Thursday, 31 March 2005

Intellectual diversity

Todd Zywicki has a lengthy post at The Volokh Conspiracy on the merits of intellectual diversity on campus, most of which I am in full agreement with. However, Zywicki seems to have picked a rather poor example of indoctrination:

My “History of the American South” class was a one semester narrative by a Marxist professor on how rich southern whites had conspired to manipulate racist sentiments among lower-class whites to keep them from banding together in the “natural” economic alliance of poor whites and blacks to plunder the property of rich whites. He was the only one who taught it, so if I wanted to take it (I was from South Carolina, so I was interested in it), I had to take it from him.

I hate to break it to Zywicki, but that’s basically what rich whites did during the post-Civil War era in the South, a phenomenon that continues (in diminished form) to this day. You don’t have to be a Marxist to buy that argument, although I suppose it helps.

Granted, there are other important aspects of Southern history and politics (although most of them are connected, at least somewhat, to the twin issues of elite dominance and race as well), so if the entire semester was just a rant on that particular topic I’d say Zywicki had a rather poor instructor. But “divide the have-nots through racist appeals” was a cornerstone of planter-elite strategy to maintain political and economic power, particularly in the Deep South, well into the 1960s.


Any views expressed in these comments are solely those of their authors; they do not reflect the views of the authors of Signifying Nothing, unless attributed to one of us.

Perhaps he was focusing on the alleged conspiracy, and/or the naturalness of the economic alliance between poor whites and blacks.

I can tell you that I would find both hard to believe. Conspiracy is always a more complex accusation than simple commonly recognized self-interest. And it does sound peculiarly Marxist (and wrong, I hasten to add) to reduce all of the complexities of Southern racism to a simple economic class struggle. I would especially wonder about the relevance of Northern racism in environments where demagoguery took a different flavor, such as the urban political machines.

Still, my study of Southern life is confined to Reconstruction and preceding times, to say nothing of my study of political history. So, I’ll content myself with doubting my impression of that period, and make a mental note to study it further sometime.

(Though perhaps you might shed some more light on the subject, hint hint.)

[Permalink] 2. mungowitz wrote @ Thu, 31 Mar 2005, 8:46 pm CST:

It’s hard to know if the “Marxist” label is deserved.

The most important historians of the period (to my mind, at least) include Genovese and Aptheker, both routinely called Marxists. And I suppose they were. But most Marxists would have a more subtle interpretation than a simple conspiracy.

On the other hand, in many towns (including those where I grew up in the segregated South), the Sheriff put down his badge and picked up his Klan robe at sundown. So you could hardly call the Sheriff if the Klan attacked your house.

Is that a conspiracy? No, the Sheriff didn’t have to meet with the Klan leader, b/c he WAS the Klan leader.

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