History in Law, Mythmaking, and Constitutional Legitimacy, by Patrick J. Charles, forthcoming on the Cleveland State Law Review 62 (2014)
The article is “part of last spring's mini-symposium, ‘History and the Meaning of the Constitution,’ and that readers may respond to the article through Cleveland State Law Review's website, Et Cetera.
Defining what constitutes myth and history has been an ongoing debate among historians for over a century. The debate centers as to whether there can truly ever be such a thing as an objective historical account. Given that all historical inquiries grow out of the respective historian’s ideological mind, it is argued the writing of history is not so much about truth-seeking as it is about the ideological leanings of the respective historian. In other words, critics of objective history frequently claim that one historian’s truth is another’s falsity.
In any case there is an argument to be made that all history is myth and all myth is history. No matter how much of the evidentiary record is uncovered, no historian can ever fully reconstruct the past as it was. In their totality, those moments in history are lost forever. The best any historian can do is build upon those evidentiary remnants which remain. Still, at one level or another, historians will have to make a number of assumptions about the past. In some instances the assumptions will be small or minute because the evidentiary record is rich with information about the past, allowing the respective historian to recreate an event or time period in excruciating detail. In other instances the assumptions can be substantial, especially when the evidentiary record is barren, requiring the respective historian to fill the evidentiary gaps. But whenever historians make any assumptions about the past—whether they be minor or substantial—they are perpetuating myth in some form or another.
Given these problems, this article builds upon a previous work--"Historicism, Originalism and the Constitution"--and argues that history is much better suited as a philosophical and moral guide towards understanding the law’s development. This in turn minimizes mythmaking and the creation of poor constitutional constructs. This does not mean, however, that to legally reason from subjective historical accounts or myth can never be a legitimate enterprise. As this article outlines, there is at least two scenarios (and perhaps others) where the acceptance of myth is constitutionally legitimate.