25 October 2008

Arguing The Obvious

I recently picked up a copy of Ludwell Johnson’s North Against South ~ The American Iliad 1848-1877.

Though first published in 1978, the book is still in print and has been republished twice—once in 1995 and again in 2002; both times with new prefaces by the author. For those unfamiliar with Professor Johnson, he is Professor Emeritus of History at the College of William and Mary and has authored numerous books, articles, and reviews on the topic of the Civil War. He is a native Southerner and a traditionalist.


While I’ve read some of Professor Johnson’s articles and an interview of him some time ago, I’d never take the opportunity to read one of his books. This one comes highly recommended and, though I don’t need yet another book on my plate, I reluctantly added it to the ever-growing stack next to my parlor chair. After reading the prefaces, I’m most glad I did.

As a true academic, Professor Johnson knows the university environment as well as anyone. This post is, in part, a response to Kevin Levin’s suggestion that there is no pervasive liberal bias against Southern heroes and culture in academia, although he has admitted there is liberal bias in academia. I suppose Kevin believes that this liberal bias is just against traditionalist Northerners and traditionalist Westerners. The libs hate Custer, but they really love Lee and Jackson. Right.

In Professor Johnson’s preface to the 2002 edition, he goes into some detail about political correctness and liberal bias on college campuses in the United States. He writes:

“PC has roots in both American socio-political realities and postmodernist theory, with which it shares method and mission to a large degree, but the overt form PC has taken in America is a home-grown product. It can be defined by its purpose, which is to achieve a social and cultural revolution along the lines of the postmodernist agenda by means of an intolerant and selective relativism. In the university PC has become self-perpetuating and self-generating through its influence on curriculum, hiring and firing of faculty, graduate admissions and training, codes of language, and social behavior.”

And Johnson further points out that, “Of all the fields of scholarship, history is perhaps most attractive and vulnerability to Political Correctness.” Exactly.

And in his 1995 preface, Johnson wrote:

“In dealing with any part of history, the selection of facts is bound to be controversial, especially when the subject is as highly charged as the conflict between the North and South. . . However, the historian [or writer] will find that he will draw the least hostile fire if his approach falls within the mainstream of interpretation that has generally prevailed ever since the North won the war. This involves the essential premise that the North was right and the South was wrong, that the palm of moral superiority must be awarded to the victor—an illustration of the truism that the winner of the war also wins the history. The historian by trade departs from these assumptions at considerable professional risk, particularly when, as in the 1990’s, the academy is so thoroughly pervaded by what is called “political correctness.”

The results of political correctness are being played out on many Southern campuses, despite some historians being in denial. Vanderbilt wanted to remove the word "Confederate" from the name of Confederate Memorial Hall, a dormitory. Since its etched in stone, I assume they were going to sandblast it. 1984 anyone? But their efforts failed after losing a lawsuit brought by The United Daughters of the Confederacy. The organization had originally financed the building with the understanding the name would never be changed. The PC police didn’t care. Plunder is acceptable in their quest for cleansing the South’s “stains.” At the University of Texas, there are efforts under way to move statues of Confederate leaders from any prominent site. Sewanee, once known as the “University of the South,” is also involved in dishonoring many of its cherished symbols.

"They are trying to bury the founding fathers and the founding men who taught there and who had a definite part to play in the Civil War, having been generals and engineers. It's a silly sort of reverse thing to attract students, to keep this quiet now." So said Prescott N. Dunbar, an alumnus from New Orleans.

I could go on and on, but why argue the obvious? The South remains the last great bastion of Judeo-Christian conservatism in the United States. This is why her heroes and culture are under attack. As Professor Johnson points out, the goal of the left is to “achieve a social and cultural revolution along the lines of the postmodernist agenda by means of an intolerant and selective relativism.” The South stands in the way of that goal.

21 comments:

Kevin said...

Richard, -- Unfortunately, you didn't understand my point when I admitted that colleges and universities tend to attract liberal thinkers. As I stated in response to your comment on my site, you seem to think that all liberals are bent on destroying this so-called "traditional" view of the South, as if there is an official narrative of the South.

Regarding your examples of references to Confederate statues on college campuses I don't see the point. Were these actions taken at the behest of the teachers. If I remember correctly, it was the students who pushed for the removal of the statue on the Texas campus. As for your final thought I am going to just leave that one alone.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Kevin:

"Attracting liberal thinkers" is not quite the same as "I also agree with the studies that the academic community is dominated by liberals"

You write:

"you seem to think that all liberals are bent on destroying this so-called "traditional" view of the South, as if there is an official narrative of the South."

No, not all, but the overall liberal bias, as you admitted, is pervasive. How do liberals "dominate" if they don't promote their views and quash dissent?

You write:

"If I remember correctly, it was the students who pushed for the removal of the statue on the Texas campus."

Yes, and I wonder where the students got the idea? Certainly not from the liberals who dominate the academic community but aren't out to “achieve a social and cultural revolution along the lines of the postmodernist agenda by means of an intolerant and selective relativism.”

Robert Moore said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Robert:

I posted, and then deleted your comment regarding Johnson and the Lincoln "holiday." You may well be right, but I would want that substantiated before I post it. I would also want to know the context of the comment.

And yes, I know that Dr. Johnson is no longer at W & M. I believe he's in his 80's, but still writing and that he spoke at the MOC as recently as 2003.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

And by the way, I've NEVER said that the other side does not have biases as well. I am saying that the liberal bias is dominant and that Kevin originally agreed with me.

Kevin said...

Richard, -- You can continue to cite that particular point, but I never meant to suggest that an affiliation reflects the kind of motivation that you seem to believe necessarily follows. Do you think that people who self-identify as conservatives are also capable of such behavior or are they supposedly pure in motivation?

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Kevin:

Of course. I've already stated that conservatives are capable of bias. But we've both agreed that academia is dominated by liberals, so it is that slant that is pervasive in the classroom.

Robert Moore said...

It wasn't a comment made, but rather a general attitude. So, context is irrelevant. While you say that you understand that biases exist, I find this use of source curious... Know not only the information you cite, but the source from whence it came and why the source had a particular perspective.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Then I'll have to decline to post. Why would you find this source curious? He's a conservative academic.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

By the way Robert, have you read this book? It was recommended (blurb on jacket) by James Robertson.

If not, upon what information are you basing your criticism of the book?

Robert Moore said...

It doesn't matter to me that James Robertson recommended it. I've already mentioned one problem that I find in the book. The other problems are the publishing house and the movement in specific circles, hand-in-hand, for example, with DiLorenzo's book. If the point he was trying to make was a strong one, he would not have needed to go with that particular publishing house. But all of this is pointless as you still have not answered the questions at hand - either Kevin's or mine.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

The book was originally published by John Wiley & Sons. So the publishing house makes the book's content void, even without reading it? Interesting.

What questions? S

Specific circles, like the Museum of the Confederacy? Both DiLorenzo and Johnson have participated in panel discussions there.

Robert Moore said...

And yet Wiley did not to reprint, interesting... and I'm sure you are aware that there are publishing houses out there that have clear agendas in mind when they select books for publication.

Regarding movement in certain circles, allow me to clarify that there are more "circles" in which these books circulate that are more concerning than the Museum of the Confederacy. The MOC brought these in on panels because the content of the books centers on topics that are at the center of the focus of the MOC. These books, like others, have gone beyond traditional histories of the war and created hot topics for discussion. There is nothing wrong with presenting theory. The problem, however, is when a select set of people use it like a banner in battle.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Robert:

Allow me to respond to some of your comments.

"you are formulating an accusation that is potentially volatile."

I'm quite flattered, but I can't take credit for formulating the accusation. Its been around for several decades. You can Google the subject and also search Amazon.

"I think your political leanings have too much bearing on your take on the history of the war that happened almost 150 years ago."

And that is exactly the accusation (which you just called "volatile") which I have leveled at the PC left. So its "volatile" if it comes from me, but ok if it comes from you?

"you aren't citing specific examples"

Not true. I've cited several and could easily cite scores more. Please note the opposite view of yours in the following post of an academic CW historian and blogger.

http://oldvirginiablog.blogspot.com/2008/10/politics-in-classroom.html

But, as I stated, why argue the obvious?

"Is Judeo-Christian conservatism the only type of conservatism?"

No, of course not. But it is what permeates the South, to one degree or another. Even the most ardent liberals acknowledge that.

"You form a series of connections."

Yes, its called logic.

"In your theory, you conveniently lay aside any thought of the South and Southern culture being more than the legacy of the Confederacy."

Not at all, but this is, at least in part, a Civil War blog.

Thanks for the vigorous debate Robert.

All the best,
RGW

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Robert:

You find it "interesting" that Wiley did not reprint? I assume it was due to lack of sales. Not surprising or all that interesting to me. Happens all the time.

"I'm sure you are aware that there are publishing houses out there that have clear agendas in mind when they select books for publication."

Absolutely. Does that sometimes include the university presses?

"A banner in battle?"

Our friend Kevin realizes that there is a battle going on regarding historical interpretation:

". . . the battle for Civil War memory or how we approach the history will be won or lost in cyberspace - including blogs, listservs, message boards, etc. - and not in books, conferences and other traditional forms of public outreach."

Again, thank you Robert for the input. Whether or not you want to believe it, I really do try to approach my studies objectively. I'm sure you are LOL, but I really do. That being said, I am very aware that the culture wars are impacting interpretation of American history and the study of Western civilization. Peter Carmichael also noted this phenomenon on one of his posts at Kevin's blog. That is certainly not a profound observation and I find it quite interesting that you and Kevin seem to downplay that fact.

Thus, I constantly cast a critical eye towards academia (and the media). I also filter all interpretation--left or right--through the lens of my Christian faith.

Thus my analysis may come off as weighting too much one way to you, but I consider myself a counter-balance to the more faddish trends in interpretation.

My universe is small and I am obviously not an academic, so you can probably sleep peacefully knowing that I'm not likely having much of an impact.

All the best,
RGW

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Robert:

"It doesn't matter to me that James Robertson recommended it."

Why not?

He is the recipient of every major award given in the field of Civil War history.

Border Ruffian said...

RM-
"It doesn't matter to me that James Robertson recommended it."

RGW-
Why not?

===========================

He's not one of THEM.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

BR:

I don't know if that's the case or not. Dr. Robertson does seem to take a more traditionalist approach to his research and writings, but he is certainly well within the mainstream of academic historians and a highly respected historian.

Robert Moore said...

I'm aware of Robertson's awards and even McPherson's awards, but just because one or the other makes a recommendation for a book isn't reason enough for me to buy it. I'm more interested in works for the original presentation of primary resources or original theory that can be strongly supported. The subject matter and/or approach either strikes me or it doesn't. I bore quickly when it comes to rhetoric.

You cite Johnson's work, but apart from the book do you know anything about the man and what may have brought him to the point where he wrote this book? I think I've made my concerns obvious in the comment that you deleted. I understand why you did it and that's fine, but I think you having read it is enough for you to understand where I am coming from.

I'm also aware of how culture wars can impact interpretation (and have impacted in some situations), but that doesn't mean that because an interpretation reads one way (especially when it is contrary to a specific line of thought as in the case of the Lost Cause) that it is necessarily the result of culture wars. I think you've blurred a line here that could lead readers to believe that there is no difference. You come across that those in the academy are liberals and what they practice, whether in the classroom or in their written words is tainted with liberalism... and in the case of the Civil War, a clear attack on the Confederacy (and you seem to make empathy for the Confederacy a prerequisite for being Southern).

Also, in regard to this same line of thinking, you say that your universe is small, but there are others who think the same way as you. That's my focus in this exchange.

Despite my political registration, or who I vote for no matter my registration, if my work is found "liberal" because I am able to look at events or people from multiple angles without influence of personal culture, then so be it (however, what is perceived as liberal interpretation does not equate to being a liberal). I know you haven't pointed to me specifically in this respect, but like I say, you are blurring the line between "liberalism" (which can be defined in rather broad terms) and the practice of being methodical in the approach to historic events and people.

My "banner in a battle" metaphor was made, most especially to the DiLorenzo book and the way some use it in the SCV. It's funny, the academy is criticized (the accusation of "revisionists" and etc) and yet there is a clambor to receive endorsement, through a work, from somebody in the academy (even if he isn't a historian).

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Robert:

"I bore quickly when it comes to rhetoric."

Me too.

"do you know anything about the man"

I've posted what I know. He's a respected historian from one of the most prestigious schools in the nation. He's a traditionalist, and thus, not in vogue at the moment. I deleted the comment because I thought your charge was way over the top. I also noted I would post it if you could substantiate it. You then admitted the charge had no basis in fact.

Have you read the book? I've not finished it yet, so I only commented on what I've read. I'll likely post more as I get into the book.

"you seem to make empathy for the Confederacy a prerequisite for being Southern"

Not at all, but not uncommon either.

I would retort that you (and many others) think empathy for the Confederate soldier automatically makes them a "neo-Confederate" whatever that means.

Regarding the balance of your comments, they've all been addressed before.

Again, thanks for your input and your work. May our exchanges enlighten us both.

These exchanges have played out, so no additional comments will be posted.


All the best,
RGW

Robert Moore said...

I know you won't post this, but you misrepresent me in the statement about neo-Confederates. I've struggled with a way to differentiate between those who are (are you telling me that you don't know?) and those who simply honor their ancestor for having been a soldier in the Confederate army. There is a difference and I know the one extreme very well, having encountered the worst side of it personally. I just haven't found a term that would work best to describe the differences (and there are more than just the two groups.. there are the neo-confederates and... then there are all the others yet uncategorized).