Commentary Magazine


Conservative Historians

To the Editor:

I thoroughly enjoyed John Higham’s article on Daniel J. Boorstin and “The Cult of the ‘American Consensus’“ (February). He has caught the new conservatives in the act of homogenizing American history, of substituting a unitary view of our past for the old progressive dualism. But he has also validated the claim of Boorstin’s publisher that The Americans (as the leading vehicle of the new conservative interpretation) is “the first major re-interpretation of American history since Turner, Parrington, and Beard.”

The new trend of American historiography is significant: it reflects a broad national tendency toward political moderation and homogeneity, a phenomenon commented upon, for example, by Dennis H. Wrong in “The Perils of Political Moderation” (January). Boorstin is clearly rewriting American history in the image of the present generation, just as the great progressive historians rewrote it in the image of theirs. I find it difficult to understand why Higham concludes that The Americans is “a collection of sparkling fragments rather than an enduring monument, a fascinating miscellany rather than a grand achievement.” The great interpretive histories have usually been both. On Higham’s own evidence The Americans is likely to stand as an enduring monument to the vigor and originality of mid-century pragmatic conservatism.

Keith B. Berwick
Williamsburg, Virginia

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