I picked up an academic textbook about Stuart England—the standard reference work for six-formers and undergraduates; and I was impressed by several points about it from a Guénonian perspective: first, the book opened with a long chapter on the economy and this was followed by a chapter about social history (the nature of a gentlemen, a yeoman, and a vagabond in 17th-century England—latterly, a little about religion). The author was not a Marxist, but like everyone else in the academy (this book was originally published in the 1970s) he had absorbed the basic Marxist framework: you start with the economy and class structure—i.e. you start with quantity, with matter. If I were to write the same history, I would start with either “the court” or “religion”, whereas the contemporary academic sets up, very clearly, that it is economics and class structure that determine how we should think about Stuart England.
Laughably, when the author arrived at “religion” he identified four streams that were current in Stuart England: irreligion, residual Catholicism, “mainline” Protestantism, and Puritanism. Again, he starts with “irreligion”, except this was practically a non-category—all it meant was that there were a few isolated communities in places like Devon and Cornwall that received no Christian ministry and so were pagan or without religion, and that there was one aristocrat who said he thought the resurrection was nonsense and never happened. This is foregrounded as the first thing to know about religion in Stuart England (not alphabetically, by the way)—the author is then forced to concede that “religion and religious thought permeated the lives of even people who rarely attended church”. Yet every effort is made to make it appear that religion was a non-issue—it’s patently ridiculous when you consider that a huge actuator for the Civil War was Puritanism and the fear that there would be a Catholic revival.
Yet because the textbook is modern it has to deny religion. I saw a similar absurdity in a textbook about mid-Victorian England, again published in the late 1970s. The author pointed out that most contemporary popular newspapers and cheap paperbacks had evangelical themes—even provided a statistical table that showed this was so, up to about 75% of publications. He then boldly asserted that mid-Victorians were, in fact, “not religious”. Academics will literally show you evidence of one thing and then tell you the opposite is the case.
Anyway, it’s relevant because I think it exemplifies how everything in the West is structured. Generation upon generation takes these textbooks—these seminars—and they are led, right from the very structure of the textbook, to think in a certain way; viz, “what motivates man is economic factors”. Even when the writer is not a Marxist, it sets the whole structure for the debate; for the most part, students will not see beyond that—and an obedient highly-graded student will just reproduce what is asked for verbatim and work “in the tradition”.
The textbook also demonstrated that contemporary complaints about “woke academia” are nonsense—it has always been so in one iteration or another. As with journalism, there was no “golden age”—from the earliest days, journalism was agreed to be “gossip and lies” and it always has been. Similarly, the image of the pedantic scholar who knows nothing about reality goes back as far as Chaucer (probably beyond) and is correct—academics have never known anything about anything ever.
In this case, since the textbook had been revised with prefaces from the 1990s and the 2000s, I could see how the belief system evolved. In the 1970s, the writer bows to political pressure from leftist militants who claim “it’s not the English Civil War”—it’s about Scotland and Wales. He makes obeisance to this political faction, leftist nationalism—then immediately states that, of course, England was the most powerful kingdom with the largest economy at the time, so practically the only history worth examination is “English history”.
By the 2000s, the political factions have morphed into “popular history”, with banal statements about how recent research has shown, in effect, that “ordinary people had opinions”—the implication being that it is wrong to study kings and aristocrats and that “the people”, in a kind of Blairite egalitarian spirit, played a huge role too; never mind that most were illiterate, and even egalitarian Cromwell favoured gentlemen as officers.
I presume that the author is dead now, or very old—but if he were to revise the book again he would probably have to make concessions to “excellent research” about “black lives” in Stuart England (yes, I am sure there were one or two black people in England at the time—people have always moved about all over the world—who could be revised to be linchpins in the English Civil War).
The textbook was basically “political” in the widest sense—dominated by factions, without a singular view and voice. Unlike Schopenhauer or Nietzsche, men outside the academy, the professional historian has to make little genuflections to various factions, regardless of whether what they say is true, because that is how to maintain professional standing—as a result, the last thing he says is what he actually thinks. Hence all these textbooks are a mess; they start from false premises, essentially Marxist, and then grant credence to whatever faction is bully-boy in the academy that decade.
Here’s an alternative account of the English Civil War: it started because James I was gay, spent too much money on clothes, held favourites whom he had homosexual affairs with, and was mean with patronage (as a miserly Scot) so leading patronage disputes to leak into Parliament. The Civil War was sparked because the English resented being led by Scottish monarchs, because the treasury was raided and patronage withheld, and because there was a crop failure in the mid-1600s. Just add in racial disputes and the disreputable role played by homosexuals and suddenly history becomes crystal clear—though never in the academy.