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‘The New York Times,’ the 1619 Project, and ‘Quid Est Veritas’?

‘The New York Times,’ the 1619 Project, and ‘Quid Est Veritas’?

Many of us have heard of the 1619 Project and its attempt to reinvent American history.

1619, according to The New York Times writers, is the year that the first slaves arrived on American soil. And since, according to the 1619 Project, unjust slave labor initiated and sustained the socioeconomic structure of America, 1619 is more appropriate as the United States’ founding year than 1776. Instead of a foundation on the concept of liberty and universal human rights, the 1619 Project says, the United States has a foundation of injustice and materialistic greed.

This is not an attempt at honest history so much as narrative engineering to foster revolution. If the foundation of our country had to do primarily with exploiting slaves, then we should probably end the United States.

The 1619 Project included only four historians, according to Mary Grabar, the master debunker of this propaganda operation. Of the 34 contributors, most are not scholars, but journalists (many for the NYT) and creative types. Yet well-funded efforts have injected the 1619 Project into education at all levels.

Historians like Grabar point out that the 1619 Project is not true: It does not line up with historical facts. In any case, its thesis seems too broad to be meaningfully verified. How do we discern with any exactitude the true origin of a country, given that a country is such a complex interweaving of disparate interests? The 1619 Project is transparently one-sided since there is well-documented evidence that ideals like universal rights really animate 1776.

Yet many of these critiques of the 1619 Project assume that everyone shares a common standard when defining truth. But truth has been slippery for thousands of years. When Jesus confronted Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor who authorized his execution, Pilate asked him, “Quid est veritas?”—“What is truth?”

It’s a question that has enduring significance today. Traditionally, truth means adaequatio intellectus et rei, a proper calibration of the mind to actual things—this was how Thomas Aquinas  defined truth. The 1619 Project falls short in this respect, as it is more of a fictional narrative than genuine history.

But the idea that the dominant ideas of a culture—the pride in the idealism of 1776—are just tools to secure exploitative economic interests is unmistakably Marxist. We ought therefore to consult Marxist ideology to see how it reappropriates the idea of truth.

Marxists.org, an authoritative collection of Marxist literature, contains a book by Alexander Spirkin, a prominent Soviet philosopher, with a chapter on the nature of truth. At first, Spirkin echoes the Thomistic definition of truth, saying that it is a conformity of the mind to external reality. “Truth,” he says, “is the true reflection of reality in the consciousness.”

But Spirkin adds a crucial qualification. How do we establish the objectivity of our ideas—the fact that they reflect reality? Spirkin thinks we can validate our ideas through practice. Genuine truth ought to aid one in the real world, in establishing control over natural and social reality.

Reinforcing this, Spirkin believes that truth must be concrete: It must connect to real conditions. Truth is not some esoteric abstraction—a Platonic form existing in an intellectual domain. Spirkin says that an idea is “true” to the extent that it is efficacious in practice.

This contention that truth is not abstract but must be tied to concrete practice is a pragmatic conception of truth. Truth is “realizable,” meaning it bears fruit in a practical way. “The veracity of a principle,” Spirkin says, “can be proved only by its successful practical application.” And practical application has to do not only with the natural world but with human society. The successful revolutionary action of the masses can confirm certain ideas as true.

Here, then, is the clue to understanding the mindset of the 1619 Project. This revisionist history is true—not insofar as it reflects facts in the world but insofar as it functions successfully in furthering the revolution. Practice—successful revolutionary action—is the kind of truth New York Times narrative engineers seek.

How does the 1619 Project prove itself in practice?

According to the researchers, for hundreds of years, Americans have passed down an idealistic story of the nation’s origins, which had to do with freedom fighters full of zeal for human rights. In truth, 1776 was a less important year than 1619, when the first slave arrived. Since the United States is a slave state, according to the 1619 Project propagandists, we should be open to complete revolution in our political and social system. Mere modifications will not do for a country that is corrupt from its roots.

In generating this revolutionary fervor, the 1619 Project demonstrates its truth, even though it does not correspond to facts. The 1619 Project has a realizable truth, in terms of demonstrable results toward advancing a political upheaval.

The question, then, is this: Where else have we found a subtle shifting of “truth”—a “truth” that moves away from calibration to reality and toward social agenda? Progressive ideologies notwithstanding, it’s important to calibrate our minds to the real world, seeking “true truth” in all aspects of our lives.

Image credit: Public domain


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  • Avatar
    Rick Gordon
    February 27, 2024, 4:22 pm

    It is with great sadness that I read the article – as I understand that the nation's teachers unions and some others have integrated these lies into our children's education. We will all pay for that – today and in our children's future.

    • Avatar
      Daniel Dal Monte@Rick Gordon
      February 27, 2024, 5:20 pm

      It’s really evil propaganda, Rick. We have to know what we’re up against, though. They use a different notion of truth, one that promotes a revolution rather than one aligning with reality.

  • Avatar
    Bill Babbitt
    February 28, 2024, 10:41 am

    The writers of The 1619 Project might just as well have included a herd of unicorns for all the reality there is in this fairy tale. History is a factual account of events in the past. The 1619 Project simply doesn't measure up in that respect, but it is a great story for fueling the division in our country.

  • Avatar
    April 8, 2024, 10:30 am

    Rather than a s binary choice of one or the other, America’s foundation is built on both pillars of liberty/universal human rights and of injustice/materialistic greed. Thomas Jefferson embodies the duality of America’s founding – the slave-holding author of the Declaration of Independence.

    Regarding the biblical story of Jesus and Pilate that you reference — Reza Aslan’s “Zealot” makes a strong case why such a meeting was unlikely to have happened. The bloody Pilate sentenced thousands and thousands to die by crucifixion. Why would Pilate have agreed to interact with one of the many itinerant preachers of the day? A better case is the New Testament (written decades after Jesus’ life) included the fictional interaction because Peter was in Rome trying to establish Christianity and this is a convenient story to absolve the Romans.


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