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Simon Schama’s World View

A conversation with critic and historian Simon Schama on free thinking and revolution in 2011.

Simon Schama at a 2009 presentation (Monica Campi/Flickr)

Simon Schama at a 2009 presentation (Monica Campi/Flickr)

Simon Schama is a brilliant thinker and writer on a very wide palette of human affairs. Revolutions: French and Egyptian. Leaders: from Churchill to Obama. Art: from Dutch masters and Rubens to Martin Scorcese and Richard Avedon. Life: from ocean crossings to the joys of ice cream.

He’s a scholar, historian, big-picture narrator — and a free-thinker who can link the far flung pieces of what has been and what is right now. With everything going on today, we could use that voice, that mind.

This hour On Point: a conversation on a world in turmoil with Simon Schama.

- Tom Ashbrook


Simon Schama, professor of Art History and History at Columbia University. He has been writing for decades for the New Yorker, the Financial Times, Vogue, The Guardian and more. His new collection of essays is called “Scribble, Scribble, Scribble:  Writing on Politics, Ice Cream, Churchill, and my Mother.”  Writer and host of the acclaimed 15-part BBC documentary series “A History of Britain.”  His many other books include, “The Power of Art,” “The American Future,” “Rough Crossings: Britain, the Slaves and the American Revolution” and “Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution.”


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  • Tina

    I love your documentary, Rough Crossing! The combination of your insightful, sometimes appropriately sardonic commentaries with the movingly photographed and acted reenactments, of a story most Americans are unaware, of is superb!

    The documentary tells the tale of some of the slaves who took up the British offer of freedom in return for fighting against the American “patriots”. Eventually, the former slaves are shipped by the Brits to Nova Scotia where they experience something akin to the slavery they just left. One individual goes to England for an audience with some of the leading abolitionists there, who then send one of their brothers, a military man, to Nova Scotia. He then helps the former slaves go over to Sierra Leone to start their own community. Yet, once they all arrive in Africa, they find that the Brits made no preparation for their arrival; there are no homes for them to live in; the citizens of Sierra Leone are not willing to part with land for these folks from across the ocean; and, it winds up, the Brits were less interested in Liberty and Equality for these people than they were desirous of populating a trade-route pit-stop with these proud, brave, almost beleaguered-but-not-quite people who, the Brits assume, will serve them and re-stock their ships on the Brits’ continuing colonial ventures around the world. The former slaves wrestle intelligently and passionately with issues of governance within freedom. (I think I got most of that right.)

    Are there other tales in this series? …. Not that I’m greedy!

  • ThresherK

    Our host mentioned Eisenhower’s ’50s as possibly “dull”. It was a surfactant dullness for many Americans, but David Halberstam really addressed that in his book “The Fifties”.

    As a sidenote, it’s a great rebuttal for when culture “worriers” want to drag us back there.

    • Tina

      For me, as a kid in the 50′s, it didn’t seem dull. (Forgive me; I’ve told you all some of this before.) There was all that Cuban music on the radio, but only late at night, from NYC across the river. There were the center pages of the NY Daily News which my best friend’s father brought home every day — it had photos of the scandals of Hollywood and of places like the Stork Club in NYC. The odd thing was, the people in the pictures, especially the women, didn’t look like my mom or her friends. I was aware of a strangely exotic part of society out there, but I wasn’t quite sure I understood where it was or why the people didn’t look like the people I saw every day. And then there was the bomb. We were taught to be afraid of it. Once I was school age, our teachers would dress up in all their civil protection gear while we kids had to practice hiding under our desks followed by lining up along the hallways outside of our classroom. A man in town was building a bomb shelter, and my best friend bragged that she’d have more stuff when the bomb came than I would. School was great, because we didn’t have worksheets and themes, we had books with wonderful pictures about how life was lived, especially the Social Studies books, which to this day, retrospectively lead me on many of my scouting trips back into history. Meanwhile, the music on the radio that my mom listened to while she washed dishes or hung up clothes on the line were that mix of Duke Ellington, authentic country, gospel, the bland croners who were the tail end of the Big Band era, Les Paul, and the stuff that would later be called early rock n roll, and, at night, after 11 p.m., that wonderful Cuban stuff. That easy, casual, daily mix of music was amazingly, just there in the background, but we were listening, and my parents sang and whistled to some of the songs, as many adults used to do in those days. Heard anyone whistle lately? It was very common in the 50′s. And then, there was the absolute freedom that we kids had. Moms, in the suburbs at least, didn’t hover. We could ride our bikes anywhere we wanted. TV was still black and white, so we weren’t much interested in it. We spent far more time up in the trees that we climbed on a daily basis in good weather. And in the early fifties, only my dad would have been playing the piano, but he did play, and sing, every day; and by the late fifties, we’d be making our way thru Music for Little Fingers. And we read books, and for hours at a time, I’d look at the photos of what life used to look like in 1915 when the Lands and Peoples encyclopedia that had been my dad’s, and now was mine, was published. My grandparents had been immigrants; my mom’s parents from Sweden; my father’s parents from being Black (I’ve told that story.). My parents met at a commuter college so they both had college degrees which allowed us to be pretty set in the middle class in ways that today’s kids may not be able to count upon staying in, OR getting to, sadly. But, from that middle class, suburban kid perspective, I didn’t find the 1950′s dull at all.

      • Tina

        And, I was doing too many things when I wrote the piece, above, so I forgot to add a very important part that I wanted to add. Again, I may have said this in the past, so I apologize for being repetitive. When we visited our grandparents in Florida in the 1950′s, we would drive South. It broke our young hearts to see the segregated water fountains and other facilities for children of Color. We were young, but we were troubled that other kids our age had adults who didn’t like them and passed laws that hurt them. Our parents took us around back at one ice cream stand so that we could see these signs (so simple, yet so horrid) and understand what was happening to other children, but our parents did not put words into our mouths. Somehow we easily understood what we were seeing. To this day, I remember the deep hurt in my belly when I learned what was happening to other children. I remember exactly where I was standing, even. Back home, when we did watch TV, Eleanor Roosevelt told us to think about the “starving children of the world”, while showing us videos of children in India. It was not at all hard to have compassion for the other children, in our nation and thruout the globe. Nowadays, I hear politicians and many of the wealthy who seem to have no compassion for the less fortunate at all. How could children in an earlier, less media-driven world, learn compassion, when wealthy adults today, with more information at their fingertips, see no reason to consider the situation of others. I do believe that the onslaught of media (good and bad media) has caused some of this circumstance. Perhaps people are just so over-stressed by so much information that they just cannot see the forest for the trees, the human beings for the piles of wealth? I am particularly distressed by those conservatives who keep talking about their “grandchildren” when many of them do not yet HAVE grandchildren. They seem to focus on THEIR future grandchildren at the expense of real, alive children living today here and around the world.

  • Anonymous

    What Schama is arguing for is a figurehead monarch. He’s suggesting that we need a national voice, but I’d respond that we need a policy leader as well.

    Greg Camp
    Springdale, AR

  • GoodbyeBloke

    Another Brit telling us whats what. Last week two of three of the panel on Realtime with Bill Maher was British. The British are not our friends they are users and the core of the corrupt financial industry that is destroying us. They are subjects we are citizens. I am sick of the British telling Americans about America. It is unfortunate that we both speak English, because that fact is misleading. The British are responsible for all the present day problems in the middle east.

    • Heidinepveu

      Reducing a person’s comments to their nationality is pointless and ridiculous. The views an historian or other expert can bring to the situation is more important than where they were born. My guess is this gentleman knows more about US and world history than you do.

    • Heidinepveu

      Reducing a person’s comments to their nationality is pointless and ridiculous. The views an historian or other expert can bring to the situation is more important than where they were born. My guess is this gentleman knows more about US and world history than you do.

      • Paolo

        Hey Heidi, You are extremely naive, without the courage to consider the inherent bias in nationality, ethnicity and scholarship.

        Mental weaklings like you are just as guilty for the corruption and excesses on in the financial system and the ruthless wars funded at the expense of the vast majority.

  • Dave H

    All taxes are taken by force, and using weapons to take money from people because they earn more, is not such a great thing. The government always uses lethal force to gain 100% of all their funding and it is not the right way to go into the future (try not paying them and resisting them along the way, and see what their bottom line is). Business have to convince you to give them money, they do not force you to do so, and more businesses and less government is always better for society and better for a more civil society (not speaking of businesses which rely on help from the government (force).

    It has also been very clearly shown by now how wrong FDR was about all sorts of things.

    • Anonymous

      Perhaps you’d prefer an anarchy? I don’t love the IRS, but I hardly call it lethal. You might want to ask yourself what kind of world it would be if businesses had no restraint on their actions.

      Or do you love having only Walmart to shop in?

      • ThresherK

        Maybe he’s been reading too many Hagar comic strips. That one about the king’s tax collectors banging down the door runs at least twice a week.

    • Rievler

      Yes Dave, by all means, let’s go back to a government that doesn’t have the power to tax. I think we tried that once. They called it the Articles of confederation. Didn’t work out so well.
      People who whine about taxation while taking all the benefits that federal revenue provides are parasitic to the body politic.

  • Rievler

    Damn straight Simon. I would for one like a more pugnacious leader for the left. Obama seems to have an internal debate with himself in which he accepts 75% of the right wing position as his starting point in negotiation. Then concedes further in a vain attempt to be the sensible middle ground in juxtaposition to a wing nut right.
    Problem is: this just keeps moving our politics to the right. I want a left wing fighter to pull things back to the pre-Reagan era.

    • nj

      Trains don’t fly. You can’t use a fork to build a house.

      Obama is a corporatist. Expecting anything other from him than that which benefits the corporate/military/bankster/uber-rich complex is futile.

    • Tina

      Rievler, I ABSOLUTELY AGREE WITH YOU, and I agreed with Simon Schama when he did this ‘shout out’!

      President Obama seems so COMPULSIVELY to compromise that I wonder if there is a psychological component? Perhaps he is conflict-averse, or something like that, but compulsively. I know that I’ve written to him at the White House site, repeatedly, asking him not to “cave”; I’m sure I’m not the only person doing so; yet he keeps caving.

  • Lini alappat, SC

    Hi John
    I guess we are overhelmed with everything happening aroundus.. Today morning I was talking to my husband about how there could be a filter in the online newspapers where I could read something except tsunamis, middle east and budget.. I guess this has been going on for too long that just by reading the headlines we know the details.. its like those movies which are so predictable from the first scene!

  • Graham2

    Too bad the French Revolution didn’t immigrate to England and lop off the heads of the royal parasites that still suck blood there.

    • Anonymous

      The British people were exhausted after W.W. II, so it’s no surprise that the monarchy followed them downward. Queen Victoria was something else entirely.

      • BannedAgain

        Yeah didn’t she introduce the machine gun and poison gas to primitive tribesmen. Unfortunately they only saw the one side of that stick.

        • Anonymous

          Graham2 said parasite, not conquerer.

  • JReed

    Asking a Brit about what gains you freedom is like asking a priest for marital advice.

    • Anonymous

      Oh come on–we inherited our notions of individual liberties from the British. It remains to be seen whether either nation will stay true to its values, but we shouldn’t forget where we got those values.

      • ThresherK

        Yep. Takes a lot of steeping in ideas such as the Magna Carta, “A man’s home is his castle,” Parliamentary representation and the House of Commons, and the House of Burgesses to give some ragtag colonists the uppity ideas they got.

        • Castor

          England’s first directly elected parliament was an accomplishment! However it was Simon de Montfort’s work. He didn’t have a drop of English blood, bas blesse ‘is Norman soul.

          As for the other Simon’s flippant comments on the being tarred and feathered or Willy Peted… back to the auld sod please.

      • Kman3

        The value and actual contributions from the United Kingdom is vastly over rated due to the common language. The ideas that framed the conscious content of the founders were more a product of ancient Greece and the French Enlightenment than from the United Kingdom. You do know that we never had an official language because at the time more than half of the colonists spoke German.

        • WotanJones

          Well I don’t know about the percentages you state, but I do know this. The English accents found in the United States speak much lower down in their throat and diaphram than the British, which sort of indicates a huge continental and eastern European influence.

        • CommieCon

          I can believe that. In the cemetery in PA were my great great great great great grandfather is buried, who was a teen when he fought in the Revolution, there are eight graves of Revolutionary War Vets (which some person or group has remarked with new stones because the old ones are very hard to read) all of them have German names. Of course this is in a little country town. It may be different in the cities and maybe that’s why we speak English, because the English speakers were more urban. Just a guess. Even so only one in ten of the colonists could be considered revolutionaries. Most of them were like most of the folks here. They just waited to see what would happen, then make the moves that would be most to their personal advantage. Of course there were the loyalist and they did a fair amount of massacring of their neighbors, like up in Buffalo Valley.

    • Tina

      What is WITH this Xenophobia today, you guys??!! (Though I use that term lightly since I don’t know what Simon Schama’s citizenship is; my point is, some people are being nasty today. If it’s supposed to be funny, it’s not, not really.) The man knows our country a lot better than many of us do. THAT is one of the MAJOR reasons we are in the circumstances we are in: too many Americans prefer to be entertained rather than informed; then we vote….

      • Tina

        Well, there you go! Simon’s response to the comments from JReed and others was of a piece with his brilliance, unlike my American, plodding please-don’t-be-nasty response! We COULD be that brilliant, but the purveyors of a lot of our “culture” keep dumbing us down, and lately urging us to be snarky.

        • CommieCon

          Get real: Its a guy hawking a book and another guy with an hour to fill. Anything looks brilliant when you live in the land of dim.

      • WotanJones

        I don’t see it as Xenophobia, at all. Subjects of the United Kingdom are not free in the same way that US citizens are free. Historically they were a horror show, but now Americans are enamored by their Frencified accents, and love to hear how pretty English can be when spoken all up at the front of your mouth as if you are trying to suck the pimento out of an olive. The most authentic form of English is the accent found in the Baltimore area just as the most genetically pure French lines are now found in Quebec. But I digress. In England do you realize how much the public is scrutinized? Do you realize that if you refuse to divulge the encryption code to an encryted data system in Great Britian it is an automatic five year prison sentence. Do you realize the average Brit kind of despises Americans and considers them idiotic mouth breathers who’s military might should be directed by themselve? Do you realize to what degree English banking dynasties have interfered in the domestic politics of our nation. Are you forgetting that your ancestors (maybe not your own) fought and died to rid themselves of the same plutocracy that they fled? From all over europe people of hope came to escape these elitist bastards and now we line up to hear their soft-brained form of passive aggression? Maybe you should live in a country that financially subsidizes the richest family on earth, and were a life of hard-work is scorned as a matter of tradition. But the queen does have all those lovely little parks that she shares.

        • Tina

          I don’t mind criticism of English/British politics, whether that criticism applies to history or to contemporary times. In fact, I detest the racism and classism that is so embedded in the U.S. psyche and that I see originating in that English underlayment. However, criticism of Simon Schama just because he originally came from the U.K. is not born out from what I know of his work. The man’s video that I wrote about, above, Rough Crossing, is one of the MOST BRILLIANT, INSIGHTFUL, MULTIPLY-PARSED DRAMATIC RENDERINGS ON FREEDOM THAT I HAVE EVER SEEN. Frederick Douglass was born in MARYLAND in the early 19th century: that hardly makes him a “Southerner”! That’s the best parallel I can come up with. At the very least, disliking him because he was originally from the U.K. just paints with too broad a brush, for my taste. Thanks!

  • ThresherK

    The Tea Party has the “historical narrative” all to themselves? We’re going to have a “conversation” spurred by their “originalism”?

    I love Schama, but he’s getting far too high minded about the Teabaggers. Has he ever tried to talk to these people? Does he know how much they didn’t give a crap about until a black Democrat got into the White House? Does he know how they fetishise about pet enemies like NPR and PP?

    He may be too British and watching too much US mainstream media. I don’t know if every media is as freewheeling as newspapers over there, but I don’t know he realizes how little you can find out by the proportion things are covered in our media.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Loring-Palmer/100000673381066 Loring Palmer

    Please say something about the spiritual evolution revolution that we’re seeing. People on the cutting edge are talking about “the Shift” in consciousness that allows a bigger view of the world from ego-centric or national-centric even to a world-centric view. Do you see the evolution of consciousness that could make real change possible and acceptable?

    • TheRealOne(really)

      The only real differences in consciousness that is not just a contrived conceptual educated point of view, but rather an organic metabolic ignition is either you are local or non-local. There is no different centric levels. It is a quantum phenomena, that is a jump from one level of actual physical functioning to another. There is no confusing it with different states of mind if it ever happened to you. You are either “me” that is to say “I” or of an additional dimension of perception. The number of people presently in this category can be counted on you digits. There is no need to fear or anticipate any general interest or unconscious mechanical evolution that seems to come about because of education and culture but is all actually on the lower “local” level.

  • Coleelectric

    God, I have a major crush on Simon!

  • Elisabeth

    I wonder if Mr. Schama has thoughts about how to change the anti-intellectual climate of American politics and culture.

  • Ellen Dibble

    Any views on Kate Middleton?

  • Chris

    Are we, the American citizenry, not in exactly the same situation as the Egyptian public? This and especially the previous hour’s subject show that we are well on our way to a neo-feudal system that violates the fundamental notion of government’s very existence is based on the consent and service of the governed. Simon’s comments? These are exciting times indeed.


  • Ed

    What does Mr. Shaama think of Pope Benedict and his efforts in the world? He started an engagement in the Middle East after Regensburg.

  • Sheryl

    There’s a fundamental difference in our awareness of global events, of course, now with the Internet and telelvision. The anxiety factor has been ratcheted up now that we’re no longer just exposed to our one little corner of the world. The question: is the human animal capable of managing the flood of information, the humongous sadness that accompanies catastrophes on the scale of the Japanese tsunami and nuclear fiascos, the Haitian earthquake, Katrina. Can human beings absorb all this without going mad? This is what is new to history.

    • Anonymous

      Well, the British public during the nineteenth century was similarly exposed to the world. They did all right with it.

      • Sheryl

        Not with such speed –influx of information–from all corners of the globe at once. Telegraphed news stories that went out in newspapers later in the day or week to a relatively few people, or the farmer coming to town to hear the “news” is a much slower pace at which to hear about events far away. Now it’s rapid fire, 24/7.

  • David

    I wish the guest could explain the nystery of the Boston RedSox and their worst record in baseball.

    David in Oslo

  • Jay Reeg

    Thoughts on cultural revolution of 1968? Andy Warhol? Jean Luc Godard?

  • Emiller

    I’m not sure Obama is allowed to be pugnancious given America’s fear of the angry black man. He’s doing just about all he can to walk a fine line that to many is highly frustrating. Though Obama’s personality is part of the picture, it’s largely our fault he’s so constrained.

    • Lindy

      I agree. I read readers’ comments on many websites and am astonished at the racialized denigrations. I was no fan of George W Bush and heard/read many attacks of him but even parodies didn’t approach the current level of hostility.

  • Anonymous

    To Chris the caller,

    Government represents the will of the majority, yes, but the Anglo-American belief has also been that the rights of the minority and the liberties of the individual have to be preserved.

  • Emiller

    Government is not there to represent the majority and to do what the majority may want at the time. That is specifically when things get off track and often go down hill. The role of the government is specifically to provide freedom to live and work as we prefer as individuals. It helps through enforcing contracts, protecting us from others who would impose on our freedoms by trespassing, killing stealing, and such. It is not a good thing when it is converted to providing stuff for people just because we can vote to make it so.

  • Michael

    Maybe Simon Schama is unaware of Israel targeting of Civilians in Gaza with White Phosphorous?The Times online reported such

    After weeks of denying that it used white phosphorus in the heavily populated Gaza Strip, Israel finally admitted yesterday that the weapon was deployed in its offensive.


    January 5 The Times reports that telltale smoke has appeared from areas of shelling. Israel denies using phosphorus

    January 8 The Times reports photographic evidence showing stockpiles of white phosphorus (WP) shells. Israel Defence Forces spokesman says: “This is what we call a quiet shell – it has no explosives and no white phosphorus”

    January 12 The Times reports that more than 50 phosphorus burns victims are taken into Nasser Hospital. An Israeli military spokesman “categorically” denies the use of white phosphorus

    January 15 Remnants of white phosphorus shells are found in western Gaza. The IDF refuses to comment on specific weaponry but insists ammunition is “within the scope of international law”

    January 16 The United Nations Relief and Works Agency headquarters are hit with phosphorus munitions. The Israeli military continues to deny its use

    January 21 Avital Leibovich, Israel’s military spokeswoman, admits white phosphorus munitions were employed in a manner “according to international law”

    January 23 Israel says it is launching an investigation into white phosphorus munitions, which hit a UN school on January 17. “Some practices could be illegal but we are going into that. The IDF is holding an investigation concerning one specific unit and one incident” Source: Times database

    Maybe he is equally unaware of Israel using a 9yr boy as a human shield to open bags thought to contain bombs that resulted only in a demotion of rank or former IDF troops speaking out on the abuse and lack policies in attacking civilians?

  • Krsssempre

    Tom, big difference between the Herb Ritts photos you are describing and Richard Avedon.

  • Tina

    Thanks for that wonderful hour!

  • Michael

    As well what the other members of the goldstone said, a opinion piece does not invalidate the report, goldstone comment was on 1 of 14 events.

    UNHRC spokesman Cedric Sapey told Yediot Ahronot Monday that the op-ed written by Richard Goldstone, published in the Washington Post on Friday, expressed the judge’s personal opinion and did not represent the other committee members.

    Sapey explained that the op-ed was not a formally binding document and therefore the committee was not going to respond to it. He further explained that if Goldstone were to send an official letter to the council president – signed by the rest of the committee members – then the council would take necessary measures.


    In the Post article, Goldstone lauded Israel for conducting dozens of investigations
    into alleged wrongdoing. In particular, he sighted evidence that a deadly strike
    that killed more than 20 members of a Palestinian family resulted from faulty
    intelligence and was not an intentional attack.

    Nevertheless, Goldstone said, he did not intend to seek the report’s nullification.
    “As appears from the Washington Post article, information subsequent to publication
    of the report did meet with the view that one correction should be made with regard
    to intentionality on the part of Israel,” the judge said. “Further information as a
    result of domestic investigations could lead to further reconsideration, but as
    presently advised I have no reason to believe any part of the report needs to be
    reconsidered at this time.”

    Goldstone won’t seek Gaza report nullification

    I guest Simon Schama’s is not as free thinking and informed as one is lead to believe.

  • Michael

    As well as Goldstone’s regret was that the commander attacked those people in error, but this was totally denied by israel even doing so until now, Simon also fails to point out the goldstone grandson was targeted by south african zionist groups(that openly state there unending support for anything israel) and forced him to meet with them to go to his grandsons bat mitzvah.


    How is this behavior not considered extortion/intimidation as well as threats of violence were made.

  • andrew

    The mainstream press—in this case represented by both Tom and Simon—still hasn’t tired of characterizing the Washington Post Goldstone op-ed piece as a “retraction” or a “reversal.” It was not a retraction, and characterizing it as such is inaccurate. The op-ed speaks primarily to a specific allegation contained in the Goldstone report: whether or not Israel deliberately targeted Palestinian civilians *as a matter of policy.* The op-ed does not even mention the great majority of specific allegations of violations of international law contained in the UN report.

    Some of those specific categories of violations contained in the UN report but not mentioned in the Washington Post op-ed include the deliberate destruction of civilian infrastructure (water treatment plant, electric generating power plant, food systems infrastructure such as a large civilian-owned chicken farm), which amounts to collective punishment illegal under the fourth Geneva convention; the targeting of non-military political and bureaucratic buildings, not legitimate military targets under international law; questionable use in urban areas of weapons technologies (e.g., white phosphorus, flechettes) that are incapable of meeting the requirement under international law to discriminate between combatants and non-combatants when used in areas of high population density. These are some of the highlights, but there are many others as well. Furthermore, the Goldstone report was an official UN report that represents the collective efforts of several authors.

    The proper characterization of the Goldstone op-ed is a qualification of a single allegation by a single author of the UN report. To characterize this as a “retraction” does a disservice to public understanding.

    I encourage Tom, Simon, and anyone else interested to read the executive summary of the report, if they have not already.

    Then compare that to the text of the Goldstone op-ed.

    I also found these two pieces about what the Goldstone op-ed says relative the contents of the UN report to be informative:

  • roymerritt19@gmail.com

    Worse case scenario in this nation not beyond the realm of possibility as I believe. An injustice occurring in the inner city perhaps or against demonstrators against one of these draconian laws Republican governors are trying to mandate by law brings about a violent reaction that gets beyond the control of the authorities. The unrest spreads to the universities, radicals of all strips are in the streets stirring the up the calamity. It gets to the point that marshal law is declared, the military in the streets. The cities will be alight with violence and looting. Gangs will be roaming everywhere creating even more violence. This nation is awash in guns, many in the hands of truly insane people. And as usually happens the military steps in. In this case the most powerful ever known to man. We would be subject to whatever political opinion some junta should embrace be it left or right. They would profess it is only temporary until the country has come to its sentences. But much of their time would be consumed by its attempt to suppress the insurgency that would come. Elections would be postponed indefinitely. The constitution would be altered or done away with. And then the radicals on one side or the other would declare that they have triumphed. Regardless which side that would have prevailed it will still be the same absolute tyranny.

  • roymerritt19@gmail.com

    Worse case scenario in this nation not beyond the realm of possibility as I believe. An injustice occurring in the inner city perhaps or against demonstrators against one of these draconian laws Republican governors are trying to mandate by law brings about a violent reaction that gets beyond the control of the authorities. The unrest spreads to the universities, radicals of all strips are in the streets stirring the up the calamity. It gets to the point that marshal law is declared, the military in the streets. The cities will be alight with violence and looting. Gangs will be roaming everywhere creating even more violence. This nation is awash in guns, many in the hands of truly insane people. And as usually happens the military steps in. In this case the most powerful ever known to man. We would be subject to whatever political opinion some junta should embrace be it left or right. They would profess it is only temporary until the country has come to its sentences. But much of their time would be consumed by its attempt to suppress the insurgency that would come. Elections would be postponed indefinitely. The constitution would be altered or done away with. And then the radicals on one side or the other would declare that they have triumphed. Regardless which side that would have prevailed it will still be the same absolute tyranny.

  • Michael

    Interesting that Schama tried to critize america for charlie sheen, yet nothing by the UK obsession with the royal wedding and the vast amounts of money and time being wasted.

    • Anonymous

      Oh so all that nonsense on Good Morning America about the Royal Weeding is nothing? The American media and some of it’s citizens are just as obsessed with all this royal wedding stuff. I agree it’s a waste of the British tax payers money given all the cuts that are now being forced down the populations throats by the conservatives.
      Interesting to note it’s not working on helping the economy, something this country should take note of.

  • steve

    I admire Simon Schama and Tom Ashbrook, and I love this kind of discussion. But just for the hell of it, I transcribed Mr Schama’s response to Mr Ashbrook’s question about the current Conservative UK Government’s fiscal policy. Here’s Mr Schama’s response (with my sloppy punctuation):

    If we’re saying, “Look, we’ve had a trial of whether Keynesian principles–or extreme deficit hawkery–works in terms of repairing the damage done by the economic crisis,” you have to say that, until this particular moment of savage deficit cuts, the Keynesian model–most of the set, most of the trends–in this country, in terms of the gentle—not enough—drop in unemployment rates, in terms of the way the Stock Market has responded to capitol needs, in terms of the rebuilding of inventory, and even consumer confidence, the Keynesian model actually hasn’t done that badly.

    After several listens–and one tedious transcription–I was finally able to take it all in. It’s just an exercise. I’m not ridiculing the educated or the ignorant. Just saying. I don’t need your hateful comments. (So let them fly…)

  • Kelly

    I loved the conversation with Simon Schama and especially his comment that although he had disagreement with the tea party, he liked the fact that citizens were actually discussing the constitution. The only problem is that those of us who take a Jeffersonian view of America are often dismissed, at best, of being irrelevant, and, at worst, of being racist.

    • steve

      Right on, Kelly. And with all due respect to you, I’m not a supporter of the Tea Party movement as it stands today (Koch Brothers, Michelle Bachmann, etc), but if you folks have a sensible argument, we’d love to hear it.

    • Anonymous

      I admire Thomas Jefferson even though I loath his politics.
      He was a brilliant man with many faults. Mr.Scama also said that the tea party had a fetish about the Constitution. I agree with this assessment. Personally I’m in the Madison camp.

  • http://twitter.com/Greenuity Norman Buffong

    Schama offers his trademark erudite, incisive, articulate, controversial, yet thoroughly entertaining commentary on various historical and current topics including American politics.

  • Srarey

    Have you ever done the math on replacing the Income Tax System with a Consumption Tax System?

  • Srarey

    The Civil War was fought over the loss of property and way of life for the Southerners.
    Actually, I feel like it would be great to have a “slave”.
    We just need to call them something different and have laws that protect them. Like being able to “purchase your freedom”, the “owner” must provide an education and health care and proper lodging, food, etc.

    • Anonymous

      You can’t be serious. If you are you need to get some education.
      Have you read anything on that dark period of American history?

      You feel it would be great to have a slave, what are you some kind of dominatrix?

    • what?


    • Tina

      Most of the laws written during the times of U.S. slavery were written: to control the slaves; to protect the owners’ property rights, including dower and inheritance rights; to raise militias to capture runaways; to prohibit slaves’ abilities to gather in groups, to learn to read the write, to prohibit their abilities to testify in court against a White, to vote, to keep their families together or live where they chose, to determine the type and conditions of work, etc., etc. These Slave Codes where converted into Black Codes once slavery supposedly came to an end after the Civil War. I say supposedly, because Douglas Blackmon has helped America to see the system of Peonage that replaced slavery during Jim Crow times (& some people believe, that for its “invisibility”, that Peonage was in some ways worse than slavery; also, the workers were even more expendible, according to some scholars). I find it shocking to see how many of the laws against Black behavior that facilitated Peonage are similar to laws that are now incarcerating African-Americans in record proportions, and yet in disproportion to the crimes themselves; in disproportion to the low violence of the crimes; and in disproportion to the extremely low conviction rate of Whites who committed the SAME crimes! The most parallel part to peonage is the fact that some states are now making (former?) prisoners pay the state back for the cost of incarcerating those convicted of a felony. Add to that the fact that many of today’s prisons are for-profit facilities and that police departments and other agencies are often entitled to take possession of items brought in during drug raids (cars, etc.), and you have a situation today that benefits local and state governments when they arrest people. It is no longer just a case of bringing someone to justice; instead, there is profit to be made. Michelle Alexander’s book lays it all out with facts and statistics: the Blacks in today’s prisons were NOT guilty of more crime, or higher crimes, nor of more violent crimes; they were just African-Americans who got caught, compared with Whites who either did NOT get caught or who were not brought into the criminal justice system when they DID get caught. The Whites are often professional adults or suburban teenagers, and they do not even wind up with records. Whereas, the African-Americans get felony records, which in many jurisdictions means that they can never get certain licenses for certain kinds of work; never get certain kinds of jobs; never live in public housing or get food stamps, or get many other kinds of services. Some, besides having to support themselves once out of prison, have child support payments to make; yet, they cannot get hired, and, as I said, can’t get help.

      No, American laws have never seen fit to “protect” the most vulnerable in these matters.

      I fear that your statement about it being “great to have a ‘slave’” is only less troubling than your belief that laws “that protect them” (the slaves) would actually ever occur. It will be struggle enough to HALT this horrid mass of laws that have helped to create the “mass incarceration of African-Americans, especially Black males” that this country has been experiencing for the last several decades. Michelle Alexander calls it our new Civil Rights work that we MUST do.

      May I suggest Douglas Blackmon’s “Slavery By Another Name” and Michelle Alexander’s “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness”.

  • Srarey

    I think the best course immediately would be to enact a 1/2% National Consumption Tax.
    This is a very small amount but would produce a huge amount of information. Especially, the amount of Consumption Tax that would replace the Income Tax.
    I have heard that less than 50% of the population pays any Income Tax.

  • Rick O’Neal

    -”…citizens get the kind of democracy they deserve” –this phrase has been ringing in my mind for the last two days–more true than ever.

    -”Art is not a luxury…” –right on Mr Shama!

    -George Bush=instinct –what??? UH-UH, NOT buying this one–unless it’s instinct for making fools out of Americans

  • Slipstream

    I see Schama’s name all over the place, without understanding why he is considered a great historian, or even if he is considered one. I watched a few episodes of a television special he hosted – I think it was on the history of Britain – but did not get thru the entire thing. It seemed to me that he was playing to the cheap seats, going on about wars and violence and conflicts between kings and the like. Now granted that a lot of history is presented in this way, but there was very little real insight or description of how people lived, and what their culture was like. Now certainlly Professor Schama is a very erudite man, and an expert on art as well as history, and I enjoyed listening to his discussion with Tom, but I think it is far to ask why this man, rather than another, is the best known historian around.

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