[Marxism] Fwd: The historian who admired slavers

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Mar 16 06:51:49 MDT 2018


Though Genovese made a very public retreat from Marxist politics later 
in life and became a conservative Catholic, his belief that the 
paternalistic slave South stood apart from the rise of American 
capitalism remained constant. His last book, The Sweetness of Life, 
published posthumously with the editorial help of his former student, 
Douglas Ambrose, makes this clear, while also confirming what critics 
have long suspected: that Genovese harboured a genuine admiration for 
the South’s planter class. The planters were not, as he writes in his 
brief introduction, “blood-sucking sadists, interested solely in 
economic gain”, but “thoughtful, educated critics of the 
nineteenth-century society and moral order”. They “courageously” 
defended their society, he writes, because they believed its 
paternalistic foundation was “measurably more humane than the emergent 
world capitalist system”. They were the nation’s bulwarks against 
industrial capitalism – reasonable men who had a legitimate critique of 
the bourgeois individualism taking root in the Northern states. To the 
end, Genovese admired their principled stance (though, to be fair, he 
did not admire slavery itself). And, as if a parting gift to his 
critics, he confirmed that “Yes, I do ‘like them’”.

With that out of the way, Genovese frees himself to enjoy slaveholding 
planters in a way he had not quite done before. In this final book he is 
not troubled by their politics, their ideas, or by any obligation to 
explain their deadly quest to secede from the Union. Rather, he sets all 
that aside and makes a sharp turn towards leisure, enjoying the planters 
as they tried to enjoy themselves, either at home, at the racetrack, or 
at the resort springs. Genovese aims to capture it all – from dancing to 
hunting, from fashion to the opera and the circus – offering a 
near-encyclopedic look at what these planters did in their free time. 
They liked to have fun and enjoy life, Genovese finds, but beyond that 
he offers none of the analytical rigour present in his earlier work. His 
underlying point seems to be that these men simply lived a very good 
life. And one can almost hear him asking in the background: who wouldn’t 
want to fight to the death to defend such a rich, leisured existence? 
Can we really blame them?

full: https://www.the-tls.co.uk/articles/public/historian-admired-slavers/



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