penetrating popular consciousness

It’s unlikely that I’ll ever contribute anything original to scholarship. That’s never really been a goal. (Well, I may have toyed with the idea briefly when I was about 20.) To the extent that I’ve ever had any grand-scale goal, it has been to “spread the word.”

Among scholars, there’s a certain dismissal in terms like “popularizer.” Even among libertarians, who should aim at broad dissemination of their message, Hayek’s “professional secondhand dealers in ideas” aren’t exactly honored for their contributions. I think this a huge mistake, strategically.

Tom Woods has probably made his unique contribution. He’s not supposed to have a PhD without having done so. But I haven’t read it, and however good it may be, it’s not his original scholarship I want to honor him for. What I want to praise is summarized in this passage from How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization:

Ever since the work of Pierre Duhem in the early 20th century, the accelerating trend among historians of science has been to underline the Church’s crucial role in the development of science. Unfortunately, little of this academic work has penetrated popular consciousness. This is not unusual. Most people, for example, still believe that the Industrial Revolution drastically reduced the workers’ living standards, when in fact the average standard of living actually rose. So too, the Church’s role in the development of modern science remains something of a secret to the general public.

That’s it exactly: “little of this academic work has penetrated the popular consciousness.”

Even those revisions that have achieved practical consensus among scholars remain “something of a secret to the general public.”

I wrote in “inconvenient history”

What Woods does, it seems to me, is address the rift between that which is generally accepted by history scholars and that which is taught, repeated, and reinforced by schools, the mainstream media, and popular culture more generally.

What good is the truth if it’s kept as a well-guarded secret?

Update, 9/12

Tom’s reply:

My book The Church Confronts Modernity (Columbia University Press, 2004) is a piece of original research, and I’m proud of it and think it says something useful, but it’s also the dullest thing I’ve ever written.


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