Eric Rauchway

Eric Rauchway is the author of The Great Depression and the New Deal: A Very Short Introduction and Blessed Among Nations: How the World Made America among other books. He is a professor of history at the University of California, Davis.

Recent Articles

Redemption Songs

The U.S. Civil War cost $6.6 billion in 1860 dollars, with which you could have bought freedom for all American slaves, set each of them up with forty-acre parcels and mules, and still have about $3.5 billion to cover back pay. So, the war was a bad bargain; more importantly, fumbling its aftermath represented an unforgivable waste of so many dead. And much as we like to talk about Lincoln's leadership , the villains and cavilers who squandered the dearly bought victory are an integral part of the Civil War story. Nicholas Lemann's Redemption: The Last Battle of the Civil War tells the villains' tale well, beginning with the 1873 Colfax massacre in Louisiana. After a contested election, African American Republicans holed up in the courthouse, besieged by white Democrats who set it afire and murdered the freedmen as they emerged under flag of truce. At least seventy-one blacks were killed (as against two or three whites). The lead besieger became the county sheriff and, Lemann writes...

Talk Isn't Cheap

Incidents often affect interpretations. Because I read academic megablogger Michael Bérubé 's new book What's Liberal About the Liberal Arts? while I was serving on a jury, I came to believe that the most important part is not the accounts of his ongoing quarrel with David Horowitz or his stout defense of academic freedom, but the portions in the book on liberalism and the nature of discussion. Judges charge jurors to deliberate, a word with a root in common with liberalism. In the Judicial Council of California's "Criminal Jury Instructions," jurors are ordered "to talk with one another." Each of you must decide the case for yourself, but only after you have discussed the evidence with the other jurors. Do not hesitate to change your mind if you become convinced that you are wrong. But do not change your mind just because other jurors disagree with you. Keep an open mind and openly exchange your thoughts and ideas about this case ... Your role is to be an impartial judge of the facts...

BUSH AND THE FLASHMAN.

BUSH AND THE FLASHMAN. To me, the strangest thing about the president's summer reading list is not its heft , nor its inclusion of heavyweight history and existential literature, but the indication that the President is working his way through the Flashman series, by George MacDonald Fraser . And no, I don't mean it's odd because Sir Harry Flashman is a coward, a liar, a drunk, and a bully; nor is it odd because Flashman is more than willing to let his countrymen die to save his reputation. It's somewhat surprising because Fraser is a violent opponent of the Iraq War and of the president's foreign policy. Fraser, an octogenarian Scot, a Tory, and a veteran of HM armed forces, could be heard this year on BBC Radio 4 explaining that "[h]e had never in his life felt more ashamed of his country than he had over Iraq.... He could not get out of his head two pictures, one of a small Iraqi boy with his arms blown off by American bombs, and another of our prime minister smirking...

Tongue-Tied

Arnold Schwarzenegger's renunciation of his past support for Proposition 187 confirms that the Austrian's wild tour of the American ideological spectrum has now taken him definitively away from anti-immigrant policies. Democrats can enjoy watching him squirm as he describes the "intensity of prejudice" among his onetime supporters. But the rest of us, including liberals, should stop smirking; we don't know how to talk effectively about immigration either. Two problems stand in the way: Immigration policy has only ever really united Americans when they could talk about it in racist terms, and talking about immigration in terms of class has tended to explode Democratic coalitions. The last time existing American immigration policy was genuinely popular was in the 1920s, when congressmen could safely say, as Clarence Lea of California did, that "[t]rue assimilation requires racial compatibility" while passing legislation that was supposed to "fix... the type of the American race." It was...

Habitual Blindness

If, somewhere on our warming globe, a migratory bird is insisting that, by God, his ancestors went no further north than this, and whatever the heat this year, he's staying put -- well, we know what nature has in store for creatures who mistake habit for virtue. But what God's creation does at its peril, the United States of America does on a regular basis: we claim that our old habits still suit us, and, moreover, that everyone else should follow our lead. Somehow, though, our call to tax less and spend more, eat more and exercise less, and throw our weight around in the world with little care and less success has made us a role model others find easy to resist. The only puzzle, for them and us, is how we could have pursued our illusions for so long, failing to notice that our peculiar approach to managing globalization and engaging the world is unsustainable. In truth, we are neither especially cheerful nor stupid; our politics represent a reasonable past adaptation to specific...

Pages