Victor Davis Hanson
|And a dirty dozen more
Victor Davis Hanson (1953–) is a retired American historian turned pundit. He is an expert on ancient warfare and a professor emeritus of classical studies. During his academic career from 1985 to 2004, he founded a classics program and published a few well-respected studies on ancient Greek farming and warfare with academic journals and university presses. But beginning in the 1990s, he also published a series of angry books and articles with titles like Who Killed Homer? The Demise of Classical Education and the Recovery of Greek Wisdom and Fields Without Dreams: Defending the Agrarian Ideal. These expressed his decidedly conservative or reactionary views on, well, everything, really. In 2004, he retired as professor emeritus to focus on his political writing and speaking. This lets him present himself as a respected scholar to the public, while not submitting his ideas to peer review, marking endless Latin exams, or engaging with advances in knowledge since 2004.
Of course, he has decided that knowing everything about Rome and Greece means he knows everything about everything. He has written books proclaiming that it was the power of ancient Greek culture that led to Western hegemony over the rest of the world (explicitly rejecting geographical/environmental factors, for example). He proudly proclaims the vast superiority of Western culture and how it will always triumph, while at the same time constantly fretting over its possible decline due to the lack of classics education since the good old days. Much like Noam Chomsky or Jordan Peterson, he uses past academic glories to give his punditry authority.
The archetypical example, and arguably Hanson's claim to fame, is his voluminous cherry picking foray into military history, entitled Carnage and Culture. This is an interesting pre-9/11 neocon triumphalist ode to a particularly US conservative conception of "The West", its characteristics and virtues, dressed up as a sort of longue durée perspective on historical armed clashes between "The West and The Rest". Following 9/11 the book immediately gained new popularity as "evidence" of why "we" would beat "them" into a bloody pulp and win in Afghanistan and Iraq and events clearly have demonstrated both the salience of his central thesis and the quality of Hanson's scholarship.
He also is a constant contributor to the National Review Online. From that perch, he has consistently banged the (oil) drums for war, both in Iraq and Iran, while at the same time expressing his extreme ignorance of modern warfare. For example, upset that Barack Obama had apparently turned against the idea of "victory", he attempted to write an article expressing that victory was not an obsolete concept, even in the "War on Terror". However, what Obama was talking about (a formal end to war done with a peace treaty signed by representatives of both governments that can be seen and immediately recognized by the entire world) is not at all what Hanson tries to put forward as victory conditions. Instead, he puts forward three very amorphous "victory" conditions that would be very arguable, even if they were possible. At the same time, however, he sets as his goals things that are not fully within the power of the United States to achieve, as these goals rely heavily on decisions made by non-enemy governments and domestic constituencies within the US. In short, he is attempting to put a state-based concept onto a much more amorphous situation, and failing to see how it doesn't line up.
And this, in essence, is how Hanson approaches all of politics: He looks back to history (usually Greece or Rome) for something he feels is vaguely analogous, and tries to make them fit. When he refuses to carry his arguments far enough to please people even further on the right such as F. Roger Devlin , its usually because he identifies ideas such as racialism with Nazis and Confederates and Nazis or Confederates as the opposite of Americans. If he compares someone to his favorite bad guys, he usually decides that anything they do is wicked, while if he compares them to his favorite good guys, he finds ways to justify their behavior.
Hanson is still a major George W. Bush fan boy, writing that "his tenure was without corruption", calling Bush a "centrist", and going so far as to say he may be "a model ex-president". Apparently, any day now historians will recognize Bush as another under-appreciated Harry Truman-like president and soon he will rise through the historical rankings of presidents. Yep, any day now... still waiting... but it'll come... any day now...
With Donald Trump in the White House, Hanson has once again demonstrated his loyalty to any kind of Republican POTUS by framing the problem as one of Democratic obstruction and Republican infighting, rather than a problem with Trump, by calling Trump a good "wrecking ball" and claiming that the Democrats and Obama were much worse, and even trying to defend Trump's "government by tweet" antics. Hanson also continued to wreck whatever is left of his professional reputation by joining Trump’s ludicrous 1776 Commission and continuing to defend its final report, despite it being trashed by pretty much every historian who read it.
- Rone Tempest, Right Way to Farm the Classics. Los Angeles Times, 25 February 2004.
- After 2003, his only academic publications known to me are a chapter in the 'Cambridge History of Greek and Roman Warfare' (published 2007) and a chapter in a conference proceedings called 'Men of Bronze' published in 2013. In 2019, ancient historian Walther Scheidel listed Hanson among influential "scholars who ... have since largely (though not necessarily entirely) moved on to other areas of specialization (than ancient history)" and noted his "**early** record of research in ancient history" (ie. his frequently cited academic publications from the 1980s and 1990s) https://www.academia.edu/44834999/Citation_Scores_for_Greco_Roman_Historians_in_North_America_2019_with_2021_update_
- Victor Davis Hanson, Victory - How Quaint an Idea!, National Review, February 10, 2010
- An example: The Mob Is Coming For You, Hoover Institution, September 30, 2015
- Victor Davis Hanson, Bush's Warranted Rehabilitation Will Come, National Review, April 25, 2013
- Victor Davis Hanson, Trump's Circular Firing Squad, National Review, July 27, 2017
- Victor Davis Hanson, The Endless Ironies of Donald J. Trump, National Review, June 13, 2017
- In Defense Of Trump's Tweets, NPR, July 8, 2017