Wednesday, July 10, 2013

#626: Thomas DiLorenzo

Thomas DiLorenzo is a professor of economics at Loyola College, Austrian school “economist” (fellow at the Ludwig von Mises Institute) and neo-confederate pseudohistorian. He has previously been affiliated with the neo-secessionist League of the South Institute, though appears to deny any current affiliation. As an economist his work mostly toes the party line of the Austrian theory, and tends to eschew rigorous analysis and scientific approaches in favor of whatever fits his political views (the Federal Reserve creates business cycles, central banking is a “legalized counterfeiting operation,” anything other than laissez-faire is fascism or socialism, and so on and so forth). More personal contributions to the field include blaming the banking crisis on ACORN and Jimmy Carter.

His rise to infamy in the 90s was based not so much on economics but on his work for the tobacco industry. In works such as Cancerscam: The Diversion of Federal Cancer Funds to Politics he tried to argue that by telling people that cigarettes are dangerous charities such as the American Heart Association were scamming the public by using tax money designated for research to promote what he deemed to be partisan political purposes.

Indeed, despite his designated area of expertise DiLorenzo is primarily known for his work in (pseudo-)history. In writings uncannily reminiscent of David Barton’s attempts to portray the Founding Fathers as advocates of theocracy, DiLorenzo has tried to portray them as ardent supporters of (DiLorenzo’s own take on) “small government” principles (except Hamilton – Hamilton was evil and betrayed Jefferson, partially with the help of judicial activism). Surprisingly enough his profoundly inaccurate characterizations tend to portray those who agree with him politically in a very favorable light and those who disagree as remorseless villains.

His most notorious contributions are his screeds on Lincoln, however. In The Real Abraham Lincoln and Lincoln Unmasked, two pieces thoroughly rooted in the mythology of the Lost Cause of the South, Lincoln is portrayed – through cherrypicking and ignoring all of Lincoln’s letters opposing slavery – as a hardcore racist whose sole goal in the Civil War was to keep the Union together. Though the latter may indeed have been Lincoln’s main goal, DiLorenzo’s portrayal is not merely selective or biased, but pure conspiracy theory – according to DiLorenzo, Lincoln was trying to force the South into secession in order to impose tariffs to benefit the North, thereby destroying states’ rights to bring about the institution of the statist “Hamiltonian vision” of a massive federal government, complete with allegations that mainstream historians have been trying to cover up Lincoln's “true” (communist) intentions (DiLorenzo’s claims are discussed here; a very even-handed review can be found here). Also, Hitler was a fan of Lincoln, which is as relevant as always.

As a measure of his success hosted a “Lincoln Reconsidered” conference in Richmond in 2003 starring DiLorenzo. The conference has since become a road show reappearing around the South (in line with the grand tenet of pseudo-science: public outreach is prior to research).

DiLorenzo’s writings on FDR and the Great Depression consist primarily of New Deal denialist PRATTs to the effect that Hoover was a crypto-socialist and FDR the great Satan.

DiLorenzo is of course a long-standing opponent of the 14th Amendment, and has been caught toying with (or even endorsing) the NAFTA Superhighway conspiracy. The SPLC considers him one of the most important intellectuals to “form the core of the modern neo-Confederate movement.”

Diagnosis: A fine example of what happens when truth and accuracy are viewed merely as means (among others) to support a political position. DiLorenzo’s work as a pseudo-historian are at least borderline conspiracy theory ravings, and his apparent influence is hence more than a little frightening. 


  1. I have to admit that I relied rather heavily on the rationalwiki article for this one.

  2. The Civil War was fought over slavery or tariffs? Not a bit of it, it was fought over control of coal mines in West Virginia. Or so says Internet troll Don Williams who, if he were not so obscure, would fit into this Encyclopedia quite nicely. Ole Don is a generator of conspiracy theories of which the coal mines is one example.

  3. But I'm sure Howard Zinn was flawless in his one-sided, leftist history books.