29 October 2014

What Passes For Objective Analysis At Civil War Memory

*Update: First, and as I suspected, I'm not the only one who was troubled by Levin's post, as well as the comments that followed. The result of the post (intended or not), was a dog whistle for what I would call rather disturbing comments, characterizations and false statements. Jimmy Price, a historian and blogger who actually attended Liberty University,  had a reaction similar to mine. He posted his comments here, which I highly recommend.

Secondly, Levin attempts to walk it back with this follow up post. But he does not back down from his original characterization of the content of the video being "really bad". He also claims in his follow up post that he "attempted to keep the discussion focused on the content of what was said and not on Liberty University or anything having to do with the religious or political views of three individuals in the video."

I don't believe that is completely accurate as Levin seemed incredulous that Liberty didn't teach "evolution or climate change" ("climate change" has replaced "global warming" since global warming is now a demonstrably proven fraud - but let's not get sidetracked with facts). So by continuing that line of discussion, the comments certainly get into "religious or political views" and the "guilt by association" of the "offending" professors in the video.

End of update.

Oh brother. Where does one even begin to respond to this: The latest outrage from Civil War Memory over a perspective that doesn't fit progressive historians' worldview and interpretation. The uproar is over this well-balanced discussion of the War Between the States by history professors at Liberty University:

The reaction and comments at CWM represent such a pot and kettle moment as to be surreal. For example:

And . . .

Of course, when one of the progressive historians' gurus, Professor David Blight, makes the following comments, it is in no way a "perfect example of allowing a political agenda to influence one's interpretation of historical events."~
Why doesn't the Confederacy just fade away? Is it because we are irresistibly fascinated by catastrophic loss? Or is it something else? Is it because the Confederacy is to this day the greatest conservative resistance to federal authority in American history? ~ David Blight
And how about this: 
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.  ~ David Blight

So tying modern politics to the War Between the States is nothing new, nor necessarily improper. It is my opinion that what most upsets the folks at CWM is that in the case of the historians at Liberty they are, by reputation, conservative.

And additionally upsetting to this crowd is the fact that, despite decades of establishment "mainstream" historians preaching that the WBTS was ALL about slavery, they look around and realize to their dismay that they've utterly failed in their goal of making their perspective the only one that is acceptable, not only to credentialed historians, but to the public at large:
Asked their impression of the main cause of the Civil War, a 48%-plurality of Americans say it was mainly about states' rights. Just 38% say the Civil War was mainly caused by slavery. Another 9% volunteer that it was about both equally. Young people are more likely than older Americans to say that the war's main cause was states' rights -- 60% of those younger than age 30 express this view, the highest percentage of any age group. Those ages 65 and older, by a 50%-to-34% margin, are the most likely to say that slavery rather than states rights was the main cause of the Civil War. Nearly half of whites (48%) say states' rights was the war's main cause, but so do 39% of blacks. (Source: Pew Research, April 8, 2011)
That is stunning, given what's been published on this topic over the last 50 years. Of course, others have come to the same conclusion; both in realizing the general public's persistent perspective, as well as seeing the "frustration" of "idealistic" historians on a moral crusade. As historian Marc Egnal has noted:

I would suggest that the problem is with the "consensus" and not with the "public mind." The public simply isn't buying a lot of what's coming out of academia these days. And is there any wonder? Due to the overwhelmingly leftist ideology that permeates academia, the public knows that just about everything they proclaim must be taken with a grain of salt.

And if you actually listen to the comments in the video, I think you'll find a good balance, but not one obsessed with slavery - as is most of modern Civil War historiography in the United States.

One could go on and on about other comments at the referenced post - read them for yourself. They're quite revealing. One insinuation does bear mentioning: everyone believes (except Liberty University folks) in evolution and climate change. Talk about being out of touch. Good grief.

And there's this:

Not an "actual" university? Really?

Liberty University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges to award associate, bachelor, master, specialist and doctoral degrees. . . .  As an accredited institution, Liberty University is eligible to participate in federal educational programs such as military tuition assistance, government tuition reimbursement programs, the GI Bill and corporate tuition assistance. Credits and degrees earned through Liberty are therefore recognized by private industry and by the military and federal government for promotion, assignment and position qualification standards.
Perhaps it's just the conservative Christian aspect of Liberty University that has the CWM folks making such inaccurate statements. Or maybe it's because they teach creationism at Liberty, since that came up in the comments several times in the CWM post. What's that got to do with anything?

Speaking of teaching creationism . . . Patrick Henry College also teaches that belief. You know, the same college that has won at least four national debate championships competing against "actual universities" that don't teach creationism - schools such as Harvard, Miami and Syracuse. Evidently, the knuckle-dragging evangelicals weren't hampered by their belief in a Creator. Gee, imagine that.

Hmmm . . . maybe Liberty University would be more respected by the enlightened ones if they offered credits to their female students for not shaving their armpits - you know, like an "actual university." And they do teach evolution at that "actual university." 

No additional commentary is really necessary, now is it?


ropelight said...

The War Against Southern Independence was about States' Rights, and it was also about the decision to allow slavery (or not) which was one of the rights all the original states retained.

So, yes, the war was partly about the issue of slavery (although Lincoln forcefully denied it). However, Northern attempts to obstruct slavery were only one of the South's objections to federal government overreach - regional differences had been festering for years.

Initially, regional conflict centered around the issues of internal improvements such as roads, canals, harbor construction, and navigational aids (lighthouses mostly) which disproportionately benefited Northern interests - and most significantly over the abusive requirement Southern agricultural products be shipped from Northern ports, an outrage made even more onerous with the imposition of excessively high tariffs on imported goods - The Tariffs of Abomination.

The South was taking an economic beating both going and coming at the hands of greedy Northern interests influencing federal policies. The overt political and economic exploitation of a free people was intolerable and could not be expected to long endure.

Unfortunately, bitter complaints about the South's unfair treatment by exploitative Northern interests went largely unresolved at the federal level, which of course led directly to calls for secession.

It was only well after the onset of armed conflict that the North began to promote the self-serving excuse of opposition to slavery as the proximate cause for the war, and only then to cover the fact naked exploitation under color of federal authority had made secession inevitable.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Thanks RL. I agree with your assessment. Slavery was, of course, central to the conflict, but the single cause position is shallow and, I believe, often driven by issues other than honest scholarship. As Professor Clyde Wilson has noted:

"A single-issue treatment of the causes of any other great war in history, like Nolan's of the Civil War, would be laughed out of school. One of the greatest of American historians, Charles A. Beard, thought economics played the major part. But in Nolan's universe Unionists are always governed by the highest motives – they are never moved like other human beings by self-interest, vanity, a lust for domination, opportunism, and just plain old misapprehension and fecklessness. Apparently the long-standing economic conflict of the sections was insignificant."

ropelight said...

The noisy cabal of politically motivated advocates of slavery as the single cause for invading the South has again been challenged from within academia.

Professor Gary Gallagher (University of Virginia) has a relatively new book out identifying the overwhelming desire to maintain the Union as far overshadowing concern for the plight of slaves.

That particular interpretation (while still being wide of the mark) is at odds with many current historians who direct their self-serving focus almost exclusively on Northern opposition to slavery has the virtue of not only being generally more encompassing but also of being fully consistent with the contemporaneous pronouncements of President Lincoln.

Even James McPherson agrees, he wrote "Gallagher recaptures the meaning of Union to the generation that fought for it. He rescues the "Cause" for which they fought from modern historians who maintain that the abolition of slavery was the only achievement of the Civil War that justified all that death and destruction...He makes his point with force and clarity."

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Good points RL, though the fact the North did not fight to free the slaves, does not necessarily mean some Southerners did not fight to preserve slavery. It's nuanced and much more complicated, as most of us know, all the more reason to discount the "single cause" theory.