The journal Academic Questions has published in its summer, 2014, issue a commissioned article by Robert Paquette, Charter Fellow of the Alexander Hamilton Institute for the Study of Western Civilization (AHI), on the scholarship of Eugene D. Genovese (1930-2012). Genovese, one of the most influential historians of his generation, served before his death as a charter member of the AHI’s Board of Academic Advisors. Paquette calls Genovese’s Roll, Jordan, Roll (1974), “a masterpiece, one of the great works of nonfiction published in the twentieth century.”

Genovese published hundreds of articles and reviews and more than a dozen books, mostly on the history of slavery and the Old South. He began his scholarly career as a Marxist atheist and ended it as an observant Roman Catholic. Paquette sees certain premises in Genovese’s scholarship that provided continuity to his work: “a dismal view of human nature, man as an innately social being, power as naturally agglomerating power to itself, respect for organic hierarchy,

[and] measured repression as essential to the health of any social order.” Two themes, Paquette argues, run through Genovese’s scholarship: “paternalism as the animating feature in the world that masters and slaves made together in the Old South and the necessity of a moral social authority to thwart the inexorable rise of nihilism born of radical individualism.” With his wife Elizabeth Fox-Genovese (1941-2007), a prominent historian in her own right and a charter member of the AHI’s Board of Academic Advisors as well, Genovese published a trilogy on the political thought of southern slaveholders: The Mind of the Master Class: History and Faith in the Southern Slaveholders’ Worldview (2005); Slavery in White and Black: Class and Race in the Southern Slaveholders’ New World Order (2008); and Fatal Self-Deception: Slaveholding Paternalism in the Old South (2011).

In 1994, in a widely referenced essay entitled “The Question,” Genovese publicly broke with Marxism, asking his former brethren on the left: “What did you know, and when did you know it [about Communism]?” Communism, Genovese declared, “broke all records for mass slaughter,” piling up tens of millions of corpses . . . . [H]ow could we have survived politically were it not for the countless liberals who, to one extent or another, supported us, apparently under the comforting delusion that we were social reformers in rather too much of a hurry—a delusion we never suffered from?” In the article Genovese warned of multiculturalism’s thinly disguised totalitarian impulses. “[A]n unattainable equality of condition; a radical democracy that has always ended in the tyranny it is supposed to overcome; a celebration of human goodness or malleability, accompanied by the daily announcements of newly discovered ‘inalienable rights’ to personal self-expression; destruction of all hierarchy and elites as if ideological repudiation has ever prevented or ever could prevent the formation and reformation of hierarchies and elites; condemnation of ‘illegitimate’ authority in the absence of any notion of what might constitute legitimate authority; and, at the root of it all a thorough secularization of society, bolstered by the monstrous lie that the constitutional separation of church and state was meant to separate religion from society. And we have yet to reassess the anti-Americanism—the self-hatred implicit in the attitude we have generally affected toward our country—that has led us into countless stupidities and worse.”

Paquette ends his article by noting, “Genovese once told me before returning to the Catholic Church of his youth that the idea of the existence of a law without a legislator may be a creative fiction, but he found the future of modern man grim without it. At a certain moment in his adult life, while poring over the sermons of innumerable antebellum Southern ministers, he had a revelation about the modern condition. “The horrors [of Communism],” Genovese explained in answering “The Question,” “did not arise from perversions of radical ideology but from the ideology itself.” Like James Burnham and Whittaker Chambers before him, Genovese discarded the distorting lens of Marxist ideology. By doing so, he was better able to discern the Legislator behind the Law. He died in peace.”