U.S. Intellectual History Blog

Higham, Hofstadter and Woodward: Three Liberal Historians? (Guest Post by Jesse Lemisch)

Below is an essay by Jesse Lemisch, elaborating on some remarks he made at the USIH Facebook page. (If you do not have a Facebook account, you can read his excerpted remarks in this blog post.)   I should note here — because I promised him I would — that I take exception to Prof. Lemisch’s characterization of the professional practice of intellectual historians in general, present company included. Nevertheless, I am glad for the opportunity to share his perspective with our readers. –LDB

Higham, Hofstadter and Woodward: Three Liberal Historians?


Jesse Lemisch
[email protected]

Here’s a fuller account than I gave previously of my experience with John Higham’s rage against left scholarship in 1969. Thinking about this reminds me of some events involving Vann Woodward and Richard Hofstadter, adding up to a suggestion that some historians who are generally thought of as liberals had very bad reactions to the Sixties, and that the liberal expression for which these historians are known should be seen as at odds with who they were and what they did when confronted with real challenges to their worldview in the real world. This further suggests that we might be skeptical about a frequent albeit not universal practice in intellectual history: swallowing ideas whole without scrutinizing what they actually translated into in concrete reality.

John Higham

Some of us who were on our way to becoming what would later be identified  as New Left Historians took pleasure in John Higham’s April 1962 American Historical Review article, “Beyond Consensus: The Historian as Moral Critic.” On re-examination of the article now, I see that we read him more optimistically than we should have, but we had grown tired of the uncritical romance of liberal intellectuals with America after World War  II, and we saw conflict — instead of consensus — and an unrevealed underside in both present and past America. In the present, there were beginning awakenings after the Eisenhower years of understanding that there was poverty (Harrington, Kolko, both 1962) and that we were not in fact all middle class. (The latter utterly false terminology has come back with Obama, who constantly uses the term “middle class” because he can’t acknowledge that much of America is poor.) This is a twisting of language. And as we began our re-examination of the American past, we saw conflicts that the dominant school of historians had glossed over, or explained in psychiatric terms (e.g. Quakers and Abolitionists were seen as engaged in a “Quest for Martyrdom”–  Daniel Boorstin and, to some extent,  Stanley Elkins —  for who but a nut would dissent from the American consensus? Americans had always been middle class (Robert E. Brown) and a “people of plenty” (David M. Potter). People acting politically in the streets were seen as mindless, manipulated mobs (e.g. Ed Morgan). It was in part to remedy this that I embarked on a “history from the bottom up.”

What happened in the writing of US history after World War II is an enormous topic, deserving a book, or several books, to join my On Active Service in War and Peace: Politics and Ideology in the American Historical Profession. In 1969, I proposed to Bill Ward, who was chairing the program committee for the December American Historical Association meeting, a paper which was to be called “Present-Mindedness Revisited,” in response to the claim that the emerging more critical re-interpretation of American history was driven and distorted by present-day left political concerns. The paper and the session as a whole would scrutinize politics and ideology in the dominant school of American historians. Not having kept up with John Higham’s  responses to that decade, I remembered “Beyond Consensus,” and urged Ward to ask him to chair the session, which he did. Although chairs are generally merely decorative, I genuinely wondered what Higham’s response would be to a piece that I naively assumed was up his alley. I sent it to him, expecting that his comments would he helpful.

What I got back from Higham was a furious letter, saying pretty much what R.K. Webb would shortly say in rejecting my paper for the American Historical Review: you have maligned some of my best friends; I don’t have anything to say about your paper that you would find useful. (This a paraphrase in lieu of the actual letter, which I hope will turn up in Higham’s papers, although it may have been handwritten.) With Marty Duberman’s failure to show up at the AHA as the “friendly” commentator (Marty finds it difficult to leave Manhattan), I was on my own in a hostile environment. I toted around the AHA two full attaché cases, one with documentation to respond  to attacks from Higham and his friends, and the other to respond to the mad Marxist Eugene Genovese, whose then friends foolishly thought they had successfully placed him on leash. (Many Marxists, like Genovese, were hostile to the New Left.) At my session, I had not counted on the arrival of a huge audience that reacted joyfully and loudly to my paper, as if the shackles of consensus around them had been broken.

Richard Hofstadter

The other major event at the 1969 AHA was the presence of a radical caucus, which precipitated such fury from Higham’s friends, as well as Genovese’s diminishing number of friends, that the business meeting lasted two nights and brought out, I think, 2000 people to an event that normally could barely find a quorum (such was the woeful lack of democracy in that Old Boy’s Club, many of whom longed for a return to the conflict-free 1933 AHA meeting BW — Before Women — that Oscar Handlin  sketched out elegiacally.) Escaping from the leash held by Herb Gutman and Christopher Lasch (yes, hard as it may be to believe in light of their later conflicts, there was a time when they were friends with Gene), Genovese cried out, to thunderous applause, “We must put them [the Radical Caucus] down, we must put them down hard, we must put them down once and for all!!!” And little did we know at that point that a liberal saint, Richard Hofstadter, had written privately to AHA’s managers a call to commit, literally, “counter revolution” against our band of radicals. What was our “revolution”? We were running a candidate for president – Staughton Lynd – against the genteel practice of having no election, simply an anointing. (The eminences so anointed, it was felt, should not be subjected to an election or, worse yet, loss of an election, with all the attendant pain.)  At some point the idea came up of trying to get the organization to oppose the hideous war in Vietnam, which was splitting the country apart. Back in September, I had written to around five people a long radical caucus planning letter, whose mildness embarrasses me on re-reading, calling for reforms in the governance of the organization, changes in its constitution, easier access to publication for young scholars, spoke of the non-involvement of Lasch and Genovese (who had been writing attacks on the New Left and on Staughton Lynd in the New York Review of Books),  etc. One of the recipients, Art Waskow, who had been arrested with me and some 200 clergymen in a civil rights protest a few years before, was in 1969 at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington (and is now a rabbi). He thus had access to a Xerox machine, and sent my letter out to the country in general — which had not been my intent.  It was posted at historical societies, dropped from airplanes in bundles, and even came across Genovese’s desk.  He  responded to me with what appeared to be one of his faux-Brooklyn-tough death threats (but which I have to admit I took a little seriously): “It will be to the knife.”

Hofstadter’s attempt to organize a counter-revolution in 1969 was consistent with his behavior the year before at Columbia where students had protested over several issues, including: Columbia’s plan to build a gym in a public park which would allow limited access to residents of Harlem, mainly through a back door;  and  — particularly offensive at the time of the war in Vietnam in a university pretending to be politically neutral — Columbia’s affiliation with the Department of Defense’s weapons research Institute for Defense Analyses. In the face of mounting protest and building occupations, President Grayson Kirk’s ancien regime had called in the animals of the New York Police Department. (I eschew the then fashionable term, “pigs,” as too insulting.). Kirk and his friends were astonished  –-  I almost said “shocked, shocked” — when the police acted like police, shedding blood and arresting over 700 people. The New York Times front-paged Managing Editor Abe Rosenthal’s super-weepie which presented Kirk heroically as the victim of students who, in the occupation of the administration building, had dared to drink his wine and smoke his cigars! OMG, it’s the French Revolution all over again! The whole affair was to produce shame, embarrassment and a kind of a democratic revolution in faculty governance.

On  June 4,  honorable people at Columbia attended a counter-commencement. The sorry official commencement was held in the safety of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. The sulking Kirk did not attend.  Hofstadter delivered the Commencement Address (follow this link for a transcription and a sound recording of Hofstadter’s speech, which was also published in The American Scholar). It was one of these center-is-not- holding tearjerker/jeremiads, so frequent in those days, which attacked student protesters, who had caused  this “disaster,” “this terrible wound,” producing the “hour of [Columbia’s] most terrible trial.” A university,” Hofstadter said, his voice echoing through the cathedral (you can hear it on the recording), “is firmly committed to certain basic values of freedom, rationality, inquiry, discussion, and its own internal order [emphasis added.]” By the time he was done, he had made it clear that the students’ offense against all this had been so dire that of course it made sense to call in external force to impose “internal order.” He voiced no objection to the bloody police attacks and the hundreds of arrests, as if the police had committed the “civilized human discourse” that he sought. It was the students who had acted “ruthlessly,” “assaulting” the university on behalf of “social revolution.” “Restraints,” he said, “must be self-imposed, not forced from outside,” forgetting that outside is where the cops came from. Never acknowledging that affiliation with the Department of Defense in the midst of war constituted a political position, he warned that “the university should be extraordinarily chary of relationships that even suggest …a political commitment.” Accepting the necessity of reform, he insisted that “It cannot be carried out under duress.” What was needed was “peace, mutual confidence…[ and] stability.” Stability, order and calls for peace and cops: this is what had become of mainstream liberalism by 1968.

So Hofstradter’s defense of the old regime at the 1969 AHA was totally consistent with the stand he had taken the year before at Columbia. As it turned out, the radicals had precipitated democratic revolutions in both institutions, presided over in the AHA by the author of The Age of The Democratic Revolution, Robert R. Palmer. At Columbia, Grayson Kirk  was replaced in a faculty uprising. Kirk went off to the presidency of the Council on Foreign Relations, Columbia disaffiliated from the Institute of Defense Analyses, and I got to hang out on the College Walk sundial again.

C. Vann Woodward was outgoing president of the AHA in 1969, and at the business meeting he treated radicals contemptuously (not to mention liberal John K. Fairbank’s famous seizure of the microphone from Howard Zinn.) One manifestation of Woodward’s discomfort with the Sixties was his 1969 Organization of American Historians presidential address “Clio With Soul,” Journal of American History, June 1969, a warning about the dangers to the historical profession of the then surging Black History programs. At the beginning of his address, Woodward expressed his apprehensions, which in some ways echo the concerns voiced by Hofstadter:

Will it [Black history] warp as much as it will correct? Will it substitute a new racism for an old? Will historians be able to absorb and control the outraged moral passions released and bend to the social purposes dictated without losing balance and betraying principle? Or will the historian’s moral engagement compromise the integrity of his craft? Granting inevitable losses in detachment, will the gains in moral insight outbalance the losses?

After this hysterical preamble, it’s no surprise that Woodward found his apprehensions fully fulfilled, and concluded with a ringing condemnation:

These are certainly not the most propitious times for the cultivation of that taste [irony]. Not only is it an abomination to revolutionaries, but also equally abhorrent are mixed motives, ambivalence, paradox, and complexity in any department. In times like these the historian will be hard put to it to maintain his creed that the righteousness of a cause is not a license for arrogance, that the passion for justice is not a substitute for reason, that race and color are neither a qualification nor a disqualification for historians, that myths, however therapeutic, are not to be confused with history, and that it is possible to be perfectly serious without being oppressively solemn. To defend this position under the circumstances will require a certain amount of what some call “cool” and others, grace — grace under pressure, which was Hemingway’s definition of courage.

In the responses of some academic liberals to the Sixties, those who were displaying anything but grace under pressure were retailing that Hemingway quotation as often as they were telling us about Isaiah Berlin’s hedgehogs and foxes (generally to the advantage of the latter). Invocation of irony, complexity and paradox (here combined with an attack on “revolutionaries”) turned out to be simply defenses of things as they used to be.

At Yale, Woodward in many ways dissented from the attempts of President Kingman Brewster to come to terms with the Sixties. It was during Brewster’s presidency that Yale College began admitting women. It was Brewster who made the famous remark in 1970: “I am skeptical of the ability of black revolutionaries to achieve a fair trial anywhere in the United States.” He opened the campus to protesters who came to demonstrate around the trial of Black Panthers in New Haven. In 1974, Yale’s “Woodward Committee” condemned certain student protests. In 1975-76, to the embarrassment of some of this colleagues, Woodward led an unprecedented  vendetta through to the highest reaches of Yale College against the student nomination (with Political Science Department sponsorship) of Herbert Aptheker to teach a one-semester course on W.E.B. DuBois. Woodward succeeded in subjecting what was normally a pro forma appointment (Howard Cosell taught a course in the same program) to the kind of treatment normally given to appointments with tenure. I led a campaign to have the Organization of American Historians investigate Yale’s misbehavior. Aptheker taught his semester and Yale fell back into its customary swamp.


I feel a duty to pass along the realities of such as Higham, Hofstadter and Woodward, in the face of the dominant ideas about them and the tendency of intellectual historians to think that these people’s earlier words reflected the beliefs for which they should be remembered. In light of the above, the evidence that these three should be called liberal historians seems dubious. But rather than denying their liberalism, I would think it wiser to affirm it and say that what I have presented tells us something about the low state of liberalism during the last great social upheaval in this country in the 1960s and 1970s.


Related works by Jesse Lemisch:

On Active Service  in War and Peace: Politics and Ideology in the American Historical Profession (Toronto,1975)

“If Howard Cosell Can Teach at Yale, Why Can’t Herbert Aptheker?,” Newsletter of the Radical Historians Caucus, no. 22 (May 1976):1-9.

“Radicals, Marxists and Gentlemen: A Memoir of Twenty Years Ago,” Radical Historians Newsletter, no. 59 (Nov. 1989). 

99 Thoughts on this Post

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  1. Prof. Lemisch, thanks for agreeing to turn your off-the-cuff remarks into a more sustained (but no less trenchant!) reflection on a pivotal time not only in the history of the American historical profession, but also in the history of American thought more generally.

    I’m dismayed at your characterization of the field of intellectual history. I do not think that our subfield is customarily guilty of “swallowing ideas whole without scrutinizing” them. Moreover, the notion that ideas exist for us (or, in fact, for anyone) as something separate and apart from “the real world” or “reality” inevitably relegates the work of all historians — indeed, relegates the thoughts and aspirations and dreams of people in general, and much else of meaning and value besides — to the realm of the “mere,” the epiphenomenal, the illusive or (as you suggest above in re: invocations of irony) the deceptive. I think the relationship between the ideational and the material is — begging your pardon — more complex.

  2. Let’s look at the actualities of intellectual history around the three scholars who I have written about. Having a special interest in them, try to keep up with histories emerging about them.I may have missed something, but those titles that I have picked up continue the heroic narrative about their subjects. To show that intellectual history is in fact dealing with reality, including unpleasant realities about their subjects, it would have to be shown that there are studies of: Higham’s hostility to the left, including how he responded to the rise of SDS on his own campus, the University of Michigan, where SDS was strong during the time he was there (e.g. Bill Ayers, et. al.). (cont.)

  3. (My antivirus is in the midst of a scan which is interfering with some functions, and rather than lose stuff, I will post it section by section.)
    Continuing to list the realities about my subjects that would have to be dealt with if intellectual history was interpreting ideas in the context of what they meant in actuality:
    For the 1969 AHA meeting, I haven’t seen anything serious other than Novick’s good coverage in his That Noble Dream, where his chapter is rightly called, “Collapse of Comity.” Just as, in ancient times it took two to tango, it takes more than one adversary to bring about a collapse of comity. Where are the studies of Hofstadter, Woodward et. al. at and in preparation for the meeting — and I mean studies that do more than simply echo the denunciations. At the time, it was said that AHA recorded the meeting, but contact with the organization has not located any of this material. Other than this, of course the AHA’s internal records reflect their worried expectations and planning, but I don’t see studies using such sources.
    (Perhaps there are critical studies of Handlin’s mythicizing of the 1933 Providence AHA meeting, but I haven’t seen them. This stuff was totally loony)
    Hofstadters and the 1968 Columbia bust. I was pleased that I had located his commencement address. calling for order and blaming the victims. This should be seen as part of the corpus of Hofstadter’s work, together with the heroic treatment s of popular anti-intellectualism (but not of intellectuals’ anti-populism. as in various ways we find in Rogin, Heimert, Rhys Isaac, et al. — but not in studies of Hofstadter. (cont. below)

  4. What about studies of the Institute for Defense Analyses, which was at the center of the 1968 Columbia protests — an entity doing weapons research and connected to such criminal organizations as NSA. How can we possibly understand Hofstadter’s ideas without considering the complex that he was celebrating when he let himself be the main speaker at Commencement, attacking the bloodies students but not those who had bloodied them?
    Again, if intellectual history is in touch with reality. where are the studies of these realities?
    Abe Rosenthal’s front-page NY Times depiction of the barbarians who took over Grayson Kirk’s office cries out for scholarship dealing with the collapse of journalism and the interlocking Old Boys Club involving Rosenthal and Columbia.
    Returning to Hofstadter’s Commencement address, where are the studies showing the continuities between this repressive document and his works on paranoid style and anti-intellectualism? Are we to assume that his condemnation of protest was a one-day affair, turned on and off on June 4, 1968, and having nothing to do with the rest of his work? (cont.)

  5. Woodward. Where are the studies of his hostility to the emerging black history in the 60s. Who has figured out the continuities between this and his Strange Career? The only study I’ve seen that places CVW correctly as resisting desegregation is Carol Polsgrove’s excellent Divided Minds: Intellectuals and the Civil Rights Movement. This is a work that helps us to see the conservative underside of some post World War II liberalism. I don’t think that, beyond Polsgrove, such approaches have been reflected in scholarship about Woodward. Again, what are the continuities between this complex which played a role in impeding desegregation, and his conduct at the 1969 AHA meeting and in the Aptheker affair? Or were such episodes simply aberrations inconsistent with the rest of his thought and behavior? The Aptheker affair at Yale 1975-76 cries out for a study of this leading institution’s involvement in the anti-Communism of the time, with Woodward playing a ferocious leadership role.
    I’ve outlined off the top of my head in early morning quite a number of studies which would have to be done to demonstrate that intellectual history is in fact in touch with reality and is not simply interpreting ideas in a vacuum. isolated from such realities. Instead of carping in the abstract about how great intellectual history is, why not do these things and actually make intellectual history great?

  6. Not being an historian and knowing what little I know about these individuals from the outside looking in as it were, this was very interesting stuff and thus this reader is most grateful.

  7. Jesse: I really enjoyed this essay–thanks for sharing it here. You make really good points in your comments above responding to LD that historians should write about those particular cases with a critical eye. But I don’t think the lack of critical attention to these particular cases thus entails that intellectuals historians have a tendency of “swallowing ideas whole without scrutinizing what they actually translated into in concrete reality.” This does not describe the tendencies of anyone who writes at this blog, or really most people I know who consider themselves intellectual historians. Let me just speak for myself: my book on the culture wars (which is soon to be published, I hope) includes some analysis of Hofstadter’s 1969 commencement address as consistent with the neoconservative reaction to the sixties. I also include an albeit short analysis of your great claims at the 1969 AHA that social historians were in the libraries doing more to objectively describe the past than the consensus historians–as part of a larger analysis of how history got caught up in the culture wars. I think I have a pretty good handle on how these ideas reflected and shaped politics. And I don’t claim to be unusual in this.

    • sounds good, Andrew. I’m not in the business of accusing individuals but rather of pointing out, in a beginning way, the kinds of studies that need to be done to really understand people like the three historians I’ve mentioned. It sounds as if you are doing some of this. For all I know, others in USIH have such studies cooking. Good. At present, I think I’m correct in seeing that much of past reality is approached by uncritical and uninformed studies of people like Hofstadter. I wish I could access the name of the study of Hofstadter that came out, say, within the last five years. Being both historian and participant, I naturally look at the emerging literature to shed light on things I’ve lived through, but I don’t see attention to Aptheker at Yale, Hofstadter at Columbia, Woodward in the areas I’ve mentioned. I’m glad you’re doing work that will begin to cure that. Do others on this blog know of other work in progress dealing with the topics I’ve mentioned?

      • David S. Brown, _Richard Hofstadter: An Intellectual Biography_. I think it’s a good book, insofar as the limits of intellectual biography permit, but I’m sure Lemisch will regard it as “hagiography” since it doesn’t take the stance he would prefer toward its subject.

        I think Lemisch’s sweeping condemnations and personal invective get in the way of clear-headed and careful analysis. Talk about “swallowing ideas whole.” But, given the tenor of this discussion and Lemisch’s responses, I’m sure that I can be safely categorized as a liberal hagiographer for not swallowing Lemisch’s account whole. If he’s still fighting a battle between 1950s-style intellectual historians and the new social historians of the 1960s, I wonder how current his conception of what intellectual historians actually do is. How about naming some names of those dominant intellectual historians practicing today who “swallow ideas whole”? From what I see in this post, there’s a lot of condemnation of people’s craven and cowardly actions, and not a whole lot of attention to their thought in terms of anything but simple ideological categorization. Perhaps this approach is rooted in a kind of anti-intellectualism that pervaded “history from the bottom up.”?

  8. I should also point out that most intellectual historians will object to the very framework that thinks boundaries exist between ideas and “concrete reality.”

  9. The fact that we’re still rehashing this dispute, nearly half a century after the events in question, recalls the way the bloody shirt was an inescapable fact of national political life until basically everyone who had experienced the Civil War died.

    So it will go with the ‘sixties’ liberal/radical split… For principals like Lemisch, these are not historical or even historiographical questions so much as unaccounted-for political crimes whose perpetrators he (still!) wants to hold to account.

    Only when they have all retired (which will happen over the next decade) will we be able to have a dispassionate (that is, historical) discussion of any of this.

  10. So, Nils, you think uncritical hagiography is “dispassionate.” Much of the point here is to show that people on both sides are driven in part by passions and ideological commitments, and that there are enormous gaps in the mainstream literature. For you, all the distorting factors are only on one side, so you really are bringing us back to 1969, when mainstream historians were presenting themselves as neutral, as against us scruffy ideologues. Get over it. Put it behind you (and the other appropriate Oprahisms 😉

    • Jesse, had I been around at the time, i like to think I’d have been on your side on the substance — much as I would have been on the side of the North during the civil war. I make the comparison advisedly: there were real moral issues at stake, and one side was wrong and the other was right. So on the ethics of the particular moral moment you’re talking about here, I doubt there’s much daylight between us.

      What I was taking issue with here, however, is whether, half a century on, the moral terms of the principals are the only or even the most useful way to frame these issues — much less whether the moral debates of that time are particularly relevant to the struggles we face today.

      Many of those who fought in the Civil War believed, even on the eve of WWI, that the issues over which they had fought half a century earlier were the only ones that mattered and e only way to judge contemporary political figures was based on how they stood (or could be imputed to stand) relative to the issues that divided the States during the war. I think we can all see quite clearly that this was a limited way to look at US politics in 1913. Likewise, the judge contemporary historiographical practices through the lens of a political controversy that is fifty years old is pretty blinkered.

      Again, to be clear: I don’t disagree with you about your judgments on what took place in 1969. I’m just not sure that the anger is worth holding onto for half a century, especially if it’s going to color your judgment of contemporary debates where the stakes are very different. Historian: historicize thyself!

  11. Jesse, however much I appreciate your fiery firsthand account of a group of historians you believe need to be critiqued, I would like to see you contend (and contest, if necessary) the historians they trained and the bodies of work that generations of historians have created in response to what we call the “consensus school.” If I read you correctly, many of us are the uncritical inheritors of this liberal historical tradition and should not only recognize this, but take up the radical historical tradition of which you are a part, because it was both on the right side of 1960s history and, therefore, produced better history. Frankly, while I read and admire much of what Hofstadter, Woodward, Higham, and others of that era wrote, I admire equally if not more the incredible output of historians who wrote, not in their shadow, but in light of their work. I think, for example, of the substantial work of Eric Foner, Patricia Limerick, Dorothy Ross, Thomas Bender, David Hollinger, Glenda Gilmore, Daniel Rodgers, David Roediger, and many others. I think the various reading lists compiled at this blog, much less actually taught by historians such as Jennifer Ratner-Rosenhagen, Angus Burgin, and Andrew Jewett, attest to the ability to contextualize the scholarship of various schools of intellectual history. So it seems to me your point has an edge to it that needs more explanation and substantiation.

  12. I very much enjoyed this post by Jesse Lemisch, and I agree with many of its points.

    First, a very marginal quibble. Ever since 1968, leftwingers have been disingenuously saying that Columbia U planned to let black residents of Harlem into the planned gymnasium via “the back door.” Had the gym been built, the door would have faced eastward, and for many Harlem residents it would have been a front door.

    More substantially, I wouldn’t characterize Woodward’s 1969 AHA address as “hysterical.” It seems to me that when black studies programs were first appearing in the late 60s and early 70s there was much be concerned about. in response to student demands, university administrators rushed to put those programs into place, but since the profession hadn’t paid sufficient attention to African-American history, they at first had trouble recruiting outstanding faculty. Many of the earliest black studies programs accepted the Black Power notion that whites weren’t capable of teaching African-American history, and some of them simply were not up to par. I recall a campaign at one university (I can’t recall which one) to give a faculty appointment to a SNCC field organizer who didn’t hold an advanced degree. I agree that that Woodward was shaken by the radicalism of the late 60s, and his objection to letting Aptheker teach a one-semester course on DuBois seems bizarre. (I’d like to know more about it.) But it’s important to remember the charged atmosphere that gave rise to rise to Woodward’s remarks, and the unfair treatment that many white scholars received from Black Power proponents. (William Stryon actually did receive death threats!) Perhaps it was inevitable that black studies programs would go through some growing pains, but given the context, I think Woodward was making a necessary counterpoint.

  13. Dan Wickberg: wow, I guess this is the dispassionate expression that somebody called for above. Readers should note that I am hardly alone in having a combative style, but somehow this isn’t noticed when it comes from the mainstream. ! If I recall correctly, yes, Richard Brown’s Hofstadter: An Intellectual Biography was an example of the kind of things I’m talking about. It is hagiography in the sense that it doesn’t deal adequately with the inconvenient Hofstadter-related events that I’ve mentioned, including Columbia 1968 (which it appears that Andrew will be dealing with.) Brown et al don’t have to share my views, but they can’t call what they’re doing an “intellectual biography” if they ignore or simply offer apologia for significant aspects of Hofstadter’s intellect.
    Your worries about the supposed anti-intellectualism of history from the bottom up would apply, I assume to the social history which has revolutionized the profession and redefined what history can be about. Rcall that even the earliest work in the then new field of American Studies began to give dignity to the study of popular ideas, without which history is incomplete.

    • For what it’s worth, Jesse, I don’t think this is an issue of style. I personally like the polemical bent. The question is whether the fire is pointed at the right targets.

  14. John M: thinking about the geography of Morningside Park, you may be right about the “back door:” issue. But keep in mind that Columbia was also pioneering in the privatization of formerly public space, now rampant in NYC.
    Indeed some of the complaints about the black history that was emerging in the 60s. But Woodward’s presidential address was indeed hysterical and had a clear repressive message: politically committed scholarship (other than his own) will not be permitted. And please note the following: scholarship like Carol Polsgrove’s Divided Minds has forcefully demonstrated that the “gradualist” position that Woodward took on school desegregation was in sync with the resistance to integration. The kind of intellectual history I’m calling for, putting ideas in context, would see the obvious connections between that and CVW’s “Clio With Soul.”
    Finally, for a full account of Woodward’s vendetta against Aptheker, see my “If Howard Cosell Can Teach at Yale, Why Can’t Herbert Aptheker?” (Not digitized? That’s interesting: what gets digitized and what doesn’t?)

  15. Jesse–
    You’re right–it gets my hackles up when somebody comes on the USIH blog to characterize intellectual history in the sweeping and dismissive way you did, and to provide an intemperate critique of the behavior of a group of people for their academic politics. I confess to feeling a little like John Higham apparently felt in his reaction, so my apologies for being less than cordial in my response. I was wrong in my tone. I’ll work on that. I still would like to know who it is you’re talking about when you refer to the general practice of intellectual historians “swallowing ideas whole.” As several of the commenters here have indicated, this does not seem to describe what intellectual historians in general do. Remember, it’s your characterization of the dominant orientation of the field, which you’re willing to make a few exceptions for. Who is it you’re talking about that is guilty of the practice you indicate?

  16. Ray Haberski:
    1. Please note that my “fiery” account is one of many fiery accounts by others that you have before you on this thread, only they are labeled “dispassionate.” And “fiery” also applies to Hofstadter’s thundering commencement address and CVW’s “Clio with Soul. (Also consider CVW’s letter to the Yale Daily News on Aptheker, cited and quoted in my Cosell piece, one of the nastiest condescending personal attacks ever delivered by a Southern Gentleman. ) Having been called “fiery,” I await the next cliche, this one applied to old people: “feisty.”
    2) Below I quote a part of your above comment:
    “If I read you correctly, many of us are the uncritical inheritors of this liberal historical tradition and should not only recognize this, but take up the radical historical tradition of which you are a part, because it was both on the right side of 1960s history and, therefore, produced better history. ”
    That’s an absurd remark. In the absence of liberalism, I often find myself presenting merely liberal positions. I have never advocated anything like the kind of exclusionist ranking that you claim. My position has been merely pluralist: history isn’t telling the truth so long as it excludes agency from below.
    Having enjoyed some of your postings here and elsewhere, I’m dismayed by the present comment. I guess you got carried away.
    Overall, there have been some good comments here, but the thrust of many of them seems to affirm my notion that there are some problems with intellectual history.

    • Jesse: If I have misunderstood your point, then please accept my apologies. The way I read your review of the episodes involving Hofstadter, Woodward, and Higham was that we–collectively as intellectual historians–see them as liberal and not as you see them as either a misguided group of liberals or as outright reactionaries. You write: “I feel a duty to pass along the realities of such as Higham, Hofstadter and Woodward, in the face of the dominant ideas about them and the tendency of intellectual historians to think that these people’s earlier words reflected the beliefs for which they should be remembered.” I take that as their legacies being swallowed uncritically by their successors. That is why I asked you to reflect or contest those who followed this group–either as students or as direct practitioners of historical inquiry that Hofstadter, etc. crafted. If my critique of your essay sounded pointed is it not because I think you and I have not had generous and constructive exchanges in the past but in response to what I read in this specific essay. You have laid down a pretty forceful argument about a group of historians you think has continued to influence the profession as a whole. I am asking if that argument holds up if you consider all that has been written since that time. If you find Brown’s biography lacking in specific details or false as an argument that is certainly something to discuss, but I think it is different than the argument you have made above.

  17. I read Jesse’s comments as raising an interesting question about the relationship between ideas and their ideological functions. The real worry about a studious close read of the ideas of a Hofstadter or Woodward is not that it will be too top-down or insufficiently materialist. The real worry is that such an approach may grant their work (and our own) an autonomy that obscures the political — even tactical — function of that work at a particular time and place. Charitably if simplistically read, Jesse’s comments are a call for intellectual historians to be more conscious, both about the political character of their own work, and about the political function of their subjects’ ideas.

  18. Let me add one additional point: we’ve had discussions about the perceived lack of conflict within our field. If you believe that the methodological standards of the field have are skewed because of the legacy of the Hofstadter group or if you think intellectual historians have been unwilling to take up arguments or follow archival trails because of their political disposition, then we should, by all means, discuss those issues. You invited vigorous debate and that has certainly happened!

  19. Ray, on the first of your two posts immediately above. I’m talking about history and liberalism. I’m saying that of course their politics and cultural attitudes are expressed in their history. Further, there seems to be a misunderstanding of post WW II liberalism, a failure to note its commitment to the greatness of America (which conrtibuted to our present grotesque situation), to the standing order, and to order. Those are the lenses through which they view the past. Of course I would be at odds with them on campus issues and activism were we on the same campus. But my focus here is not on their politics — there are many actually conservative historians whose work I respect — but on how they interpret the past. I want a rising generation of historians to be made aware that some of the greats were in fact ideologues and that their presentations of the past have to be seen as extensions of their ideology. when they read Hofstadter on anti-intellectualism, I want them to be equipped to ask, “what about the anti-populism of intellectuals.” Perhaps when they write of the paranoid style, people might see that there is something of this in the historians’r own expression, perhaps distorting their perceptions.
    There is no doubt that some of this comes from my own experience. For many years, I was denied jobs because it was felt that my mere appearance on campus would produce something like spontaneous combustion at the library. This was paranoid, and reflected a narrow range of permissible politics and history. One year, Genovese spread the story that I was using an NEH grant to fly planeloads of radicals to the AHA to take it over. Well, I guess he was a special case, but it was true that the establishment generally overestimated our numbers, and certainly Hofstadter shared some of this paranoia..

  20. Ray, on your second above post, yes, I would like to see people pursue these ideas and apply them to the historians who they study. I’m seeing the “vigorous debate” that you mention, but I’m not seeing here a critique of the way intellectual history or at least some of it is done. We’ve been through a lot in this several hours long debate, but I haven’t seen anybody criticizing anything about the way intellectual history is done. How can this be? There is no kind of history in my part of the world — oral history, labor history, etc. — that I have not offered a critique of, but I don’t see that kind of critical introspection here.

  21. “Well,” she said as she queued up this guest post, “here goes nothing — or, perhaps, my career prospects as a U.S. intellectual historian (which might amount to the same thing anyhow)…”

    Prof. Lemisch, your post is fiery, trenchant, caustic, and combative. This is a known feature, not a bug, of much of your writing, so I don’t think you should make too much of Ray pointing it out. He wasn’t caustic in his reply. If you are going to go around poking people, dead or alive, with a sharp rhetorical stick, you can’t cry foul when they point out that particularly salient aspect of your argumentation. When they respond in kind, you can perhaps cry, “Aha!” — which is, I think, the chief rhetorical advantage of such a style. But once they concede that their tone wasn’t as collegial as they’d like it to be, and return to the substance of the argument with a measured critique of your position, then I think the fair thing to do is to respond in kind.

    On the other hand, Nils’s comment was particularly uncharitable and dismissive in a way that could be read as ageist — with “retire” a barely-disguised euphemism for “die out” — and it was also a somewhat unimaginative (or at least one-sided) view of what it means to approach a problem historically. It is not at all impossible for those who participated in a past conflict to write good history about it — I always invoke the example of Michael Kazin’s American Dreamers here. It requires distance — temporal, perspectival, emotional — but distance is not the same as dispassion. It seems to me that distance can also engender compassion — a tenderness towards everything fine and fragile and flawed in friend and foe alike. And I think tenderheartedness has its place in historical writing.

    The argument between “high” intellectual history and “broad” intellectual history happens a lot on this blog — what counts as an idea, who counts as a thinker, what kinds of texts merit a historian’s time and attention? Most of us on the blog, benefiting greatly not just from the legacy of the New Social History but also from the careful attention to diverse cultural expressions/sources evident in the work of historians like Hofstadter and Barzun and Higham, take a very broad view of our object of inquiry, “American thought.”

    I think we may also take — or need — a broader and more nuanced view of politics and the political. Sorry to come across like a Schlesingerian / Hofstadterian ironist, but I don’t think it’s the case that social politics and academic politics line up neatly, or that either kind of politics necessarily follows or is followed by a particular historiography. I will make plenty of hay — if Andrew H. hasn’t already, and perhaps even if he has — about the abysmal and habitual misread of 1980s curricular debates as a “conservative” v. “progressive” issue. Defenders of the university as an institution — or defenders of a particular idea of it — were not (in 1968 or, much less dramatically, in 1988) “simply” protecting their status/prestige/position of authority. That’s too flat and simplistic a reading.

    Indeed, what you seem to be calling for in assessments of Hofstadter, Higham, et. al., is, in fact, a more nuanced, more complex assessment of their ideas and continued influence than — you claim — intellectual historians presently offer. Ironically, you are asking us to give Hofstadter the Hofstadter treatment. As other commenters have noted, that is already happening in intellectual history, and has been for some time. But just because such studies don’t result in a rousing condemnation of Hofstadter (or Higham, or whoever) doesn’t mean they’re flawed, or not sufficiently passionate, or not sufficiently political (or, on other hand, too passionate, or too political).

    Things are not that simple, and I think that’s all right.

    • Exactly: “You would have been better off just sticking to your arguments about Hofstadter, Higham and Woodward than extrapolating from your encounters with them to make generalizations about people working in their field fifty years later, present company included.”

      The battles of Lemisch youth are not the eternal battles of all time, though he’s hardly the first person to believe this about his youthful commitments. Perhaps it is an irony that, exactly a decade after the events of which Lemisch writes, Kit Lasch published a book that goes some way to explaining the continued insistence on the centrality of these events.

      I wasn’t being age-ist earlier, LD. Plenty of historical participants can gain critical distance on events they took part in, and come to write valuable, historiographical careful accounts of those event. I just don’t think that’s what Lemisch has done here. He’s waving the bloody shirt.

  22. By the way. I don’t think anybody has offered evidence to contradict the specific instances that I described in regard to the three historians. i thought that somebody would come up with something, like, maybe Hofstadter officiating at a wedding in occupied Fayerweather, Woodward buying Aptheker a drink at the Yale Club, some humanizing (albeit irrelevant) anecdote. But no: I offered evidence and specific instances and nobody is offering evidence against my portrayal of these three greats. this is a strange kind of history.

  23. In the introduction to Towards an Intellectual History of Women, Linda Kerber has some lovely reflections about Hofstadter as an advisor / mentor.

    But I don’t think it’s necessary to match damning anecdotes with charming anecdotes. It seems to me that, for purposes of historical inquiry, moving from the anecdotal to the archival is probably the better approach — especially for those who are “close” to their historical subject. That’s one of the strength’s of Kazin’s book — when he is writing about the New Left, he does not adduce memory personal experience to support his claims, but leans on the archival record. That’s not to say that memory and personal experience don’t shape his writing (or any historian’s writing). However — and this is a feature, not a bug, of intellectual history — we tend to lean more heavily on texts from the time, rather than our memories of it.

    I know this is a whole ‘nother historiographic can of worms, and I’m sure some intellectual historians will sharply disagree with me. But I think it’s just as possible that some social historians would agree with me.

    But if you’re looking for someone who can humanize these historians, I guess I’d look where Ray has looked — at the work and the witness of their students.

  24. Well, LD: yes, I have been combative, but one of my complaints has been that combativeness in the mainstream isn’t recognized as such, but is simply thought of as genteel expression. (See as a prime example, Woodward’s hideous personal attack on Aptheker in the Yale Daily News, which is taken to be Southern Gentleman expression). You pile on top of this a causality: somehow I’ve made these people express themselves as they do. I don’t feel myself to be a victim, but this has the flavor of blaming the victim. In all areas, the applicable test is, are others treated in the same way, or are special standards invoked for the radical, the woman, et. al.
    Now you bring in Barzun, oy vey. For an expression of the better world that we imagine once was, I prefer The Grand Hotel Budapest. Otherwise, everybody ‘scuse me, I’m gonna take a nap.

  25. I offered evidence and specific instances and nobody is offering evidence against my portrayal of these three greats. (Jesse Lemisch @23)

    Prof. Lemisch, this is probably because few people commenting here seem to have disagreed with your general characterization in the first place. As far as I can tell, you’re denouncing the views of somebody who isn’t in the room.

    But there is a reason some people objected to what you wrote. Earlier in the comments, you said this: To show that intellectual history is in fact dealing with reality, including unpleasant realities about their subjects, it would have to be shown that there are studies of: Higham’s hostility to the left, including how he responded to the rise of SDS on his own campus [etc.] …. That would undoubtedly be true, *if* American intellectual history were a discipline devoted to studying the life and thought of John Higham. In my experience, it is not.

    You also said you are refuting “the dominant ideas” about “such as Higham, Hofstadter and Woodward,” as well as “the tendency of intellectual historians to think that these people’s earlier words reflected the beliefs for which they should be remembered.” Again, U.S. intellectual history is not the study of Higham, Hofstadter, and Woodward, and it’s especially not the study of whether they should be remembered as good people.

    It is true that those individuals produced scholarship that has, at times, been highly influential, and which is still influential in some ways today. But to profit from a book by Richard Hofstadter is not to remember him as a wonderful human being, a champion of human liberty, or anything else. It’s to profit from a book by Richard Hofstadter.

    I believe what you have said about these three people is important. It is highly interesting. It is worth discussing, and it’s worthwhile for us to consider what their (rapidly fading) prominence means for the field of intellectual history. And as far as I can see, people have been eager to read what you’ve said today. So I don’t understand who, besides those three men, you’re actually fighting here.

    The reason I (and perhaps some other people reading this discussion, but I can’t speak for them) had a highly negative reaction to your position is that you seem—and this could be a mistaken impression on my part, but it’s a strong impression—you seem to think that any discussion of these three men’s work that doesn’t ultimately attack their personal reputation is hagiography. If that is true, I cannot agree with your position. If it’s not, I think that perhaps the current state of American intellectual history is not as foreign to your position as you have claimed.

  26. Well, Fairbank describes Zinn as his “good friend” in his memoir so I guess those liberals were decent folks after all.

    I have enjoyed reading this debate and thank Jesse Lemisch for stimulating a lively discussion.

    I think the reason posters haven’t discussed the content of your post is because it blends (one might say conflates) AHA presidential addresses with personal anecdotes in a way that is difficult to disentangle. I don’t think anyone would disagree with you that Higham, Hofstadter, and Woodward struggled to accommodate themselves to changing political and university climates in the late 1960s. Contemporary intellectual historians don’t spend a lot of time debunking this point (Novick discusses it some in his book) because the idea of a benevolent consensus history has already been discredited. Any intro to doctoral studies seminar worth its salt will criticize the shortcomings of Hofstadter (where’s all his archival work? for example) and Woodward (his struggles to understand the black power movement, for example) when discussing their work.

    I’ve actually found that many graduate student reading lists – including my own – have largely eschewed pre-1970s scholarship and replaced it with Novick’s book and a few select canonical works like Hofstadter’s “Age of Reform”. I was never assigned Becker, Handlin, Lovejoy, or Higham as a graduate student and instead came to them on my own. They were great scholars. They were not perfect and some of their scholarship has not aged particularly gracefully. Still, they are worth reading and I wish more young scholars (like myself) spent more time grappling with their work in graduate school.

    • Exactly, Matthew. Almost everything I’ve read from any of those three as a 21st-century graduate student, I’ve read under my own steam. As for reputation, I know a lot of people who still admire, say, Hofstadter’s ambition and rhetorical ability, but almost nobody who treats him historiographically as either an ally, an elder, or an enemy.

  27. Just a brief comment to echo Matthew Linton’s point above: to the extent the concern in the original post is that young historians are being taught to revere uncritically this trio as “greats” (and I recognize that may not be the only or predominant concern), a data point: In my US history graduate coursework a couple of years ago, I don’t think I once heard the name John Higham; with some exceptions, we read Hofstadter mainly as an example of a now-gone historical writing style and set of ideas, not too different from the way one might today read Frederick Jackson Turner; and if I recall correctly we didn’t read Woodward at all, although sometimes the historical significance of “Strange Career” would come up in passing. I’m referring here to coursework; these names probably do show up more in people’s individual exam lists and reading/research, of course, but I don’t think the expected attitude towards them is anything close to reverence. Now, I actually admire Hofstadter’s writing a lot and reading Woodward has always meant a lot to me in making sense of my ancestral South (which is not to say reading him uncritically), but I came to him mostly independently of my formal studies.

    I do think the general public has adopted a sort of crude Hofstadter as conventional wisdom, and certainly journalists seem to rediscover his anti-intellectualism writings every few years and trumpet their findings as though they’ve unearthed some obscure key to the universe rather than a once very widely read book, but those are separate matters.

  28. LD, my quest for anecdotes humanizing these three was a joke, a way of saying that I haven’t seen any presentation of specific evidence to counter the evidence that I offered of their conduct and expression.
    About history and memory: Kazin clearly expresses his political perspective. There’s nothing wrong with citing personal experience, but I remain a colonial historian, where such evidence isn’t available, except in things like the interesting reminiscences that I have used coming from ordinary people early in the 19th century. All evidence has to be used critically, including such memoirs as well as Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography. but of course it can be valuable. I can’t see why you would rule out personal experience as a source. And what’s in archives also has to be used critically.

  29. Glad to see the contributions to the discussion from Sara, Matthew, and Jonathan. It’s interesting to hear the perspective of grad students from other programs. I read Higham, Hofstadter, Schlesinger, and Genovese in coursework, and they were all also on my USIH exam list. Woodward wasn’t required for my classes on U.S. South / global South, but he was on the recommended reading — and there’s no reason that he wouldn’t be required, depending on the scope/focus of the class.

    Jesse, I didn’t suggest that Kazin hid his politics. They’re quite evident throughout the book. But I do think he was especially good at “dispassionately” discussing the very events in which he was most especially involved. I’m not suggesting that memoir/memory/recollection are never useful sources, or that just because something is “archival” that it need not be read with suspicion.

    However, I do think that historians who are writing about events in which they participated can especially benefit from not drawing upon memory — a self-dictated oral history, if you will — of those events. Because perspective depends on distance, restricting one’s evidentiary base only to texts from the time in question (whether those texts themselves were personal reflection, memoir, journalistic account, correspondence, etc.) could help make some of that otherwise difficult-to-sustain distance possible.

  30. LD:
    It’s interesting , in regard to the that you have studied these historians, and this started with my response to the posting of a piece on Higham (?). I was tending to think that there might be something to the arguments to me that these were dead issues, but some it’s my impression that the influence and reputation of at least Hofstadter and Woodward remain strong and in any case the issues continue.
    Your intro I think unintentionally made it appear that I was offering a critique of Genovese related to my critiques of H, H and W. Not so: he is an entirely different kettle of fish,

  31. the above sent itself before completion. My first sentence was intended to say that clearly the influence and reputation of H,H, and W remains strong and that they remain part of grad students reading, and I was attempting to make the point that this all began with my response to the earlier posting of an essay about Higham, or is my memory wrong?

  32. Your memory is not wrong. I thought (and still think) that your dealings with Higham (the letter from him, the backstory on putting together your AHA panel, etc.) would be of interest to readers of this blog.

    On the Facebook page, you brought in Hofstadter and Woodward as well, and so I asked you to write this essay reflecting on your broader assessment of the consensus historians — though I didn’t expect that your reminiscences would be bracketed with an intro and conclusion that took my whole field to task for a failure of critical nerve!

    But it was my call to commission the essay, and my call to publish it, and if anybody’s hackles have been raised, that’s entirely my fault. I don’t think you were “trolling” the blog, and I hope nobody thinks I was trolling the blog. That would kill me — I love this community, and would never do anything to damage or diminish it.

    At the same time, I don’t think you and your fellow combatants — whatever side you were/are on — need to “retire” and leave the 60s to the rest of us. Permanent retirement comes soon enough for everybody. I do think that your perspective on these particular events may be representative of a particular way of doing history that many of us find problematic, for various reasons, and it’s worthwhile to discuss why that is so, as we have done here. But your memories are valuable in and of themselves, and I appreciate your willingness to share your recollections with us.

    As to our tolerance of dissent / dispute / divergent views around here, we are, I think, a broadly tolerant and broadly disputatious bunch — though pretty quick to call out the stray ad hominem jab. On the whole, comity has not collapsed around here, and whatever our views, our style is on the whole less combative — or at least less personal — than yours. That doesn’t mean we’re any less critical in our thinking, or in our assessment of one another’s thinking. At least I don’t think it means that.

    Anyway, I hoped for a good discussion, and this post has certainly prompted one, so I am glad for that. And where the discussion has not been good, I’ll take responsibility for that.

  33. “By the way. I don’t think anybody has offered evidence to contradict the specific instances that I described in regard to the three historians. i thought that somebody would come up with something, like, maybe Hofstadter officiating at a wedding in occupied Fayerweather, Woodward buying Aptheker a drink at the Yale Club, some humanizing (albeit irrelevant) anecdote. But no: I offered evidence and specific instances and nobody is offering evidence against my portrayal of these three greats. this is a strange kind of history.”

    I understand that this is a joke, but it seems to express a kind of view of history that runs through the original post and your subsequent responses. But intellectual history is not, and I think should not be, the study of whether specific intellectuals are jerks or not. The kind of expose in which someone’s personal or political behavior is used to illustrate the badness of his or her ideas is methodologically suspect, although I’m sure it makes for great cocktail party conversation. You seem to consider the behavior of these historians as somehow a revelation of the lousiness of their ideas, or that their ideas are simply a smokescreen for the “reality” of their actions. Intellectual historians, in general, take ideas seriously as a feature of reality, not as something to be measured up against a non-ideal reality. In the first place, history ought to be something more than _either_ hagiography or demonization–the one is simply the inverse of the other. In the second place, if we follow your preferred method, we end up with the kind of history that shows that Marx, for instance, acted in ways that belied his philosophical work, and–aha!–this shows that his work was not really as radical as it appears to be on the surface.

    I am still waiting for the list of intellectual historians who “swallow ideas whole,” and would appreciate it if you could add to it that list of conservative historians who you respect.

  34. lighten up, Dan, you build your argument on a joke that I made. I just don’t think we need to explain and justify jokes. I kind of like the comical and ridiculous idea that somebody I was disagreeing with would offer as evidence for a contrary argument the idea that Woodward bought drinks for Aptheker at the Yale Club, or that Hofstadter officiated at a marriage in occupied Fayerweather. And they say that leftists are humorless! Actually, it has potential as a new joke genre, and I would invite more. Or, how about, three historians walk into a bar: one was…
    Of course a historian’s political beliefs and/or behavior can illuminate our understanding of the historian’s history. It”s amazing that you would dispute this. Are we back to the New Criticism now? As for personal behavior, would you think it mere “cocktail party conversation” if I told you that a male historian of women physically beats women, repeatedly? Or even that a college classmate who became a noted historian of immigration subjects me to angry lectures to the effect that Yale didn’t admit his son because the place is run by Jews? Create your own example.
    I’m not a Marxist, though I hope you understand that there are varying shades of Left (a Trotskyist and a Stalinist walk into a bar….) Anyway, although you seem to think it ridiculous, I’m quite open to evidence that Marx acted in ways contrary to his stated beliefs, and I would want to re-examine his doctrines in light of this. .

  35. 1. On not having a sense of humor: I wrote the book on that. Literally.

    2. The choice is not between New Criticism and the idea that personal actions are the measure of ideas.

    3. Didn’t think you were a Marxist, wasn’t implying you were, and, surprise, as an intellectual historian I’m well aware of the range and diversity of social thought on the left.

    4. I would be first in line to roundly denounce the behavior of your (fictional?) woman-beating women’s historian. I don’t think that behavior has anything to do with the value of women’s history as a field of study, and if you want to imply that it shows that women’s history is really just a guise for misogyny, I think you’re way way off base.

  36. Omg, Dan the way you handle evidence seems to give strength to my critique. I say that we might have some questions about the history that the woman-beating male historian produces, and you construct out of this a conspiracy theory that I’m saying that women’s history is a mask for misogyny. Get hold of yourself!

  37. This wonderful, sometimes contentious, debate has me thinking about Cold War liberalism and the stakes of contemporary radicalism (again!). One thing that was revealed in the moment of 1969–and in the behavior, at once intellectual (anti-intellectual actually) and deeply personal–was a kind of reactionary and quite uncivil dimension of Cold War liberalism in its ideological/personal dimensions as manifested in the writing and actions of these three historians as they saw their left flank becoming more combative and confrontational both within and beyond academia. Cold War liberalism proved to be quite intolerant and, well, illiberal. Peter Novick taught us that (objectively!). Phil Ochs, as I’ve noted on this blog before, pointed it out musically (“Love me I’m a liberal…”). I sense one thing Jesse Lemisch wants acknowledged is simply that the radicals weren’t the only ones getting “nastily” political (and nastily personal) in that moment. The larger issue he asks us to consider is not whether these consensus historians were jerks, but rather whether they betrayed their own liberalism in their tactics. Was this part of a deeper problem with the ideological underpinnings of modern liberalism? 

    A lot of younger historians sure felt like it in the late 60s moment. Liberalism seemed bankrupt intellectually. It seemed like it had led to things such as Vietnam and it seemed unable to deliver on the realization of full justice when it came to civil rights, poverty, equality, anti-imperialism, etc. In recent decades, with the rise of the right, there’s been ample revisiting of this liberalism: how it unraveled (Matusow), whether it actually has a still-relevant “fighting faith” (Mattson, Beinart), whether there were actually intriuging new mixes of liberalism and radicalism afoot (Mattson on Arnold Kaufman) or even radicalism and conservatism (Mattson and Casey Blake on Paul Goodman, or Christopher Lasch’s work), plus lots, lots more. Not to mention all the bashing of liberalism from the right. It’s almost enough to say “poor liberalism, maybe we should recover your falsely feel good consensus ethos…. Yes we can!” 

    Jesse Lemisch reminds us that we should fight this urge, that we should be quite hesitant to pine for this liberalism-when-liberalism-was-king, that we will need to continue to historicize its intellectual and ideological failings rigorously, just as we must do so with the radicalism that challenged it, and the modern conservatism that arose in its wake and was, just as often, buried within Cold War liberalism itself.

    I think the other question this post and conversation made me ponder is this: what does a productive kind of radical intellectual history look like today? I’m not saying all intellectual history must be radical (already see certain commentators on this blog rolling there eyes), but rather pondering what an awareness of the AHA battles of 69 can do to spark deeper thinking not only about that time, but about what it means to study and write history now.

    There are today certain kinds of “consensus” (to use the term somewhat differerently) positions quite dominant in history, American studies, cultural studies, etc., much of it indebted to work in the Lemischian vein: bottom up agency, Zinnian march of the People, certain assumptions about the relationship between economics, politics, culture. Do these hold up or have they become rote incantations? Against these now dominant post-consensus professional historical positions we see new kinds of work arising: for instance, histories of capitalism that seem to quite purposely ignore production! workers! labor! Marx! The people! with a focus on circulation, finance, money; or the turn to conservative thinkers and intellectuals as figures worthy of serious scrutiny (Ayn Rand, Hayek, etc.). Are these shifts of the historic lens away from consensus history *and* Lemischian social history  weirdly porting in a new kind of reactionary intellectual history? Is the consensus work irrelevant in new debates between radical and conservative modes? Does the consensus moment, and the historical thinking of its major figures, have anything at all to offer in this contemporary context? 

  38. Jesse–
    No conspiracy theory here. Just pointing out the logic of your mode of analysis and where it seems to lead. The example was yours. My point is that you cannot infer the badness of someone’s ideas from the behavior of that person. You disagree, but your own example points to a conclusion that you are unwilling to accept. Am I asking too much for you to address the point rather than to laughingly dismiss it or accuse me of fabricating conspiracy theories? Of course I don’t think you are suggesting that women’s history is a smokescreen for misogyny–but your logic does just that. I’ll just leave it at that, since I don’t think I can make myself any clearer.

    Still waiting for your list of intellectual historians that swallow ideas whole and don’t deal with their concrete realities, and also the conservative historians whom you respect. The reason I ask is because you have made general and sweeping statements, and now appear unwilling to support them with “concrete realities”. Chiding others for failing to provide evidence doesn’t look so good when you’re unwilling to provide evidence of your own for large claims you have made about what intellectual historians do. It doesn’t look like I’m going to get an answer there either.

  39. Also evokes warm memories of my 1968-69 @ northwestern, arranged by lasch, a friendly and open dept. at that time, with fine grad students, then it all came smashing down when I refused to name names, thus helping strotz to become pres.by establishing his tough-guy image. Wiebe said they would have kept me on, but it was impossible with strotz ascendant. Even ver steeg and Leopold were friendly. A nice year, after boorstin and the rest at U of c.

  40. Damn it.

    Dan Wickberg is not Christopher Lasch, this isn’t 1969, and nobody is asking you to rat anybody out.

    What he and, I think, Ray Haberski, upthread, are asking is for you to provide some evidence to back up your claims that the scholarship of intellectual historians can be fairly characterized as swallowing ideas whole. You wrote it, I published it — this indictment of the professional practice of the intellectual/professional community to which I belong — and I would very much like it if you would either make a convincing case for this (so far) unwarranted assertion, or withdraw it for now until you’ve had a chance to look into the matter — maybe looking at some of the historians Ray has pointed out — and report back.

    My surmise is that you have a general idea of intellectual historians’ work that does not actually square with their work. That’s perhaps to be expected. Lots of people outside the field have one idea or another of it, especially if they don’t follow developments within it very closely. I cannot tell you where scholarship stands in history of religion (though I have some familiarity with certain aspects of history of Christianity in the U.S., which intersects with my field) or history of foreign relations, or economic history — though, again, there are USIH titles that draw from or are informed by those fields (e.g. Kristin Hoganson on the Spanish-American War, Sven Beckert on the international capitalist class during the Gilded Age), so I can say something about what I know of that field via intellectual history. But I don’t know those other fields as a whole. So it’s not a flaw or a failing in you that you don’t know much in the way of specifics about what intellectual historians are doing, or how they are doing it — but it’s a flaw in your argument to make a big, damning claim about the field without backing it up.

    I think you would have been better off just sticking to your arguments about Hofstadter, Higham and Woodward than extrapolating from your encounters with them to make generalizations about people working in their field fifty years later, present company included.

    I think your essay — including your close reading of Hofstadter’s commencement speech, and your insistence that this text be read alongside other text of Hofstadter’s — makes a significant contribution, or raises a significant challenge, to how we should think about these historians as historians. But your intro and conclusion don’t serve you well.

    We’ve had an open debate of your ideas on the blog all day. None of us have swallowed them whole. Don’t you think it’s possible that we treat the texts we analyze formally in our peer-reviewed scholarship in a similar fashion? I’m writing about Schlesinger’s late-career jeremiad, The Disuniting of America, in one section of my dissertation. Do you think I’m going to be using that text uncritically? Do you think this community, this professional society, would condone careless or superficial reading that ignores the irony (!) of where Schlesinger ended up in his quest to defend the “vital center”? We’re better historians than that.

    And you are a better historian than that too. You’ve made some strong claims in your essay about history and historians in the 1960s, but you’ve laid out your case with specific evidence. But you’ve made some strong claims in your intro and conclusion about history and historians since the 1960s, without providing specific evidence. Take those unsupported claims off the table until you can make your case from evidence.

    The general sentiment here seems to be that what happened in 1969 has nothing to do with anything, because that was long, long ago. (Such thinking would eliminate the need for historians and contribute further to the jobs crisis.) . Anyway, let me add to Staughton’s remarks about long, long ago the fact that Woodward wrote to his daughter after the AHA meeting to the effect that he had conducted the business meeting in a way that outfoxed the “Rads.”
    Of course the history of the historical profession impacts on the profession’s present and thus seems worth exploring. Note that Staughton, like me, proposes a specific research agenda. G-d knows I presented numerous as yet unresearched topics in yesterday’s extended discussion on this blog, and I renew my invitation to historians to undertake them, with the goal of understanding the past not just in the way that Hofstadter et al presented it, but rather as it really was,

    Subject: Re: visit to Vann’s palatial suite
    Date: Sun, 16 Mar 2014 09:51:40 -0400 (EDT)
    Comments (which you are welcome to pass on to the blog should you wish
    to do so):
    1. In addition to your piece on Cosell, the essay to which you and I
    both contributed entitled “The Bulldog Whitewashed” appeared in the book on
    Aptheker edited by Herb Shapiro, African American History and Radical
    Scholarship (Marxist Educational Press, 1998).
    2. I have no memory whatever about a visit to Woodward. However,
    your mention of it focuses for me what is the central issue concerning the
    1969 AHA convention: Why were the two Vietnam resolutions presented in the
    order they were? Ordinarily, if there is a more radical and a more centrist
    resolution, the more radical will be presented first, with the result that
    if it is defeated, its proponents will join in supporting the less extreme
    alternative. This natural sequence was reversed by Woodward, with the
    result that many young radicals did not vote or voted No when the resolution
    focusing only on Vietnam was presented, in hope that they could thereby win
    support for the more extreme resolution dealing not only with Vietnam but
    with the repression of the Black Panther party, and such like. Hypothesis:
    Woodward and friends maneuvered the order in which resolutions were
    presented. Research agenda: Has any one examined the Woodward papers, the
    Kingman Brewster papers dealing with me (in which there might occur AHA items),
    the Blum and Morgan papers if there are any?
    3. In regard to “swallowing whole”: After forty years in which,
    having been blacklisted, I became a lawyer and wrote about the twentieth
    century labor movement, I returned to the historiography of the Revolution long
    enough to have my two 1960s books on that subject re-issued by Cambridge
    University Press, I was astonished that discussion in the field seemed
    altogether frozen. That is, it was assumed that Bailyn and Ed Morgan had forever
    determined that American independence was a matter of contesting ideas, so
    that the work of the elder Schlesinger, Beard, Becker and others was as if
    it had never existed. This was made possible by economic and social
    historians implicitly agreeing to restrict their work to particular topics (I
    used to say, “left-handed Lithuanian immigrants during the first half of
    1912”) rather than using that work ro challenge the mainstream interpretation
    of the Revolution as a whole.



  42. i offered abundant evidence of the intersection between their political views and the content of their scholarship. Such evidence, as well as proposals for new research, was dismissed as “cocktail party conversation,” and nobody addressed the question of whether such material had gotten through to the world of intellectual history. Brown’s biography of Hofstadter came up, and that clearly missed what H was about by ignoring this nexus. These works are deficient as history because they select out certain aspects of their subjects’ lives. It would really make sense for you people to stop your imperious defensiveness, recognize such deficiencies and seek to remedy them. Face the evidence presented: it won’t disappear by your simple denouncing it. One might add to this discussion the critiques of Hofstadter on Populism by Mike Rogin and by Norman Pollack. While crying out for evidence, people here have by and large dismissed or ignored such evidence.
    Meantime, as an addendum re Woodward, here is something that Wiklipedia takes from Hackney:
    In 1969, as president of the American Historical Association, Woodward led the fight to defeat a proposal by New Left historians to politicize the organization. He wrote his daughter afterwards, “The preparations paid off and I had pretty well second-guessed the Rads on every turn.”[12]

  43. There are indeed excellent grad papers to be mined from this discussion. Nils is completely correct, however: papers are hard to access when subjects are living, and the laws of literary property, these days, give a lot of power to surviving heirs. No one wants to tell the truth about, e.g., the poet Louis Zukofsky, only to have his son Paul bar publication of the book. So the avoidance and denial posited here is likely due to far more prosaic concerns.

    But the fact remains to be underlined: no one knows who Higham is anymore, Hofstadter and the entire counter-Progressive tradition has lain in ruins since the rise, particularly of the Goodwyn interpretation of Populism. And a massive literature has been written, on the social history of the Right, and the early history of Jim Crow, against the writings of RH and CVW. The endeavor you propose has been substantially accomplished.

  44. Prof. Lemisch, you’re dodging the question. Let me make it short, and clear:

    You have claimed that it is the frequent practice of my discipline to swallow ideas without scrutinizing them. You have been asked to support this claim about the current practice of intellectual historians by citing examples of current (or recent) work in intellectual history that engages ideas or treats its subject matter in this way. You have so far been unwilling to do so. I think it’s probably clear to everyone reading this thread that you’re not able to do so, for the simple reason that you don’t know our field.

    It would have been so much better for you to say, “Sorry, maybe I overreached a little there,” than to insist that you’ve presented compelling evidence about the current state of the field, about our methodology, etc., when you have not done anything of the kind. You’ve presented much that is compelling about the state of the field 50 years ago, but you’ve demonstrated no familiarity with the work of intellectual historians over, say, the past couple of decades. Getting a second-hand report from Staughton Lynd just doesn’t cut it.

    As I said above, your essay is strong where you rely on concrete evidence to support your argument. But it is fatally weak where you insist on characterizing the scholarly practice of an entire field of American history without citing specific examples from its recent/current literature.

    As I said, you’re a better historian than that, and I think you’re probably a better debater too. But you’ve kind of backed yourself into a corner on this one, and instead of conceding the weakest part of your argument so it doesn’t undercut the credibility of the whole piece, you’ve doubled down on your unsupported claims. That’s not a good way to win an argument. At this point, though, it’s not even sporting for me to argue about it with you; it’s just not a fair fight. And that’s disheartening.

    But, anyway, thanks again for your perspective on the conflicts within the discipline in the 60s, for the vividly detailed accounts of your interactions with these significant figures at a crucial moment in American history, and for raising important questions about what the relationship is or should be between scholarship and politics. It was well worth the read.

  45. your first paragraph pertains to the living. Most of the subjects of intellectual history are dead. I’m sure you can think of legal problems with heirs, etc. , but i don’t think you’re proposing that intellectual history has come to a stop.
    It’s simply absurd — and wildly arrogant — to say that the endeavor that I propose has been accomplished. Read what you haven’t read above and show that the aspects of the three historians’ actions and thought that I mention have been integrated into intellectual history. And for chrissakes they are still writing studies of Bancroft, Parkman and others whose interpretations you might say are in a shambles, but really, the history of interpretations of American history is a worthwhile endeavor, or are you counting that out, too? . By the way, do you think Hackney’s Woodward should be the end of intellectual history about Woodward? Oh, and I guess it’s pointless to post here stuff about Carl Becker, who is sooo over, right? The more I see of postings here, and of Kramer’s positive and forceful exception, the more I think and see evidence that the kind of intellectual history represented here is in serious trouble, utterly closed down to critiques of the way it’s done, self-affirming, changing the subject, evading, and quite nasty in its defensiveness..

    • “utterly closed down to critiques of the way it’s done, self-affirming, changing the subject, evading, and quite nasty in its defensiveness…”

      Physician, heal thyself.

  46. Jesse–
    Stop digging. Nobody here is defending some image of Hofstadter, Higham, and Woodward as heroes who need to be emulated and admired. If I am defensive, it’s because you chose an assault on the inadequacies of intellectual history as a field of study as a frame for your discussion of these three historians, and repeatedly have taken challenges to your perspective as a sign of the intellectual (and moral) failings of intellectual history as an approach to the study of the past. And instead of providing evidence to substantiate your claims about intellectual history as a field of study, you go on the attack or are dismissive. You conflate notions of history and intellectual legacy or remembrance in a way that makes arguing about history equivalent to a “what side are you on” kind of political debate. I think many of us don’t think about history as a story of heroes and villains, virtuous advocates of the truth vs. hypocrites–that’s _your_ morality tale. You seem uninterested in finding out what it is that intellectual historians actually do, since you’re absolutely certain you’ve got the truth already. The consequence is that you throw doubt on the integrity of your narrative, which, it seems to me, you want us to–if I may–“swallow whole.” Talk about being “utterly closed down to critiques”! Somewhere, I imagine, it’s always 1969 and the Woodwards and Hofstadters of the world are always putting down the radicals and showing their true colors, but that’s not here. Don’t think I’m going to get the last word on this, since Jesse is intent on having it. I will say that your last statement above–

    “the kind of intellectual history represented here is in serious trouble, utterly closed down to critiques of the way it’s done, self-affirming, changing the subject, evading, and quite nasty in its defensiveness.”

    made my irony meter spike. But that was just me “lightening up”!

  47. well, Dan, I see that once again you are laying down your off-the-shelf ready made stereotype of the radical. It really has nothing to do with reality, nor with all the material posted above.

  48. Jesse: I hesitate to wade back into this because you’ve already concluded that all intellectual historians are one thing, and not a good thing, despite the fact that intellectual history as it is currently practiced is no monolith, made evident by the fact that we debate methodology constantly at this blog, sometimes in heated terms. And despite the fact that sometimes our methodological differences stem from political differences.

    To my mind, you were and remain patently correct about the Vietnam War and the cold war liberal response to it and to those who opposed it. I like to think I would have stood with you and the radicals had I been at the 1969 AHA. But that Hofstadter, Higham, and Woodward’s stances vis-à-vis sixties radicalism completely invalidate their historical works is, to my mind, problematic. There are some consistencies that should be pointed out, such as how the “paranoid style” theory worked well (and continues to work well) as a way to dismiss anyone outside the consensus, left or right. But still, their work holds up well in other ways. Even though I disagree with Hofstadter’s analysis of Dewey in “Anti-Intellectualism” (as I make clear in my first book, “Education and the Cold War”–where I work very hard to NOT “swallow ideas whole without scrutinizing what they actually translated into in concrete reality”) Hofstadter wasn’t that far off in thinking that progressive education had anti-intellectual tendencies.

    But what I find absurd (along with several other commenters upstream) is the idea that how H, H, and W behaved at the 1969 AHA serves to indict intellectual history as a sub-discipline circa 2014–at least, until we all cumulatively find a way to denounce the thought of H, H, and W as tainted by their bad behavior in response to the sixties. This seems like a gargantuan extrapolation from a very specific and limited instance.

  49. …And despite the fact that sometimes our methodological differences stem from political differences.

    Nice try sneaking that one past, Andrew!

    I don’t recall that we’ve established the politics-explains-methodology hypothesis as a fact. But it is something about which we have argued.

  50. It’s a little less extreme than the way you characterize it, Andrew. I’m not condemning all intellectual history, or the idea of intellectual history. But the defensive reactions to my valid points by people in this group certainly lead to the conclusion that people in this group are somewhat closed down about what is in fact a fairly simple critique, along with what could be fruitful directions for research by those whose minds are not closed in this way.
    If you debate methodology in this group, as you say and as I’m sure you do, then this particular thread shows the limits of what the list is willing to debate, and what research it deems foolish cocktail party stuff.
    Of course how these guys performed back then impinges on intellectual history today if intellectual history today — as say in Brown’s Hofstadter — ignores these things and thus writes what amount to apologetics. So it’s you who are making a gargantuan extrapolation — tho certainly not as bad as this guy Wickberg — in characterizing what I have been asking for, which is clearly not a condemnaton of everything that occurred in and since 1969 but rather a plea that intellectual history take into account the behaviors that I have described rather than presenting an iinaccurate picture of what they were about.
    Last night I browsed, as much as Amazon allows, through the letters of Vann Woodward, with his immediate account of the 1969 AHA, including his description of people in dashikis marching to invisitble tom-toms, his account of how he outfoxed the “Rads,: and how then Genovese kissed him. When is somebody going to write The Strange Career of Gene Genovese? This would shed a lot of light on the historical profession, and would certainly relate to many of the questions I’ve asked. Oh, I forgot, Genovese is so over, and according to one of the people here, IH doesn’t write about people who are over. Really, this is some gang, reminds me of Yale in the 50s.

  51. “Of course how these guys performed back then impinges on intellectual history today if intellectual history today — as say in Brown’s Hofstadter — ignores these things and thus writes what amount to apologetics”

    Perhaps so. But doesn’t this depend on the notion that the study of Hofstadter is central to intellectual history *as currently practiced*, that Hofstatder’s own interpretations are the same ones that intellectual historians currently adopt, or that Brown’s biography’s is taken as the definitive frame for understanding Hofstadter’s work?

    I’ve been somewhat surprised by the notion that Hofstadter is so critically important to historians currently. One reason is that when I was assigned his work in graduate school, almost everyone in the room began from the position that his early work was the product of a restrictive ideology. Most were prepared to dismiss it out of hand as unworthy of reading or even ever discussing again.

    Personally, I think Hofstadter is worth reading. He shows up in my book as only one example of how self described liberal social critics were conduits and popularizers for ideas fashioned by scientists about what constituted human reason–and what did not. This is to say, that though I decided to comment on Hofstdter, I didn’t think that in the context of a book centering on intellectual life of the 1940-1970s that also concerns natural and social scientists like J. Robert Oppenheimer, Margaret Mead, and Noam Chomsky, that I could spare the pages to discuss Hofstadter at length.

    So though I think Hofstadter is worth reading, that doesn’t mean that he or other historians are the center of my book. That’s not the problem I choose. My book was interested in the scientists who influenced Hofstadter and other cultural critics. It looks at how the framework (or epistemology) they established for defining reasonable conduct and politics accounts for 1. the terms of debate between self described liberals and the left, 2. debate between the new right and what was then centrist political culture. This is to say that a kind of pre-history of the 1980s political-culture wars were fought on epistemological grounds.

    So, because it isn’t my main problem, I don’t take on either Hofstadter or Brown — though I do cite Brown without criticizing him — but in the context of passing on Brown’s recognition that Hofstadter’s work of the 1950s had (indirect) CIA support.

    I say so much here about my own book because I suspect that the case is similar for many reading and commenting here: I happened to think that the history of science and scientists deserved some more attention and so wrote lithe about Hofstadter et al. Perhaps other intellectual historians also chose problems that do not make Hofstadter, Woodward, or Genovese central.

  52. For those who care, here is a link to a May 2011 NYU panel on the contemporary relevance of Professor Lemisch’s critique of the historical profession entitled “Present Mindedness Revisited: Anti-Radicalism as a Goal of American Historical Writing Since World War II.” The link is http://vimeo.com/23996237

    The video is over two hours long. I wish I could say that it is full of golden nuggets, but a careful viewing is worth it.

    It would be useful Professor Lemisch’s “Present Mindedness Revisited: Anti-Radicalism as a Goal of American Historical Writing Since World War II” were more widely disseminated.

    I have no wish to face the many brass knuckles of the community, but I do implore the generous scholars of this community to take Professor Lemisch’s maxim and practice “history from the bottom up.” Many of the posts here on the New Left and the 1960s are from the “top down” by focusing on the SDS, Port Huron, etc and fail to focus on the treasure trove of sources on underground newspapers and radio, etc.

  53. For those interested in how David Brown’s book treats Hofstadter’s response to the events discussed by Lemisch, see pp. 214-221. I think it hardly qualifies as “hagiography.” I’ll quote a short passage:

    “The question of professional autonomy hit Hofstadter particularly hard in 1969 when junior scholars urged the American Historical Association (AHA) to pass a resolution condemning United States involvement in Vietnam. AHA membership had quadrupled over the previous two decades, and the proposed resolution symbolized the emergence of a fresh generation of historians at odds with the liberal preferences of their mentors. The distinguished Princeton Europeanist and AHA president-elect, R.R. Palmer, summed up the resolution issue as an institutional self-identiy crisis: ‘Are we activists or academics? Is our Association a trade union or a learned society?’ Hofstadter shared Palmer’s concerns, and he believed that by publicly denouncing the Vietnam War the association was in danger of becoming a political organization.

    “New Left scholars underlined the seriousness of the Vietnam plank by supporting for the association’s presidency an opposition candidate who would represent their views. Ironically, the only other contested election in the organization’s history had occurred in 1944 when Hofstadter joined Kenneth Stampp’s and Frank Freidel’s revolt against the candidacy of Carlton J.H. Hayes over what amounted to a foreign policy issue–the former ambassador’s alleged support for Franco’s Spain. Prior to the 1969 conference, Hofstadter directed a form letter to ‘American Historical Association Colleagues’ urging their attendance at the business meeting in order to put down the young Turks. The meeting, he wrote, would likely be packed by a small caucus of agitators looking to politicize the association by putting on record its opposition to the war. His efforts, he informed Daniel Boorstin, were designed to prevent a minority of disgruntled younger faculty from turning the AHA into a political society.” (219-20).

  54. Jamie, you must have come in late, or read only a piece of this continuing debate. It’s hardly limited to Hofstadter, nor to the two other historians named in the title of my paper on which these are comments have been made.

  55. Wickberg continues amazing. If the function of history is to parrot the self-justifications offered by the person being studied, then I’m a monkey’s uncle. And I had forgotten that Hofstadter had communicated his paranoia about left takeovers of the AHA to the utter right-wing nut, Boorstin. I hadn’t included in my discussion because nobody has ever thought of him as even a liberal. Thanks for reminding me of this important data.

  56. Thanks, Brian Graham, for posting the url for the video of the 2011 NYU symposium on my 1969 “Present-Mindedness Revisited.” This event was organized by Robert P. Cohen, the biogapher of Mario Savio and author of books about the Berkeley Free Speech Movement and other student activism. He is working on a re-issue, with new contextual material, including the history of the book which was published in Toronto in 1975 as On Active Service in War and Peace: Politics and Ideology in the American Historical Profession. This discussion further incites me to get this out.

  57. To kick-off the 2014 USIH conference in Indi., we’re planning a plenary session tentatively entitled “The Ideology Problem in Teaching and Scholarship.” It will feature commentary by Andrew Hartman, David Sehat, Michael Kramer, Chris Shannon, and Susan Curtis. So, for the conference’s sake at least, I’m glad the “politics of historiography” subject remains a relevant one.

  58. Nice cultural history there, LD, with the photo! Ay! I always loved the Fonz, even to the bitter end, and in that spirit, I jumpeth back into the (jumped the) shark-infested waters with two thoughts:

    1- The focus of this debate has become, in this corner, Jesse Lemisch asking us to probe whether the deeper logics of postwar liberal consensus history still pervade the field of US intellectual history, which in many ways ruled the roost of US history during that period. Jesse does so, admittedly, with considerable animosity and vitriol in his writing, perhaps because he was a key participant in those events, even a victim of them.

    The response, from the other corner, with many voices weighing in, has been a resounding “no, it doesn’t. We hardly even read those dead white guys anymore! Stop fighting those battles from the late ’60s and start reading our work over the last 50 years.” Which is a kind of answer, true enough, but one that hones in on what, to me, is the wrong target. It does so with a few square uppercuts and jabs, but also with some real sucker punches.

    The bigger issue here, the bigger target, the bigger dilemma to grapple with is, again, the legacy of modern liberalism, not to get caught up in a historiography flame war. Is liberalism still with us or not both in the field and beyond it and in the relationship between the two? If so how, why? Not only at the level of surface historiographic rebuttal (which is fine and important true enough), but also at deeper levels of logic and sensibility of historical thinking? If so–or if not–how and why?

    In a way, there is *so* much to say about this, both in the 60s moment and now (and between them, before them, and beyond them), that it’s difficult to focus our eyes on what to me is the larger and more significant question, the one that *really* matters here, the more important target at which we should be taking aim. Nevermind actually land a good intellectual interpretive punch or two on it.

    For example, I think what Jesse raises about the late 60s moment asks us to probe the neo-pragmatist turn of recent decades, and ponder how this recovery of the liberal tradition by intellectual historians who were themselves very much shaped by, inspired, burned, disgusted with, or burned out by their youthful experiences in the 60s, perhaps smuggled the consensus history of postwar US intellectual history’s heyday right in through the social history gates (hey I’ve switched metaphors here from boxing ring to academic campus, or is it prison or is it Chingo Bling’s border fence?). Did this rethinking of liberalism rinse the nasty CIA-funded, illiberal side out? Or do those complicities still linger? I mean linger intellectually not personally.

    And how do we make sense of both the successes and failures of a more radical notion of historical inquiry since the victory of the consensus liberal historians at AHA 69? There was an eruption of radical historical inquiry, of course, after the late 60s and to the present day, one that left those postwar historians in the dust. But there has also been a never ending crisis of the historical profession in terms of jobs, diversity, and a continual fretting about connections of the profession to the broader public. What are these seemingly contradictory tendencies of a radical expansion and intensified elitism (or it’s flip side, a superficial populism) about exactly? I wish I had definitive answers to these kind of questions. All I have is their haunting. I wish we could shine a light on these ghosts (damn moving to another metaphor again! Now I am really truly shadowboxing!).

    2 – I very rarely think about counterfactual history, but I did find myself wondering this: what if the “Rads” had won the day at AHA 68/69? What would the AHA look like now? What would history as practiced in the US look like now? Would it look that different? Would this be a good thing or a bad thing?

    That’s all I’ve got for now. Back to the fights!


    • Michael, I always love your comments, but this strikes me as a (perhaps inadvertent) capitulation to Professor Lemisch’s Manichaeism. JL’s whole argument requires agreement with the proposition that there is some one unitary tendency against which Jesse Lemisch is the sole, noble dissenting voice. I would not wish to concede this point, nor to endorse the self-aggrandizing (generational) narcissism that underwrites it. (A grandiosity that makes me question, to be perfectly honest, the reliability of the recollections of the 1960s).

      My own experience of being reduced to one part of an “X versus Y” narrative is that it is, in its own way, an act of aggression. We all are up to interesting things; some of us are trying to do innovative, interdisciplinary *left-wing* things–and for us, I think, the experience of being yelled at by a New Left angryperson telling us we are doing it wrong is a familiar one. I don’t see a compelling reason to like it any more here than I do in other arenas of politics.

      It is a bad way for a senior scholar to treat younger scholars; it is a bad way for a host to treat a guest; it is a bad way for a guest to treat a host. Wouldn’t you agree?

      • Hi Kurt — I have been yelled at and harangued by many an aging New Lefty. Once one of them almost punched me in the face (I had just read Max Elbaum’s Revolution in the Air and I couldn’t remember if this particular New Lefty was pro-Mao or anti-Mao so I decided to say something critical of Mao just to see what response I would get…which was almost getting clocked in the face–hey more punching like my last post I guess it’s a theme). So I agree with you, yes.

        I don’t like the tone of any of this thread. It’s been accusatory, it’s been defensive, it’s come off the rails numerous times, it hasn’t been that productive. But there’s also been some interesting debate and discussion lurking about. My point is that I just think there’s an opportunity to push past all the derailments, or at least try to, and reach for questions that matter, that maybe get us somewhere. To be clear, my posts are not meant to silence or to be an apologist for anyone or anything; rather I’m trying simply to ignore the frustrating dimensions of all this and try, for myself as much as anyone else, to open things up in new directions, to try to get better lines of sight on the matters at hand, or at least the ones worth mattering.

        Also, I have a high tolerance for grouchiness.

        All best,

  59. Let me just bite off a piece of Michael’s good post. He asks what would have resulted from radicals “winning” at the 1969. Perhaps I’m too close to these things to see what impact that would have had on the writing of history, but my impression is that wouldn’t have had much or any such effect. I think that “winning” would have meant the unlikely possibility that we would have gotten our anti-Vetnam War resolution through. I wouldn’t want to magnify the consequences of this, though there is an interesting present-day parallel in the ASA voting for BDS. Corey Robin has done a good job of needling those who had claimed that this act would be ineffectual. whereas it seems to me that it has had an immense impact. I suppose the AHA resolution, if passed, would have moved other professional orgs to do something similar, and I suppose that that would have had consequences for the grand march through the institutions and for the larger anti-war movement. .
    And what if Staughton had been elected president of the AHA? One wouldn’t want to exaggerate the unknown consequences, but we have a slightly parallel case in the election of a series of leftists to OAH presidency and a sort of a greening of the org’s meetings and actions, but there is ample evidence that it’s not in the hands of radicals. (I wasn’t able to budge them, even with a left/feminist president, to move beyond the ineffectual Grafton-Goodman program of training graduate students for other jobs which also don’t exist, instead, towards support of a WPA for history, which has so far gotten noplace in either org, apparently because they are wedded to the “pragmatic” politics of Obama.) Again, it’s hard for me to imagine the historiographical consequences of the election of a left president of the AHA, which I don’t deny. I just don’t know.
    Another interesting development that can be directly linked to the 1969 radical caucus was what I have thought of as a “pacification tour” of various history departments (I attended one at UIC),by Robert R. Palmer which did in fact respond at least rhetorically to my goals for the radical caucus, which had been largely limited to reforms in governance and a general opening up of the profession, but the fact of the matter was that much of the radical caucus was focused on the war and the Black Panthers and not interested in intra-professional issues. (For this tension, see my earlier debate with Staughton, which producedtmy leaflet , “Who Will Write a Left History of Art While We are All Putting our Balls on the Line?” later published in the Journal of American History.) Earlier I pointed out that this responsiveness began, nicely, under the author of the Age of The Democratic Revolution. But it isn’t clear to me that the AHA has changed much, or certainly not as much as the OAH.
    On the other hand, around that time the AHA set up a committee on the rights of historians, which, although it was known as the Hackney Committee, was moved to good accomplishments by Al Young, resulting in a good statement on this matter and what I think of a treasure source for historians: first-person : accounts of various people’s firings and blacklisting (including Staughton, me, and others). I hope some researcher will look at these, apparently sitting at 400 A St. or thereabout.

  60. Michael writes: “…hey more punching like my last post I guess it’s a theme”.

    Yes, I think it is a theme, and I am trying to understand it, and I find it really complicated.

    I think gender — ideas of masculinity, particularly — is working (or not) in some pretty interesting ways in this discussion thread, as it was also in the FB thread, and, I suppose, in my original encounter with Prof. Lemisch at the 2012 AHA, described in the blog post I linked to at the top of this post. In the FB conversation, the pugilism metaphor was mine. And in my first conversation ever with Jesse Lemisch, the metaphor of physical combat was mine.

    For me, such things fall into the category of outlandish humor: I am being ridiculous. Surely, I assume, no one (myself included) could possibly take seriously the idea that I would actually ever throw a haymaker, a jab, or an uppercut. This kind of talk is a joke for me — as it would be, I trust, for any academics who deploy metaphors of boxing or some other form of personal combat.

    But this kind of joshing might also function like a union card. For me, as a woman, it’s a bit of rhetorical gender-bending that is part of my presence on the page, which is (I have been told, and the little internet thingy that tests these things also indicates) coded “masculine” in a way that goes far beyond the occasional tongue-in-cheek pugilism metaphor. (No, I don’t buy into gender essentialism — but I’m told that I write like a man, whatever that means.)

    In any case, we use those metaphors a lot — probably because, like I said, they’re outlandishly incongruous with what actually happens among academics, which is lots and lots and lots of talking. But maybe these metaphors are a little bit less ridiculous for men — maybe the point of using the metaphor among men is that, yes, throwing punches might be incongruous with their current work as readers/writers, but it’s not outlandish to think one of these men could throw a punch. A bunch of bookish nerds arguing about the significance of Root Boy Slim or Billy Sunday or Margaret Fuller or P.T. Barnum may not strike anybody as a rough crowd — hence the incongruity. But that very incongruity of intellectual force and brute force may be part of the reason that such bookish nerds sometimes talk tough. It’s a way of (re)masculinizing the image of the intellectual in a culture that considers intellectuals and intellectual life effeminate.

    It seems to me that an important issue here — in this post, in this discussion — is the way intellection, masculinity, and violence go together, whether that’s Michael almost getting punched (an exaggeration maybe, but why does it seem so believable?) by some unnamed former New Left activist, or Genovese bellowing at a lectern or talking of knife fights, or cops at Columbia, or Lemisch reminiscing (on the Facebook thread) about the last time somebody punched him out during an argument. These things have gone together experientially in the events narrated and in the narration in a way that makes it seem natural that they go together conceptually. And that nexus of violence, intellectual debate, and masculinity seems like such a difficult mess to untangle — maybe because there’s an element of nostalgia in it too.

    I don’t know. I don’t think I have articulated very well here the dynamic that I’m seeing or sensing in the discussion, and even if I could describe it, I’m not sure what it signifies. It’s just a feature of the discourse that seems important to think about, and if anybody else has any thoughts on the topic, I’d be glad to hear them.

    • L. D.,
      I have been noting this thread tying together a number of comments and asides as well, and I agree with you that it is probably a little more than incidental and a little less than conscious. I think your reading of it as a highly gendered acknowledgment of the incongruity of aggressive intellection is precisely right. But if I can historicize this tendency as well, I think it is also a product of a certain expectation derived from the rhetoric and the actions of both the civil rights movement and the New Left that to be intellectually committed requires an embodied practice that is more than “marching on May Day,” of being physically present and accounted for at a rally or a parade or a picket. Rather, it is to be in danger of physical violence. One’s body needs to be not just present, but “on the line,” “upon the gears.”

      I say that not to draw a sharp distinction–there was certainly the threat of physical violence present at many of the parades and pickets of the Popular Front, and before, when intellectuals turned out in support of striking workers, the IWW, or, in the most intense instance, the Spanish Republicans. And I offer this historicization not to draw an invidious distinction–I’m not trying to pass judgment or state a preference. But I do think it is important to think of this punching game as a historical artifact, a legacy of a particular set of expectations about what cultural or intellectual politics is to look like.

  61. The combat metaphors have been of LD’s manufacture. She posted a comical piece on my punching back when punched, which I have never done in a literal physical sense. As she has written, she earlier did indeed come up to me at the 2012 (?) AHA after I had debated with a panel on which I was the only one calling for a WPA for history (and I might add, the eminent female historian on the panel was aggressively nasty: take a look at the video). LD said something to the effect that “you’re an old dude who sure can kick ass.” This was so comical that I guffawed and have cherished the remark ever since. Ingredients in what made it comical: I come from a culture (NY Jewish intellectuals) which doesn’t have physical fights (except for nuts like Mailer, and perhaps with some younger people, as Israeli-influenced Jewish culture becomes more assaultive). She elicited from me that the last time I had been physically beaten was in Berkeley, long ago in around 1968 (her posting above makes it appear that I go around looking for fights), thrown to the floor by a huge Scandinavian auto dealer. As I noted, I responded by saying from the floor, clearly you can beat me up, but what does that have to do with who is right or wrong? My reaction might be classified as passive, close to my conduct in my various political arrests where I simply went limp.
    In he background of LD’s remark is that I am in fact pretty old (77 now) and that I quite visibly use a walker. They had to build an enormous ramp to enable me to get up to the podium when I debated at the AHA. So this is another ingredient in the comic quality of her remark. she has described a physically decrepit old man, who has never been physically aggressive, in boxing ring terms.
    Finally, my wife, Naomi Weisstein is active on several feminist lists. Since she is bedridden, I monitor and print out posts. Just recently there has been a big debate about a related issue: the tendency in some parts of the women’s movement to put down serious debate as “male.” Some of the women pointed out that that characterization disarms women, lays a pejorative definition over the need to combat bad ideas. But nobody on either side of this debate within feminism was using boxing ring metaphors to describe strong verbal disagreement. it’s misleading to conflate these things, and certainly discourages the fruitful expression of disagreement.

  62. “In the FB conversation, the pugilism metaphor was mine. And in my first conversation ever with Jesse Lemisch, the metaphor of physical combat was mine.”

    My point in highlighting that fact in my comment above is to puzzle over the ways that these sorts of ready-to-hand metaphors can function to both reinscribe and circumvent (perhaps simultaneously?) how intellectual work is gendered — meaning ‘gendered’ in its sense of something constructed, not something “natural” — and how the function of such rhetorical constructs might vary depending on the (assumed) gender of the person using them. Thanks so much to Andrew for this great historicization of “the punching game” — something Kurt was getting at, I think, in his remarks about a New Left generation, and something that (it seemed to me) was also on Michael’s radar screen on twitter, though he framed it in psychological terms (generational trauma). Other interlocutors also picked up on Viet Nam as the backdrop/bedrock of this . There has been good discussion on twitter re some additional functions of the pugilism metaphor (and I think this may also be related to your comment, Andrew) in terms of how it signals a certain class identity — the embodiedness, if you will, of working-class solidarity.

    Great discussion, all — lots to thank about. Thanks much.

  63. I’m not a member of the guild (or family?) that is having this argument, so I’ve been reluctant to weigh in. But as someone with a vested interest in studying the politics of reaction and counterrevolution, I do think it’s worth thinking a bit about what Michael Kramer said above.

    I’d like to strongly second his comments. Not in order to carry on a nasty fight, but as a way of thinking about the ways in which reaction and retrenchment can structure the modes and manners of social thought. Though the category of backlash is quite contested in these parts, I know, we’re all familiar enough with the phenomenon to be able to spot its obvious manifestations. But there is a way in which reaction and counterrevolution can provide a background setting to our categories in ways that go unnoticed.

    To take this out of the realm of contemporary or recent history: Years ago, George Steiner gave a set of brilliant lectures on the mood of Romantic poetry and writing in France in the first half of the 19th century. Less interested in the more obvious modes of reaction and backlash, he looked more at issues like speed and tempo, density and volume. His point — if one can call it that; he can be rather elusive at times — was that if you look at things like the pace of change, or the number of historical actors that stride across or occupy a terrain at the same time, in forms like Romantic poetry, you can get a very strong sense of the impact of counterrevolutionary thought and practice on even the most self-avowed radicals and liberals. Or if you look at Lukacs’s *The Historical Novel*, you see a similar kind of argument in his analysis of Sir Walter Scott. That is, you start to see fewer possibilities for agency — either by the individual or the collective — or more images and figures that can best be described as impersonal, impervious, etc.

    I’m not recommending that we use these categories or arguments or staking my claim that we can know in advance what is reactionary or not; I’m just making a plea for thinking about the ways in which a reactionary imperative can impinge upon us, often in ways we don’t fully understand. And often in ways that don’t map easily onto a left/right axis (though which I think that axis can do a lot to help us understand nonetheless!)

    I’ve tried to do something like that in my analysis of liberal humanitarians in the 1990s — folks like Paul Berman, Michael Ignatieff, Philip Gourevitch, even theorists like Judith Shklar and Richard Rorty — and also in my analysis of Tocqueville’s changing positions in Democracy in America.

    In his own way, Dan Rodgers does a version of this in certain chapters of Age of Fracture, though I think he pulls back from the implications of his own argument. But what’s so fantastic about that book is the ways he looks past the overt political stances of an intellectual and instead probes deeper into the categories of her analysis — and there finds some interesting structuring devices that have their roots in the politics and counterrevolution.

    So if we can take this out of the realm of fisticuffs, and simply entertain the possibilities that I think Michael (and behind him Jesse) opens us, we might find a very interesting and fruitful path of inquiry.

    I say all this not knowing the field of contemporary intellectual history all that well and not making any specific claims about it. For all I know, there is nothing to be gained from what I’m saying in the contemporary realm. But given the overwhelming structuring presence of the politics of reaction over the last several decades — and the ways in which it has restructured entire fields of social thought — can we be so confident that we ourselves have escaped its hold? Again, not in our formal or overt commitments but in our deeper categories of analysis?

  64. Or, to put it more succinctly, perhaps it’s time to revive that hoary category of “objectively counterrevolutionary.” And now I duck and run for cover!

    • That phrase has been going through my head as well as the comments pour in, but I wonder if [ducking and covering myself] there aren’t dueling objective counterrevolutions going on that are less tied to the politics held by the interlocutors and more tied to a fundamental mutual misreading.

      I absolutely appreciate Michael’s point @ 65 regarding the need for caution and self-examination as far as our half-conscious adoptions of or accessions to mid-century liberalism (in the neo-pragmatist turn and other forms). I would even go further and argue that there is in fact a solid albeit amorphous nostalgia for mid-century liberalism that suffuses numerous works of intellectual and political history of the past, say, 15 years, that acknowledges liberalism’s failures but above all admires its ambition and its vigor. If that is what is being indicted by Lemisch and others, I think it’s a conversation well worth having.

      But the response to Lemisch’s argument for the most part has not been grounded in that kind of admiration for mid-century liberalism’s intellectual scale and scope, at least not to my eye. And I think it’s somewhat misleading to say that the response has been, as Michael whimsically paraphrased it, “We hardly even read those dead white guys anymore!” Instead, I read Jonathan Wilson @ 26, Matthew Linton @ 27, and Sara Mayeux @ 29 (and L. D. and Kurt passim) as saying that they encounter these crumbling idols in grad school not as part of a heritage they’ve surmounted, but as part of a problematic that runs tangentially to the kinds of concerns that animate their research and inspire their questions. It’s not that “Hofstadter is so over,” or even that they are “over” him, but that they are coming at US history from a genealogy that doesn’t require some kind of struggle with Hofstadter, Higham, and Woodward in order to say something original or revisionist. (I have to say that this is much less true for my project, which actually does have a lot to do with refiguring the place of Hofstadter’s generation vis-à-vis the Turner generation.)

      I don’t think everyone is ready to understand that in a worthwhile 20th century USIH project, Hofstadter et al. can be tangential, that we can trace 20thc continuities and genealogies around, not through, the mid-century consensus. Perhaps there is some buried trauma, as Michael has suggested, perhaps it is far more prosaic than that. But I think there is an attempt by Lemisch here to measure current intellectual historical work by whether it fights the battles he believes are important using only the cast of characters he recognizes. And to me that is also “objectively counterrevolutionary.”

  65. Sorry, just a correction: you see a similar style of analysis in The Historical Novel, but not that specific point, of course, in Lukacs’s take on Scott. The similarity on that point comes later. Was just truncating two different points.

  66. Good for Corey, for making such good sense. I think in terms of the debate that has been raging here, this translates into the notion that in order to understand thought expressed in the past we need to understand the context in which it was expressed. Some of us, very few of us here, are in that sense contextualists. Again, it just won’t do for intellectual historians simply to uncritically parrot the self-descriptions of the people they are writing about. I remain astonished that not only is this exactly what Brown has done with Hofstadter’s role in the 1969 AHA, but even more astonished that Wickberg quotes this at length as somehow refuting my position.
    I chose to open my On Active Service with an excerpt from the foul McGeorge Bundy’s note in his 1948 study of Henry L. Stimson:
    “Although it is written in the third person, this book has no other aim than to present … Stimson’s public life as he himself sees it… If I have held the laboring oar, Mr, Stimson has held the tiler rope…”
    This of course was the beginning of Bundy’s sordid career. As regards Wickberg’s quotation from Brown’s Hofstadter, perhaps Brown someplace offers a justification somewhat like Bundy’s.

  67. Instead of impugning Brown as a historian by speculating about what he does or does not say, why don’t you go to the text and read what he actually says? If you have a
    “Bundy quotation,” give it to us, rather than making it up. I quoted a short passage–there is much more. In fact, somebody named Jesse Lemisch is quoted (without, I hope you would agree, being denounced). The actual discussion of the events at Columbia and the AHA 1969 occupy maybe 15-20 pages of the text. I question your reading comprehension if you see nothing but “parroting” of Hofstadter’s self-serving justifications, and would ask members of the larger reading community at the blog to make up their own minds whether Lemisch’s reading of this excerpt from Brown is indeed an accurate characterization of it. One thing intellectual historians try to do is to see how their subjects saw the world, and the shape of their consciousness. They also contextualize that consciousness in a number of ways. You keep referring to “the context” as if there is some unitary common sense object that explains these events. Everybody would see it, if it wasn’t for the obfuscation of liberal and conservative apologists intent on denying the truth. But for any event, there are many relevant contexts, contexts that will emerge depending upon the kinds of questions you ask. If you are astonished at my quotation of Brown to demonstrate that he is not writing hagiography–which I clearly think he is not, since I regard it as a work of history–I remain equally astonished at your persistent idea that you are a contextualist, and everybody else is a hagiographer.

    Jesse, you have repeatedly attributed views to me which are not mine, patronized me (thanks for explaining to me that everybody on the left isn’t a Marxist), characterized me as a sorry example of an historian, accused me of appealing to stereotypes ,etc.. Anything else you care to add, do so now, and let’s leave it at that.

  68. Dan, the source for the Bundy quote is: Henry L. Stimson and McGeorge Bundy, On Active Service in Peace and War (NY 1948), pp. 673, 676. (This bizarre statement led to my choice for my book of the title On Active Service in War and Peace) I quoted Buundy accurately. What in the world do you mean when you say I ‘made it up”? Your rage seems to be overwhelming you.
    As for Brown and Hoftstadter, you posted a lengthy quotation from Brown by way of making your argument, and I noted that it weakens your argument to try to make your case by posting a quotation in which Brown parrots Hofstadter uncritically.
    Other things in your letter are also beyond belief. You complain about being misrepresented, and you present an insulting off-the-shelf stereotype of the irrational radical. Of course it’s hagiography for Brown to simply retail Hofstadter’s views in the material you posted. The job of historian is to be more than a mouthpiece for his/her subject. Maybe Brown should have offered a Bundy-like justification — Hofstadter has held the tiller — which is not what historians are supposed to do, unless they define it as their professional duty to simply transcribe the words of the mighty. Certainly I have opposed this kind of thing when I have seen it cutting the other way in some oral history. The historian’s task begins, but only begins with taking down the subject’s views.

  69. Weighing in at what must be near the bitter end, I’ve found this entire exchange fascinating on many levels, and it led to some, for me, illuminating back-and-forth on Twitter with Andrew Hartman. I comment from farther afield than Corey Robin — but very little interests me more, as a matter of US intellectual and US *political* history, than what happened to the mainstream practice of history itself in the postwar era, how those changes dovetailed with and helped define Cold Warrior liberalism as a whole, and the impact of such things on how we think (or fail to think) today, in the public realm, outside the academy. And I think Andrew, anyway, joins me in at least some of that interest. So I’ve always found Jesse’s writings on these matters very highly informative and bracing (as well as laugh-out-loud funny, a subjective quality that seems not to grab some on this thread). Speaking from out here, where the American public is supposed to engage with its own history, the postwar story is far from over, and if the false consensus lies in ruins, any sound from the fall of that tree stays deep within the forest of academe. Supposedly deep-thinking op-ed columnists seem required to invoke Hofstadter at the drop of a hat, just for example, and nearly every history-tourism venue in the USA, where nonspecialist citizens spend hard-earned money and vacation time in a sincere effort to learn and engage, is suffocated by the active contributions of historians of the consensus like Wood, Amar, etc., whose foregone conclusions also show up without any critical attention at all in public broadcasting, CSPAN-covered panels, etc. Does it matter to anyone anymore that right-biased assertions of the Goldwater fan Forrest McDonald fed liberal historians like Morgan and Hofstadter the data they were so profoundly relieved to adopt, or that the views of Morgan and Hofstadter, evidently passe among savvy academics today, then went on to define the presumptions of an entire people regarding its own founding, and have suffered not a single dent in that regard ever since? It matters to me. So it may be possible to recast slightly what Jesse started out to say: I envision mainstream, supposedly political history deciding, in the postwar era, to swallow whole a seemingly intellectual-history approach, as a way of avoiding any painful contact with historical reality. That’s how I’d look at the impact — again, still overwhelming on the public discussion, although little known to the public — of Douglass Adair, for one, and if US intellectual history means anything, that story might still be at least relevant to key issues today.. Andrew has said it is relevant, to him, and that it’s therefore wrong to blast the discipline for engaging in practices it doesn’t engage in. Fair enough. But to the extent that the consensus lies in ruins in the academic world, and therefore stories of opposition to it in the 1960’s supposedly can reveal nothing about the practice of intellectual history today, I find myself actually longing for the days when Hofstadter et al were manning their liberal barricades. On some level, they must have at least known the fight was political; their Cold Warrior blood was up. Some of this thread’s tone raises my concern — and given my ignorance of the practice of actual intellectual history, that’s all it can possibly be — of some degree of numbness to a political conflict, not purely an intellectual one, that might underlie the objections Jesse’s post ignited.

    In the background of this extended discussion has been my paper presented at the 1969 meeting of the American Historical Association, “Present-Mindedness Revisited: Anti-Radicalism as a Goal of American Historical Writing Since World War II.”(There is a description of this presentation and the atmosphere at the AHA in Peter Novick’s chapter, “Collapse of Comity,” in That Noble Dream). The paper had an interesting history after that first presentation. After much positive (and negative attention) at the AHA meeting and in the New York Times and elsewhere, I submitted it serially to the American Historical Review and then to the Journal of American History. It received stunningly negative readings. R,K, Webb of AHR included wording to the effect that I had maligned many of the editor’s close friends. I don’t recall whether Webb sent it our for review, or relied on his own reading in coming up with his negative comments. Marty Ridge at the JAH (a nice man) sent me a fifteen-page handwritten negative report from his reader, whose identity I think I may know, but can’t be sure of since the journal’s reasonable confidentiality rules prohibit release of such information before the reader dies. (This leads to a morbid situation in which I check with them every year or so, asking essentially, dead yet? If I predecease the reader, which seems possible, I hope readers will take up this quest.) The reader wrote, “Lemisch is certainly the Tony Galento of the Left… I don’t know how you can tell him that he certainly cannot do it in the pages of the Journal. He probably believes that he can, which says something about how far he and his ilk are estranged from civilization.” Ridge himself wrote, “This essay more than any that I have read in the last several years has disturbed me.”
    I was invited to present versions of my paper at dozens of institutions, where it received an enthusiastic reception, particularly from younger historians. In those years, after national attention to my paper, and earlier political firing/non-renewals at the University of Chicago and Northwestern, I was preoccupied with the problems besetting the job-seeker in a two-career family, exacerbated in my case by a partial blacklisting, widespread badmouthing (there were efficient social networks before Facebook), and repeated department votes vehemently in my favor over-ruled by the one holdout who would deliver to the dean/provost the over-my-dead-body speech. Shortly after I arroved at SUNY-Buffalo, I made contact through my student Thom Schofield with New Hogtown Press in Toronto, a small left press with excellent publications in social and labor history. Thom arranged to write an introduction for a Canadian edition, and it was published in 1975 as On Active Service…. Almost 40 years later, people who want to buy it have difficulties, and I’m told that there is lively circulation in xerox samizdat.
    I have the Canadian edition in PDF in an attachment. If I can find a home for it online, I would put it there and make it available in this way. I had planned to have it scanned and thus produce a searchable copy, but the present PDF seems to be searchable.
    For an old dude (albeit a kickass old dude), I have managed to educate myself to the workings of social media. But I can’t manage the technical steps involved in making the book available. So my purpose here is to solicit suggestions and volunteers in regard to the technical problems, and to giving the book an online home, presumably on some person’s or entity’s website. No matter what you think of it, On Active Service is at very least a piece of history and one that has relevance today, as indicated by the above comments, now nearing 80.
    Please respond, either to this blog or to me directly at [email protected]

    • Prof. Lemisch, as you know, the blog and website are operated under the auspices of the Society for U.S. Intellectual History, a non-profit professional organization. Perhaps the S-USIH might serve as a suitable institutional home for your publication–most certainly an important text in the history of the American historical profession. I suppose the appropriate contact to arrange this would be Dan Wickberg, our current president. If you like, I can make an inquiry for you.

      I am not speaking in an official capacity, but in technical terms I think it might be a fairly simple matter to host a .pdf on this website — we have done so in the past. In the meantime, if you want to make the document available immediately, I would be happy to upload it to my online storage and provide a link on my personal blog. Just let me know.

      L.D. Burnett

  71. A footnote to Jesse Lemisch at Northwestern. I spent an entire year taking a class with him on the Intellectual History of the United States (C-12, 1, 2,3 i think) and learned how to read American Historians in a way that was critical and historical rather than in absolutist terms. It was a long time ago and i could likely reproduce the reading list and many of the discussions. No point now other than to say, as possessing one of those names that Jesse chose not to name, thus putting his job at jeopardy, i can safely say that Jesse was a Mensch and not a rat fink. When we examine his ideas lets make sure it is known where he stood on informing. One simply did not do it.

  72. Where Jesse Lemisch stood on informing, circa 1969, doesn’t have jack shit to do with what he knows or doesn’t know about the state of the field of U.S. intellectual history, circa 2014.

    The argument in this thread wasn’t a dispute over whether or not Jesse Lemisch is a decent human being — it was a dispute over whether he’s advanced a defensible argument. It is quite possible to conclude that Jesse Lemisch is a decent human being who made a very poor argument. They’re not mutually exclusive. Let’s remember that.

  73. Many thanks to everyone who has contributed to the above discussion. In some respects, the threaded/nested comment feature of the blog’s format can be helpful in structuring such a long and far-ranging conversation. But nested comments (which I generally try to avoid creating) can make following a discussion as it unfolds chronologically something of a challenge. Fortunately, all our comments are date/timestamped, so if some intrepid historian wished to reconstruct for herself or himself the strange career of the above conversation, it would be possible to do so — but awfully tedious, for all kinds of reasons. In any case, thanks to all for a lively and (at times) entertaining discussion.

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