Monday, April 04, 2005

In defense of John Brown

Christopher Hitchens has a laudatory review of a new biography of John Brown: The Man Who Killed Slavery, Sparked the Civil War, and Seeded Civil Rights by David S. Reynolds in the May Atlantic. (The entire review is available --at least currently--only to subscribers.) Here's a taste.

David Reynolds sets himself to counter several misapprehensions about the pious old buzzard (Brown, I mean, not Lincoln). Among these are the impressions that he was a madman, that he was a homicidal type, and that his assault on a federal arsenal was foredoomed and quixotic. The critical thing here is context. And the author succeeds admirably in showing that Brown, far from being a crazed fanatic, was a serious legatee of the English and American revolutions who anticipated the Emancipation Proclamation and all that has ensued from it.

It's a fascinating review, which shows that it is both simplistic and premature to excommunicate Hitchens from the left.

More importantly, it hips us to what appears to me to be a very serious argument to revise our standard view of American history.

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