Polemical literature has long has reserved a certain tolerance for the ruthlessly critical obituary. The dictum against speaking ill of the dead is not absolute. There is always someone, somewhere who feels very strongly that death should provide no protections against the perfidies committed by so-and-so in life. In other words, the promotion of civility is a very fine thing; but a finer thing still is the promotion of truth, even of the stern and ungenerous sort.
Benjamin Kerstein has penned a memorable entry into this tradition here. His target is the late Howard Zinn, and if I may say so, few writers have deserved it more. My favorite part is when Kerstein notes a certain irony in the commercial success of Zinn’s most famous work:
[An obituary by the Associated Press] pronounces that Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States “was, fittingly, a people’s best-seller, attracting a wide audience through word of mouth and reaching 1 million sales in 2003.” In fact, as the article goes on to state, “his book was taught in high schools and colleges throughout the country” meaning, for those who can put two and two together, that the book became a bestseller largely because a generation of professors forced their students to buy it — a fitting metaphor for Zinn’s view of “the people.”
Indeed. Read the whole thing.