Book Review: The New Authoritarianism: Trump, Populism, and the Tyranny of Experts by Salvatore Babones
"Populism may be bad for policy, but it is good for democracy," Babones argues as he casts Trump's election as a step in the right direction - not the wrong direction - for the United States government. In my our recent live chat, Babones pointed to the rise in political participation and the massive turnout in the 2018 midterm election as evidence that Trump's presidency has resulted in an American democracy that is much more vibrant and inclusive than it was before the 2016 election. It is only through this kind of citizen engagement that the United States government can become, as Lincoln envisioned, a government "of the people, by the people, for the people." Donald Trump may not be a president for all Americans, but he is a president for many Americans who have felt overlooked by their government. The recent rise in political participation on both sides of the political spectrum can only lead to a future government that is more responsive to the entire body politic - a far cry from dark visions of a totalitarian future that others have seen on the horizon.
Babones casts populism as a "purgative" that is occasionally necessary in any democratic society - especially when that society's government has become dominated by the expert class. The masses in the United States, as well as Europe, have grown tired of being told by their government that their concerns about trade and immigration are unfounded and do not deserve government action. It is only by listening to the people that Western governments can reclaim the mantle of democracy that is the greatest political achievement of the modern world.
This is not just a book about an election and its consequences. This book has applications to many facets of American life from the perspective of a trained sociologist, including my own field of education. I found Babones' comparison between "independent thinking" and "critical thinking skills" to be especially relevant to my experience as a history teacher. In recent years, we hear less about independent thinking - teaching students to think for themselves - and more about teaching critical thinking skills - teaching students to master specific ways of thinking that have been determined by someone else. This is very apparent in recently redesigned Advanced Placement courses, such as AP United States History, that now have exhaustive course descriptions that focus the attention of students and teachers on highly specified content and "historical thinking skills." Gone are the days when a brilliant history student could post a high score on an AP exam by writing thought-provoking essays that reflect "outside the box" approaches to communicating historical knowledge. Students wishing to do well on AP exams must now master the format of the exam in order to have any serious chance of success.
The "tyranny of experts" that Babones mentions in the subtitle is not only apparent in the overly technical and burdensome curricular requirements of AP courses, but in matters of historical interpretation, as efforts are being made to make the humanities operate by the same rules as the sciences. In a chemistry lab, one should listen to the instructor and expect a lab experiment to come out as planned if done correctly. But history is much more subjective - or at least, it has been in the past. In recent years, there has been an effort to bring the general public into line with the current professional scholarly consensus that the American Civil War was caused by slavery and that other factors (e.g., states' rights, tariffs, political culture, etc.) are too insignificant to warrant substantive discussion. A 2017 article in the Washington Post appears to ridicule the general public for not being in agreement with the judgment of experts on question whose answer depends on a degree of subjective interpretation. In the eyes of the elite, it does not matter what the general public thinks about the causes of the Civil War - leave these things to the experts!
Both our political and education systems are long overdue for a restoration of an open dialogue between people with differing perspectives and a renewed respect for the thoughts of ordinary people. As long as a self-proclaimed expert class continues to feel entitled to dictate to the rest of us how to think, our society will continue to be more authoritarian than democratic, and we will see more populist reactions on the horizon. However, if our society is restored to its democratic principles, we may yet see another day when an open dialogue is restored and independent thought is once again valued in our free society. As an American, I appreciate Babones' faith that such a restoration is not only possible, but that we are on a trajectory toward it.
Click here to download a printable set of these lecture notes.
In 1848, the United States annexed the Mexican Cession as part of the terms of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo that ended the Mexican-American War. The organization of the Mexican Cession became a hot issue in Congress that appeared to be unsolvable, as the doctrine of Free Soil, which prohibited any further expansion of slavery into the American West, gained acceptance in the North while Southern congressmen remained insistent on the existing practice of admitting an equal number of slave and free states into the Union. While it had never passed both houses of Congress, the Wilmot Proviso, with its declaration that slavery would not be allowed in any territories acquired from Mexico, still functioned as a line in the sand for the North.
When California petitioned to enter the Union as a free state, the proposal met resistance from Southern congressmen and it appeared that California would fail to clear the hurdle of the Senate – where the South was nearly equally represented with the North – and fail to attain statehood. Henry Clay, known as the “Great Compromiser,” designed a compromise proposal that he hoped would settle the differences between the sections as he had previously with the Missouri Compromise and the Compromise Tariff of 1833, which had ended the Nullification Crisis. This compromise, known as the Compromise of 1850, would be Clay’s last and the final compromise between the sections prior to the American Civil War.
The Compromise of 1850 is divided into five parts:
1. Admit California as a Free State
2. A Stronger Fugitive Slave Act
Although the Constitution required the return of fugitive slaves who had escaped to free states to their owners, the Fugitive Slave Act of 1793 did not require state governments to cooperate with slave catchers and did not directly involve federal officials in apprehending escaped slaves. This especially concerned representatives of the states of the Upper South, from where it was easiest to escape to free states (Frederick Douglass, for example, had escaped from Maryland). A new and stronger Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 was passed that required state governments to cooperate in the capture of escaped slaves. Additionally, anyone accused of being a slave was to receive a federal bench trial without the benefit of a jury.
The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 was the most controversial part of the Compromise of 1850 and provoked hostility from antislavery activists in the North. Several states, including Wisconsin, Michigan, and Massachusetts, passed “personal liberty laws” that guaranteed jury trials to those accused of being escaped slaves. This resistance, while not formally nullifying the federal law, is considered to be a form of de facto nullification.
3. Popular Sovereignty in New Mexico and Utah Territories
Prior to the Compromise of 1850, Congress had decided the status of slavery in a federal territory when organizing that territory, as it had in the Missouri Compromise thirty years earlier. Given the stalemate between proslavery and Free Soil factions in Congress, this was not going to be possible. In order to break the stalemate, Lewis Cass and Stephen Douglas – both Northern Democrats – proposed popular sovereignty (also known as squatter sovereignty) as a solution. The doctrine of popular sovereignty placed the status of slavery in the hands of the settlers rather than in Congress. The New Mexico and Utah Territories were organized in the Mexican Cession on the basis of popular sovereignty, allowing members of Congress to vote to organize the territories without going on record as supporting or opposing slavery.
4. Texas "Bailout" - Land Ceded for War Debt Assumption
The greatest obstacle to organizing the New Mexico and Utah Territories was that Texas – a slave state – still claimed some of the land that the federal government considered as part of the Mexican Cession. Texas claimed that the Rio Grande formed not only its southern - but also its eastern - border. This included Santa Fe, one of the most important cities in the Mexican Cession. In order to get Texas to relinquish its western land claims, the federal government agreed to pay the state’s outstanding debt of $10 million. As with many conflicts between the federal government and the states, this one was solved by money.
Compromise of 1850 Map (Texas and the Mexican Cession
Map Credit: Golbez (Wikipedia)
5. Slave Trade Abolished in Washington, D.C.
Antislavery members of Congress wanted to see slavery abolished in the nation’s capital, seeing it not only as an affront to their own eyes, but an embarrassment in the eyes of the world, which sent its ambassadors to there. Southern congressmen were equally determined to preserve slavery in the capital, not only as a matter of principle, but as a practical matter since their personal valets traveled to Washington with them. A compromise was reached that prohibited the slave trade in Washington, D.C., but did not abolish the institution of slavery, itself.
Memorizing the Compromise of 1850
It can be difficult to remember five pieces of information by themselves, which is why I encourage students to divide their recollection of the Compromise of 1850 into three smaller parts. The admission of California as a free state (for the North) and the stronger Fugitive Slave Act (for the South) can be seen as an even trade. The organization of the Mexican Cession according to principles of popular sovereignty and the settlement of the Texas boundary in return for debt assumption are both territorial provisions for organizing the Mexican Cession. Finally, the abolition of the slave trade (but not slavery, itself) in Washington, D.C., stands on its own as a compromise between the sections.
The Failure of the Omnibus
Henry Clay initially attempted to pass the Compromise of 1850 as an omnibus bill, in which the entire compromise would be passed by a single vote in each house of Congress. When Clay’s omnibus bill failed, Stephen Douglas built a separate majority to pass each provision of the compromise as a separate bill. Douglas’ approach to the bill took additional work, but it got the job done. Although Clay still gets most of the credit for the Compromise of 1850 as an elder statesman, the younger Douglas – whose presidential aspirations were still ahead of him and not behind him, as Clay’s were – did most of the legwork.
Webster vs. Calhoun: Last Debate of the Great Triumvirate
The Compromise of 1850 represented not only the end of an era of compromise in Congress, but also the end of an era of the political dominance of the generation that came of age during the War of 1812. Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, and John C. Calhoun – known to history as the “Great Triumvirate” – were at the end of their long political careers, having all made their names in the Senate after unsuccessfully pursuing the presidency. While Clay’s role in the compromise has already been addressed, the speeches of Webster and Calhoun illustrate the turning point that the Compromise of 1850 represented in American politics.
Daniel Webster, a senator from Massachusetts, delivered his “Seventh of March” speech in favor of the compromise. In his opening words, he proclaimed, “I wish to speak to-day, not as a Massachusetts man, nor as a Northern man, but as an American,” attempting to interpose himself between the conflicting sections. However, his assertion that, “the South, in my judgment, is right, and the North is wrong,” in reference to the failure of the Northern states to cooperate in the return of escaped fugitive slaves did not sit well with Webster’s constituents, which included noted abolitionists like William Lloyd Garrison and John Greenleaf Whittier. Whittier wrote a poem, Ichabod, which cast Webster as an angel fallen from glory. In order to escape the ire of his constituents, Webster resigned from the Senate and finished his political career as Millard Fillmore’s Secretary of State.
John C. Calhoun of South Carolina, who had begun his career as a “War Hawk” and ardent nationalist during James Madison’s presidency, had become the elder statesman of Southern sectionalism and one of the most vocal advocates for the expansion of slavery into the American West. In a speech that was read aloud by a colleague while he watched silently due to advanced illness, Calhoun expressed his opposition to the compromise, believing that the South had already agreed to several compromises and was on its way to compromising itself out of existence. He predicted that the compromise measures, if passed, would lead the nation on an inevitable course toward disunion – a prediction with an air of prophecy.
Why it Matters
The importance of the Compromise of 1850 lies in its status as a turning point in the political culture of the United States. In crafting the Compromise of 1850, Henry Clay used the same strategy that had worked to solve the Missouri question and the Nullification Crisis, both of which had been solved by compromise measures. However, the fruits of Manifest Destiny - the annexation of Texas and the Mexican Cession – ignited new conflicts over the status of slavery that had been settled before these new territories were added to the United States. In addition, the United States was transitioning from an aristocratic political culture based on political compromise to a democratic political culture based on majority rule (for more on this, see my analysis of aristocratic and democratic republics as applied to antebellum politics). Just a few years later, Congress would pass the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which repealed elements of the Missouri Compromise and make slavery possible in areas that had been closed to the peculiar institution in 1820.
The era of Antebellum political compromise ended with the Compromise of 1850. Congress would never admit another slave state, ending the earlier practice of pursuing a parity between slave and free states. No successful political compromise would be reached between the sections until the Compromise of 1877, which ended Reconstruction.
The following key concepts from the AP US History Course Description and Concept Outline are relevant to the Compromise of 1850:
Congressional attempts at political compromise, such as the Missouri Compromise, only temporarily stemmed growing tensions between opponents and defenders of slavery. (Key Concept 4.3)
The courts and national leaders made a variety of attempts to resolve the issue of slavery in the territories, including the Compromise of 1850, the Kansas–Nebraska Act, and the Dred Scott decision, but these ultimately failed to reduce conflict. (Key Concept 5.2)
In order to provide further clarity, I have created a set of sample essays in response to an LEQ prompt comparing the Italian and the Northern Renaissance. Each sample essay includes a detailed explanation of how each point has been earned. Included in the packet are one essay that would receive a maximum score and three essays that would receive middling scores that would put a student on the path to passing an exam.
This set of sample responses is completely free, but please consider supporting my annual 8 Month Writing Clinic if you would like to see more sample essays like this. The 8 Month Writing Clinic is a subscription-based course that provides teachers and students with videos, sample essays, and other resources to help prepare for the writing sections of the AP US History, AP European History, and AP World History exams.
If you are a teacher who has participated in a recent AP Euro Reading, your feedback is always appreciated if you take issue with how I have awarded any of the points, please don't hesitate to contact me. Teachers with questions are more than welcome to contact me with questions, as well.
Click here to view and print these lecture notes in PDF format.
The year was 1527, and Pope Clement VII had made a big mistake. He had formed the League of Cognac, allying with France in hopes of driving Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, out of Northern Italy. His gamble had not paid off, and the troops of the Holy Roman Empire had scaled the walls of Rome. After a decisive victory over the French, the poorly-paid imperial troops had mutinied and demanded to march on Rome, where they could be paid in plunder. And plunder they did. Once inside the city, imperial troops abandoned all discipline and killed thousands. Many of those who survived fled the city and Clement only survived thanks to a heroic stand of his Swiss Guards. Rome, formerly a city of over 50,000 inhabitants, was reduced to 10,000 residents by the time imperial troops finally had their fill and abandoned the city eight month later.
The Sack of Rome taught Pope Clement a valuable lesson about the consequences of challenging the most powerful man in Europe, but a high price had been paid for his foolishness. The papacy would never regain command the glory and prestige that it once had. At the height of the Renaissance, Rome had been a center of cultural achievement. Not anymore. The year was 1527, and the High Renaissance was over.
As Rome was being sacked, an artistic movement was already developing that challenged the conventions of Renaissance art with its insistence on perfect symmetry, proportion, grace, and stability. The masters of the High Renaissance had produced works that so thoroughly perfected this ideal that there was nothing left that anyone could do to rival their achievements while playing by the same rules. Even Michelangelo, the only great master of the High Renaissance who was still alive after the Sack of Rome, took his later work in a different direction. While not altogether different from the art of the High Renaissance, a new “manner” is noticeable enough in these works to give the works of the “Silver Age” of Late Renaissance art its own name. Art historians have chosen to call it Mannerism.
Michelangelo’s work had always portrayed a sense of awe and grandeur, a quality that contemporary Italian observers referred to as terribilità (terror), but the works he produced at the peak of his career balanced this with a sense of grace. His later work brought this terribilità quality to the forefront, as is seen in The Last Judgment. One does not look at this painting and think first that it is beautiful, but awe-inspiring and disturbing. Immediately, the painting was criticized for the over-muscled figures, the predominance of nudity beyond what was considered tasteful (especially for a church altar), and the incorporation of pagan themes. The suffering of the damned is portrayed with vivid emotion beyond the acceptable conventions of Renaissance art. The massive work appeared to exhaust the artist, as he chose to portray himself in the painting as the flayed St. Bartholomew.
Michelangelo’s final paintings, The Conversion of Saul and The Crucifixion of St. Peter throw grace and symmetry out the window in order to fully capture vividly emotional and intense scenes from Christian history. His portrayal of Jesus in The Conversion of Saul appears in force like a modern video game character on the attack, confronting Saul with wrath in a scene of pure chaos. These final works did not gain a lot of praise at the time and rarely come up today in a discussion of Michelangelo’s work. Michelangelo is remembered first and foremost for the works he produced in his younger years as a master of the High Renaissance.
As Michelangelo, in his later years, was rejecting the constraints of Renaissance conventions, younger artists were also choosing to experiment with new techniques rather than try to compete with the likes of Raphael and da Vinci. One of these younger artists, Girolamo Francesco Maria Mazzola, better known as Parmigianino (the Little One from Parma), showed an early interest in using art to portray an augmented reality. Even before the Sack of Rome, he was experimenting with new approaches. As a young man, he painted at Self-portrait in a Convex Mirror, an outside the box idea at a time when artists were obsessed with idealized realistic proportions. Parmigianino’s Conversion of St. Paul, completed over a decade before Michelangelo’s painting of the same subject, shows Paul unbalanced and in a state of fearful awe. In The Vision of St. Jerome, the central figure of John the Baptist shows a striking contrast to da Vinci’s. While da Vinci’s John the Baptist is idealized, with smooth skin and a straight finger, Parmigianino presents the Baptist as elongated, with blemishes on his skin and an elongated, crooked finger pointing to the Christ Child.
Parmigianino’s Madonna with the Long Neck is, perhaps, the most iconic Mannerist painting, presenting several challenges to traditional Renaissance conventions while not abandoning the style, altogether. The Madonna’s neck is elongated to give her a swanlike elegance, while the Christ-child, also elongated, rests precariously on her lap as if He could fall at any moment. Not only is the Christ-child imbalanced, but all of the admiring angels stand on the same side of the Madonna in a rejection of Renaissance symmetry. The Madonna’s foot is perched awkwardly on a cushion and projects outward, seemingly jutting out of the canvas. In this series of subtle challenges to the strict artistic standards of the Renaissance, Parmigianino and other Mannerist painters established themselves as “the first ‘modern’ artists” in the words of E.H. Gombrich, author of The Story of Art.
Late Mannerism is most apparent in the paintings of Doménikos Theotokópoulos, better known as El Greco (the Greek). El Greco was born on Crete and distinguished himself as a painter in Western Europe, first in Rome and then in Spain, where he produced his best-known works. Like Parmigianino, he preferred elongated figures, as can be seen in his painting of St. Andrew and St. Francis, but his works show even more independence from the traditional Renaissance style. His painting of Laocoön, with its elongated and vulnerable figures fearfully succumbing to snakes sent by the gods, contrasts powerfully with a Greco-Roman sculpture of the same event, which features more powerful and idealized forms. El Greco’s most famous painting, The Burial of the Count of Orgaz, provides something of a foreshadowing of the Baroque style, projecting the grandeur of the Catholic Faith in his portrayal of the legendary account of the Count of Orgaz being buried personally by St. Stephen and St. Augustine. Unlike Michelangelo’s Last Judgment, the painting is faithful to Catholic doctrine and is devoid of pagan elements. The painting also shows Byzantine influences that were present in El Greco’s works, showing both a heavenly and earthly plane, similar to traditional Byzantine icons of the Dormition of the Mother of God.
El Greco’s works are widely praised for their originality as being ahead of their time. His later works, such as View of Toledo and The Opening of the Fifth Seal, could easily be mistaken for twentieth century art by a casual observer. His work is believed to have had a powerful influence on several modern artists. The Mannerists, in their willingness to challenge prevailing artistic conventions, will forever live as examples to anyone seeking to produce something new and original.
Mannerism is mentioned in AP European History Key Concept 1.1, which states, "Mannerist and Baroque artists employed distortion, drama, and illusion in their work. Monarchies, city-states, and the church commissioned these works as a means of promoting their own stature and power." El Greco is mentioned as an illustrative example, but students may use examples from Michelangelo, Parmigianino, and other Mannerist painters when presenting original evidence for free response items.
At the turn of the seventeenth century, European monarchs began to consolidate power, undermining old feudal institutions, such as representative bodies and the nobility, in order to establish absolute rule. This radical centralization of government power required a philosophical foundation to justify it. Jacques Bossuet, a Catholic bishop who was Louis XIV’s court preacher, provided this foundation in Politics Derived from Sacred Scripture, in which he laid out the doctrine of the Divine Right of Kings. Bossuet used Scripture to justify royal authority without checks and balances, claiming that God has placed kings on their throne and it is the responsibility of the people to obey divinely appointed authorities without question. Rebellion against the king is rebellion against God.
James I of England (and VI of Scotland) was an advocate of the Divine Right of Kings and published some of his own texts about the subject, which he shared with his son, Charles I. According to James, while a king could not be limited in his authority by the people, a king would be called upon to account for his actions at the Last Judgment. With this in mind, Christian kings were expected to conduct themselves with the fear of God, acting as “God’s lieutenants” on earth. Louis XIV of France was another advocate of the Divine Right of Kings. His decision to rescind the Edict of Nantes, which had granted limited toleration to French Protestants, was partly an attempt to fulfill his obligations as a divine right monarch. He did not want to hear from Jesus, “Louis, why did you allow your people to practice a false religion?”
A great deal of the evidence that Locke used was from the Bible, arguing that people had the right to form governments by virtue of their common descent from Adam. Thomas Paine, in an effort to encourage American colonists to sever ties with the British monarchy, referenced anti-monarchy passages from the Bible in Common Sense.
Both Locke and Paine used ideas from Enlightenment philosophy in order to argue against divine right monarchy. Enlightenment philosophers valued rational thinking and did not place the same weight on sacred texts, such as the Bible, as a foundation for arguments. Of course, both still used the Bible in their works – Locke because he was a Christian writing in the seventeenth century, and Paine because he knew that references to the Bible would be seen as credible by his audience.
In Western Europe, divine right absolutism did not survive the Enlightenment era. In England and Scotland, the Glorious Revolution of 1688 obliged the monarch to share power with Parliament. The French Revolution saw the abolition of the French monarchy, although it returned in various forms in the nineteenth century. In Central and Eastern Europe, “enlightened absolutists” continued to wield absolute power but attempted to do so according to Enlightened ideals.
One of the things people ask me for more than anything else is sample responses. I plan to be more attentive to this request in the coming months and I am going to start off by posting sample responses I've drafted for the 2018 AP European History DBQ. To be clear, these are sample responses that I have drafted myself as someone who is an experienced AP Reader, but I have not scored this essay prompt professionally. I certainly invite anyone who wants to offer feedback to do so. Pretty soon, I plan to have a Google Form ready so that people who have read this question professionally, can offer feedback if they disagree with any of my conclusions and want to help make these samples more valuable teaching tools.
THIS IS A WORK IN PROGRESS. MORE SAMPLE RESPONSES WILL BE ADDED SOON.
Not All Heroes Wear Uniforms
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People often ask me what review book I recommend or what I think of this review book or that review book. There are so many review books out there that I don't have time to look through all of them, but that's okay because I have found a great one and don't see the need to look any further.
Chris Freiler's AP Achiever text for AP European History is full of concise content summaries, exam strategies, and practice items. Students using this text have the benefit of using a review book written by someone who was part of the team that redesigned the AP European History exam a few years ago. In addition to that, Chris has participated in the AP European History Reading for several years - many of those years in the capacity of Assistant Chief Reader and Question Leader.
The British Empire's Rough Start
In the nineteenth century, the British presided over the largest empire in history. It was often written around that time that “the sun never sets on the British Empire.” But this was not always the case. As with many success stories, the construction of the British Empire began with a series of failures. During the Age of Exploration, the Spanish were the first to emerge as Europe’s preeminent colonial power. The Spanish were the first to create a permanent settlement in the present-day United States with the founding of St. Augustine in Spanish Florida in 1565.
The first settlement founded in Virginia was named Jamestown in honor of Elizabeth’s successor, James I. The colony, founded in 1607, was the first permanent English settlement in the Americas. This makes 1607 an important turning point in the history of Colonial America, as the English, who would become the dominant colonial power in North America, had finally established a permanent colonial presence.
While Smith’s leadership is credited with saving the colony in its infancy, he soon returned to England. During the winter of 1609-1610, nobody ate regardless of whether they worked or not. Only 60 of over 200 colonists survived the colony’s “starving time.” Unable to keep people alive – much less turn a profit – Jamestown was not on its way to becoming any more successful than the previous venture at Roanoke.
Enter John Rolfe. Although Rolfe is more famous in pop culture for marrying Pocahontas, his agricultural innovations were much more important to the future of the colony. Previously, tobacco had been known to the English, but it had not become popular because they didn’t like how it tasted. Rolfe cultivated a sweeter strain of tobacco that became popular in England, striking “brown gold” that turned Virginia into a profitable colony with an economy driven by the cultivation of tobacco as a cash crop. Sir Walter Raleigh, while imprisoned in the Tower of London, wrote of tobacco, “It was my companion at that most miserable time.”
Tobacco and the Cash Crop Labor Economy
The Virginians and the Powhatan Indians
347 English settlers were killed in this attack, including several people who were in the home of an ancestor of this writer (if he had been home, you would not be reading these lecture notes). Some colonists were luckier than others, able to find safety within the walls of palisaded plantations. The Virginia Colony survived, but the crown was not pleased with the Virginia Company’s management. In 1624, the crown revoked the Virginia Company’s charter and Virginia became a royal colony – a status that it would maintain until declaring its independence from Britain in 1776.
I am a history teacher who creates YouTube videos and instructional materials. I use this blog to publish lecture notes, book reviews, and personal reflections inspired by history, politics, and literature.