Historians Against the War (For Progressives Only, Libertarians Not Welcome)

In 2003, Historians Against the War (HAW) seemed a promising opportunity to bring together antiwar historians of all political persuasions. And, in fact, many libertarian historians joined with liberals, socialists and others on the left to oppose the war. Such an ecumenical political organization had rarely appeared in American history since the demise of the American Anti-Imperialist League in the early twentieth century. Because of its openness, HAW received praise from such free market blogs as The Beacon of the Independent Institute, Antiwar.com, Scott Horton's The Stress Blog, LewRockwell.com, and Liberty and Power at the History News Network.

Seven years later, however, HAW has become essentially a left-wing social club with virtually no political effectiveness. The shift to the new HAW began in March when the leadership purged from the Hawblog yours truly and Thaddeus Russell, a historian of the left who has libertarian sympathies and is critical of the moral universalism and imperialism of the progressive tradition. The major complaints against us were that we devoted too much space to pushing a "libertarian agenda" (others did not hestitate to blog on progressive proposals that had nothing to do with foreign policy), "bashing Obama" and his foreign policy and criticizing the HAW leadership for its silence on the new administration.

The blog purge was only a prelude. Soon after it took place, HAW scuttled its generally welcoming and ecumenical original statement of purpose in favor of a leftist critique of "global capitalism" that seemed almost calculated to spurn potential libertarian or conservative recruits.

The latest example is this advertisement for an upcoming HAW panel. It takes for granted that HAW members and "progressive historians" are one and the same. It shows no effort to include libertarian and conservative anti-war historians, left historians critical of "progressivism," or even to acknowledge the existence of non-progressives.

Worse yet, as Thad Russell pointed out, HAW's use of this label in this way also identifies the organization with the most aggressive imperialists in American history including the two main founders of American progressivism, Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson. The advertisement asks "What can progressive historians & historically minded activists do to positively influence political events?" The implication, of course, is that libertarian and conservative anti-war historians are not qualified to "do” anything about Obama’s Wars. They are to be ignored.

Thad Russell comments:

As a member since the earliest days of the organization (I signed on shortly after the Iraq invasion), I ask—and am on the verge of very publicly demanding—that the HAW steering committee clarify whether the organization is limited to "progressive" historians (as the AHA flyer as well as many other statements made by the steering committee strongly suggest) or just historians who are AGAINST THE WARS. If the former, I will resign immediately since I refuse to identify myself with Wilson, the Roosevelts, Truman, Kennedy, Johnson, and the "progressive" tradition that is responsible for the largest imperialist wars in U.S. history.

How about a panel discussion on that?

I would also like to note that, via the HAW blog, David Beito and I raised the issue of Obama's warmaking and the HAW's silence on it from the first days of the administration but were banned from the blog for doing so. Please see our posts on the blog archive, beginning here.

And do let us know whether you agree with the steering committee's decision to ban us from the blog.

In solidarity against the wars,
Thad Russell

David Beito is a Research Fellow at The Independent Institute and editor of the Independent book, The Voluntary City: Choice, Community, and Civil Society (with Peter Gordon and Alexander Tabarrok).
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