Genovese veers to the right

Abdul Kanm Mustapha abkamu at
Tue Jul 18 12:03:35 MDT 1995


On Tue, 18 Jul 1995, Louis N Proyect wrote:

> 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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