Genovese veers to the right

Louis N Proyect lnp3 at columbia.edu
Tue Jul 18 07:57:31 MDT 1995


Louis Proyect:

An old friend from my Troskyist days alerted me to a review of
Eugene Genovese's new book "Southern Discomfort" that appeared in
the London Review of Books (June 8, 1995). To my surprise, this book
seems to have eluded reviewers over here. Since it is appallingly
reactionary, you'd expect it to garner glowing page-one reviews in the
NY Times book review section, etc.

Genovese offers up in this book a defense of the values and civilization
of the ante-bellum South. The only thing he rejects is slavery, but all
the rest of it--the agrarian life-style, the traditionalism, the
paternalism, etc.--seems to appeal to him immensely. He identifies
particularly with the Agrarian poets, a noxious offshoot of the new
criticism that included John Crowe Ransom and Allen Tate among
others. This crew hated the north, industrialization, democracy and
liberalism and were strongly influenced by the creepy T.S. Eliot.

Genovese, now 63, was once briefly a member of the CPUSA. He was
a prominent opponent of the Vietnam war and left Rutgers University
in 1966 when the anti-Communist fervor was still strong. But a year
earlier Genovese showed signs of adapting to slavocracy. He was one
of the few scholars of the civil war who came to the defense of William
Styron's slimy "The Confessions of Nat Turner".

Genovese, although a Yankee, began to discover his own affinity for
the slave-owner's society in his book "The World the Slaveowners
Made" (1969) and the forward to "American Negro Slavery" by U.B.
Phillips. Phillips and his own book try to make the case that the
slavocracy was "hegemonic" like no other ruling class in history. He
decries the racism but is fascinated by the "stability" of the old south.

In 1974, Genovese came out with "Roll, Jordan, Roll: The World the
Slaves Made". According to him, masters and slaves struggled
together to create a "reasonably livable world of shared responsibilities
and obligations: an interpretation that scarcely pleased the Left or the
slaves' descendants", according to reviewer Bertram Wyatt-Brown
(now is that a British name, or is it!)

The political thrust of Genovese's latest book is that the old south
championed "family values" and that this is something US society
needs to recover. If we bracket out the nastiness of chattel slavery, he
thinks there is a lot to be admired about the old south.

Genovese has followed the same political trajectory as that of the recently
deceased Christopher Lasch, who also in recent years had castigated
the excesses of 1960's radicalism. Both of these old farts reached
political maturity at a time when the left was a place where men were
men, women were women, and everybody knew their place. Thank
god for the woman's movement, the gay movement and the
counterculture. While these movements stuck in the craws of these old
geezers, this is one 50 year old who is nostalgic not for the stable and
traditional south, but the wild and woolly 1960's when everything was
coming apart at the seams.


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