31 December 2011

Professor David Blight Teaches Us Something

Is the WBTS still being fought?

Though I don't think its quite what he intended. I'll explain later on in this post. I've responded here before to Yale History Professor and Civil War scholar David Blight's essays. (See here.) Any objective reader will notice that Blight's tone and approach to Civil War history is becoming increasingly partisan and political. There's also an edgy, frustrated, and condescending element in some of his essays. I'll be the first to defend his right to take that approach, but let's not pretend he's playing the part of an "objective historian" simply analyzing history. And I'm not the only one to notice. Professor Blight surrendered any right to that claim with his very public 2008 endorsement of Barack Obama for President. This public political endorsement was signed by a number of well known academics "as historians." It is quite the juvenile read.

In one of his recent Sesquicentennial essays, Blight succumbs to his liberal political leanings and uses the WBTS to support his political views. In a Kansas City Star piece titled, The Civil War at 150: The Past in the Present? Blight makes the following "observation":
The conservative movement in America, or at least its most radical wing, seems determined to repeal much of the 20th century and even its constitutional and social roots from the transformative 1860s. The Civil War is not only not over, it can still be lost.

Read more here: http://civilwar150.kansascity.com/articles/civil-war-150-past-present/#storylink=cpy

The conservative movement in America, or at least its most radical wing, seems determined to repeal much of the 20th century and even its constitutional and social roots from the transformative 1860s. The Civil War is not only not over, it can still be lost.
That's right. Professor Blight believes that the Civil War is still being fought. It's not the first time he's stated that a separate nation still exists and is in a state of "war" with the rest of the nation. In a piece published in 2010 after Virginia's Confederate History month controversy, Blight asked, "Why doesn't the Confederacy just fade away?" Uh, I believe it did - that would have occurred in 1865 for you non-Civil War buffs. (As already noted, I responded to that piece here.)

(Before you read the rest of my post analyzing Blight's more recent Past in the Present article, I recommend you read that piece in it's entirety here.)

As in the 2010 piece, Blight expresses his dismay as to why so many people find the Confederacy interesting:

Why is the Confederacy, a mere four-year experiment in revolution to preserve a slaveholding society, still so interesting to so many people?
As you will see, Blight's incorrect and overly-simplistic summation about the reason for the "revolution" is actually refuted - by his own words. But he is right about Americans' fascination with the Confederacy. I've mentioned a number of anecdotal evidences of this in the past. In one of those posts, I made an observation about this fascination as it relates to most of the Civil War magazines. You can read that post - Are "Lost Causers" Funding America's Civil War? - here and a post related to the cultural aspect of this fascination here.

In both the 2010 piece, as well as the more recent one, Professor Blight seems rather frustrated with the preeminence of the study of, and fascination with, the Confederacy. I detect more than a hint of jealousy and resentment. Yes, even historians have their preferences and preferred perspectives. Both Robert Krick and James Roberston have made note of this reality. (Also see this post.) Professor Robertson once commented on this in an interview when asked about the competing perspectives between some Civil War scholars:

'The majority are Pro-Union.  The overwhelming majority [of scholars] are Pro-Union, yes.  We southerners are in the minority."

Noted Civil War historian Robert K. Krick has also made mention of the "overwhelming" bias of Civil War scholars. I heard him refer to "anti-Confederate" historians in more than one conference I attended where he was one of the speakers. So, there is this "friction" of perspectives when analyzing the War Between the States. I think what frustrates academics like Blight is that his perspective, for the most part, is falling on deaf ears among many, if not most, Americans. They're simply not getting "their" message out as much as they'd like, or as much as they think they should - this despite the fact that Blight's perspective (as pointed out by James Robertson and Robert Krick) dominates academia. That does have to be rather frustrating. Thus, the questions asked in an almost whining, pleading tone, "Why doesn't the Confederacy just fade away?" and "Why is the Confederacy . . . still so interesting to so many people?" (Other CW bloggers have noticed Blight's obsession in regards to America's fascination with the "Lost Cause" and Confederate history - see Dimitri Rotov's post here.) As I've already opined, I think Blight's piece is more politics than history. Blight weds his disdain for the Confederacy with his disdain for modern conservative politics. And, as I've already noted, I'm not the only one to come to that conclusion. The Star's ombudsman received more than one complaint about Blight's article. One reader commented:

He's letting his personal politics make him oblivious to an obvious fact, and I don't care if you want to dismiss that as a tea party thing or not. ... The political commentary was unneeded in an otherwise excellent package of information . . .
Another expressed this criticism:

Why did The Star feel that his view was so important that if be [sic] featured in the front section and not in the editorials where it belonged? I think in the interest of fairness, it was improperly placed. I also think that a conservative academic with an understanding of history different from that of Mr. Blight would not be placed in such prominence in the Star.

Ah yes, the general public is much more astute at sniffing out the leftist political leanings of many academic historians than most in the profession realize. Many academics truly believe that the majority of Americans buy their claim to objectivity and superiority. That arrogant, false self-confidence is part of the reason for their diminishing respect and, in my opinion, why they are having difficulty convincing the masses. But I digress. In the The Past in the Present piece, Blight expressed this opinion:

Indeed, yesterday’s secessionists and today’s nullifiers have much in common. Both are distinct minorities who have suddenly seized an inordinate degree of power. 
Blight is, of course, referring to conservative Republicans like Rick Perry and other state officials who are becoming increasingly unhappy and frustrated with the federal government's overreach. But Professor Blight appears to be ignorant for calls of secession from his end of the political spectrum.

He's letting his personal politics make him oblivious to an obvious fact, and I don't care if you want to dismiss that as a tea party thing or not. ... The political commentary was unneeded in an otherwise excellent package of information,

Read more here: http://adastrum.kansascity.com/?q=node/1261#storylink=cpyIn Blight's piece, he goes on to tie modern political arguments to the Civil War. If he consciously made an effort to appear objective, he failed. For example, Blight writes: Indeed, yesterday’s secessionists and today’s nullifiers have much in common. Both are distinct minorities who have suddenly seized an inordinate degree of power.Blight is, of course, referring to conservative Republicans like Rick Perry and other state officials who are becoming increasingly unhappy and frustrated with the federal government's overreach. But Professor Blight appears to be ignorant for calls of secession from his side of the political spectrum. 

Speaking on ‘The McLaughlin Group’ the weekend after George W. Bush’s victory, panelist Lawrence O’Donnell, a former Democratic Senate staffer, noted that blue states subsidize the red ones with their tax dollars, and said, "The big problem the country now has, which is going to produce a serious discussion of secession over the next 20 years, is that the segment of the country that pays for the federal government is now being governed by the people who don’t pay for the federal government." A shocked Tony Blankley asked him, "Are you calling for civil war?" To which O’Donnell replied, "You can secede without firing a shot."

The above quote is from Salon Magazine, 16 November 2004. And there's more. Bob Beckel who was, at the time, a senior political analyst for Fox News and who has also worked as a Democratic Party strategist and consultant, made the following comments after the 2004 election:

"I think now that slavery is taken care of, I’m for letting the South form its own nation. Really, I think they ought to have their own confederacy," Mr. Beckel said on the "Fox and Friends” program.

The above quote is from the Washington Times, 9 November 2004. That's not all Professor Blight conveniently overlooked. There was the "Let's Ditch Dixie" piece that appeared in Slate Magazine after the 2000 election. That piece included these comments:

The United States doesn't have to refight the Civil War to set matters right. Rather, North and South should simply follow the example of the Czech Republic and Slovakia: Shake hands, says it's been real, and go their separate ways. And if the South isn't inclined to leave anytime soon, then we should show them the door by seceding unilaterally.

And . . .

Economically and socially, secession will be painless for the North. The South is a gangrenous limb that should have been lopped off decades ago." [How nice. Shows what many elites really think about Southerners, doesn't it?]

The author of the Slate piece was Mark Strauss, not someone who could be easily dismissed as some left-wing, hack-blogger. (Left-wing, yes. Hack, no.) He's a journalist and senior editor at Smithsonian Magazine and has written for a number of other left-leaning publications including The Washington Post and The New Republic.

And perhaps Professor Blight is unaware that he endorsed a secessionist for President in 2008. Freehawaii.org notes that, "In 1993 the 103rd Congress unanimously signed into Public Law the Apology Bill. America publicly admitted to illegally overthrowing its ally and trading partner the Sovereign Kingdom of Hawaii and falsely imprisoning the beloved Queen Liliuokalani. Since then, America, has done everything it can to avoid the consequences of this Bill. The inevitable result will be the restoration of a sovereign Hawaii."

The official 2008 Democratic Party platform (which President Obama supported) reads:

"We support the efforts for self-determination and sovereignty of native Hawaiians, consistent with principles enumerated in the Apology Resolution and the Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act."

Sounds like secession to me. I suppose, in Professor Blight's mind, its ok to call for secession if you're a leftist, but not ok if you're a conservative. Interesting logic.

And, of course, Blight finds it necessary to default to the lowest common denominator and suggest that anyone who disagrees with his leftist ideology is a racist. 

Both [modern conservatives and the Confederacy) claim their mantle of righteousness in the name of “liberty,” privatization and racial exclusion (one openly, the other using code that keeps it largely a white people’s party). Both vehemently claim the authority of the “Founders.”

Really? "Racial exclusion"? Hmmm . . . I suppose Alan West, Herman Cain, Nikki Haley, Bobby Jindal, Marco Rubio, and a whole host of others didn't get that memo. Blight should be ashamed. Blight then goes on to a laundry list of "accomplishments", ostensibly due to the Civil War and the subsequent increase in federal power. Some of the items are, indeed, accomplishments - others, not so much. Social Security is bankrupt - not exactly what actuaries would call a success. And Blight was careful in what he listed. He also left out bankrupt medicare, the nation's overall bankrupt status, our "wise" government banning light bulbs based on hocus-pocus, politically driven "science", disastrous wars abroad, the gross negligence and failure of our public school system, our Indian reservation debacle, etc, etc, etc. With few excpetions, its the states where the real success stories lie, not with the far off, out of touch bureacrats in Washington. Sorry Professor, but that is soooo 1930's. Just ask the old Soviet Union and modern Europe. Centralization just doesn't work out so well in the long run. It's smothering and restricts liberty. History proves it.

Blight's frustration with conservatives and their rejection of "big government" - as it relates to his perspective on the WBTS - must be all that more annoying for him in light of a recent Gallup poll which found that Americans' fear of big government near an all-time high. 

The 64% of Americans who say big government will be the biggest threat to the country is just one percentage point shy of the record high . . .

It would appear that most Americans aren't sold on all the benefits of a large federal government which Professor Blight seems to be so enamored with. Another message from academia that just ain't selling. These two things has to be driving academia crazy: fascination with the Confederacy and an overwhelming fear of big government.

Professor Blight concludes with this paragraph:

The Civil War is not only not over, it can still be lost. As the sesquicentennial ensues in publishing and conferences and on television and countless websites, one can hope that we will pursue matters of legacy and memory with one eye on the past and the other acutely on the present.

The title of this post is about what Professor Blight is teaching us. I think you can come to your own conclusion based on my comments above, but there's also the obvious conclusion that can be drawn from Blight's last paragraph, as well as his other comments (and even Beckel's): And that is these folks really do know deep down that the American Civil War was over much more than just slavery. They've admitted it - whether they intended to or not. After all, slavery in America was abolished almost 150 years ago but, according to Professor Blight and others, we're still fighting the war over the same political issues. Thus, the American Civil War was over much more than just slavery. What other conclusion could one possibly draw?

Indeed, yesterday’s secessionists and today’s nullifiers have much in common. Both are distinct minorities who have suddenly seized an inordinate degree of power.

Read more here: http://civilwar150.kansascity.com/articles/civil-war-150-past-present/#storylink=cpy
Why is the Confederacy, a mere four-year experiment in revolution to preserve a slaveholding society, still so interesting to so many people?

Read more here: http://civilwar150.kansascity.com/articles/civil-war-150-past-present/#storylink=cpy

he conservative movement in America, or at least its most radical wing, seems determined to repeal much of the 20th century and even its constitutional and social roots from the transformative 1860s. The Civil War is not only not over, it can still be lost.

Read more here: http://civilwar150.kansascity.com/articles/civil-war-150-past-present/#storylink=cpy
The Civil War at 150: The past in the present?

Read more here: http://civilwar150.kansascity.com/articles/civil-war-150-past-present/#storylink=cpy
The Civil War at 150: The past in the present?

Read more here: http://civilwar150.kansascity.com/articles/civil-war-150-past-present/#storylink=cpy
The Civil War at 150: The past in the present?

Read more here: http://civilwar150.kansascity.com/articles/civil-war-150-past-present/#storylink=cpy
The Civil War at 150: The past in the present?

Read more here: http://civilwar150.kansascity.com/articles/civil-war-150-past-present/#storylink=cpy
http://www.gallup.com/poll/151490/Fear-Big-Government-Near-Record-Level.aspx

2 comments:

Brock Townsend said...

Thus, the American Civil War was over much more than just slavery. What other conclusion could one possibly draw?

Heh!:) Posted.

13thBama said...

The democrats caused the last secession, why shouldn't they cause another? I hope they do "cut off" this "gangrenous limb". Pennsylvanians will need to find another source of jobs besides Virginia if that happens.