William Appleman Williams
I had come across Joseph Stromberg’s libertarian analysis of Anti-Imperialist American Historian William Appleman Williams, some time ago on the web and had the opportunity to cruise Stromberg’s column at antiwar.com again and thought it important enough to share.
I had not heard of Williams before, and appreciated Stromberg’s introduction to this overlooked American revisionist historian.
I came to appreciate why his socialist critique of American Empire and foreign policy would influence Americans of both the Libertarian Left and the Right. "Radicals have hailed him as a supreme anti-imperialist, while Libertarian conservatives have seen him as the ``second Charles Beard,'' renewing the perspectives of the nation's foremost historian.” says Paul Buhle.
Williams fell out of favour in the eighties and nineties as the neo-liberal ideology steamrolled over its opponents on the left after the collapse of the
With Stromberg’s appreciation of Williams, written in 1999 at the height of Clintons Popular Front War against Serbia, we see libertarian dialectical analysis unafraid to confront a marxian dialectic and appreciate it. Williams insight into American Imperialism became even more relevant as
An essential aspect of Libertarian Dialectics is the praxis of revisionist history. In this we need no conspiracy theories to understand that the ruling ideas are the ideas of the ruling class, and that theirs is a history of the winners and losers. Our revisionism arises from understanding this dialectic we look at history from below, not from the losers, but the actual historical actors who have created the social change in the first place, the people themselves, as individuals and as social beings.
Stromberg is not your papa's libertarianism. It is not Republicanism Right, nor is it "vulgar libertarianism" or "liberaltarianism". If Kevin Carson is a Free Market Anti-Capitalist then Stromberg is a Libertarian Anti-Imperialist.
Stromberg is a consistent and outspoken opponent of Imperialism and War from a Libertarian perspective. And he has been so when such opposition on the right was tantamount to treason, which it has been in every case of American intervention abroad regardless of the popular opposition to it. Even now as half the American population opposes the
Carson and Stromberg are amongst the few and the brave, who use Libertarian Dialectics, to confront the right wing liberaltarians and those who would reduce revisionist history to being a caricature of itself; conspiracy theory. Revisionist history is not a creature of the right but of the left, its essence is historical materialism, unable to accept this basic fact, the right insists on reducing every act to those of conspiracies amongst the rulers over the ruled.
So I am pleased to offer this introduction to Williams by Stromberg and a link to the rest of the article on Williams here on my blog. As well as readers will know from my web writings I have included other references to Williams as well as examples of his writings available on the web.
William Appleman Williams:
Premier New Left Revisionist
A PROGRESSIVE HISTORIAN
Last week in a discussion of Charles Austin Beard, "isolationist" Progressive historian, I mentioned Beard's influence on a number of younger scholars, among them William Appleman Williams and Murray N. Rothbard. Williams emerged in the late 1950s as the spearhead of New Left diplomatic history and has had an enduring influence on the writing of American history. "Mainstream" scholars take his insights into account but acknowledge his impact only in the most backhanded way possible. It is probably among libertarians and anti-imperialist conservatives that Williams now finds his true following.
A LIFE IN HISTORY
William Appleman Williams (1921-1990) was born in
After the war, he took a PhD in History at the
A BODY OF WORK
His Tragedy of American Diplomacy [1959; 1972] was noticed by the scholarly community, although the Cold War liberals, of course, hated it. The House Un-American Activities Committee noticed his work and wasted his time with summonses which were suddenly revoked after he had spent money and time traveling to hearings. This petty harassment was continued for a while by another government agency I need not mention.
As the quagmire in
Joseph R. Stromberg has been writing for libertarian publications since 1973, including The Individualist, Reason, the Journal of Libertarian Studies, Libertarian Review, and the Agorist Quarterly, and is completing a set of essays on
William Appleman Williams Learning From History
American Radicals , American Radicals series
Paul Buhle and Edward Rice-Maximin
``I prefer to die as a free man struggling to create a human community than as a pawn of empire,'' wrote historian William Appleman Williams in 1976.
Annapolis graduate and World War II Naval officer, civil rights activist and President of the Organization of American Historians, Williams (1921-1990) is remembered as the pre-eminent historian and critic of Empire in the second half of this century. More than any other scholar, he anticipated, encouraged and explained the attack of conscience suffered by the nation during the Vietnam War. Radicals have hailed him as a supreme anti-imperialist, while Libertarian conservatives have seen him as the ``second Charles Beard,'' renewing the perspectives of the nation's foremost historian. Fellow historians consider him a great figure in American thought at large, one who looked for large patterns and asked the right questions.
Counterpunch also has an excellent article on Williams’s relevancy today in light of the new age of American Imperialism:
History and the Tragedy of American Diplomacy
"William Appleman Williams suggested that in spite of its best intentions American foreign policy was based largely on a one-dimensional American belief that Americans and American democracy had all the answers. The sad truth is that that belief might not be far wrong, but the inflexibility of the administrators in charge of its application has contributed to a century of failure in foreign relations.
According to Williams, American diplomacy was based on three premises, which, for all intents and purposes, have not changed and maintain a contemporary validity and relevance. The first is the humanitarian impulse to help other people solve their problems. The second principle encourages self-determination, which insists that every society have the right to establish its own goals or objectives, and to realize them internally through the means it decides are appropriate. Third-and here's the kicker-American diplomacy has typically insisted that other people cannot really solve their problems and improve their lives unless they follow the American formula. The contradiction evident in this third premise effectively nullifies the genuine best interests of the first two, but it also speaks volumes about the global perception of American arrogance."
American Marxism: Theory without Tradition
by John B. Judis ,
The Choice Before Us by William Appleman Williams
The American Socialist, July 1957
Preface: History as a Way of Learning
Excerpted from The Contours of American History
by William Appleman Williams (1966) pp. 17-23.
Martin Luther King and the New American Frontier
By William Appleman Williams and Lewis Kreinberg
for Renewal Magazine. Originally Published April 5, 1968.
William Appleman Williams and the Myth of Economic Determinism
Manchester Metropolitan University
Paper prepared for the APG Conference, Reading, January 3-5 2003
Kindleberger on Bretton Woods
Redefining the Past: Essays in Honor of William Appleman Williams