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Feb 15, 2005 3:41 am

Genovese and Aryan Supremacy ...

I am aghast at news that comes from a fellow historian in the west. At Blog and Mablog, the Aryan supremacist minister in Idaho, Douglas Wilson, says that he is publishing a revised version of his book, Southern Slavery As It Was, under a new title, Black and Tan. Used in some private academies in the South, the former was then dropped because of its unreasonably benign interpretation of the Old South's"peculiar institution." William Ramsey at the University of Idaho and my colleague, Jonathan Reynolds, told that story. Then, it was withdrawn from publication because the work plagiarized from Robert Fogel and Stanley Engerman's Time on the Cross (1974).

Wilson tells us that he, then, sought the assistance of Eugene Genovese. Gene is, of course, best known as the author of Roll, Jordan, Roll (1976), which won the Bancroft Prize and is still, to my mind, the best single volume on slavery in the Old South. Genovese, says Wilson,"was kind enough to read through the manuscript and provided helpful criticisms that he described as ‘nitpicking,' but which really were genuinely helpful. In addition, he also provided us with the following blurb for the cover, for which I am very grateful."

The Reverend Douglas Wilson may not be a professional historian, as his detractors say, but he has a strong grasp of the essentials of the history of slavery and its relation to Christian doctrine. Indeed, sad to say, his grasp is a great deal stronger than that of most professors of American history, whose distortions and trivializations disgrace our college classrooms. And the Reverend Mr. Wilson is a fighter, especially effective in defense of Christianity against those who try to turn Jesus' way of salvation into pseudo-moralistic drivel.
Gene, Gene, say it ain't so! I would have asked him for a confirmation of this, but Gene stopped speaking to me a couple of years ago, probably because my soft-headed and warm-hearted Methodism amounts to"pseudo-moralistic drivel" or maybe because I belong to the"Secularist Crimson Jihad" to which Wilson refers.

But I'm afraid that Wilson is correct about Gene having lent his good name to this book. It is sad if Genovese's blurb will grace its covers, but also that it includes an attack on"most professors of American history, whose distortions and trivializations disgrace our college classrooms." He might have taken those words right from Clayton Cramer's blog. Not that I'm accusing Gene of plagiarizing Cramer, you understand. But, in fact, Cramer gave us a hypothetical:"Imagine if a historian published a book–Happy Slaves--that claimed that slaves were generally quite happy with their station in antebellum America." Well, if one of us hasn't yet written that book, at least one of us has apparently endorsed it.

Let's be clear. I do not believe that Eugene Genovese is a racist, but he is both consorting with a racist and giving aid to those who want ammunition in their a broadscale attack on academic historians.

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Michael Paul Metzler - 11/10/2006

I'm not Wilson's nephew. But I am known as Wilson's most dedicated public opponent (all cozy here with Wilson and his relatives in North Idaho). However, Wilson is not a white supremist--just a Wilson supremist, with blacks and whites, Jew and Gentile, man and woman lovingly at his feet. Please make a diligent effort to correct this inaccurate label.

Thank you
Michael Metzler

Ralph E. Luker - 3/14/2005

Mr. Wilson, Welcome to Cliopatria and it is good to have this on record here. Let's work back the other way. Since the 17th century, American slavery was defined racially. Nowhere, to my knowledge, was the enslavement of white Americans legal. Indentured servitude, yes. Slavery, no. I share your objection to pegging Reverend Wilson simply because he happens to live in Idaho, but he needs to think _much_ more carefully about the implications of his apologia for slavery in the United States. If it doesn't enshrine white supremacy, I don't know what does.

Lincoln Davis Wilson - 3/14/2005

In response to Luker´s comments about Mr. Wilson, I would like to make one factual correction- Doug Wilson, while many things, several of which may be wrong or unfashionable, is no white supremacist. I ought to know, I am his nephew. (My given name adds a slight irony to the situation.) It is perhaps easy to assume that since North Idaho is best known for its white supremacy, that Wilson is guilty of such, but even a cursory look at his writings would show that the man believes no such thing. I am no Calvinist, and I am no Confederate, but perhaps Mr. Luker, as Doug Wilson is often criticized for, ought to check his sources.

Ralph E. Luker - 2/23/2005

I have no interest in besmirching either Wilson's or Gene's reputations. I do think that this is yet another of Gene's unholy alliances. He made them on the Left and he's making them on the Right. His loathing of the abolitionists is of a piece with his loathing -- Left or Right -- of all things that smack of liberalism. I never am quite so clear about the fact that I am proudly a liberal as when I have spent a few moments in Gene's company and warmed myself by the heat of his rhetorical assault. He has spent his career in the professorate and benefitted fairly handsomely from its associations. It strikes me as gratuitously mean-spirited of him to be penning unqualified, broadscale attacks on fellow academic historians, among whom he counts many friends and enemies. As for Hahn's book, yes of course attributing agency to slaves can have its interpretative consequences at the other end of things -- but I doubt that this is an interpretative consequence that he'd want to emphasize.

Darryl G. Hart - 2/23/2005

To be clear, I have no real interest in defending Wilson whose views I find peculiar, though as a fellow traveler in the odd world of American Presbyterianism I should probably be more interested in protecting his good name. Wilson could probably get ordained in several Presbyterian denominations (significant ones? probably not)since he has an avid readership in the conservative churches I know about. My main concern is to protect Gene, not that he needs anyone's help. And I guess I remain unconvinced that Wilson's remarks explicitly from his blog make him an Aryan supremacist. I've never known Wilson to talk about race or for his readers to be particularly interested in the topic. Conservative Presbyterians do have a nostalgia for the Old South than can certainly be interpreted in racist ways. But then I think of a book like Stephen Hahn's, A Nation Under Our Feet which, in attributing lots of agency to blacks both during and after slavery, could be read as saying the institution or the racism that informed it weren't as bad as we thought.

Ralph E. Luker - 2/22/2005

I note that the abstract to which Professor Ramsey refers uses the "label" of "white supremacist" and, based on his assurance and its appearance in a law review, I assume that it has been vetted for libel.

William L Ramsey - 2/22/2005

Dr. Hart's comments are insightful. Having been engaged in intellectual combat with Wilson and his network for the last year, I have tried hard to use accurate language in my criticisms of his writings while steeling myself to inevitable accusations of libel and slander. Indeed, my co-author and I routinely had our work reviewed by a libel attorney, precisely because we knew how vicious Wilson and the LOS could be. We think that the substance of what Wilson is all about should be evident to most mainstream readers without recourse to labels. You might also find our review of his work of interest at Most importantly, we hope that other history professionals will help track the progress of this viral strain of historical fraud as it mutates into more sophisticated forms with the assistance of Genovese and others. My sincere thanks to Dr. Luker for his courage in bringing this news to the academic community.

Ralph E. Luker - 2/21/2005

Good questions, Professor Hart. I'd refer you to the 1st edition of the booklet that he published, as well as his website, both of which were cited in the post. Can you cite any specific repudiation of Aryan supremacy by Wilson? Can you think of a significant Presbyterian denomination that would accept Wilson for ordination?

Darryl G. Hart - 2/21/2005

Aryan supremacist minister? That's a little rough, not to mention unproven. If Wilson were simply a Presbyterian pastor would Genevose's endorsement seem so outlandish? So how does Ralph Luker know that Wilson is an Aryan supremacist?

Gregory E Brougham - 2/21/2005

Yes, there are many ex-Marxists who have emerged clothed in some form of Neo-Conservativism. Which shows how broad that group is. It seems the the question of certainty and foundations were at the bottom of the last two elections. It is interesting how there are many threads of Marxist ideology underpining the ideaology of the Southern Agrarians and their intellectual forbearers. A static materialistic view reminisent of the 18th cent. physiocrats. At the same time, I am not willing to dismiss them out of hand as Foner has.

David A. Gerber - 2/20/2005

Eugene Genovese argues just as passionately for his Christianity as he did years ago for his Stalinist convictions. What remains the same is the quest for absolute moral certainty that expresses itself in a harsh, rebarbative, and aggressive language that is dismissive of other points of view and, more than anything else, of skepticism about absolutes. The Communist Party taught him how to argue fifty years ago, and he has never forgotten its ways of demolishing adversaries --- inflated rhetoric, assigning empty but significant-sounding labels to denigrate opponents and cast doubt on their integrity, and generally giving the impression always of having a monopoly on truth. In the final analysis, he seems to provide a sad, tired example of the ideological temperament of the last century that ended up sharing a responsibility for its worst crimes.

Ralph E. Luker - 2/18/2005

Oscar, Clyde and I were in graduate school together at Chapel Hill. We knew that we deeply disagreed with each other, but I've always regarded him as honorable and fair. His devotion to Calhoun, I don't altogether "get," but he's done a very fine job on the Calhoun Papers and has been helpful from time to time in my own work.

Oscar Chamberlain - 2/18/2005

Jon, In your link is another link to Southern Poverty Law Center profiles of a couple of the "founders" of the neo-confederate movement.

One, Grady McWhiney, I think is there by mistake. His explorations of southern white indentity and Celtic (particularly Schotch-Irish) ethnicity remain legitimate. In many respects he was expanding on (if not simultaneous with) Bertram Wyatt Brown's exploration of southern honor which I found excellent. Seeing southern whites as different from northern whites is legitimate history, even if it can be used for illegitimate purposes.

Clyde Wilson is more clearly a part of all of this. This saddens me some. I had him for a couple of courses when I got my PhD at South Carolina. He was, and I suspect remains, a fine teacher. I knew he was deeply conservative, but you knew where he stood. I respected that.

(Either he suppressed some of his more radical notions about race--which by the way I suspect have a cultural rather than a biological basis--or they had not quite jelled yet.)

In any event he was fair if strict. I go my only "B" from him for a seminar paper I was proud of. It took me an arrogant year before I looked back and realized he was right. Fine research; slapdash organization. I think it rather pleased him when I told him that.

Jonathan Dresner - 2/18/2005

He's also cited here (coincidence is a funny thing: the magazine arrived today, and what with the Woods discussion, I went right to this article and found Genovese) talking about the tragic devolution of the Southern conservative (aka neo-Confederate) tradition into racism, specifically the historically vacuous work of League of the South.

Greg James Robinson - 2/17/2005

The irony in this is that Genovese has been on his high-horse in recent times about censorship by the left See his article on Totalitarian campus suppressions" at articles/2001/7/23/184711.shtml

I heartily defend Professor Genovese's extraordinary scholarship and his thoughtful presentation of issues throughout his career. I am particularly impressed with his willingness to look seriously at the worldview of antebellum white Southerners as authentic, and not simply hypocrisy conjured up to defend slavery. Nobosy is censoring his right to speak. However, here he seems to have gone off the deep end. Moreover, I heartily condemn what sounds to me like Christian bigotry.

Carl Patrick Burkart - 2/16/2005

Just to be clear, I'm not sugesting that Genovese is a great supporter of academic freedom, just that his work shows that you can publically say all kinds or outrageous things, advocate Stalinism before switching to its right wing equivalent, and still do work that people will be reading for a long time. Genovese certainly benefitted from the protections of academic freedom and so did the rest of us who get to read his work.

Ralph E. Luker - 2/15/2005

Yes, I think he is! We don't abandon free speech, press, and association rights simply because someone who wouldn't defend them suddenly exercises them in a morally dubious cause.

Carl Patrick Burkart - 2/15/2005

I've always thought that Genovese was proof that people who were unpleasant and wrong about the most basic moral issues of their day can still write great history. Maybe he should be the posterboy for academic freedom.

Ralph E. Luker - 2/15/2005

Richard, I hope that you are right.

Richard Henry Morgan - 2/15/2005

Well, the guy does say his original bit has been cut in half -- could be he cut out the right half (assuming for the sake of argument that cutting out half would do the trick). Wouldn't that be strange? A defensible piece of work from ... well ... a bit of a crank? Only time and reading will tell. I wouldn't bet the farm on that happening, though.