Update: Jimmy Price offers a response to this post. Just to clarify that I did not delete any comments in that post, though it is always possible that it came through as spam and was automatically discarded. I am pleased to see that Jimmy is relieved by my clarification that many of the comments expressed following the post do not reflect my own views. I will do my best to return the favor.
Jimmy Price takes issue with my last post, which features a video of three Liberty University history professors discussing the causes and legacies of the Civil War. My brief comments focus on the content of the video and do not in any way attempt to explain their views by criticizing their religious and/or political views. I don’t know anything about either. This is a way of saying that I agree with Jimmy that many of the comments that followed the post are troubling for the reasons he cites. I am glad to hear that his experience at Liberty was fruitful and that he was exposed to reputable scholarship related to the period.
That said, I am going to stand by my assessment of the content of the video. I disagree with the way Jimmy frames how university professors ought to be assessed.
It would be one thing if these professors were wearing Dixie Outfitters shirts and talking about how tariffs were the real cause of the war and that slavery had nothing to do with it. But the views espoused by the faculty were not terribly out of the mainstream. Certainly not ideal or complete, but we aren’t even privy to everything these people said to the film student during the interviews.
For this reason I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt, but not so with Levin and his cohorts. For instance, Prof. Robert Ritchie is scorned for reducing “the war down to sectional differences.” Not exactly League of the South type stuff here.
The comparison with Dixie Outfitters and League of the South are non-starters here. The views of the three individuals in this video ought to be taken on their own merit and I find them lacking in certain ways.
For Professor Roberts you could look at slavery or slavery in the territories, but in the end the war is best understood as a “civilizational conflict” or a war of two “rival cultures.” It’s a “culture war.” Roberts goes on to suggest that American federalism also helps to explain why the war took place. Federations are difficult to maintain, according to Roberts, because the individual states must maintain a certain amount of tolerance for one another. In the end federalism collapsed as a result of New Englanders, who “pitched a war against tolerance” beginning in the 1820s. With this breakdown of toleration “Americans started to kill one another.”
Professor Ritchie reduces the war to “sectional differences” and two competing definitions of liberty. What did these differences revolve around? In the North they were obsessed with “money” but in the South it was “almost like a Middle Ages landed aristocracy.” Professor Jones is the only one who pinpoints the centrality of slavery, but then goes on to suggest that one of the legacies of the war is that Americans are now slaves to the federal government. It makes you wonder about his understanding of chattel slavery.
I reject this notion that my blog reflects our increasingly “polarized society” or that what I do hear is nothing more than “tar and feather” any and all people I happen to disagree. I’ve used this blog to comment on a wide range of topics over the past nine years and I would like to think that for the most part I offer reasons for my views. Comments left by thoughtful readers that I happen to disagree with are respectfully acknowledged and I have even been known to admit when a comment has led to a shift in my own position.
I am not going to try and answer for the comments left on my blog. Anyone can see that I attempted to keep the discussion focused on the content of what was said and not on Liberty University or anything having to do with the religious or political views of three individuals in the video.
It’s about the history, which I still believe is, at best, muddled and confused.