Tom and His Predictable Detractor

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by Paul Gottfried by Paul Gottfried

In a monumental but entirely predictable display of Chutzpah in History News Network (3/21/05), Rutgers University professor of journalism and New Republic senior editor David Greenberg has scoffed at the author of The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History as "a hitherto unknown assistant professor at Suffolk Community College." Presumably his workplace and supposed lack of academic fame disqualify Tom Woods from speaking out on historical matters. With a superciliousness that matches Greenberg’s, German historian Hans-Ulrich Wehler recently expressed displeasure that conservative scholar Johannes Rogalla von Bieberstein was not stopped by his employers from publishing what became a bestseller in modern European history. Bieberstein, after all, was a lowly librarian, not an "accredited historical scientist," at Wehler’s university in Bielefeld. What Wehler, a smug leftist anti-nationalist, failed to mention was that Bieberstein had been a respected doctoral student of the (now) politically incorrect Ernst Nolte. And if German universities were as liberal as they had been under the Second Empire or the Weimar Republic, Bieberstein, the worthy relative of a distinguished interwar jurist at Freiburg, would not be stamping books but holding a chair at his ideologically homogenized northwestern German university.

Greenberg would have to be an even bigger fool than he shows himself to be in his rant against Tom not to recognize the prevalent academic bias. An extensive survey of students, faculty, and administrators at colleges and universities in the U.S. and Canada, the North American Academic Study Survey, carried out by the Ipsos-Reid research firm in 1999, reveals what seem self-evident facts. For those who, like Greenberg, may have trouble noticing them, Stanley Rothman, S. Robert Lichter, and Neil Nevitte sum up these facts in the most recent issue of Forum. Universities, and most particularly those that finish near or at the top of the US News rankings make no secret about their political prejudices. The respondents to the survey are not only positioned on the far left side of the Democratic Party, but also reserve a special animus for religious Christians. Although scholarly achievements would seem to matter most in determining institutional affiliation, "the second most powerful predictor," and one that Rothman-Lichter-Nevitte think is inextricably linked to any judgment of a candidate for a job or promotion is "ideological." Moreover, in their probing assessment of ideological variables, the survey’s interpreters believe that "the role of Christian religiosity" is critical: "Religiosity is negatively related to quality of institutional affiliation among practicing Christians but not among Jews." This of course should occasion no surprise, since the regnant multicultural ideology on campuses present Jews, like Muslims, as the victims of Western white Christian civilization. And neither Jewish nor Muslim organizations have repudiated this assigned victim role.

Needless to say, a Latin Mass Catholic like Tom, who wears his Catholic traditionalism on his sleeve, has about as much chance of succeeding in the Euro-American academy as Hitler would at an Anti-Defamation League conference. Even were he not busy exposing leftist misrepresentations, Tom would not likely be the preferred candidate at Princeton or Stanford for a professorship in American or any other kind of history. The NAASS survey also indicates that, even if Tom were working in the sciences, there too he would not likely be a rising academic star. What has become obvious (but was not so in older Carnegie Institute surveys) is that sciences faculties are turning as militantly leftist and secularist as their counterparts in the humanities, law and the social sciences. The once existing ideological divide based on disciplines, which was apparent into the eighties, according to the latest survey data, is being closed. The hysteria that greeted the remarks by Harvard president Larry Summers, for which he apologized multiple times, that significant cognitive differences might exist between the genders, was hardly a reaction limited to a few feminist nutcases. It came to include a majority of the Harvard faculty, who viewed Summers’s slip from PC as an aberration that required his immediate resignation. Greenberg might not be noticing this situation, because, as Stan Rothman stresses, groupthink is the rule in academic settings. People live among and hire those who are like themselves.

I too have taken lumps, most recently at the hands of David Frum in National Review, for teaching at what has been called an obscure institution. Were I worth my salt as a scholar, I would be somewhere else — with neocon notables and their fashionable liberal colleagues. This charge astonishes me in view of the oft-heard neocon complaint that good universities teem with leftists, who are persecuting neocons and their friends. But if this were so, how does one account for the neoconservative representation at such institutions — or the charge that those on the paleo Right who are not acceptable at leftist universities are not scholars but mere publicists? There is an explanation at hand: neoconservatives who have succeeded at elite universities are in fact more like leftists than like those on their right. They are chastened feminists or moderate civil rights enthusiasts, who have partial reservations about the way those social experiments they and their colleagues supported, have turned out. Or they may be New Republic Zionists, who fear the growing Arab presence on their campuses and have therefore moved toward the neocons.

Greenberg finds such less-than-rightwing "conservatives" totally simpatico. He praises Max Boot, Cathy Young and Ronald Radosh (the last a self-identified social democrat) as " conservatives" who have "renounced (sic!) Woods’s book." But while "these conservatives deserve credit" for their progressive views, they have not been able to stop the brisk sale of the offending text. One suspects that these generally PC "conservatives" might nonetheless have their issues with Greenberg. For example, they might have to interrupt his lunchtime diatribe against his latest book subject, Richard Nixon, in order to point out that this alleged communist-baiting anti-Semite was "good on Israel."

A point that needs to be explored is why Tom and I have suffered similar professional marginalization, despite the fact that we are separated by at least thirty years and despite the fact that I could not be mistaken for a Latin Mass Catholic. The reason may be the difficulty of separating professional activity from what The Forum article designates as "political ideology" and "partisan orientation." The religious variable stands for a sociological and cultural difference put forth as "Christian religiosity." Scholarship, particularly in the humanities, that does not reflect and substantiate a particular mindset, which is among other things anti-Christian, anti-bourgeois, and anti-Southern white, will not be seen in the proper circles as professional. Such swerving to the dark side will bring forth the kind of snotty invective Greenberg has unleashed against his youthful rightwing target. My response to the tittering about conservatives hunkered down at out-of-the-way schools is "where the hell would you expect to find those who are at odds with the academic thought-police?"

In early nineteenth-century England, a certain refreshing openness prevailed about who was excluded from teaching at Oxford and Cambridge. Lecturers and dons, like their students, were expected to be (at least minimally) Anglican at these church-affiliated universities. Today we practice infinitely worse intolerance while pretending that we are pursuing openness and outreach. The old system of outward confessional conformity (and yes sexism), for all its failings, did not snuff out stimulating differences of opinion. It was consistent with an intellectual diversity that would seem in retrospect to have been "insensitive" or overly robust. And it produced Leslie Stephen and Frederick William Maitland rather than Stanley Fish, Cornell West and Catherine MacKinnon.

In what might be thought to be a substantive point in his review, Greenberg underlines Woods’s failure to discuss "the one large segment of colonial America that did not come from England and that did not share at least initially their religion or language." Apparently Woods’s reliance on David Hackett-Fischer’s study of the varying strains of English regional cultures that settled colonial America can be traced partly to a desire to conceal "the plight of oppressed minorities," particularly black slaves.

Greenberg might have raised, but does not, an interesting demur about the limits of Fischer’s argument in Albion’s Seed, a classic that Woods consulted but does not quote directly. Contrary to Fischer’s thesis about the diverse English strains that produced foundational American cultures, one might point to the German Pietist and French Huguenot settlements that were concentrated in parts of colonial America or note the Scotch-Irish and Celtic as opposed to pure English character that influenced the South. Instead Greenberg goes on a tear about Woods’s callous indifference to black suffering. While Woods explicitly mentions there were black slaves and shows no detectable fondness for slavery, he does commit a leftist sin of omission. He fails to beat up on America as a white Christian society that has not operated consistently by current liberal standards. Woods has pointedly disregarded the politics of white Christian contrition. A devotee of the cult of guilt, Greenberg cannot allow this to pass. He must deal not only with Tom Woods, but also with something he can’t quite get a handle on, the embarrassing fact that throngs of people are buying and reading Tom’s book. And there have been enough of these sinners around to push a "hitherto unknown" and professionally unkosher historian onto the bestseller list. No doubt Greenberg and those nice conservatives he pats on the head can come up with a penance for all of them.

April 20, 2005

Paul Gottfried [send him mail] is Horace Raffensperger Professor of Humanities at Elizabethtown College and author of, most recently, Multiculturalism and the Politics of Guilt.

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