The news is out the afternoon of the passing of another giant of the intellectual world: Eugene Genovese, at the age of 82. In one of those coincidences that may not be entirely coincidental in this mystical world of ours, on Sunday and Monday my mind turned to thoughts of Genovese, the great scholar of the South and slavery in America (especially his classic Roll, Jordan, Roll). I was doing this thinking I might include him in the portion of my Monday night lecture on the economics of slavery to my fall class at Ashland; instead I concentrated on the work of Robert Fogel and Stanley Engerman (Time on the Cross and Without Consent or Contract), which revolutionized our understanding of slavery (and confounded the many Confederate apologists still with us today) when their work started appearing in the 1970s. I recall forming the thought, “Eugene must be getting pretty old by now.” I remembered the death of his wife Elizabeth Fox-Genovese in 2007, along with fond memories of meeting both of them at meetings of the National Association of Scholars many years back.
The Genoveses were among those consequential intellectuals who moved from Left to Right; Eugene Genovese started out a Marxist, and might be said to have remained one after a fashion. But he and Elizabeth moved steadily over to our side as time passed (Elizabeth traded in her Marxism for Roman Catholicism, which makes some sense except to the hating-Left), much to the outrage of the “Progressive” Left. Here’s how Jesse Walker puts it in a short notice at Reason.com:
But Genovese was also a cultural conservative, a sympathetic interpreter of southern traditionalists, and a fierce critic of the academic left. By the P.C. wars of the early ’90s, he was routinely categorized as a man of the right, even though he still considered himself a socialist; by the end of his life, he had contributed to National Review and spoken at the American Enterprise Institute.
He’s the kind we don’t see often any more. RIP.