Communing with Clio and laying down rules for mankind, all too many historians appear to think that their views on the past are of direct relevance for the present. The full blast, or possibly dribble, of academic establishment power was directed very clearly during the Brexit debate, and there are instructive signs similarly for the United States. In the former case, articles and letters glittering with potent titles—for example, the President of the Royal Historical Society or a Regius Professor or two—made clear what the past presented and the future should follow. Destiny was decried and declared.

Why then did they get it wrong in misjudging the public mood? Was there more at stake than the expression of a view in public debate and the usual preference of a majority of academics for what are defined as left-wing causes? In fact, the stance publicly taken by so many was an as ...