One of America’s best historians, Eugene D. Genovese, passed away two days ago. He was one of my long-time friends. I knew him when both he and I considered ourselves Marxists, and his scholarship, integrity, forthrightness and outspoken and principled positions made him a figure that everyone had to contend with. Anyone who was lucky enough to have known Gene, even when at times they found themselves on opposite sides from him in a political battle, knows how much they learned from him, and how lucky they were to have had the chance to engage with him.
I will be writing a tribute to him for The Weekly Standard that appears one week from now. But those who want to know about his work and his passion for the truth, should consult the following sites for the first tributes. His family provided an obituary, which outlines the unique nature of his contributions to both scholarship and politics.
Perhaps the most moving tribute to his greatness is provided by Robert P. George, the Princeton University Professor of Jurisprudence and Politics and Director of the James Madison Center. Dr. George speaks eloquently and beautifully about Gene’s vision and his life, and what in particular he delivered to our knowledge about the nature of the slave South in our country’s past, as well as his fierce dedication to the truth that allowed him to break with the Left which for many years provided the framework for his life.
In The Chronicle of Higher Education, his friend and colleague, Mark Bauerlein, sums up Gene’s contribution this way:
Genovese will be remembered for two things that don’t often coexist in figures in our time. First, he was a scrupulous, diligent, and discerning scholar; his work on the antebellum South will stand as a monumental corpus for years to come. Second, outside the classroom and the archive, he was a vigorous partisan, sometimes confrontational, identifying political adversaries and hurling broadsides with Homeric force.
And in the libertarian magazine Reason, Jesse Walker writes that Gene was 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.” Walker is correct to note that at whatever stage Gene was in his political life, he always thought for himself, and never adhered to any party line.
There will be many more tributes as the news gets out of his passing. Gene Genovese was a major figure in American intellectual life, and a warm and decent human being. All of us who knew him will miss him dearly, and those who knew of him only from his writings, also understand what a great loss his passing is to the world of learning. He was, as Robert P. George so aptly says in the conclusion to his speech, a “truth-teller.”