Cultural Revolutions

Nonconformist Historian

Eugene Dominick Genovese, r.i.p.  Gene Genovese, 82, one the more important and controversial American historians of the 20th century, passed away quietly at his Atlanta home on September 26.  A dockworker’s intellectually precocious son, who came up through Brooklyn College and Columbia University, Genovese embraced Marxism early in life, almost inevitably.  And there was a similar inevitability, perhaps, in his return in later years to the Church of his fathers.  Though Gene never lost his belief that class hegemony was the active agent in history, his stance as historian was never the shallow literal-mindedness of most of Marx’s American followers.  Early on, he wrote of the leaders of the antebellum American South, who were his main subject, “If we blind ourselves to everything noble, virtuous, honorable, decent, and selfless in a ruling class, how do we account for its hegemony?”  Genovese gained national notoriety in 1965 when Richard Nixon demanded the firing of the young Rutgers University professor for his public embrace of the enemy in the Vietnamese conflict.  (Gene told me that later on Nixon assured him in private that there was nothing personal in his attacks; it was just politics.)

Gene, I think, thrived on controversy.  A small man, he had an urban tough-guy (with a heart of gold) demeanor that women liked.  He was...

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