September 24, 2017
MY CORNER by Boyd Cathey
Professor Eugene Genovese’s Query to the Left: “What did you know, and when did you know it?” Should be Asked Again; Confederaphobia Volume is Published
For over twenty years I was associated with the old Southern Partisan magazine, writing for it beginning in 1983 and actually serving as a contributing editor/advisor for over a decade. The Partisan, based in Columbia, South Carolina, featured some truly remarkable writing by some truly remarkable writers. The late Russell Kirk, the actual founder of the old American Conservative Movement back in the 1950s; Andrew Lytle, the famous and prolific author and last of the noted Southern Regionalist writers; Reid Buckley, the novelist brother of William F. Buckley; Mel Bradford, the brilliant defender of the South and acute observer of constitutional history; and Eugene Genovese, perhaps the finest historian of the South in recent years—these and many others published their labors in the SP. It was, without doubt, a very significant voice for not only what is called “Southern Conservatism,” but for a tradition of American constitutionalism and history, explained and written about on the highest level.
The Southern Partisan finally came to an end about ten years ago. Like other such journals, internal disagreements and turmoil, and competition from the electronic media, were too much for it. Yet, during its more than two decades of scholarly but always accessible publishing, its collective output represented a legacy and inheritance of thought and culture that remain unsurpassed.
Other than a couple of early reviews, my first major assignment was a big interview I conducted with the late historian Eugene Genovese in 1985. “Gene” Genovese, the author of more than a dozen important books and hundreds of articles, was so significant in the study of Southern and American history and his views so non-conformist (by “modern” standards)—and so opposed to the current imposed multiculturalism that reigns supreme in most college faculties—that he was even attacked in an editorial in the Raleigh, NC, News & Observer. He had dared criticize the cultural Marxist (pro-Stalinist) historian, the iconic Eric Foner, in print. He had zeroed in on Foner’s defense—and the defense by other historians like him—of the barbarities and persecution inflicted by Communism on millions of peoples around the world.
You see, during his early professional life, Gene, like many other academics, had been a militating Communist and a member of the Communist Party. But he eventually broke with them and found his way back to the Christianity of his youth. In his famous and strikingly disruptive essay, “The Question,” he demanded of Foner and others who not only did not break, but doubled down in defense of Communism: “What did you know, and when did you know it?” For Gene had learned of, knew of, and had seen what Communism had wrought—he knew of the more than 100 million dead and piled up bodies, the wrecked societies, the uprooted traditions, the bitter illusions and dashed hopes, the Gulags and concentration camps, the subversion and destruction of a myriad of institutions not just behind the Iron Curtain, but in Europe and America. Gene had witnessed the false god that failed and the gruesome harvest that followed in its wake. And Foner and the other philo-Communists knew too… but turned resolutely away from the light of truth, and, instead, sought solace in the lies of Marxist Revolution—a revolution against both God AND man.
And as Soviet Communism disintegrated in Eastern Europe and the Berlin Wall came down with the defenestration of the doddering old oligarchs of Red Square, Gene also viewed the rapid growth of Marxism’s (or, better stated, Leon Trotsky’s) infectious modern bastard child, cultural Marxism, and the ravages it was inflicting on the supposedly “victorious” West. He witnessed first-hand the increasing devastation of our universities and system of education; the ideological rot festering in Hollywood and in our entertainment industry; and, most egregiously, the seemingly unstoppable decay of our culture. As he wrote to me a few years before his death in 2012: “Soviet Communism died a miserable death in Russia and Eastern Europe, revealed there as a brutal failure, but its bastard step-son survives and thrives here in the United States. How ironic to see this!”
Through his very close friendship with the late Professor Mel Bradford, Genovese, who was fascinated by the South, also came to love it profoundly. He was not afraid to appear in pages of the Southern Partisan or to be associated with its writers, always attempting to set the historical record straight. In many ways, his legacy has been carried forward by historians and writers like Clyde Wilson, Marshall De Rosa, Brion McClanahan, Paul C. Graham, and James Kibler, who continue to battle against the giant and imposing ideological windmills of our dominant culture and the new take-no-prisoners totalitarianism of Leftist academia.
The question I would add to Gene’s set of magnificent queries is this: When will our intellectually bankrupt politicians and propagandists, when will a Governor Roy Cooper or a former Governor Nikki Haley, or a Senator Tim Kaine, of this world understand what a brilliant once-diehard Communist finally saw and understood? Or is their intellectual blindness to the fatal corruption and contagion so strong that that they will die, equally miserably, in a pit of putrid moral vomit?
Today, then, I reproduce portions of Gene’s famous and provocative essay, “The Question,” which first appeared in the leftist journal, Dissent, back in 1994, addressed to his erstwhile “comrades” on the Left. Much of his brilliant written text and many of his questions chillingly apply with burning urgency to the “all-consuming fire” of the militant and seemingly successful cultural Marxism of 2017, a Marxism which bids fair to devastate entirely what is left of our historic Western Christian culture—a culture, indeed, that Gene Genovese came back to love and treasure after years in a secularized Progressivist wasteland.
And, secondly, I append information on a newly-published and highly recommended book by our friend, Paul C. Graham. Its title is: Confederaphobia: An American Epidemic, and it explores in revelatory detail what seems to be the last “acceptable prejudice and hatred” that Americans are permitted, even encouraged, to have: against the South, and especially against the “burden” of Southern history. Paul Graham is a capable scholar and a fine writer. More details about his book, and how to order it are included. I warmly recommend it!
From “The Question,” Dissent, Summer, 1994:
Am I crazy to think that if we do not understand why and how we [Marxists]did what we did, we shall certainly end by doing it again—and again? Crazy I may be, but I try not to be a fool. And only a fool would trust those who are now playing possum with even a modicum of political power.
What did we know, and when did we know it? We knew everything essential and knew it from the beginning. This short answer will doubtless be hotly contested by the substantial number of leftwingers now ensconced in the academic establishment. I can hear them now: "Where does Genovese get off speaking for us? Yes, he himself always knew. He never even had the decency to pretend not to know. He thereby proved himself the cad we have always known him to be. But we ourselves never even imagined that we were hearing anything more than the usual stories circulated by imperialists and reactionaries. Honest." I am prepared to accept those pleas of innocence, and I hope that everyone else exercises Christian charity and accepts them too. But I do worry about where pleas of innocence will land those who offer them.
It occurs to me that it would be much safer to admit complicity. For Americans who honor the spirit and content of the Constitution would feel compelled to defend our academic freedom, including our right to have borne with equanimity the blood purges and mass executions. If, however, our innocents insist upon pleading ignorance rather than a complicity permitted by the Constitution, they ruin themselves. Especially the historians among them. For they thereby admit to a willful refusal to examine the evidence that had been piled high from the beginning. Thus they confess to professional incompetence. I counsel against such a plea, for it would constitute grounds for revocation of tenure. Safer to plead nolo contendere. When someone gets around to asking me The Question I shall answer frankly, explaining as best I can my reasons for having gone along. But I shall insist upon doing so in a forum in which "democratic socialists," "radical democrats," and liberals are called upon to answer too.
For it is our collective dirty linen that has to be washed. And besides, our right-wing adversaries already know the answer, even if they have no few hard questions to answer themselves.
For the moment I shall settle for a few topic sentences. The horrors did not arise from perversions of radical ideology but from the ideology itself. We were led into complicity with mass murder and the desecration of our professed ideals not by Stalinist or other corruptions of high ideals, much less by unfortunate twists in some presumably objective course of historical development, but by a deep flaw in our very understanding of human nature—its frailty and its possibilities—and by our inability to replace the moral and ethical baseline long provided by the religion we have dismissed with indifference, not to say contempt[….]
Our whole project of "human liberation" has rested on a series of gigantic illusions. The catastrophic consequences of our failure during this century—not merely the body count but the monotonous recurrence of despotism and wanton cruelty—cannot be dismissed as aberrations. Slimmed down to a technologically appropriate scale, they have followed in the wake of victories by radical egalitarian movements throughout history. We have yet to answer our right-wing critics' claims, which are regrettably well documented, that throughout history, from ancient times to the peasant wars of the sixteenth century to the Reign of Terror and beyond, social movements that have espoused radical egalitarianism and participatory democracy have begun with mass murder and ended in despotism.
[…]The allegedly high ideals we placed at the center of our ideology and politics are precisely what need to be reexamined, but they can no longer even be made a subject for discussion in the mass media and our universities, to say nothing of the left itself. They are givens: an unattainable equality of condition; a radical democracy that has always ended in the tyranny it is supposed to overcome; a celebration of human goodness or malleability, accompanied by the daily announcement of newly discovered "inalienable rights" to personal self-expression; destruction of all hierarchy and elites, as if ideological repudiation has ever prevented or ever could prevent the formation and reformation of hierarchies and elites; condemnation of "illegitimate" authority in the absence of any notion of what might constitute legitimate authority; and, at the root of all, a thorough secularization of society, bolstered by the monstrous lie that the constitutional separation of church and state was meant to separate religion from society.
And we have yet to reassess the anti-Americanism—the self-hatred implicit in the attitude we have generally affected toward our country—that has led us into countless stupidities and worse. Let us give ourselves some credit: through it all we have preserved a rich sense of humor. The destruction of hierarchies, elites, and authority is to be effected through the concentration of power in a Leviathan state miraculously free of all such reactionary encumbrances.
No wonder liberals are ready to absolve us from our sins without first hearing our confession. No wonder we are witnessing the virtual fusion of left-liberalism and revolutionary radicalism in the wake of the collapse of the socialist countries. For most left-wing liberals share with radicals much the same ideology of personal liberation.