So as regular readers of this blog know, every so often I get into an exchange with people who, how shall I say it, don’t share my political opinions. In some cases, it is clear that the people I am interacting with are thoughtful, informed people who simply have come to different conclusions than I have about the nature of political and social life, and about what we ought to do (or not do).
On the other hand, in some cases it is clear that I am interacting with people who know very little about American and global history, economics, institutions, and the like.
In honor of the question I was asked the other day, about what someone should read to get into political studies, I thought I’d offer a perspective on what I wish people knew before they started arguing about varioius issues. I don’t really have specific texts to recommend in each area; rather, I recommend finding out about these things and then engaging the issues in greater detail.
- I’d love for people to know about the militia groups that existed to repress slave rebellions in pre- and post-revolutionary America.
- I’d love for people to know about the Great Awakening and both its deviance from past political/religious practice in America and its effects in American political and social life. As an extension of this pursuit, I wish people would understand how evangelism morphed from apolitical to political over time.
- I’d love for people to have a passing understanding of Deism and the lived principles of the Framers.
- I would be excited if people had a decent understanding of the labor wars of the late nineteenth century, including things like the Haymarket Riot, the rise of terrorist anarchism, and the repression of labor unions in the US.
- I would love it if people understood the history of civil liberties in the US, starting from the realization that for the most of US history, most of what people today understand as “normal” freedoms (of religion, of speech, of freedom from government power) were in fact highly constrained and limited.
- I wish people had a deep understanding of the way(s) Jim Crow segregation was established and enforced, and thus the degree of effort needed to break its hold on American life. I feel the same about the rights of women, minorities, and other groups in American society.
- It would be immensely helpful if people knew a lot about the history of immigration and backlash in American history. Start with the Know-Nothings: they were a real political party!
- It would be wonderful if people understood the history of inter-religious tensions in the US.
- I wish people had a practical understanding of the limits of military power. See Dwight Eisenhower’s refusal to send US troops to Vietnam in 1954.
- I wish people had a nuanced understanding of the linkage between “free” markets and state action.
- I wish people recognized that all the world’s industrial and post-industrial democracies created welfare states at roughly the same time for reasons that made total sense in the context of the moment.
- I’d be remarkably happy if people had a basic understanding of international political economy, balance of trade, globalization and similar concepts.
- It would be glorious if people could understand how ideologies work: how they are constructed, what their effects are, etc., as abstract things rather than as deeply-felt truths.
There’s a lot more. But if people had a working understanding of this stuff, I do think the level of discourse we could engage in would be amazing. So go learn about these things, folks. You don’t have to agree with me. But it’d be nice if we all were deeply immersed in this knowledge.