Even back in 1971, Freehling's criticized psychological historians who promoted a hybrid "inevitability" thesis. Under that scenario, still very much with us, choices were indeed made by men that led to war, but they were the inevitable fruit of intense paranoia - insurmountable North vs. South prewar paranoia. In other words, psychological "forces" drove choices.
The student of "paranoids," in short, whether discussing rhetoric or actions, can hardly evade the obligation to demonstrate massive "misunderstandings."You cannot impute misunderstanding-generating paranoia to the key actors without doing the dirty work of analyzing events. Moreover,
If Southerners were largely correct in describing what anti-slavery Republicans were about, and Northerners were largely correct in describing what Southern disunionists were plotting, it makes no earthly sense to call everyone paranoid.That would be a gloss - one that saves the writer time and anlytical effort.
Lately, we have a review in the WaPo that portrays Freehling himself as now splitting the difference between the Blundering Generation school and the Inevitables:
So why did war come? There were many reasons, and Freehling deserves credit for pointing out the seemingly small but ultimately crucial role of human forces -- the personalities at play, including that of John Brown, one of the most fascinating figures in our history -- over and against larger, more impersonal ones, such as geography and the economy, which were essential, too. Freehling's mature judgments recognize that history is driven by the grand and the minute, sometimes in equal measure, sometimes not. [My emphasis.]I don't believe it. The publisher's own book description says otherwise:
The Road to Disunion is the first book to fully document how this decided minority of Southern hotspurs took hold of the secessionist issue and, aided by a series of fortuitous events, drove the South out of the Union.Even McPherson himself (showing off his knack for rephrasing dust jacket copy) writes,
In richer detail than any previous study, William Freehling explains how a secessionist minority, even in the lower South before 1860, exploited sectional tensions to forge a majority for disunion.So let me do a little psychologizing of my own. The "Inevitability of War" is so heavily imprinted on his mind that this WaPo reviewer cannot let go of the template; he himself works "inevitability" into the mix. His previous reading must not be wasted. His hard-won (secondhand) "understanding" cannot be unloaded like trash.
"There were many reasons." Not persons, or actions, but "reasons" (forces). Confronted by powerful contrary proofs, the reviewer agrees merely to split the difference.
Human agency in the affairs of Man - it's a lonely idea out here in Civil War historyland. It needs as many friends as it can get. Let's not wish them away, dear reviewer.