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Up From Leftism RIP Eugene D. Genovese


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leftismNational Review:

Jay Nordlinger


Atlanta, Ga. — “The first time my name appeared in the New York Times, I was described as ‘an obscure associate professor,’” says Eugene D. Genovese. “I’ve always thought of myself that way.” He’s the only one who does. Genovese is an American historian, specializing in the Old South. In 2005, Benjamin Schwarz, an editor at The Atlantic, described him as “this country’s greatest living historian.” One could certainly make an argument. Genovese is definitely one of the smartest and most interesting people around. He made a spectacular journey from left to right: from Communism to anti-Communism, from faith in Marx to faith in God. He made this journey in tandem with his wife, another historian, the late Elizabeth Fox-Genovese.


A son of New York, he lives in Atlanta, in a handsome, quiet neighborhood of brick houses. I say to him, “I guess it’s appropriate that an historian of the South should live in the South — though I understand that Atlanta is not a southern city.” It’s not, says Genovese. But “it’s just southern enough so that life is more pleasant. People are more courteous, things are more civilized . . .”


Genovese encountered National Review long before a visit from me, one of its editors. He wrote an essay for the magazine in 1970 — when he was in the full flower of his Marxism. The essay was for NR’s 15th-anniversary issue. Our editors wanted a piece from a liberal point of view — it was written by Charles Frankel — and a piece from a Left point of view. (In those days, the difference between liberalism and leftism was far better understood.) Genovese’s piece was titled, simply, “The Fortunes of the Left.” NR’s James Burnham paid Genovese what he calls one of the highest compliments he has ever received. On reading the piece, Burnham said, “It’s good. It’s very good. It’s much too good for my taste.”




Obituary: Eugene D. Genovese, 82, historian on slavery, dies

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A Historian Taught by History Eugene D. Genovese, 1930-2012.

Ronald Radosh



The death late last month of Eugene D. Genovese was a loss not only to the world of professional historians, but to American intellectual life as a whole and especially to the conservative intellectual movement. Best known for his prize-winning 1974 book Roll, Jordan, Roll: The World the Slaves Made, Genovese transformed the way in which scholars came to understand the slave South. Arguing that a conflict existed between a bourgeois North and a pre-capitalist South, he wrote about the effects of the policies of the Southern slave-owning class. He used the concept of “hegemony” derived from the work of the Italian Communist Antonio Gramsci to argue that the slave-owners created a social structure in which slaves, despite their subordinate role, were able to build their own communal space and assert their humanity.




But Genovese was also digging into a long career of serious intellectual work, beginning his magisterial books on slavery. The last of these include The Mind of the Master Class: History and Faith in the Southern Slaveholders’ Worldview (2005) and Fatal Self-Deception: Slaveholding Paternalism in the Old South (2011), both co-authored with his historian wife, the late Elizabeth Fox-Genovese. Historian David Brion Davis called him “one of the greatest historians of American slavery.”




For most, that reassessment never came, despite the failure of the socialist societies. Genovese concluded that “deep flaws in our very understanding of human nature” made the “moral and ethical baseline” of religion a more worthy guide to the moral life than human ideology, and he returned to the Catholic faith of his youth.



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