Hans Hermann-Hoppe has interesting essay out, The Libertarian Quest for a Grand Historical Narrative which explores a quote from Hayek:
While the events of the past are the source of the experience of the human race, their opinions are determined not by the objective facts but by the records and interpretations to which they have access. … Historical myths have perhaps played nearly as great a role in shaping opinion as historical facts. … The influence which the writers of history thus exercise on public opinion is probably more immediate and extensive than that of the political theorists who launch new ideas. It seems as though even such new ideas reach wider circles usually not in their abstract form but as the interpretations of particular events. The historian is in this respect at least one step nearer to direct power over public opinion than is the theorist. … Most people, when being told that their political convictions have been affected by particular views on economic history, will answer that they never have been interested in it and never have read a book on the subject. This, however, does not mean that they do not, with the rest, regard as established facts many of the legends which at one time or another have been given currency by writers on economic history.
This, in a way, is a companion quote to the quip by Lord Keynes, “Practical men who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist. Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back.”
The practical lesson, for libertarians, is that arguing logic, facts, morals, can only take you so far, if the listener has preconceived notions, based on how they were taught history.
Teachers, good ones at least, know this as well. They know that their students do not arrive with empty heads, ready to be filled with knowledge. They come with full heads, but much of it is wrong. The role of the teacher is not just to pump information in, but also to weed out the false narrative. Otherwise, there is a tendency to merely integrate the new facts with the existing false narrative.
Or, as the quote, attributed to all the usual suspects, goes: “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”
What are some of the false historical narratives that are commonly believed, and which form the background against which any libertarian proposals are evaluated? Ten examples, off the top of my head:
- The Robber Barons.
- Standard Oil’s “monopoly.”
- Upton Sinclair and The Jungle.
- Working conditions and labor unions.
- The end of child labor.
- The Great Depression/New Deal.
- The 2008 bail outs.
- Pre-FDA era and “snake oil salesman.”
- The Articles of Confederation and the Constitution.
- The American Civil War.
There are probably many others. Feel free to suggest additions.
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