics.

DiLorenzo has repeatedly said that virtually every other major country in the world peacefully ended slavery in the 19th century, and that the USA could have done so if not for Abraham Lincoln. If that?s not what he?s saying here, for example, what is he saying?  What about here?  If the meaning of calling attention to other countries? peaceful abolition in the course of criticizing Lincoln isn?t to imply that abolition might have been achieved peacefully here, then what is it?

In a characteristic fit of overstatement and distortion, DiLorenzo says, ?I have never written or said any such thing, and Gutzman knows it. He lies.?  Actually, I?ve provided two examples of his saying some such thing just above, and I am confident that in a few minutes with the LewRockwell.com online archive, I could add others.  DiLorenzo should look to the example of his friend Walter Block, who has recently responded to actual harsh criticism in the fashion of a gentleman and a scholar.  He should also know that unlike Block, I have no philosophical objection to libel laws.

DiLorenzo?s response to my essay oscillates between the puerile and the pathetic.  For example, he has me asking, ?Can we really blame Hamilton for the Federal Reserve?? before quoting a Fed publication that claimed Hamilton for inspiration.  Well, then!  He also replies to my assertion that National Greatness Conservatism shouldn?t be blamed on Hamilton by saying that Bill Kristol, ?the inventor of ?National Greatness Conservatism,?? says that it should be.  I suppose, then, that DiLorenzo accepts the Democratic Party?s claim that it is the ?Party of Jefferson,? and the New Dealers? claim that they sought Jeffersonian ends through Hamiltonian means.  I guess we should credit every politician?s claim that his every program is inspired by the example of some famous Revolutionary, and that we should judge the Revolutionary in light of the latest program inspired by his example.  How absurd.  How unhistorical.  How typical.

The topper, however, comes when DiLorenzo says that when it comes to the question whether the Second Bank of the United States was ?Hamilton?s Bank,? it is irrelevant that the First Bank of the United States (BUS) died in 1811, that the Second BUS was a completely new corporation, and that the Second was chartered by Congress in 1816 (12 years after Hamilton?s death and five years after his bank?s death) at the request of President James Madison, the chief House opponent of the First BUS.  ?No one who has ever written anything about this subject would deny that Hamilton was the culprit.?

Apparently DiLorenzo?s knowledge of the literature on James Madison, the Second BUS, Albert Gallatin, John Calhoun, the Old Republicans, and Andrew Jackson?s Bank War rivals his knowledge of the historiography of Alexander Hamilton.

DiLorenzo concludes that, ?Other than these lies and misleading statements, Gutzman provides no information whatsoever in his ?review? about what the book is actually about. Not one word about Hamilton’s constitutional views, which I write about extensively, or his mercantilist policies, his role in the Whisky Rebellion, how generations of statists have invoked the image of Hamilton to ?justify? their political schemes?nothing. I would not give an undergraduate a passing grade for such shoddy and dishonest work.? 

So, having falsely asserted at the top that my essay was labeled a ?review,? DiLorenzo concludes by saying it was an inadequate review. He also seems to have missed the essay?s penultimate paragraph, which says, ?We do not know whether Hamilton would have been a neo-Jacobin in 2009. Yes, he did say that the problem in American politics for the foreseeable future would be that the states were too powerful in relation to the Federal Government, but that was 200+ years ago.  It is not historical to make of Hamilton an all-purpose anti-freedom symbol, just because he stood for a far stronger government than the Articles of Confederation and against constitutional limitations on federal power in his own day.? What else is that about, if not Hamilton?s constitutional views?  If an undergraduate gave me such shoddy work as DiLorenzo?s blog entry, I wouldn?t give him a passing grade.

Had DiLorenzo?s book merited a review, I would have reviewed it.  But serious students of the Revolution and Early Republic will find literally nothing in the book?s section on that period that they don?t already know.  Present-minded readers seeking to find a spiritual link between midnight basketball and the Sedition Act likely are already familiar with the standard-issue Jeffersonian argument DiLorenzo adumbrates.  And whether Bill Kristol can justifiably invoke the ghost of Alexander Hamilton is perhaps a matter of taste.  As I said, perhaps extremism in defense of liberty is no vice, but reasoned explication is more persuasive.

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