THROUGH the daily fog of propaganda that now passes for news came a glimmer of light on Sunday with the launch of a culture-wars fightback against ‘woke’ rewriting of Western history, headed by the historian, author and commentator Professor Robert Tombs.
More than 40 senior UK and ‘Anglosphere’ academics have joined the counter-offensive, entitled History Reclaimed. In a statement marking the launch of the campaign and its website, Professor Tombs warns that history has become one of the major battlegrounds in the culture wars, creating havoc in institutions and corporations across the UK, North America and Australasia.
Other leading lights include Cambridge historian David Abulafia, co-editor of the new website, Oxford ethicist Nigel Biggar, Stanford academic and author Niall Ferguson, Irish writer Ruth Dudley Edwards and historian and Churchill biographer Andrew Roberts. It is a fantastic line-up and all power to their elbows.
Their participation in the project is a measure of the concern in intellectual circles at the stultifying impact of cancel culture and political correctness. Professor Tombs said: ‘The abuse of history for political purposes is as old as history itself. In recent years, we have seen campaigns to rewrite the history of western democracies in a way that undermines their solidarity as communities, their sense of achievement, even their very legitimacy.
‘There have been calls to abolish national days in Canada and Australia, and both countries have been accused of being founded on genocide and colonial oppression.
‘In Britain, figures central to its history have been stigmatised as racists or for having connections, however distant, with slavery.
‘Slavery, despite its almost universal nature until the early 19th century, has been cast as the original sin for Britain and the United States, on which their societies and prosperity are supposedly based. Calls for massive reparations are being heard.’
As we on TCW Defending Freedom have constantly reported as here, here and here, endless organisations – from local authorities to universities, from City banks to the BBC, from tech corporations to major retail outlets, from the Church to national charities – have surrendered to the ‘woke’ condemnation of the past.
‘Whether to ward off criticism or to gain moral advantage, institutions have rushed to embrace the most negative interpretations of their own countries’ histories,’ Professor Tombs observes in the launch press release. He also explains how deeply damaging is the impact of this level of self-denigration on the social and political fabric of the country: ‘Activists sometimes assert that “facing up” to a past they present as overwhelmingly and permanently shameful is the path to a better and more “inclusive” future. But the real effect – perhaps the true aim – of their actions is nihilistic destruction.’
He goes on to say that ‘tendentious and even blatantly false readings of history are creating or aggravating divisions, resentments, and even violence . . . damaging to democracy and to a free society’. Free societies, he explains, depend on popular participation, trust and solidarity: ‘They need a sense of common purpose and self-worth. A shared history is a necessary foundation. We do not take the view that our histories are uniformly praiseworthy – that would be absurd. But we reject as equally absurd the corrosive claim that they are essentially shameful. We agree that history consists of many opinions and many voices. But this does not mean that all opinions are valid, and certainly none should be imposed as a new orthodoxy.’
History Reclaimed is an independent group of scholars from seven countries and several ethnicities holding a wide range of opinions on many subjects but sharing the conviction that history requires careful interpretation of complex evidence, and must not be a vehicle for facile propaganda. It intends to provide context, explanation and balance in a debate in which condemnation is too often preferred to understanding. It aims to inform and support individuals and institutions who feel uncertain in the face of the culture wars, and to make it clear that distorted and divisive history will not go unchallenged.
You can find the History Reclaimed website here. It has already brought together a wealth of writing on contested issues in history and will, Professor Tombs promises, ‘continue to produce a stream of new writing which will both set the agenda for historical debate, and call out fake history’.