Historical News and Comment (from
The Last Liberal Historian: A. J. P. Taylor,
Samuel Edward Konkin III
25, 1906-Sept. 7, 1990
Alan John Percivale Taylor, Fellow of Magdalen
College in Oxford, may not have shared the religion of his co- Fellow, C. S.
Lewis, but he turned into a similar lamp-post of unyielding virtue. For Taylor,
a Labour Party supporter and vigorous supporter of "preparedness" and opposition
to Third Reich aggression, his moment of conversion came as he rummaged through
the files of the captured Reichstag, trusted by the new Atlee government to come
to the correct conclusions concerning responsibility for the largest orgy of
death and destruction in mankind's history, known as World War II. Taylor found
that nearly everything that had been told to him up through 1939 by the English
Establishment was a lie.
He said so, and published the exhaustive
analysis of British and German diplomacy leading up to the conflagration in
The Origins of The Second World War in 1961. Diehard Isolationists and
revisionist historians, such as Harry Elmer Barnes, were thunderstruck that such
a work could come from the highest court of the Court Historians. Taylor himself
was uneasy with the embrace of these unpleasant "American" revisionists, but
stuck to his guns and fearlessly used his cachets in Polite society to
defend his thesis in academe and even on the BBC. His well-established dislike
of Germany made his heresy toward casting sole blame on it for World War II
impossible to dismiss.
Amazingly, he survived and continued to publish
one of the longest lists of historical works -- and one of the broadest, ranging
throughout British history (Beaverbrook, Lloyd George, Essays
in English History) to Russian, German, Italian and Austrian histories.
Taylor seemed a paradox (he loved and used
paradox stylistically as much as Lewis and G. K. Chesterton), but the solution
was to realize he was a classical liberal who had survived into an age where the
few remaining political Liberals could not make up their minds whether to
emulate Conservatives or Socialists. The Economist portrayed him, in
their obituary, as a useful gadfly or "troublemaker." It dismissed his
devastating critique of the Western responsibility for World War II with "A
bad-tempered controversy over the origins of the second world war did not
seriously dent his reputation." It does note his support for "radical causes,
notably the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament," but mentions nothing about his
on-the-money analysis in the Guardian (read by this writer when it was
published) of the Irish Question, concluding that the British go home and leave
the Northern Irish to resolve their own political fate.
Taylor won no favor with Establishment Left or
Right Oxford refused to promote him to a professorship and terminated his
special lectureship in international history. When asked if history is cyclical
(Oswald Spengler's view), Taylor replied that it was not history which repeats
itself but historians who repeat each other.
It is highly doubtful as to whether History will
repeat itself with anyone else like A.J.P. Taylor, who gave up the struggle with
Parkinson's disease on September 7, but never gave up the struggle for
historical accuracy and truth.
- "Puck of Magdalen," The Economist,
September 15, 1990, page 119