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Is Europe Burning? Thoughts on David Randall, The Disappearing Continent (National Association of Scholars, 2016)1

Tom Laichas


Online at

     Early last summer, the National Association of Scholars (NAS) issued a report, The Disappearing Continent, blasting the College Board's updated AP European History course description.2 World history teachers ought to read it, even if (in fact, especially if) they disagree with its conclusions.

     Established in 1987 by scholars critical of the academy's leftward drift, the NAS is part of a conservative ecosystem of academic institutions, professional associations, think-tanks, and advocacy groups, many of which enthusiastically fought the "history wars" of the 1990s.3 Its recommendations urge the kind of curricular reforms pressed over the past thirty years by the likes of Dinesh D'Souza, Jacques Barzun, David Horowitz, Gertrude Himmelfarb, Harvey Mansfield, and E. D. Hirsch, several of whom have served on the NAS advisory board. Implementing NAS's recommendations would return schools and colleges to the US history and Western Civilization surveys familiar in the 1950s and 60s. Disappearing Continent laments the distance between that kind of history and the sort proposed by the College Board:

The traditional history of Europe tells how Europeans, uniquely, articulated the ideals of freedom, put them into practice, and created the modern world. APEH's leftist skew transforms the history of Europe into a story of a generic modernization process that turned Europe into a secular, well-governed welfare state. (DC, 7)

     Why should world history teachers read further? First, having attacked AP U.S. and European exams, it's reasonable to assume that the NAS has the AP World History program in its sights.4 Second, a good many of David Randall's criticisms, though presented in the language of a harrying prosecutor, are worth serious consideration and reflection. Third, where AP teachers reject the NAS line, they should be clear why they do so and prepare themselves to answer their critics. Finally, the NAS has friends in both Congress and the White House; world history teachers, whether at high schools or colleges, should anticipate a broad assault on their work.5

     Disappearing Continent entirely ignores the actual experience of students in AP classrooms. Instead, David Randall focuses his fire on the College Board's recently revised AP European History Course Description. Randall acknowledges that thoughtful teachers supplement and adjust curriculum where they think necessary. He argues, though, that teachers new to the profession, new to the AP program, or unfamiliar with European history, will likely take the enlarged description literally.

     I think Randall is right about this: the College Board's AP course descriptions have in recent years become much more prescriptive (and much longer). Just twenty years ago, the College Board saddle-stapled the AP European handbook's thirty pages into a handy 6"x9" booklet which also contained the AP U.S. course description. The AP Euro description is now a book-length text weighing in at 200-plus letter-size pages.6

     The course description is all the more important for the role it plays in recently launched AP Course Audit, which prohibits a school from designating a class "Advanced Placement" without College Board approval. For each course, a school must submit a "subject-specific AP Course Audit form and the course syllabus for each teacher of the course." The College Board tries to be reassuring: the Audit is not about "mandating any one curriculum for AP courses."7 Reviews are mixed. While some teachers have reported that approval is perfunctory, others have complained that the College Board applies its standards inconsistently, for instance accepting a syllabus submitted by one AP Chemistry teacher while rejecting the identical syllabus from a colleague.8 A teacher can submit her course for an Audit just three times. Though outright rejection may be unusual, anxiety among first-time AP teachers is entirely understandable.

     Where can a new AP teacher get the guidance to nail the Audit? The College Board advises that teacher to consult the AP Course Description. The Description offers "a set of expectations that college and secondary school faculty nationwide have established for college-level courses."9 On AP message boards, experienced teachers have given the same advice to newbies: treat the Description as a template, incorporating its suggestions and examples directly into your courses.

     To repeat the point, then, David Randall is right: the AP European History Course Description functions as a prescriptive national curriculum. It is entirely fair that Randall and other critics should focus their fire narrowly on this document.

     Randall's own concerns are quite clear: the Left has hijacked the AP European History curriculum:

APEH follows modern progressive historians' soft-Marxist interpretation of the history of Europe, which works to justify modern progressivism's soft-Marxist political action in the present. APEH's approach is at odds with all historiographical schools of thought that take culture, religion, or liberal democracy as primary categories of historical experience. APEH's approach also undercuts European history as a source of ideals to inspire political action, except for progressives. In effect, it teaches that the lesson of all European history is that progressivism is the task for today.10 APEH turns Europe's history into a foreshortened, neo-Marxist, generic narrative of historical modernization, powered by abstract social and economic forces, and defines modernization around secularism, the state, and a thin intellectual history. APEH forwards this modernization narrative by minimizing the history of European liberty and religion in general and the history of Britain in particular. APEH then distorts European history by inserting leftist apologetics, consistently denigrating the free market, downplaying European exceptionalism, and mishandling women's history. APEH points the arrow of European history toward a well-governed, secular welfare state, whose interchangeable subjects possess neither national particularity nor faith nor freedom.11

     This is something of a straw man argument. Actual "Marxists," "neo-Marxists," and "Progressives" are at least as skeptical of the College Board and its curricular projects as Randall. Schools embodying the Marxist spirit imbue the entire curriculum – math and science as well as history – with an urgent concern for "social justice." If there's a modern Marxist approach to teaching, it's best embodied in the "critical pedagogy" of Brazilian literacy guru Paolo Freire, who argued that that teachers ought to deepen political consciousness and empowerment by facilitating open discussion and cooperative inquiry. The few U.S. schools built on Freire's philosophy categorically reject the College Board's "banking theory" of education, which stresses knowledge over understanding.12 If there are Marxists at the College Board, they're working for the wrong company.

     Though more numerous, self-described "Progressives" belong to much more diffuse movement. Though also committed to community service and political activism, very few teachers working at Progressive schools have actually read openly Leftist educators like Freire, Bill Ayres, or David Hill.13 In their faculty lounges, subscriptions to The Economist far outnumber those to Radical Teacher. Though Progressive schools may profess discomfort with a market-driven economy, most are proud to prepare their students to ascend its heights, as attested in recent enthusiasms for the "maker movement" and "hackathons," which encourage engineering and software design respectively. That said, Progressive teachers generally organize their classrooms to foster higher-order thinking rather than recall. Progressive schools regularly ask their teachers to build curriculum around "essential questions" and "student-centered" learning.14 Progressives are particularly drawn to research linking cognitive psychology and neuroscience with classroom outcomes.

     For these reasons, progressive teachers are generally uncomfortable with the College Board's entire Advanced Placement program. For Progressives, AP courses feel like a forced march through history, giving students little opportunity to think about issues central to the human story. More broadly, the AP tests a narrow range of academic skills, and relies upon a single exam to make its decisions, as though the Super Bowl were the only game scheduled in the entire NFL season. A number of progressive schools (including my own) have eliminated AP exams entirely.

     If the AP European curriculum is neither "Marxist" nor "Progressive," what, exactly, is it? I would argue that it's technocratic. The exhaustive Course Description conjures a classroom which devotes two days to slavery, three to the Reformation, and an hour to the Holocaust. In the hands of a determined and passionate teacher – of whom there are thankfully many – AP course descriptions can come alive. By themselves, though, these documents are relentlessly bland. They aren't committed to Leftist ideas – they're not committed to any ideas at all. The time it takes to think, to compare, to go deep: that's sacrificed for the sake of getting through it all. To borrow from Henry Adams, the College Board's products are far more Dynamo than Virgin.15

     I am therefore sympathetic to Randall when he says this: "The College Board should live up to its own goal by providing a guide that reflects a diverse historiography."16

     Randall is certainly right about that.

     If there is a problem common to all AP history and government courses, it is that they leave little time to critically examine contending historical perspectives, whether these valorize conservative values (free markets, nationalism, religious faith) or venerate those of the Left (equality, cosmopolitan secularism, collective benevolence). Knowing this, most students ignore the Board's invitation to "think critically." Instead, they treat history as a succession of discreet facts, printed on flash cards and available in boxed sets from Amazon.

     Randall's call to arms conjures a class in which students join battles between mid-century Marxists (Eric Hobsbawm, Eric Wolfe, Benedict Anderson) and traditional conservatives (Caroll Quigley, Hugh Trevor-Roper, Hilaire Belloc). Imagine if students could, in an age-appropriate way, trace lines of debate from Michelet and Marx right through the present, where avowed leftists like Noam Chomsky and Daniel Bendit-Cohn did battle against nationalists like Pat Buchanan. Imagine a course in which students considered how thoughtful and engaged participants in the arena of ideas draw from history to make their arguments, a course in which students encountered liberals like Paul Krugman, libertarians like Jonathan Hughes, and religious conservatives like R.R. Reno. Educational reform along those lines really would be radical!

     It is very unfortunate, then, that David Randall fails to follow his own logic to its end. He does not want classrooms to welcome informed discussion. Randall wants nothing more than to force textbook publishers, high school districts, state superintendents, state legislators, and members of Congress to deep-six one kind of history and replace it with another.17

     Let's read Randall's call for intellectual liberty again, but this time with the fine print:

The College Board should live up to its own goal by providing a guide that reflects a diverse historiography. This properly broad historiography should include the Greater Whig school that ties the history of Europe to the history of human liberty and flourishing. … It should work hardest to root out its characteristic deformation of unquestioned progressive neo-Marxism, exemplified in its whitewash of Communist history and the substitution of leftist theory and progressive historiography...18

What Randall really means by "diversity" is that the College Board should "root out … progressive neo-Marxism" which, as the rest of Disappearing Continent makes clear, includes not only the "whitewash of Communist history," but a long shelf of suspect and subversive ideas promoted over, say, the last one hundred and fifty years.19 Randall's advice to the College Board: Let a hundred flowers bloom – and then douse the whole garden with Roundup in order to kill the weediest ninety-nine.

     Reason tells Randall to expand the debate. Political instinct tells him to snuff it out. That tension plays out over a range of issues, from modernization and secularism to religion, European exceptionalism, the idea of liberty, the course of British history, women's history, and free markets. Throughout, he calls for diversity of opinion but yearns for uniformity, urges moral clarity but falls into moral confusion, and presses for a history of ideas while rebuilding Mr. Gradgrind's School of Unassailable Facts. And yet, amid the wreckage, there are criticisms worth salvaging.

     Let us turn now to a more detailed review of his work.

     Randall builds his argument around a critique of the AP Euro's core theme: modernization or, as he heatedly calls it, the "foreshortened, neo-Marxist, generic narrative of historical modernization." Randall is under the impression that "modernization" is some kind of gateway drug that leads 17-year-old users to the harder Leftist stuff. That was not at all my experience. When I first encountered to the concept (in college, as it happened), it wasn't thanks to some old Trotskyite in a pince-nez, but to Walt Rostow's Cold War classic The Stages of Growth, pointedly subtitled A Non-Marxist Manifesto. Influenced by Talcott Parsons, Rostow argued that democracy, free markets, and the rule of law loft developing countries towards "take-off" and, ultimately, first world affluence.20 Nearly sixty years later, "modernization" has become a commonplace, invoked by the Left, Right, and disappearing Center in political diatribes, quarterly economic reports and, of course, curriculum guides. Because it can mean almost anything, any power it once had over young minds has long since leaked away. I have taught history for thirty-five years, and can personally assure David Randall that "modernization" has no power whatsoever to transform mild-mannered high school students into balaclava-wearing revolutionaries or subversive fellow-travelers.

     Randall is a good deal more believable when he argues that a curriculum built on such broad concepts as "modernization" (and its twin, "secularization") can become exceptionally reductionist. Modernization theory will get you only so far in unpacking 16th century Poland, pre-Petrine Russia, or 18th century Bourbon imperial reform. That said, Randall's own organizing principle does no better a job with any of these episodes. If "history is the story of liberty," Russia's Time of Troubles doesn't advance the plotline.

     Again, though, Randall is not entirely mistaken. The more we credit "modernization" with historical change, the more we "flatten the narrative" and "obscure fascinating particulars." Spend too much time on modernization, Randall suggests, and you'll undermine "European history's use as a guide to individual action in the present." Thomas Carlyle and Sydney Hook would certainly have agreed: the Course Description leaves little room for the Hero in History.21 I'm sympathetic with that argument.

     Randall doesn't stop at modernization; he is impatient with the curriculum's other abstractions. Drawing from the course guide, Randall lists seventy –isms which collectively serve as a bill of indictment. They range from absenteeism to Zionism, from Darwinism to nepotism, and from realism to liberalism. Though Randall concedes that isms can "provide a useful shorthand for historical analysis," he insists that the "constant use of ism… reinforces the APEH's resort to impersonal and abstract forces to explain European history."22 The College Board, Randall writes, should "shift its historical framework to restore the importance of contingency, culture, politics, and the individual historical actor, and reduce the importance of inevitability, society, and economics."23

     However, Randall himself invokes isms when they suit his own purpose, peppering his critique with progressivism, Marxism, feminism, socialism and left(ism). This inconsistency left me mildly irritated. Annoying as well is the fact that Randall admires historians who built their reputations by promoting theories of abstract causation: De Tocqueville, Guizot, and Weber fearlessly explored the longue durée (though, to be fair, they, like Randall, longed for readers familiar with history's particulars).

     Putting aside the disputatious frou-frou, Randall makes an important point. Too much popular and schoolhouse history imbues ideas and movements with will and agency, as if surrealism ever painted a French garden or agrarian populism ever took a train from Omaha to Chicago. Students adapt such habits to their own historical understandings, their essays and in-class comments explaining complex historical events with simplifications like greed or progress or hatred. Specific circumstances do matter, at least for those who must endure them.

     Randall goes further, claiming that a class built around abstract historical agency is a class of disengaged students (I confidently predict that Randall will not like calls for courses in "Big History"). More, he writes that the AP European History Course Description fails to make a powerful argument for students to invest in a history course. Here, I fully agree. An AP course demands significant time, energy and commitment. Before we urge students to sign up, we'd better give them very good reasons for doing so – reasons that go beyond its value to college admissions offices. Whatever its other strengths, the argument that students will learn about "modernization" does not cut it. Nor does the promise that students will learn skills necessary for college. You don't need an AP European History course for that: any history course could teach such skills. In fact, so could any course in English and STEM. Frankly, theater, athletics, and the visual arts all have the capacity to teach analysis, synthesis, and critical thinking. What's needed is a compelling answer to the questions every student ought to ask: Why bother learning history? And of all the history courses students might take, why bother with Europe?

     Randall has an answer to this last question. He wants the College Board to defend European history with a full-throated appeal to its exceptional cultural and institutional heritage:

Americans should study Europe's past because it is our history. APEH never acknowledges that we care about Europe because Europeans founded and settled America, because Americans modeled our ideals, our government, and our society on Europe, or because America shares in the Western tradition that stretches from the Battle of Thermopylae to the Battle of Britain…. APEH relinquishes the most important reason to study Europe's history – because it is our birthright [emphasis in original]. 24

To get there, Randall urges three specific changes to AP Euro: 1) that the course (indeed, the entire AP curriculum from 10th to 12th grade) restore European exceptionalism to center stage; 2) that the course trace this exceptionalism back at least two millennia; 3) that the course restore to AP European History the "organizing architecture" of the old Western Civilization curriculum, emphasizing the "history of religion, the history of liberty, and the history of Britain." Only in this way can a Western Civ course provide students with "an accurate portrait of European history" and, therefore, of human history.25

     Randall recognizes that one year is too little time for the kind of class he has in mind. He dismisses the College Board's decision to commence the AP European course in 1450 because it "compress[es] Europe's modernization" and ensures that "students [will] ignore classical and medieval European history."26 To get to Europe's roots, Randall would "add a [new course] on Classical and Medieval European history up to c. 1450."27 A two-year European History course would, naturally, limit the other choices available to students. Randall doesn't speak directly to the existence of a World History course, but would clearly shed no tears at its abolition.

     It would be wrong to conclude that Randall's defense of European exceptionalism represents a monolithically conservative or Europeanist position. It's worth remembering that the World History Association was conceived at a conference hosted by the U.S. Air Force Academy, which has cultivated among its students a "conservative" or "realist" internationalism typical of Cold War era strategists. Nor would all Europeanists, conservative or otherwise, backdate European distinctiveness all the way to the Greeks. Larry Siedentop and Michael Mitterauer, for instance, argue that the Greco-Roman Mediterranean was a very different civilization altogether, putting meat on the old bones of Robert Lopez's view that the "birth of Europe" dates back to the 8th or 9th centuries. Angus Maddison would date the emergence of "Europe" to between the 12th and 14th centuries.28 Jacques Barzun, Jan de Vries, and Peter Hugill, take their stand in the late 15th and early 16th century, when maritime expansion, the printing press, and the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople altered European historical trajectories.29 It takes a particular kind of conservative nationalist to endorse Randall's scheme, for instance Victor Hansen Davis and Ricardo Duchesne, who have insisted on European continuity from ancient Greece (Davis) or even the Bronze Age (Duchesne).30

     Randall's insistence on European continuity and exceptionalism positions him at the far edge of a lively debate over European and world history. Though there are plenty of earlier precedents, Kenneth Pomeranz framed the questions central to the current dispute with The Great Divergence. Pomeranz was joined by Victor Lieberman, Alexander Woodside, and Jack Goody among others. Their message: Europe's exceptional economic dynamism dates back only to the 16th century at best and perhaps as recently as the mid-18th. Before that, the old world's economic motors lay along the coasts of the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea.31

     Though some conservative pundits quickly dismissed such claims out of hand fifteen years ago, more considered counter-arguments took time to ripen. That's no surprise, really: the price for entry into this debate is quite steep, requiring considerable fluency in economic history, sociology, anthropology, environmental history, and languages both in and beyond Europe. Recently, though, work from Jan de Vries, Jan Luiten van Zanden and the late Angus Maddison have reenergized arguments for a distinctive – and early – European trajectory.32 Just as it has taken over a decade to mount a response to Pomeranz and company, it will take some time to directly challenge the Europeanist response.

     As a classroom teacher formally trained in U.S. history, I lack the expertise to confidently declare for one side or another when I speak to students. And even if we all were experts, we would still be obliged to share with students the fact that many of the big questions remain disputed, attracting the attention of talented historians on four continents. Randall's first instinct is the right one: we have the responsibility to get students thinking critically about these historiographic disputes. It is a pity that Randall instead claims such unearned certainty in a Western Civilization narrative chaining America link by link all the way back to Athens. He takes this as fact and insists that teachers have a professional and moral responsibility to make this fact abundantly clear to their students, alternative readings be damned.

     While Randall's uncompromising insistence on exceptionalism and his allergy to isms is tendentious, he is on much firmer ground when he laments the AP's treatment of European religious history. After a unit on the Reformation, European survey courses, both AP and otherwise, tend to secularize their narratives, focusing on political, economic, and cultural change rather than on faith. Yet Western Europe has become "post-Christian" only in recent decades, a trend that seems to have slowed or halted in Europe's south and east. Beyond Europe, Christianity – a carrier of European ideas and, more remotely, those of the ancient east Mediterranean – has planted deep and vigorous roots. Philip Jenkins and Lamin Sanneh have convincingly demonstrated that in Africa and Asia, Christianity is now "indigenized" – that is, shepherded by local leadership and transformed to meet local needs. Every teacher aspiring to teach European or world history needs to incorporate Christian history at every turn.33

     This is particularly true of the Catholic Church. Having survived the collapse of the western Roman Empire, it is among humanity's oldest single institutions, and its 1.2 billion adherents currently constitute one of the world's largest and most ubiquitous human communities. As Randall argues, neglecting the Church means omitting liberal and leftist anticlericalism and the conservative response. That omission renders incomprehensible the Vendée's resistance against French Revolutionary secularism or, further afield, Mexico's Cristero Rebellion.

     Downplaying religion also leaves students in the dark regarding conservative Christian figures of the last century. In Britain alone, as Randall reminds us, these would include Hilaire Belloc, J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis (though he remained a High Church Anglican), and G.K. Chesterton. Downplayed as well are Christianity's 19th and 20th political expressions: the histories of Christian Democrats, high church Tories, the French right, and Scandinavian peasant parties. Absent a grounding in religious and secular battles, how are students to understand contemporary laïcité and its critics, both so crucial to current French politics?

     Let me lay my cards on the table. I'm neither a Catholic nor a Christian. However, among my own ancestors were English miners who found the sobriety and piety of "primitive Methodism" more attractive than socialist labor unions. I learned of European socialism as an undergraduate, but discovered working class Methodism years later, only because I make a hobby of family history. I believe – emphatically – that European history classes ought to do more to alert students to the importance of religion (and religion's opponents) in the social and political conflicts of modern history. On this issue, I'm happy to be David Randall's fellow-traveler.34

     Though he's dead right on Christianity, Randall turns sour when it comes to Islam. He starts out well enough, insisting that Islam has mattered too much to the European story over the past millennium for classrooms to treat it as impinging episodically and incidentally. No sooner does he make this declaration than he retreats into his own political prejudices. Why does the AP European History course neglect contemporary Islam? Because, he charges, "modern progressives [are reluctant] to mention modern Islamist terror, much less to confront its deep roots in Islam's millennial tradition of jihad." In other words, Islam is a bacillus, and it's our job as history teachers to inoculate our bright young things against its ravages.35

     The sources that inform Randall's implacable hostility are obvious: Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Nonie Darwish, Ibn Warraq, Former Muslims United, and Ex-Muslims of North America, all of which have found a welcoming audience among America's Right and skepticism bordering on hostility from most of the country's Left.36 There is little doubt that teachers ought to introduce Salafi, Wahhabi and Deobandi movements to students. Kids certainly should understand something of Hassan al-Banna's call to Sunni revivalism and the Ayatollah Khomeini's innovative Shi'a doctrine of velayat-e faqih, the "guardianship of the jurist." It would be terrific if they could trace the through-line from Sayeed Qutb to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.

     Here, though, Randall emphatically stops. He completely ignores the century-old tradition of Islamic liberalism and neglects secular challenges to theocratic conservatism mounted by Communists (Iran's Tudeh party), nationalists (Egypt's Wafd), home-grown Fascists (the Lebanese Falange and the Syrian/Iraqi Ba'ath), monarchist dynasts, and pro-American conservatives. European governments aggressively involved themselves in the power struggles among all these groups. In the Balkans, such conflicts roiled Europe itself.37

     Worse still, Randall unwittingly endorses the worldview promoted by Islamic extremists themselves. ISIS and similar groups "target the grayzone" – the social and political space occupied by those U.S. and European Muslims who see little conflict between practicing Islam and living in a secular society. Randall embraces the idea that Muslims living in the "gray zone" suffer from… shall we call it "false consciousness"?38 As I write this, BBC reports that an Islamist radical has murdered Pakistan's Sufi musician Amjad Sabri.39 In Randall's account, the only "real" Muslim in the story is the assassin; Sabri is a mere poseur. It is morally obtuse to teach that Amjad Sabri is less a Muslim than his killer, or to imply that those Muslims targeted as traitors by Islamic radicals in fact are traitors.

     Randall is similarly wrong-footed about "liberty," which he uses as a near-synonym for free market economics. Yes, it's worth wishing that students were familiar with Smith, Ricardo, Hayek, and the Austrian School generally. Yet Randall treats this tradition as if it alone defined European history. Naturally, he treats socialism monolithically, rarely distinguishing between Soviet and Western European models. More surprisingly, he downplays sometimes fierce conflicts among European conservatives themselves. For much of its history, advocates of free markets faced stiff opposition from protectionists rooted in 17th century mercantilism, 18th century cameralism, and the kind of 19th century nationalism promoted by Alexander Hamilton and Friedrich List.40 European history has been defined by protectionism and national industrial policy as much or more than by free trade.

     Randall largely ignores other economic theories that fit poorly into his idea of liberty. True, the relationship between Protestantism and the rise of Capitalism gets his attention, and he lambastes the College Board for paying it too little mind. However, Jewish and Catholic thought earn little notice. Since Leo XIII's encyclical Rerum Novarum (1891). Catholic teachings on "subsidiarity" and the "preferential option for the poor" have disconcerted partisans of both the Left and Right but find little place in Randall's thinking.41 Neither do the economic arrangements of Europe's southern and eastern countrysides, whose peasants arranged their economic lives in ways opaque and often hostile to both outside investors and to grasping states. European thinkers did indeed articulate most of the formal economic theories shape policy throughout the world. Yet those theories are far broader than Randall imagines.42

     Liberty leads Randall inevitably to Britain. He objects to College Board language which reduces England's 17th century political conflicts to "the competition for power between monarchs and corporate groups" because the English Civil War and Glorious Revolution were fronts in the "English Parliament's domestic struggle for liberty, and the complementary struggle for the ideals of the ancient constitution and common law." In a similar vein, Randall wants to alter the curriculum guide's critical evaluation of 19th century imperialism and incorporate material that highlights Britain's 19th century role as world liberator. In his judgement, an improved curriculum would credit the British for Latin America's successful revolutions, for expanding the gospel of free trade, for "radical sympathy and aid for revolutionary movements in Greece and Italy" and for "Little-Englander opposition to the Boer War in particular and British imperialism in general."43

     Writing for The Federalist last year, Randall declared that students would have no trouble understanding the Brexit vote if they understood just how central liberty is to British history:

APEH never tells students Britain is exceptional. They don't know how Alfred the Great saved Wessex from the Danes, the Magna Carta established the seeds of liberty, or Englishmen chopped off the head of Charles I to prove they were freemen… Britain's vote to leave the European Union would be unimaginable to a student who took the College Board's AP European History examination.44

Randall seems to imagine that King Alfred's Peace of Wedmore was one link in a stout chain of British character, a chain that begins in the Anglo-Saxon tribal hidage fifteen hundred years ago and culminates in Nigel Farage's Declaration of British Independence.

     It happens that we're in the midst of a remarkably productive era in British historical scholarship. Simon Schama, Rebecca Fraser, and Hugh Kearney have won large audiences in the past few years with their popular British history surveys.45 The Empire has also attracted renewed attention from John Darwin, Piers Brandon, Niall Ferguson, and Antoinette Burton among many others. Reexaminations of race, immigration, class, and political institutions have upended the historiographic agenda.46

     One question that has engaged many of these historians is just how united the United Kingdom has ever really been. Scotland's simmering independence movement reminds us that Britain remains something of a composite state comprised of four incipient nations (or five, if you count a small but hardy band of Cornish language revivalists). As London's financial power has waxed over the last three decades, scholars are also rethinking regional divisions such as those between the Kingdom's relatively affluent South and its long-troubled North.47

     If students knew something about all that, they might well gain insight into the 2016 vote. Was it really Britain's historic love of liberty which put Brexit over the top? If so, the Scots and Welsh, who resoundingly voted against the idea, didn't get the memo. And how do we explain the fact that 48% of British voters sided with Remain? How did half the British population develop such an acute case of cultural amnesia? Thank heavens that in 2016, the wise men of Wigan and the goodwives of Grimsby stood up like the yeomen of yore, rescuing Greater Metropolitan Wessex from the Eurocratic Vikings whose regulatory raids have terrorized so many of the peasants who huddle meekly on the Channel's other shore.

     One British tradition that surely did not extend very far into the past is the plebiscite. It is difficult to imagine Edmund Burke or Margaret Thatcher (who called the plebiscite "a device of dictators and demagogues") would have exulted in the fact that bare majority – not of the Commons, but of voters themselves – could so fundamentally shift the country's international alliances and economic policies.48 There are many reasons Brexit won the day. An innate love of liberty inherited from doughty Angles, Saxons, and Jutes is not among them.

     Randall's Anglophilia moves him to list of a long line of British notables whose names he wants inscribed in the AP coursebook, among them Edward Gibbon, Samuel Johnson, the Earl of Shaftsbury, George Orwell, J.R.R. Tolkien, Thomas More, William Wilberforce, Florence Nightingale, Gerard Manley Hopkins, John Milton, Thomas Paine, Robert Walpole, John Wilkes, John Gay, Richard Arkwright, Francis Drake, Walter Raleigh, George Boole, Alan Turing, Charles Babbage, Ada Lovelace, A.R. Radcliffe-Brown, J.G.A. Pocock, and on and on. Speaking of British writers, we might usefully quote William Makepeace Thackeray who concluded a similarly Dull List of Important People with "an &c., which the reader may fill at his pleasure through a dozen close lines of small type."49

     Far be it from me to disparage British history, which I've enjoyed since I was a boy. Given the opportunity, I'd be delighted to lavish attention on Æthelred the Unready, though largely because I enjoy saying the name aloud, and usually in the same sentence as "Ivar the Boneless" and "Thorir the Troll-Buster." I can recite passages from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle to entire classrooms with pleasure. (Did you know that in the year 793, Northumberland peasants spotted a "fiery dragon flying across the firmament"? I do.) I welcome any excuse to bloviate about Beowulf and the Battle of Maldon and the Sutton Hoo treasure and the Venerable Bede. Believe me: from Cardinal Newman all the way to Sid Vicious, I am more than happy to get my British on.

     The problem, of course, is that the school year affords too little time to indulge such pleasures, unless the College Board pretends that "Europe" is the island and "Britain" the continent.

     But Randall, a man of prodigious appetite, will not be satisfied with a big heaping platter of Albion. Making his case against the AP European curriculum guide, he mentions over two hundred fifty names, terms, and concepts that the College Board apparently forgot to include. He wants more of everything: more pre-Petrine Russia, more Ottoman Empire, more Arab North Africa, more Protestant Reformation, more Rise of Capitalism. Having insisted that students devour several fat slabs of boiled British beefsteak, he brings out a dozen heavy terrines laded to the top with delicacies from everywhere in Europe.

     How can students possibly digest such a meal? More practically, where would they get the time? Under the compressive pressure of a high school schedule, should we grant Wilberforce ten minutes, or is he worth fifteen? A day on Dostoevsky and half a day on Disraeli? Friday for Suleiman the Magnificent, Monday for the Younger Pitt, and Tuesday for Belgium? Granted, if subjected to sufficiently well-calibrated pressure, high school students can achieve Olympian feats of memorization. But really: should they?

     In fairness, Randall concedes that "[a]ny year-long survey of European history must be selective. The range of topics and significant events is too large to permit a truly comprehensive approach."50 True, that. However, the persons Randall mentions cannot easily be separated from one another. Randall would like to see the European tradition of archaeology introduced into the classroom. I would too. But: in for a penny, in for a pound. The topic is incomprehensible without a discursion into Heinrich Schliemann and Arthur Evans. And, if you're going to discuss Schliemann and Evans (as well as Howard Carter – King Tutankhamen fascinates every student I've ever met), you really have to dive into the "systematic archaeology" of Flinders Petrie.51 If we were to take Randall's ambition seriously, we would have to demand that AP Euro students tackle three or four complex concepts every week for thirty weeks. That's concepts, not discreet facts.

     Force-feeding is bad enough for geese. Our students are not geese. It is not the purpose of education to fatten teenage livers for the adult dinner-table. Moral sense suggests instead that students consume moderate portions, chewing their food thoroughly before swallowing. In whose classroom is gluttony a virtue?

     Paradoxically, Randall makes this very point when he gets to women's history. He criticizes the College board for shoehorning women's names into contexts that, unwittingly, diminish their significance. He is leery of the AP's "invocation of Artemisia Gentileschi as an artist the equal of El Greco, Bernini, and Rubens."52 Citing Dena Goodman's Republic of Letters, Randall argues that the AP curriculum gets it wrong by treating the careers of women like Mary Wollstonecraft, Olympe de Gouges, Madeleine de Scudéry, and Hannah More as though they had been "born from the forehead of Rousseau."53 In the same vein, he takes issue with "peculiar moral miscues," noting that the AP course description claims that Soviet women "performed double duty as laborers and mothers, while kulaks were considered enemies of the state and thus liquidated." This, Randall says, "strangely implies that women's overwork was a worse evil than the murder of millions of peasants."54

     These errors, he claims, stem from a misguided effort to incorporate women's names into every historical era, revealing the College Board's "oddly insecure feminism." Rather than engage in such demeaning tokenism, the College Board should treat women's history on its own terms. Invoking Natalie Zemon Davis's Women on the Margins, Randall asks whether the curriculum might, for instance, explore the "varieties of early modern religious experience" which engaged many European women. In other words, why not opt for a more cohesive social history, one which treats women's lives on their own terms, without trivializing them as mere appendages in male-defined narratives? Typically, though, Randall himself strikes a discordant note, lamenting that the College Board fails to explore "the complexities of European women's lives variously evoked by George Eliot, Gustave Flaubert, Sigmund Freud, George Gissing, Henrik Ibsen, and August Strindberg." Unless my own sense of European history has gone very wrong, I think that these reports from the gender front rely largely upon the observations of men. Eliot is the token women granted authority to tell students about the lives of women.55

     The real problem with such a sprawling curriculum, whether written from the Right, the Left, or the shrinking Center, is that historical concepts themselves take considerable effort to teach. Well before students memorize a long list of scientists and their achievements, they need a good grasp of what "science" actually means. That requires at least some attention to concepts like "empiricism," "experimental design," "confirmation bias," and so on. Without that, a Francis Bacon, a C.P. Snow, or a Thomas Kuhn will remain mere names.

     The same can be said of religion. Except among the most pious, American religious knowledge has declined dramatically over the last several decades – a problem I am sure that Randall regrets as much as I do. Even the most basic questions need attention: What, exactly, is a "religion"? How does it differ (or does it?) from sect, cult, superstition, or faith? The conceptual misunderstandings multiply when we introduce specific religious traditions. I have taught Catholic students who believe the Pope to be an absolute monarch and know nothing of canon law, much less the magisterium. Ostensibly Protestant students regularly conflate "fundamentalism" and "evangelicalism" – assuming, of course, that they have heard the word "Protestant" itself. Jewish students typically believe that support for liberal policies is an unchanging feature of their religious-cultural tradition. Shi'a students may assume that Khomeini's concept of the "righteous jurist" (if they've heard of it) dates all the way back to the beginning of Islam. American-born Sunnis often think (if they think about it at all) that every Muslim is, by definition, Sunni. Basic concepts – grace and works (Christianity), mitzvot and klal Yisroel (Judaism), ijtihad and isnad (Islam) – are almost entirely unfamiliar. I teach in an L.A. beach town where students are less religious than elsewhere in the country. Still, polling has indicated similar levels of ignorance throughout the United States.56

     The same kind of conceptual ignorance impedes lessons in economic history. Most students have a very uncertain grasp of "economy" or "market," much less "money," "trade," "company," "investment," "capital," and so on. This is not because students are stupid or poorly educated. It is because such concepts require considerable thought and can be just about grasped only in mid-adolescence, which is just about the time that we inundate them with a tsunami of undifferentiated facts. Without the conceptual foundation, students will almost inevitably misunderstand, misinterpret, and misread more specific references. Constructivism – the idea that the brain assembles plausible understandings wildly at odds with reality – needs greater attention right across the political spectrum.57

     Ironically, it is not fact-mastery which ultimately motivates Randall; it is the re-moralization of schooling. While I vigorously dissent from many of David Randall's suggestions, I completely agree with this one. The AP exam and the guidebook are ethically sterile documents, incapable of motivating students to imagine even modest acts of moral courage. Would it be such a bad thing if, in our nation's schools, students learned to value free speech, political liberty, religious choice, and personal industry? Is moral instruction so ambitious a goal, and one so politically fraught, that it must ever elude our grasp?

     It is frustrating, then, that Randall's own moral outrage is so selective and contradictory. For instance, he demands that the exam explicitly disclose full horror of the Ukrainian famine, yet soft-pedals India's "late Victorian Holocausts." Alighting on the Spanish conquest, he condemns the AP curriculum for apparently ignoring the Catholic humanitarianism embedded in Bernardo de las Casas's defense of los indios. But he then turns right around, damning the College Board for its failure to acknowledge the "conquering genius of Cortes and Pizarro." Seriously? Well then: why stop with the 16th century's "conquering genius"? Why not praise Stalin's "conquering genius" in the 20th? Randall invites students to thrill at "the piratical exploits of Englishmen such as Drake and Raleigh." Fine: let's also invite them to admire the "piratical exploits" of Somalia's al Shabaab. He praises the "daring skill of … Columbus, da Gama, and Magellan," yet disparages the comparably ruthless, expedient and, let it be said, courageous Che Guevara.58

     I have to give Randall credit: discordances like these raise questions that could drive a hundred class discussions: is there a statute of limitations on historical crimes? are 16th or 19th century massacres more excusable than 20th century genocides? should we suspend contemporary ethical standards to accommodate the violence that got us here? In sum: are principles of human rights and personal morality universal, or are they not?

     Randall's moral confusion is particularly unfortunate when he turns to Stalin's genocide in Ukraine. The AP European course description characterizes this episode with the traditional term "liquidation of the Kulaks." Randall finds the word "liquidation" far too "euphemistic." Randall objects as well to the phrase "famine in the Ukraine," since this implies that millions died of a natural disaster rather than premeditated state policy. Such phrasing he insists, represents a "remarkable minimization" of Stalinist evil, one characteristic of the AP program's "whitewashing of Marxism and Communism." In fact, the AP guidebook makes perfectly clear the Soviet state's responsibility for the events of 1932-1933, as does every major college-level European History textbook on the market. Nonetheless, based on a few phrases, Randall charges the College Board with "concealment of the genocide."59

     This is preposterous. What's worse, it's beside the point. Frankly students, don't care which term we use: "Holodomor" or "man-made famine" or "genocide" or "purge" or "mass murder" or "terror-famine." Unless we take it much further, students will dutifully scrawl the required word or phrase on a 3x5 flash card, a representation of human suffering compact enough to fit a school backpack's smallest zippered pocket. Randall can give the event's five million emaciated corpses whatever name he likes. He can then slap it on an end-of-the-week test, which will demonstrate to his satisfaction that his students have proven themselves capable of moral arithmetic (Axiom: Communism = mass murder). Having checked that box, Randall can turn to Monday's topic: Flinders Petrie and his fascinating innovations in systematic archaeology.

     If Randall really wants high school students to grasp the 20th century's ugliest episodes, he might consider junking the entire AP curriculum – and, indeed, any similarly test-driven program. No information-rich mass-produced survey course leaves students adequate time for serious consideration of events as consequential as genocide. If moral education is Randall's aim, he ought to design a class whose students devote several weeks to genocide, examining testimonies collected from survivors, documentary evidence revealing the plans of perpetrators, and reports issued by the forensic investigators tasked with disinterring the skeletal remains out the wintered ground. If you want students to really understand the crimes of Stalin and a dozen other 20th century monsters why quibble over the College Board's vocabulary? Have students read writers who know something about Hell from their own searing experiences. Read Alexander Solzhenitsyn. Read Primo Levi. Read Mykola Ponedilok. Read the confessions of witnesses around this entire suffering world.

     Randall asks: "What name best describes events in Ukraine?" That is exactly the wrong question. Students invariably reply to such a question with one of their own, one always asked of teachers when the stakes are too low: "will this be on the test?"

     The question Randall should ask is this: why do average people do evil things? Why do previously sane and sensible people burn a black man alive in Mississippi, break a Tutsi skull in Rwanda, shoot a Jewish child in a Polish ghetto, humiliate and then murder an insufficiently Maoist "intellectual" in Guangzhou, hunt a Tasmanian Aboriginal for sport or, yes, watch with mild satisfaction as a Ukrainian toddler and her mother hunger unto death?

     The answer to these questions is not "Communism." If historical eruptions like Communism or German national character or European imperialism explain torments inflicted on living bodies, then each fresh episode of horror is little more than a new volume in Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events: an ornately frightening story, but not particularly relevant to our own lives. If, on the other hand, the capacity for evil lurks within us all, then a history class might do worse than reveal to students the consequence of travelling too far into their own hearts of darkness. This is a point James Waller makes persuasively in Becoming Evil, among a list of works Randall might consider requiring of students if ever he finds himself in a high school classroom.60

     What really frosts Randall is insufficiently moral language. Though he loathes the Left's language police, he is quite willing to weaponize proper nouns for the sake of his own political battles. For instance, he decries "consumerism" as an "ahistorical and tendentious concept" betraying 20th century anti-capitalist liberal concerns. He is even more indignant at the frequent appearance of "capitalism" which "is a mid-twentieth century abstraction derived from socialist tradition" via "leftist historiographies" that "encapsulate a combination of theoretical critique and polemical invective against the free-market system." In sum, APEH's reference to "capitalism" and "consumerism" are conscious efforts to "interpret five centuries of European economic history through the framework of left wing theory."61

     Yet any number of conservatives use the term "capitalism" without blush or stammer, sometimes reading it back into the commercial practices of the 15th century or earlier. "Consumerism," under that name and others, is also the common property of conservative agrarians from John Ransom in the 1930s to Wendell Berry in the present, and conservative Christians from Pope Leo XIII through Benedict XVI.62

     The fact is that all historians use words which echo, however faintly, the polemical circumstances of their births. Zombie-like, such vocabulary lurches throughout academic discourse, long drained of the cultural, religious, or political perspectives that originally brought it to life. Randall's linguistic outrage does not extend to language he finds rhetorically useful. He's happy to call the post-classical centuries medieval (a term invoked during the Enlightenment, and not as a compliment), admire the Italian Renaissance (coined by 19th century historian Jacob Burkhardt and contested by über-conservatives like Rousas Rushdoony), and lament the College Board's neglect of Byzantium (an anachronism denoting the Eastern Mediterranean polity which still called itself "Rome"). Randall devotes too much time worrying about words and too little worrying about history itself.

     Having savaged the AP curriculum, Randall suggests an alternative European testing regime, one closer to his sensibilities.63 I am skeptical that this will amount to much. The AP program already has rivals, notably the International Baccalaureate (IB) and the ACT (the acronym has officially replaced the older American College Testing). A growing number of secular universities, religious colleges, and liberal arts institutions have made standardized exams optional, and some have dropped them altogether. It is difficult to believe that the addition of yet another testing rubric will hasten the revolution. If Randall did design a rival to the AP Euro exam, we can easily imagine what it would look like: didactic, partisan, and memorization-driven. If you don't like the College Board's history exams, you'll have little love for the NAS's alternative.

     Hearteningly, not all conservatives would line up behind standardized tests. There's an older conservative tradition which seeks not to instill an encyclopedic knowledge of Greek and Roman history, but to immerse students in text and tradition, inviting them into the millennia-long discourse around issues of justice, right living, and ultimate meaning.64 Many conservatives have therefore embraced the Great Books approach, notably at St. Thomas Aquinas in California and St. John's in New Mexico and Maryland. At the high school level, the Great Books Academy promotes a similar curriculum to charter schools and home schooling families.65

     Though I am hostile to his handiwork, I also acknowledge that the world's David Randalls are often exceptionally gifted teachers. Contrary to popular belief, strong emotion (political "bias," if you will) often precedes and disciplines reason. As the late Robert Sylwester taught:

Emotional arousal… activates attentional and problem solving processes that develop the response (our immune system, similarly separates the tasks of recognizing and responding to our body's microscopic invaders). We thus don't emotionally respond to a challenge, but rather, our emotions alert us to its existence -- a subtle but important distinction.66

Exactly because they see education as a consequential arena for political battle, teachers who follow Randall's example, whether on the Left or the Right, use their classrooms to mercilessly expose the other side's hypocrisies, delusions, and unearned conclusions. Students rush to take their classes, thrilled to find amid so much gray sameness someone who takes ideas seriously and treats intellectual skirmishes with toughness and resolution. I affectionately remember such teachers from my own education. They were a varied lot, some openly Marxist, others unapologetically libertarian. As the saying goes, they made me think. While The Disappearing Continent is a disappointing analysis, it is a fabulous polemic. It will make a great teaching tool, particularly when paired with the APEH curriculum, with excerpts from Ross Dunn's revised New World History – or with some Howard Zinn-ish trumpet blast from the Left.67

     One last observation: Most good teachers will grab any tool which might light intellectual fires in their students. Randall and the NAS would find many more potential allies if they did not burlesque teachers and professors as berserker warriors out to vandalize Western Civilization. Rather than be winsome and welcoming, Disappearing Continent is instead truculent, vitriolic, and hostile. No doubt this goes over well at Hillsdale College, the Federalist Society, the Manhattan Institute and other right-wing redoubts. It alienates teachers themselves.

     What a pity. Recall David Randall's initial invocation: students should explore a wide range of historical explanations. In this politically polarized age, that remains a worthy goal.

Tom Laichas, Ph.D. teaches at Crossroads School in Santa Monica, California. He was the initial editor of World History Connected, and now serves on its editorial staff as senior editor. He can be reached at


1 I thank Casey Baird for his close reading and helpful comments on an earlier draft of this essay. The views expressed here are my own, and do not reflect those of World History Connected.

2 David Randall, "The Disappearing Continent: A Critique of the Revised AP European History Examination" National Association of Scholars, 14 June 2016, at (hereafter TDC). The document runs 38 pages; for a summary, see pp. 7-9 and 36-38. For the AP European course description, see College Board, AP European History: Course and Exam Description Updated Fall 2015 at

3 For an early typology of this ecosystem, see Dave Johnson, "Who's Behind the Attack on Liberal Professors?" History News Network, 10 February 2003 at

4 Peter W. Wood, "The New AP History: A Preliminary Report," July 1, 2014,

5 Not all conservative institutions oppose Advanced Placement exams. The American Enterprise Institute's Nat Malkus writes, for example, that "the extent of the [Advanced Placement] program's growth alone is impressive, but AP's apparently effective quality control during a period of extensive growth is much more so," increasing college access for underserved populations. Malkus adds that, while the number of students taking AP exams has grown, the number of schools offering AP classes is trending downward from its 2008 peak – a fact he views with some alarm. However, comments posted to his executive summaries sound more like NAS reports, charging the College Board with "liberal" and "leftist" bias. See Nat Malkus, "AP at Scale: Public School Students in Advanced Placement, 1990-2013," American Enterprise Institute, January 2016 at (for comments, see ); Malkus, "The AP Peak: Public Schools Offering Advanced Placement, 2000-2012," American Enterprise Institute, January 2016 at .

6 For a sample of the older course descriptions, see College Board's 1995 pamphlet Advanced Placement Course Description, History: United States History, European History: May 1996, May 1997. The document's heft testifies to the College Board's attentiveness to teachers and students who, over the years, have requested clearer expectations. It also may also exemplify the accretive process by which curricular committees respond to new scholarship, professional critics, and interest group pressure.

7 See "AP Course Audit at

8 For a sample of advice for successfully completing a College Board audit (in this case of AP English), see Halle Edwards, "How to Pass Your AP Course Audit," PrepScholar, December 18 2015, at For allegations of College Board auditing inconsistencies, see the discussion thread "AP Course Audit – Need Help With Process" at The Well-Trained Mind Community, December 2013 – February 2014 at

9 See "AP Course Audit: AP European History" at .

10 TDC, 7.

11 TDC, 36.

12 See Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed (Seabury Press, 1970), pp. 37 and 72. For examples of schools modelled on Freire's "critical pedagogy, see the Paolo Freire Social Justice Charter School (Holyoke, Massachusetts) at and Chicago's Lawndale High School, profiled in Adam Doster, "The Conscious Classroom," in The Nation, February 7, 2008.

13 This general indifference to Leftist educational theory is rarer at among those who would consider progressive schooling an international movement. For instance, the Progressive Education Network (PEN) has recently quoted Freire when inviting members to its annual conference; see "Principles in Action: Progressive Education and Racial Justice,"

14 The terms "essential questions" and "enduring questions" date to at least the 1980s, and are most closely associated with Ted Sizer's Coalition of Essential Schools and the work of Grant Wiggin and Jay McTighe. For brief introductions to the concept, see Cheryl M. Jorgensen, "Essential Questions—Inclusive Answers," Educational Leadership December 1994/January 1995 at—Inclusive-Answers.aspx and Grant Wiggins, "What is an Essential Question?" Big Ideas: An Authentic Education e-Journal at

15 conservatives urge a more prescriptive curriculum in earlier grades, many would like older high school students to be reading and discussing classic texts. Though a liberal in his own time, for instance, the University of Chicago's Mortimer Adler would likely be a conservative in ours – see his Paideia Proposal (Simon & Schuster, 1982). For a still more traditional view, see Victor Hansen Davis and John Heath, Who Killed Homer? The Demise of Classical Education and the Recovery of Greek Wisdom. In this spirit, a number of Catholic schools have adopted a Great Books program; see, for example, the home school program promoted by the Angelicum Institute at For more explicit criticisms of the AP program, see John Tierney, "AP Classes are a Scam," The Atlantic, October 13, 2012 at and Georgi Boorman, "The Advanced Placement Scam," in The Federalist, 27 May 2015 at See also Kate Haas, "Why I Regret Letting My Teen Sign Up for an AP Course," Washington Post, September 21, 2016 at Haas was told by her son's AP History teacher that the purpose of the course was not to appreciate history but to master "test-taking strategies and study skills." This attitude is not typical of the AP history teachers I know, but is certainly encouraged by the design of the AP program.

16 TDC, 37 (emphasis in original).

17 For the College Board announcement, see "The 2015 AP U.S. History Course and Exam Description," July 30, 2015 at For the reaction from the NAS and others, see Valerie Strauss, "College Board Bows to Critics, Revises AP U.S. History Course," Washington Post, July 31, 2015 at .

18 TDC, 37 (emphasis in original).

19 Herbert Butterfield, The Whig Interpretation of History (Norton, 1965 [1931]).

20 Walt Rostow, The Stages of Growth: A Non-Marxist Manifesto (Cambridge University Press 1960); also see Rostow How It All Began: Origins of the Modern Economy (McGraw-Hill, 1975), particularly ch. 2, "The Politics of Modernization." For a brief overview of the role of modernization theory in Cold War U.S. foreign policy, see Odd Arne Westad, The Global Cold War (Cambridge University Press 1971), 32-38.

21 TDC, 33. See also Thomas Carlyle, On Heroes, Hero-Worship, and the Heroic in History (originally published, 1841; available from the Guttenberg Project at ); Sidney Hook, The Hero in History: A Study in Limitation and Possibility (John Day, 1943).

22 TDC, 33-35.

23 TDC, 37.

24 TDC, 32.

25 TDC, 37.

26 TDC, 11.

27 TDC, 37.

28 Larry Siedentop, Inventing the Individual: The Origins of Western Civilization (Penguin, 2015); Michael Mitterauer, Why Europe? The Medieval Origins of its Special Path (University of Chicago Press, 2010); Angus Maddison, Growth and Interaction in the World Economy: The Rise of Modernity; Robert Lopez, The Birth of Europe: A Reinterpretation of the Medieval World (M. Evans, 1966);

29 Jacques Barzun, From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life, 1500 to the Present (HarperCollins, 2000); Jan de Vries, The Industrious Revolution: Consumer Behavior and Household Economy, 1650 to the Present; Peter Hugill, World Trade Since 1431 (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995

30 Davis, Who Killed Homer?; Ricardo Duchesne, The Uniqueness of Western Civilization (Brill, 2011). Duchesne backdates "Western Civilization" a full five thousand years, to the individualist enterprise of mounted Indo-European warriors on the Eurasian steppe.

31 Kenneth Pomeranz, The Great Divergence: China, Europe, and the Making of the Modern World Economy (Princeton University Press, 2000); Victor Lieberman, Strange Parallels: Integration on the Mainland. Southeast Asia in Global Context, c. 800-1830, vol. I (Cambridge University Press, 2003) and Strange Parallels: Mainland Mirrors: Europe, Japan, China, South Asia, and the Islands. Southeast Asia in Global Context, c. 800-1830, vol. II (Cambridge University Press, 2009); Alexander Woodside, Lost Modernities: China, Vietnam, Korea, and the Hazards of World History (Harvard University Press, 2006); Jack Goody, The Theft of History (Cambridge University Press, 2006) and Renaissances: The One or the Many? (Cambridge University Press, 2010). Among earlier works, see particularly Janet Abu-Lughod, Before European Hegemony: The World System A.D. 1250-1350 (Oxford University Press, 1989) and K.N. Chaudhuri, Trade and Civilisation in the Indian Ocean: An Economic History from the Rise of Islam to 1750 (Cambridge University Press, 1985).

32 See, for instance: Jan Luiten van Zanden, The Long Road to the Industrial Revolution: The European Economy in a Global Perspective, 1000-1800 (Brill, 2012); Jan de Vries, The Industrious Revolution: Consumer Behavior and the Household Economy, 1650 to the Present, and Maddison, Growth and Interaction as well as Contours of the World Economy, 1-2030 AD: Essays in Macro-Economic History (Oxford University Press, 2007).

33 See Philip Jenkins, The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity (Oxford University Press, 2011) and Lamin Sanneh, Disciples of All Nations: Pillars of World Christianity (Oxford University Press, 2007) and Jenkins' most recent work demonstrates the importance of keeping religion in the story: The Great and Holy War: How World War I Became a Religious Crusade (Harper, 2014).

34 TDC, 14-17. Somewhat unexpectedly for a movement conservative, Randall includes fascism in his list of inadequately explained right-wing movements, one which emerged as a reaction against Communism. Many conservative commentators instead follow pundit Jonah Goldberg, who traces the roots of fascism from anarcho-syndicalism and revolutionary socialist movements of the early 20th century. See Jonah Goldberg, Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left, From Mussolini to the Politics of Change (Crown Forum, 2009) and his blogpost "Nazis: Still Socialists," The National Review, February 27, 2014 at

35 TDC, 17.

36 See Ayaan Hirsi Ali Infidel (Free Press, 2007) as well as her more recent reconsideration of the same issues, Heretic: Why Islam Needs a Reformation Now (Harper, 2015). Also see Former Muslims United at; and Ex-Muslims of North America at

37 For more on "liberal Islam," see, for instance, Charles Kurzman (ed.), Liberal Islam: A Sourcebook (Oxford University Press, 1998) and Khaled M. Abou El Fadl, The Great Theft: Wrestling Islam from the Extremists (Harper, 2005)

38 ISIS propaganda introduced the term "grayzone" into the debate, and limited attention when it did so. For one assessment, read Murtaza Hussein, "Islamic State's Goal; 'Eliminating the Grayzone' of Coexistence Between Muslims and the West," The Intercept 17 November 2015 at Thanks to Hannah Nasseri for bringing my attention to this source.

39 "Pakistan Sufi Singer Amjad Sabri Shot Dead in Karachi," BBC News, 22 June 2016 at

40 For more on Friedrich List and his influence, see James Fallows, "How the World Works," in The Atlantic, December 1993 at For an entertaining introduction and libertarian critique of cameralism, see Murray N. Rothbard, "Who Were the Cameralists?" the Mises Institute, March 3, 2012 at

41 For an introduction to Catholic perspectives from Pope Leo XIII to John Paul II, written from a conservative perspective, see Maciej Zieba, Papal Economics: The Catholic Church on Democratic Capitalism, from Rerum Novarum to Caritas in Veritate (Culture of Enterprise, 2013). For a perspective interpreting this tradition in light of Pope Francis's pontificate, see Daniel Schwindt, Catholic Social Teaching: A New Synthesis (Agnus Dei Publishing, 2015).

42 The best brief statement of the complexities of a peasant village remains James Scott, Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed (Yale University Press, 1999), especially pp. 33-35. Just what constituted a "free market" changed – sometimes considerably – over time. The 18th century version advocated from Edinburgh, for instance, differed considerably from the 20th century sort pressed by Austrian expats. See, for instance, "Political Economy and Moral Sentiments," ch. 2 in Gertrude Himmelfarb, The Roads to Modernity: The British, French, and American Enlightenments (Vintage Press, 2004).

43 TDC, 19-20.

44 David Randall, "Brexit Would Make No Sense if You Took This Popular High School Class," The Federalist, June 29, 2016 at

45 Simon Schama, "A History of Britain," fifteen episodes, BBC; Rebecca Fraser, The Story of Britain From the Romans to the Present: A Narrative History (Norton, 2003); Hugh Kearney, The British Isles: A History of Four Nations (Cambridge University Press, 2006).

46 John Darwin, Unfinished Empire: The Global Expansion of Britain (Bloomsbury, 2013); Piers Brendon, The Decline and Fall of the British Empire, 1781-1997; Niall Ferguson, Empire: How Britain Made the Modern World; Antoinette Burton, The Trouble with Empire: Challenges to Modern British Imperialism (Oxford University Press, 2015). The five volumes of the Oxford History of the British Empire are supplemented by the growing Oxford History of the British Empire Companion Series, currently available in sixteen volumes. For a full list, see Oxford University Press at

47 London's leading role is now close to conventional wisdom. The phrase "London is the financial capital of the world" gets 27,000 hits on Google; change "capital" to "center," and there are 28,000 more.

48 For Margaret Thatcher's venting of spleen, see Charlemagne, "Referendum Madness," The Economist January 16, 2016 at

49 William Makepeace Thackeray, Vanity Fair at the Gutenberg Project,

50 TDC, 8

51 TDC, 12; 19; 20; 26.

52 TDC, 29

53 TDC, 13

54 TDC, 29.

55 TDC, 29.

56 For instance, see Pew's 2010 "U.S. Religious Knowledge Survey,"

57 I have found three books especially useful when thinking about conceptual grounding: Sam Wineburg, Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts: Charting the Future of Teaching the Past (Temple University Press, 2001), Gerald Graff, Clueless in Academe: How Schooling Obscures the Life of the Mind (Yale University Press, 2004), and Antoinette Burton, A Primer for Teaching World History: Ten Design Principles (Duke University Press, 2011).

58 TDC, 25.

59 TDC, 23-24.

60 James Waller, Becoming Evil: How Ordinary People Commit Genocide and Mass Killing, 2nd ed. (Oxford University Press, 2007).

61 TDC, 22-23.

62 See Milton Friedman, Capitalism and Freedom (University of Chicago Press, 1962) and Allan H. Meltzer, Why Capitalism? (Oxford University Press, 2012). For "capitalism" in Smith's time, see Himmelfarb, Roads to Modernity, 65: "For Smith, it was not capitalism that was flawed but the division of labor inherent in modern industry itself." Niall Ferguson laments that "'Capitalist'… is a word often used as a term of abuse." Niall Ferguson, The Great Degeneration: How Institutions Decay and Economies Die (Penguin, 2012). Regarding "consumerism" from a Catholic perspective, see John S. Kavanaugh, Following Christ in a Consumer Society: The Spirituality of Cultural Resistance (Orbis Books, 1981). Wendell Berry's brief critique of consumerism "Why I am Not Going To Buy a Computer," originally published in Harper's, is now collected in What are People For? Essays by Wendell Berry (Counterpoint, 1990), 170-177. To be clear, critiques like those of Kavanaugh and Berry do not represent all religiously-inclined conservatives. That, however, is the point: there is greater diversity among self-identified conservatives than the NAS acknowledges.

63 TDC, 8-9 and 38.

64 See, for instance, Jacques Barzun, The Teacher in America (Liberty Books, 1981 [1945]), Mortimer Adler, The Paideia Proposal: An Educational Manifesto (Simon & Schuster, 1982);

65 See the Great Books Academy,

66 Robert Sylwester, "Unconscious Emotions, Conscious Feelings, and Curricular Challenges" in New Horizons for Learning (website), Johns Hopkins School of Education, January 2001, at

67 Ross E. Dunn, Laura J. Mitchell, and Kerry Ward, The New World History: A Field Guide for Teachers and Researchers, 2nd edition (University of California Press, 2016).


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