Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Thaddeus Russell

Over at the Huffington Post I came across a blog my the historian Thaddeus Russell, of whom I had previously never heard anything about. It seems he was removed from teaching at Banard College, because, he believes, he teaches radical history.

With that I came into reading a few articles by Mr. Russell, including one on the truth about Labor Day, and another on radical changes in social behavior before and during the Revolutionary War. It made me think that large scale wars, especially ones that by necessity radicalize the citizens toward ideals about freedom and liberty; often result in an explosion of social norms or at least altered behavior. Even as we think of the late 1940's and 1950's as very "conservative"; this was the time when Alfred Kinsey was publishing his works on human sexuality, when once illegal drinking was now occurring all day; when Rock and Roll was born and Playboy magazine was founded. All of which laid the seeds, or were the early growth, of the social revolutions of the 1960s.

We can find that sort of thing in the post World War One period as well. I am not as familiar with the post-civil war history on social norms but I know it radicalized labor and workers, who sought to end not just literal slavery but "wage slavery" in which a man must toil in a factory just so that he may not starve, enriching the owner who sits in his office.

In each period we see a counter-revolution, by the forces of big business, elite opinion and "conservativeness" exploit divisions in the working population in order to make gains for the wealthy.

Reading back on the history of things like Labor Day or even Roman Pagan Holidays makes me think the kind of natural celebration of life (through feast, drinking, sex, dancing, etc.) comes out of human behavior organically but is fought against very hard by societal elites that wish for the masses to just work, work, work; and not enjoy any pleasures around them. This is certainly one of the tenet's of Max Weber's seminal piece of the protestant work ethic.

It makes me long for a kind of radicalization that would lead to a renewed spirit of celebration and life in the United States. Unfortunately we are seeing just the opposite, as the elections in November appear to be promising a wave of reactionaries coming into power. I suppose I will just have to wait (while doing my part in the meantime.) And I think I will pick up Mr. Russell's new book A Renegade History of the United States.

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