Book Review: The Politically Incorrect Guide To The Founding Fathers

The Politically Incorrect Guide To The Founding Fathers, by Brion McClanahan

When the writer of a book on the Founding Fathers sounds like he could pen the preface to a new version of the Anti-Federalist Papers without batting an eyelash or even a moment’s hesitation, it is fair to question the sort of perspective that a book provides.  While in general I could be considered a moderate nationalist in the vein of 17th century politics [1], I find the Constitution a great improvement over the Articles of Confederation.  The issue is that any government that is powerful enough to defend and protect its people and its territory and its interests is going to be powerful enough to oppress those people, and being under a government that is obviously oppressive of human rights and interested too much in interfering with natural justice has made quite a few people (including the author) long for more anarchical times.  This is certainly understandable, but lamentable.  When it comes to government there is a fatal dilemma and no amount of structural designs can relax the need for eternal vigilance on the part of the governed, which makes this book a bit disappointing shrill given the author’s obvious bias.

This book is divided into two parts and twenty-three chapters.  The first part of the book examines the myths, realities, and issues faced by the founding generation, at least in the author’s skewed perspective.  First, the author looks at various myths, attempting to debunk what is said critically about the founding fathers and slavery (1).  After that the author views the American Revolution as a conservative one (2) and discusses the issues at stake in the Revolution concerning representation and the executive, in which he is partly right but partly wrong (3).  The second part of the book consists of the remainder of the book’s chapters, with one chapter focused on each of twenty founders (II).  The author first spends his time talking about the big six founders:  George Washington (4), Thomas Jefferson (5), John Adams, whom the author does not like nor respect (6), James Madison (7), Alexander Hamilton (8), and Benjamin Franklin (9).  The rest of the book allows the author to wax eloquent and in his biased fashion about fourteen forgotten founders, namely:  Samuel Adams, brewer extraordinaire (10), Charles Carroll of Carrollton (11), George Clinton (12), John Dickinson (13), Elbridge Gerry (14), John Hancock (15), Patrick Henry (16), Richard Henry Lee (17), Nathaniel Macon (18), Francis Marion (19), John Marshall, whom the author really dislikes (20), George Mason (21), Roger Sherman (22), and John Taylor of Caroline, whose secessionist ways the author deeply approves of, to the hurt of his credibility (23).

Overall, there are quite a few problems with this work.  For one, the author appears not to understand that while political incorrectness can be a very good thing that incorrectness from the point of view of historical reality is not ever a good thing.  Likewise, this book suffers a great deal because the author views the founding generation not on its own terms, but with at least two layers of historical hindsight, namely his unreasonable and lamentable regret for the defeat of the rebels during the Civil War on the one hand and his understandable and sensible lament for the corruption of contemporary activist government.  If the author had at least attempted to let the people of the past stand for themselves and not stand in for two centuries of political drift and decadence in our own society, he might have been charitable even to those with whom he disagreed.  Instead, the author shows a lamentable bias that is so outrageous that this book will likely only be fully enjoyed by those who share it, which does not include me.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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