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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Revising McCarthyism?

I have been having an exchange with David Bernstein of the Volokh Conspiracy about his revisionist claims about the so-called "McCarthy Era" here.  Those of you interested in legal history, historical method, and twentieth-century civil rights history might wish to check it out.

Posted by Eric Muller on October 24, 2007 at 12:01 AM | Permalink

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I think it's good to have someone like Bernstein writing, because I think his work often points out many of the blinders historians (who on the whole are left of center) sometimes have on when writing about the past. In my own research, though I'd fall somewhere left of center, I'm often skeptical of the ways historians have rendered certain events as a result of pre-conceptions about politics. In my case, I'm a bit suspicious of the rendering historians frequently give capitalism.

At the same time, in this post and others, I think Bernstein often overstates his case and pushes an interesting and valuable criticism a bit too far. On the one hand, it makes me disagree with him. On the other, it does make for some interesting discussion, though unfortunately blog discussions are often less than ideal precisely because of how easy it is to post a bit too quickly and not spend enough time thinking.

Posted by: Michael Benson | Oct 25, 2007 3:20:14 PM

David Bernstein is correct that I confused two reviews of his book, one by Lichtenstein and one by Clarence Taylor. Readers of the relevant materials can make their own judgments as to the merits of those reviews and the merit's of Prof. Bernstein's response.

Posted by: Joseph Slater | Oct 24, 2007 5:52:51 PM

Last one: You can find my dismantlement of the Law and History review
at the following link: http://h-net.msu.edu/cgi-bin/logbrowse.pl?trx=vx&list=h-law&month=0307&week=a&msg=IS99EJ3SDvB0/k9vzmLV9A&user=&pw=

The review is good reading--if you want to learn how not to do a book review, and how ideology prevents some people from treating other people's work fairly. And thanks to Brian and Joe for giving me this opportunity to publicize my book.

Posted by: David Bernstein | Oct 24, 2007 5:50:30 PM

Oh, and I think the review Joe meant to reference was a different one, he mentioned the wrong author. I've posted a lengthy critique of that review; it's pretty obvious the reviewer is attacking a straw man, not the book I actually wrote. Here's a sample:

Taylor also claims that I argue that a "'classical liberal' state
promoting free market principles is the best remedy to end racial
discrimination." This is an outrageous mischaracterization of what the
book says. On pages 109-110, I suggest that a classical liberal
alternative to the modern civil rights regime was possible, and would
have had some advantages, but I explicitly state that "the classical
liberal vision of civil rights admittedly holds little utopian promise.
It does not obligate the state to eradicate discrimination, or to
guarantee 'equal opportunity.'" One can charitably attribute Taylor’s
interpretation of my statement that a classical liberal state would not
eradicate discrimination to mean its exact opposite to utter
carelessness, a fault that also apparently led him to overlook my
further comment on page 114 that “Lochnerian jurisprudence [which was,
of course, classical liberal in nature] cannot presently be supported
as sound policy based on the fact that it disproportionately benefited
African Americans in the past when they were disenfranchised.”

Posted by: David Bernstein | Oct 24, 2007 5:42:26 PM

Oh, and I think the review Joe meant to reference was a different one, he mentioned the wrong author. I've posted a lengthy critique of that review; it's pretty obvious the reviewer is attacking a straw man, not the book I actually wrote. Here's a sample:

Taylor also claims that I argue that a "'classical liberal' state
promoting free market principles is the best remedy to end racial
discrimination." This is an outrageous mischaracterization of what the
book says. On pages 109-110, I suggest that a classical liberal
alternative to the modern civil rights regime was possible, and would
have had some advantages, but I explicitly state that "the classical
liberal vision of civil rights admittedly holds little utopian promise.
It does not obligate the state to eradicate discrimination, or to
guarantee 'equal opportunity.'" One can charitably attribute Taylor’s
interpretation of my statement that a classical liberal state would not
eradicate discrimination to mean its exact opposite to utter
carelessness, a fault that also apparently led him to overlook my
further comment on page 114 that “Lochnerian jurisprudence [which was,
of course, classical liberal in nature] cannot presently be supported
as sound policy based on the fact that it disproportionately benefited
African Americans in the past when they were disenfranchised.”

Posted by: David Bernstein | Oct 24, 2007 5:40:13 PM

Are we supposed to take seriously a reviewr who concludes by attacking by the "right-wing Olin Foundation" as a funder of my work (I had a year long Olin-paid sabbatical, with Olin having exactly zero control over the content of my work), or that "Clarence Thomas might approve of this approach to legal history." At least link to a serious review! For a bunch of other, generally more serious reviews, see the book's home page. http://mason.gmu.edu/~dbernste/Redress.html

Posted by: David Bernstein | Oct 24, 2007 5:31:44 PM

A somewhat different piece, actually, but by the same author reviewing the same book.

Posted by: Joseph Slater | Oct 24, 2007 4:41:56 PM

Is this the review Professor Slater refers to:
http://www.historycooperative.org/journals/llt/50/br_18.html

It is certainly an interesting read.

Posted by: Brian | Oct 24, 2007 4:30:24 PM

It's not about the McCarthy era, but in terms of historical method, you might be interested in Alex Lichtenstein's review of Bernstein's book here: 21 Law & Hist. Rev. 431.

Posted by: Joseph Slater | Oct 24, 2007 10:50:01 AM

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