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A chat with Larry Schweikart

BACKSTORY | How an aspiring rock drummer fell in love with the past

Larry Schweikart Illustration by Zé Otavio

A chat with Larry Schweikart
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Ask Larry Schweikart which is more important to him, history or rock ’n’ roll, and it might take him a moment to answer. All things being equal, Schweikart, best-selling author of A Patriot’s History of the United States and our cover essay, might rather have been shredding on drums for a living. But it was history that paid the bills, and today Schweikart is among those fighting to rescue the American narrative from the political left.

Tell us about your love of music. I played piano as a little kid and hated it. Finally in high school, my mother bought me a drum and let me quit piano. I learned to play rock ’n’ roll by putting Beatles records on the turntable and playing with Ringo on every song. Soon I joined friends in a band. I played all through college, where my grades suffered. We went on the road the weekend of graduation. My most successful band opened for Steppenwolf and the James Gang. Savoy Brown and the Who even sat through one of our sets at the Troubadour in L.A.! We were “almost famous” … but not quite. That’s when I returned to Arizona and took up history.

Why history? I came back to academics for the mercenary goal of getting a teaching certificate so I could teach during the day and keep playing rock ’n’ roll at night. I was forced to take (for certification) a course in U.S. cultural history from Robert Loewenberg. He was astounding, raising ideas none of us in class had even thought about. It was more a class in political history—I think the only cultural reference was to Emerson—but immediately I wanted to be him. He explained I was seriously lacking in historical background, so the first graduate class I took was in speed reading. I’d bring home stacks of history books and blast through them.

One of your “four pillars of American exceptionalism” is what you call “bottom-up” governance—citizens exercising self-rule via representatives elected from among themselves. How would you characterize the state of ­bottom-up governance in America today? Missing in action. There is nothing whatsoever in state or even local ­government that reflects the concerns of the citizenry. You can see this with the massive outrage at school board meetings over the homosexual agenda or over other “woke” kinds of agendas. The Southern Poverty Law Center just added concerned parents and parent groups to its “hate map.” Certainly, attempts to make elected officials in the House and Senate do the will of the voters has been all but impossible. Usually legislators last one, maybe two years before they become Swamp Creatures and do the bidding of lobbyists or donors.

Our commentariat is increasingly hard-right and hard-left, a fact that’s dollar-driven as writers and broadcasters vie for clicks and associated ad revenue. How has that affected the ability for conservatives to engage in public debate, even among ourselves? As a historian, I try to put the tone of today’s political discussion in historical context. Does no one remember we had a vice president shoot and kill the former secretary of the Treasury? Or that on the floor of the Arkansas House of Representatives one delegate gutted another with a Bowie knife in a “discussion” over wolf pelts as currency? More recently, Woodrow Wilson shut down virtually all dissident debate over the U.S. entry into World War I, jailing people right and left. Money ­definitely plays a role, but as history shows and the Soviets learned, no concentration of money, vitriol, or government overreach can stop an idea whose time has come.

Lynn Vincent

Lynn is executive editor of WORLD Magazine and producer/host of the true crime podcast Lawless. She is the New York Times best-selling author or co-author of a dozen nonfiction books, including Same Kind of Different As Me and Indianapolis. Lynn lives in the mountains east of San Diego, Calif.


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