Let’s test your ability to count. Take a look at this:
This video may, or may not, have a lot do to with a historian named Charles Callan Tansill (1890–1964).
Charles Tansill was an American diplomatic historian. Author of fourteen books, he was a prolific scholar who had countless (at least I have never counted them) articles. He was also a racist, segregationist and, if not a genuine Nazi, at least a Nazi sympathizer. What appeal could such a person have for libertarians, Defenders of Freedom? The best-case scenario was, they were so busy concentrating on how many Freedom Basketballs were passed that they missed that their ally was a Dancing Gorilla With a Swastika Armband.* The worst-case scenario is that they DID know of his deeply-held racism and just didn’t care.
This is important because it relates to Holocaust denial. If you missed this little gem: Andrew Anglin, America’s leading neo-Nazi propaganda artist is trying to avoid a lawsuit by denying the Holocaust. Follow closely: Anglin sent his thuggish hoods after a Jewish woman in Whitefish, Montanta. They harassed and threatened her with, among other things, Holocaust imagery. Part of Anglin’s defense is that he can’t be guilty of threatening her life because he doesn’t believe the Holocaust occurred. Thus, he should escape culpability for these actions.
As bass-ackwards as Anglin’s thinking is here, it does make Holocaust denial a relevant subject again. Some of the roots of Holocaust denial goes back to immediatly after World War II, when a few writers tried to shift the blame for World War II from Hitler and the Japanese to Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Tansill was the most notable historian who tried to argue that Hitler was not responsible for World War II. If you can believe in a Machiavellian FDR who was such an evil genius that he tricked Hitler into invading Poland, you can probably believe that the Nazis didn’t systematically murder six million Jews.
Let’s begin when it all began to go wrong for Tansill; his trip to Nazi Germany in 1936, where he was ferried around the “New Germany” and he gave a speech transmitted to American audiences (a full transcript of the speech is available in Tansill’s papers and the Hoover Presidential Library). One thing he wanted Americans to know was that:
Germany has no imperialistic ambitions… The one sentiment which seems universal throughout Germany is a desire to wage no war of aggression. Germany wishes above all things to be “let alone,” and to be given an opportunity to work out unhampered a far-reaching domestic program.
Hitler had been in power for three years at this time. And that “far-reaching domestic program” included Nazi antisemitic laws and propaganda. Concentration camps were opening. Political enemies, Jehovah Witnesses, gay men, and, of course, Jews were being rounded up. Tansill mentioned none of this but assured his American audience that everything was wonderful about Hitler’s Germany:
There is no place in German National Socialism for the “rugged individualism” so dear to many American hearts. German National Socialism emphasizes the needs of the community rather than the needs of the individual, and these needs can only be satisfied through careful control of industrial enterprise. This community or national viewpoint with reference to future economic development has been made possible only through the unifying influence of German National Socialism.
Rampant collectivism! Tansill’s view of the wonderful German economy should have been anathema to libertarians. Libertarian godfather, Ludwig von Mises, who himself had fled from Hitler to the United States, would write a scathing indictment of Nazi Germany in 1944. In Omnipotent Government, Mises would argue that, not only was German racial doctrine incoherent, but their collectivist social planning was essentially the same as the communist Soviet Union. You’d think Tansill’s judgment about Germany would be suspect from a libertarian perspective. But, you’d be wrong.
Back home, Tansill continued praising Hitler and the Nazis, giving versions of his speech: “”Germany Now Strongest Bulwark in Europe Against Communism and War, Tansill Says” read one headline in the Washington Post (17 November 1936). Tansill’s loudly announced pro-Nazi position eventually led to his dismissal from his post at American University where he had been since 1918. The Washington Post noted that Tansill was an “outspoken defender of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Regime” (9 March 1937). Tansill’s firing was undoubtedly a hideous violation of his academic freedom but he didn’t make much of stir about it for reasons that are not clear. Not to spoil anything, but Tansill turned out to be wrong, wrong, wrong about Germany and warm since Hitler launched World War II by invading Poland in 1939.
Tansill was great friends with George Sylvester Vierick a friendship that did not flag after Viereck spent five years in prison for violating the Foreign Agents Registration Act in 1941 for spreading Nazi propaganda and not registering as an agent of the Nazi Government. In 1952, Viereck wrote to his friend, Charles:
You have the most stimulating mind of any man I know. Your conversation, your wit, is tart, but sparkling. My young friend Harald Keith Thompson, was fascinated by you. I certainly look forward with ever increasing interest to your magnum opus. (1 April 1952, Tansill papers)
The young friend, H. Keith Thompson, was a registered agent of the “Socialist Reich Party” at this time and a self-proclaimed American Fascist. and a man who described Tansill as “my close friend.” By this time Tansill had landed at Georgetown University, which obviously had some Nazi-blindness itself. The magnum opus Vierick referred to was Tansill’s 700-page monster book: Back Door to War which attempted to prove that Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan were peace-loving countries that were forced/tricked into war by Britain and Roosevelt.
Blaming FDR was a somewhat popular genre of writing for libertarians and conservatives in the immediate postwar period. Libertarian historian, Brian Doherty explains:
World War II revisionism fit snugly with the anti-New Deal, anti-regimentation attitudes that defined the old right and shaded over into postwar libertarianism. Roosevelt sneaking us into war was all of piece with his creation of unconstitutional agencies to institute his plan for overall regimentation of the U.S. economy and his court-packing scheme to make sure no other branch of government would stop it. (pp. 64-65)
Doherty notes that “libertarians cheered and embraced war revisionism, even if the war revisionists were not libertarians. (In many cases they were disillusioned left progressives, such as Charles Beard.)” And, in other cases, they were unrepentant admirers of Hitler like Charles Tansill. According to 1952 Tansill, 1938-Tansill was right after all: Hitler was a peace loving-gent who had been fooled into invading Poland by the demoniacally clever FDR. Reviewers were….not impressed. I’m very tempted to fill the rest of this post with excerpts but I’ll content myself with a few highlights:
Mississippi Valley Historical Review:
It is remarkable…that in all the expanse of coverage throughout some 650 pages, he does not feel a necessity of discover an opportunity to present even one piece of exact evidence to warrant the assertion or justify the inquiry….The book is unredeemed by humor, art or insight. To read it and to write about are unrewarding tasks.
Political Science Quarterly:
There is no documentation for the first statement in the book (“The main objective in American foreign policy since 1900 has been the preservation of the British Empire”); nor do the 2,000 citations scattered through the rest of the book support that interesting statement. It is much the same at other points. Professor Tansill has provided much significant material, but has not proved his main arguments.
Journal of Politics:
Tansill adopts a remarkably benevolent attitude toward many groups customarily regarded rather critically. Thus, the war criminals hanged at Nurnberg were merely men who had attempted to “break these vessels [the post-World War I peace treaties] filled with national hatreds.”
In the description of the prolonged negotiations with Japan in 1940 and 1941, Roosevelt is portrayed as a modern Machiavelli (“a master of mendacity”) and the Japanese as long-suffering, reasonable, patient men who abandoned their earnest search for peace only after exhausting every possibility of compromise with their implacable adversary.
Pacific Historical Review:
In structure the book is topical and episodic and is wholly lacking in synthesis. Whether intentional or not, the historical distortions are numerous. Back Door to war is, in its own peculiar way, a striking monument to pedantic scholarship, but it is build on a very tiny mound of historical understanding.
I could go on (and on and on) about the terrible reviews the book got. Libertarians, however, loved it. Libertarian stalwart, Edmund Opitz, writing in Faith and Freedom concluded:
That books like Back Door to War are being published demonstrates that there is still saving health in this nation. The facts it reveals are shocking beyond belief, but unless we know them we are condemned to further repetition of similar evils. Tansill has done a magnificent job, and if his book becomes a force in shaping public opinion we need not yet despair of the Republic.
The only words in that paragraph that agreed with historians’ reviews was that what Tansill wrote was “beyond belief.” Young libertarian, Gary North, wrote to Tansill of his college class on the history of World War II, “As it has turned out, the course has become, for me at least, a matter of “what does Tansill say?” Budding libertarian historian, Leonard Liggio was so impressed that he chose Georgetown for
his Ph.D. undergraduate work expressly so he could work with Tansill [thank you to Phil Magness for pointing out my error in the comments. Liggio’s graduate work was done at Fordham. I apologize for my error]. In 1953, the year after Back Door was published, Tansill had a long essay in a volume edited by Harry Elmer Barnes, considered one of the “fathers of Holocaust denial,” that was published by Caxton Printers, the house publisher for many libertarians.
Throughout the nineteen-fifties, Tansill argued that the Fourteenth Amendment was illegally adopted, hence southern states had no obligation to provide the equal protection of the laws for its African-American citizens and that Lincoln at tricked the South into firing on Fort Sumpter and hence the North, not the South was responsible for the Civil War. To give some idea of how this prose was, in a 1947 speech at the Daughters of the Confederacy, Tansill was so raving that he actually embarrassed the most racist government official around, Mississippi Representative John Rankin. Time magazine reported that Tansill was “snapping like a terrapin” and
When Dr. Tansill had run down, Representative Rankin, who had a prominent place up front, attempted a discreet getaway, ran into a nosey hanger-on, declared testily that the speakeer had gone “too far,” and that “the time has come to draw the mantle of charity over all that.”
By 1958, Tansill was a well-known crackpot who had produced controversial, but serious work before the war but since was best known for his outspoken racism and his crazy theories that the Roosevelt started World War II and Lincoln, not the traitorous South was responsible for the first shots fired in the American Civil War. Who would fund this guy to write a book of serious history?
The answer is, of course, the libertarians. In 1958, the Volker fund, which Doherty describes as “the major funder of libertarian causes during the 1950s” (p. 62) gave Tansill a grant of $15,000 (around $128,000 in today’s money) to produce a diplomatic history of the United States from 1789-1958. Austin J. App, another father of Holocaust denial congratulated Tansill, recognizing that the money made his own antisemitic work look all that more legitimate:
I cannot tell you how thrilled I was to read…that you won the William Volker $15,000 award for a series of volumes on American foreign policy. My heartfeld congratulations. It is a wonderful thing for all right-thinking Americans when a revisionist scholar gets any honor–it strengthens all our positions.
Tansill never produced the promised book on American diplomatic history for Volker. By now he was an elderly man and not in the best of health. If the Volker fund wanted to see the results of their money they would have to be content with short pieces Tansill published in the John Birch Society’s magazine, American Opinion, American Mercury (a magazine so antisemitic that William F. Buckley forbade his authors to write for it), or Willis Carto’s even more antisemitic journal, Western Destiny.
In his sympathetic history of the American libertarian movement, Brian Doherty notes that the Volker Fund was a bastion of libertarian purity:
Volker Fund people were trying to craft a libertarian identity distinct from the larger right-wing conservative movement… For one thing, the libertarians really meant it about free markets, completely and totally with no exceptions, but that wasn’t enough somehow. [Volker’s leaders] thought Volker had to boldly stake out ground distinct from that of a standard postwar big business apologist. (p. 186)
Doherty notes, that Volker refused to fund Barnes’s work for these reasons. And yet, libertarians praised Tansill, worked with him, looked to him for intellectual mentorship, and funded him. They overlooked that his work was designed to be an apologia for Hitler and the slaveholding confederacy. He hated the New Deal and Roosevelt and that was worth spending their money on. For the rest of us, it means we must question very seriously the libertarians’ self-professed commitment to freedom.
*Strained metaphor? No, I don’t think so. It isn’t my fault that you’ve never heard of Freedom Basketballs. Am I the only person who remembers the red-white-and-blue basketballs of the American Basketball Association?
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Yep. See pp. 201-203 of my book Loathing Lincoln for more of Tansill’s speech on Lincoln (one that blames him for the Civil War).
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“For the rest of us, it means we must question very seriously the libertarians’ self-professed commitment to freedom.”
A request for clarification. Do you mean we must question the commitment to freedom of the libertarians of the 1940s and 1950s, or do you think we should question the commitment of libertarians today because of these less savory figures on the fringes of the libertarian movement in the past?
A fair question. I agree I was far from clear with that sentence. I was referring to those of the time: 1940s and 1950s. Although the libertarians at the Mises Institute still seem to take this kind of WWII revisionism seriously and still offer Tansill’s work as worthwhile. https://web.archive.org/web/20180109022243/https://mises.org/library/back-door-war-roosevelt-foreign-policy-1933-1941
If a relative handful of libertarians admiring Tansill in the 50s (I personally never heard of him) says something profound about libertarians, what does the left’s ongoing admiration for doctrinaire Stalinists such as Hobsbawm and (Philip) Foner say about the left?
Also, do you have any actual evidence that Tansil was not just a racist who consorted with anti-Semites, but someone who was an “unrepentant admirer of Hitler.” I see a couple of quotes that suggest that like many American visitors, he was both impressed with Nazi Germany and ignored its anti-Semitism. But that’s 1937. To be an “unrepentant” admirer of Hitler, you’d have to say nice things about Hitler after World War II and the Holocaust.
Being a “close friend” of H. Keith Thompson was not possible unless you admired the Nazi regime. See Kevin Coogan’s DREAMER OF THE DAY for that. In the late 1950s until his death in 1964 Tansill also worked closely with Earnest Sevier Cox, Donald Swan and Robert Kuttner, all Nordic supremacists and admirers of Nazis, such as Hans F.K. Guenther. See my SCIENCE FOR SEGREGATION for that information.
I’m not interested in your “whataboutismI’m not a labor historian. I’ve never heard of Philip Foner. Hobsbawm is a big enough name that I’ve heard of him, but I don’t think I’ve ever read him. I’m not sure why my work, which is focusing on a little-known story of libertarians and the racist right must also acknowledge the left. Do you go out of your way to acknowledge the sins of libertarians in your histories?
In my own field, I’ve written myself of the progressive movement and eugenics, for example. That topic was first brought to the attention of historians of eugenics in 1972. It is well-known and widely acknowledged. Why in the world do I need to trot it out for you merely because you want to deflect attention away from the history of your own ideology?
And, by-the-way, those histories have been written by liberals and leftists, NOT by conservatives trying to score points against liberals. But when I turn to the histories of American libertarianism, which have mostly been written by libertarians, I find nothing but hagiographies of the Great Men (and a few women).
So, spare me the demand that I mention every leftist you’ve heard is a bad guy just to soothe your feelings.
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In short, you don’t have any evidence that he was an unrepentant admirer of Hitler.
What you shown is that he was a racist who consorted with anti-Semites, said some nice things about the Nazi regime, and was utterly wrong about Nazi intentions. You also show he was a critic of FDR and his efforts to get the U.S. in the war. You’ve further shown that a handful of libertarians admired his historical work, without showing whether or to what extent they were aware of his political etc views. I’m not sure what this is supposed to tell us. Lots of libertarians, a lot more, in fact, were great admirers of Gabriel Kolko’s work on railroad regulation. Some weren’t aware that he was a hardcore socialist, and others were and still thought his work had historical value. Is this an example of libertarian blindness to socialism?
As for what-aboutism, if you were simply engaging in historical analysis, you’d be right. But there’s this: “By 1958, Tansill was a well-known crackpot who had produced controversial, but serious work before the war but since was best known for his outspoken racism and his crazy theories that the Roosevelt started World War II and Lincoln, not the traitorous South was responsible for the first shots fired in the American Civil War. Who would fund this guy to write a book of serious history? The answer is, of course, the libertarians.”
Perhaps I’m overreading, so feel free to correct me. But it strikes me that you are alluding to a broader thesis about libertarians, that they were, back in the 50s at least, at best willfully blind to racism, anti-Semitism, etc., among their sometimes intellectual allies, and that this is some sort of unique stain on libertarianism.
Here’s a contrary thesis: Anti-statist ideas were so uncommon and disreputed in the academy in the 1950s and 60s that libertarians sometimes were entirely too enthusiastic about scholarship that seemed to support their views, even when such scholarship was undertaken by marginal people, like Tansill, or less marginal people who were both strongly anti-libertarian and were poor scholars (Kolko, IMHO). That is indeed regrettable, and I’ve personally never been a fan, even in my most radical libertarian days, of the nonsense that Rothbard and others spewed about history–much of it cribbed from leftist sources sympathetic to the Soviets!
Gimme a break: “other than cavorting with Nazis and publishing in Carto’s magazines and being hardcore racist and thinking Hitler should have taken over Europe what proof does Jackson have that Tansill was a Nazi sympathizer?! None!!!”
As for Kolko: Libertarians didn’t have him as a PhD advisor like Liggio did for Tansill. If they had, they would have known he was a leftist. Also, libertarians didn’t generously fund his work as they did Tansill. Do you suppose the Volker Fund didn’t know about Tansill’s beliefs when they shelled out the money? What was the vetting like for them do you think? And Kolko, though controversial, at least had enough evidence to support his argument that it needed to be taken seriously even if he was wrong. The same cannot be said for Tansill. They simply were not on the same level in terms of scholarship.
“Anti-statist ideas were so uncommon and disreputed in the academy in the 1950s and 60s that libertarians sometimes were entirely too enthusiastic about scholarship that seemed to support their views.”
Slow down for a sec., let’s be very specific about what these “anti-statist ideas” were and why they were “uncommon and disreputed” not just in the academy but by any reasonable person in the late 1950s. We aren’t talking about laissez-faire economics here. Nor are we talking about the dangers of union monopolies or the evils of the income tax. We are talking about a whacky conspiracy theory that posits that FDR was an evil genius with the ability to make other world leaders go to war against their wills.
The view was: Hitler wanted nothing but peace but a fiendishly clever FDR, together with Lord Halifax of Britain wanted to keep the British Empire together and thus manipulated and tricked poor peace-loving Adolf into invading Poland. But then FDR couldn’t get the country to fight so, devil that he was, he tricked the Japanese into bombing Pearl Harbor. The world would have been a far better place if we would have stayed out of World War II and let the Nazis reign over Europe because the New Deal would have collapsed and Hitler was just a peace-loving guy.
Those are the “anti-statist” views that, as Doherty documents, were widely held in the libertarian community of the time. Those are the “anti-statist” views that were published by Caxton, praised by Opitz, drew Liggio to Tansill, and that Volker funded. They did these things, as you yourself wrote because it “seemed to support their views.” My question simply is: why? Why did these libertarians throw their lot in with his? What were they hoping to accomplish and why does David Bernstein, in 2018, label these views “anti-statist?”
” But it strikes me that you are alluding to a broader thesis about libertarians, that they were, back in the 50s at least, at best willfully blind to racism, anti-Semitism, etc., among their sometimes intellectual allies, and that this is some sort of unique stain on libertarianism.”
They were far too often willfully blind to racism and antisemitism–among their allies and among the consequences of the policies and positions they held. Not a “unique stain on libertarianism” but a stain nonetheless. This history should trouble present-day libertarians (as it does Jacob Levy) much more than it obviously does. Since every facet of it I write about is met with: “That didn’t happen! If it did happen it wasn’t important! Liberals did similar things! But whatabout…..”
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I’m only weighing in on a matter of factual correction, John, so that others aren’t led astray by your errors in the event that they stumble across this exchange.
Tansill was not Liggio’s dissertation advisor. Liggio took a few classes with him as an undergrad at Georgetown in the early 1950s – a time at which Tansill was still in sufficiently good graces with the AHA to be featured at their annual conference where he presented his argument from Back Door to War. Liggio went on to do his grad work at Fordham where his main area of study had exactly nothing to do with Tansill or any of Tansill’s WWII theories, but rather work in intellectual history on the early 19th century French economist Charles Dunoyer.
I’m sure you’ll just use this correction as an opportunity to shift the goalposts around again, but the fact that you misread several plainly ascertainable events in Liggio’s life so as to transform Tansill from his undergraduate professor in the early 1950s into his dissertation adviser does not speak well of your ability to analyze historical evidence on your chosen subject matter.
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I agree, Libertarianism clearly does not have a sparkling record and what u r saying is interesting HOWEVER I do not appreciate what u insinuate about libertarians and libertarianism, u have asked if libertarians truly care about freedom several times, the fact that libertarians have allied themselves w certain ideas or the fact that some libertarians were racist/ had unfashionable views in no way means that libertarianism is “bad”. Libertarians are usually not interested in things that are not strictly political like racism or holocaust denial, so they are not particularly interested in complaining about private behaviour/ideas. Murray Rothbard allied w the New Left and claimed that South Korea provoked the North, he celebrated the fall of Saigon, celebrated the victory of the Khmer Rouge, thought the USSR was relatively peaceful and not a major threat, tried to justify Stalins Winter War etc. This doesnt mean libertarians are secretly pro communist or pro Stalin. Libertarians do for the most part care about freedom, and yes freedom for a libertarian is different than freedom for a non libertarian, but libertarians usually make that pretty clear, there is nothing secretive about libertarians being okay w private discrimination, private censorship etc. There is nothing to question or nothing to think about. Libertarianism is relatively clear. Maybe people may misunderstand what libertarianism is about but certainly there is nothing being “hidden” or “strange” the alt right certainly has roots in the stuff u talk about and also roots in innumerable other things. The problem is not that ur wrong, but that u seem to be trying to focus mainly on libertarianism rather than looking at a broad range of inspiration for the alt right
You are a master of moving goalposts. You made a bold assertion, not that Tansill was merely sympathetic to Naziism, but that specifically he expressed admiration for Hitler after WWII. Just admit that this was an exaggeration for Pete’s sake.
Meanwhile, you are assuming that there is no validity whatsoever to the notion that FDR wanted the US to join WWII, knew the only way that would happen was if the US was attacked first, and therefore engaged in what he knew were procative acts re Japan and Germany. That doesn’t strike me as an especially radical thesis. You’ve heard of lend-lease? Some libertarians have downplayed the threat the Axis posed, b/c WWII is generally exhibit A against non- interventionism. That sometimes leads them into crankdom. But the notion that the US was a mere innocent bystander attached without any provocation by Japan? Come on.
As for what Volker knew about Stansill’s politics, and how that affected their funding decisions, I should think that’s your job as a historian to ascertain, not to assume.
And you are ridiculous to think the abundant evidence that Tansill was embedded in postwar neo-Nazi networks does not signal some respect or approval (synonyms for “admire” btw) for Hitler or the Nazi regime. You’d have us believe that he published in neo-Nazi periodicals like WESTERN DESTINY but that should not be taken as evidence of…. well anything I guess.
I’m not moving any goalposts, I’m just refusing to play Calvinball with you. People certainly didn’t publish in these antisemitic/racist publications without realizing what they were and who they were dealing with. I have the actual stylesheet for WESTERN DESTINY: it advises authors to “use Yockeyite terminology.” There is no way he published there without being respectful of Nazis.
Let’s take the conspiracies in chronological order: first explain to me how FDR and Lord Halifax forced Hitler to invade Poland against the peace-loving Hitler’s wishes. Please cite your sources. After that, we can talk about how FDR engineered the attack on Pearl Harbor from Imperial Japan. Not just bungled security at PH. Not just poked at the Japanese. The claim is stronger than that: the claim is the FDR planned it, engineered it, wanted it to happen. But, you don’t have to do that until you explain Poland first.
As for Volker funding Tansill. I’m not assuming anything. There are two choices: They funded Tansill to write a book or books on foreign policy. Why. First option: they thought Back Door to War was a great book and wanted him to produce a history of a larger scope in that style (please read the review excerpts I provided). Second option: they DIDN’T know about his most famous and recent book on foreign policy when they gave him a bucket of money to write on foreign policy. What would be the basis for the grant therefore? They loved his articles in antisemitic periodicals like AMERICAN MERCURY or racist periodicals like THE ALABAMA LAWYER?
Thing is: it matters little in our evaluation of the decision: they are either willingly complicit in supporting a Nazi sympathizer or they are ignorantly supporting one. Take your choice. The important point is: after he got the $$ he only published his work on foreign policy in antisemitic/racist periodicals. So Volker, either willfully or through incompetence funded work in those periodicals. Which option do you think speaks better of one of the main funders of libertarian causes of the time?
You’d better switch back to the “I’ve never heard of Tansill so this isn’t important!” or “Liberals were racists too” at this point.
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(1) Call me old fashioned, but if a historian states in writing that someone was an “unrepentant admirer of Hitler,” I would think that if we were competent he’d have some evidence that the individual was not just sympathetic to the Nazi regime in general, but that he specifically expressed admiration of Hitler after WWII.
(2) “they thought Back Door to War was a great book and wanted him to produce a history of a larger scope in that style” This is exactly the alternate thesis I proposed, that libertarians too eagerly embraced marginal scholarship that fit their worldview.
(3) Incompetence obviously fits better. Two decades later, IHS funded a year long fellowship for some professor based on work he did that they thought might have libertarian potential. He was so fascinated appalled by the radical libertarianism he encountered at IHS that year that instead of writing the project he was funded for, he wrote a book-length attack on libertarianism. IHS regretted funding him, of course. Can’t recall the name of the book or author offhand, but I’ve read it. Once again, if you are going to assert something about Volker’s motivations, you need to prove it, not just assert it. Maybe they incompetently didn’t know he was a racist. Maybe they knew, but they thought his historical work was sound nevertheless and gave him money despite, not because, he was a racist. Maybe they had racist sympathies themselves. Those are all plausible theses. A historian needs to choose among them based on actual evidence, not based on whatever theory fits into his preconceived thesis.
So I took a quick look at Back Door to War. There are 987 references to Hitler in the book. I only looked at several dozen, none of them expressed admiration. Can you point me to where he expresses admiration? I also looked at some but not all of the references to Jews and anti-Semitism. He seems to downplay the extent to which the Nazis fomented anti-Semitism as opposed to simply exacerbating preexisting anti-Semitism, but he doesn’t seem sympathetic to anti-Semitism. Is there some reason a reader of this book not privy to his private thoughts would have known he was an anti-Semite?
1. Someone who was so fervent in support of the Nazi regime in 1937 that he lost his job (and never publicly repented that support) ; someone who was close friends with the leaders of the American neo-Nazi underground after the war; someone who wrote for antisemitic/racist/neo-Nazi periodicals in the 1950s; someone who wrote an apologia of Hitler’s peace-loving ways in 1952; someone who analysis of the Nazi regime short-shrifts antisemitism as a motivation for Hitler’s actions; someone praised by Austin App for providing “respectable” cover for Holocaust denial; someone who is still praised and quoted by today’s neo-Nazi websites does not, in my book, does need to make public statements like, “You know who I really admire? Hitler!” in order to be labeled an “unrepentant admirer of Hitler.”
I suppose since David Duke never says the sentence, “I am a racist!” you think there is no evidence for him being a racist.
2. “This is exactly the alternate thesis I proposed, that libertarians too eagerly embraced marginal scholarship that fit their worldview.” And you think, somehow, this makes libertarians look better? What you are saying is: the “libertarian worldview” was so deeply flawed that they sought support from a man who wrote a book that portrayed Hitler as a peace-loving leader who was forced into war by the President of the United States. How sad is that?
See, I would think that once you got to that point, you might question whether or not the libertarian stance on non-intervention should be modified or at least questioned. That maybe it is a good idea that Hitler wasn’t sitting astride all of Europe, that maybe the war, devastating as it was, was necessary. But, rather than question the “libertarian worldview” what Volker et. al. did was ally themselves with a completely bizarre and unsupported conspiracy theory about FDR because, as you admit, that was necessary to support the “libertarian worldview.” To me, that signals a serious, serious problem with their intellectual program. Why doesn’t it to you?
And, as my OP makes quite clear, I never argued that they supported Tansill BECAUSE he was a racist. I said they supported Tansill BECAUSE he supported the “libertarian worldview” which, in this case, coincided with his “racist worldview.” That is the whole *point* of my argument. My entire project is devoted to the idea that the “libertarian worldview” often coincided with the “racist worldview” and libertarians either didn’t know, didn’t care, or were quite happy with that. None of those options make the “libertarian worldview” any more acceptable.
3. “A historian needs to choose among them based on actual evidence, not based on whatever theory fits into his preconceived thesis.” Spare me. You have no idea about any “preconceived thesis” I may or may not have. And, as my response to #2 indicates, libertarians are well known to grab any sort of evidence that supports the “libertarian worldview.” I would think the evidence that YOUR “libertarian worldview” warping your preconceptions is much stronger than any evidence you have about mine. The John Olin Chair at George Mason U. is not exactly going to rethink libertarianism any time soon.
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Have you actually read the book, or just hostile reviews? I didn’t read the whole thing, but I didn’t see anything suggesting that Hitler was peace-loving, and I saw several occasions where he noted Hitler’s aggressive actions–he did not think that Hitler wanted conflict with the U.S., which I don’t think is terribly controversial. My suspicion is that you haven’t read the book. I also think you’d better have a good explanation as to why Georgetown hired him if he was so obviously known to be a Hitler-lover from his public writings.
As for the libertarian worldview, one faction of libertarians (but not all libertarians) strongly believed in “peace” as a preeminent libertarian value, and therefore were disinclined to give favorable attention to U.S. intervention in any conflict, including WWII. That has nothing to do with racism. I’ll bet you can find some Quaker types who similarly downplayed Hitler’s aggressiveness (and the USSR’s to boot, as many libertarians also did). Would that somehow make the Quakers complicit in racism?
And you are completely out to lunch on the Hitler thing. There are many people who loved the USSR who had serious reservations/qualms/even hostility about Stalin himself, after the Hitler Stalin pact, after the purger, etc., even as they continued to support the USSR during and after his regime. Does that make them unrepentant Communists? Yes. Does it make them unrepentant admirers of Stalin? No it does not. It has very little to do with one’s ultimate moral judgment about the individual in question, but it does go to your precision/competence as a historian that you can’t see that saying that there is evidence that someone had lots of neo-Nazi friends, wrote for Nazi sympathizer publications etc. is simply not the same thing as saying he was an unrepentant admirer of Hitler. If he was an “unrepentant admirer of Hitler,” then you should be able to find some statement he made, not stating “I love Hitler,” but where he expressed admiration for Hitler after WWII.
And I think I have my answer to why libertarians tend to ignore racism as a social problem. Why Volker would have funded Tansill. The reasoning process is now clear to me. This is how the libertarian mind works and have put myself fully into that mindset:
1. I ignore/explain away inconvenient evidence: That every action Tansill took after the war is consistent with an admiration for Hitler can be ignored. That he never issued any statement REPENTING his earlier admiration for Hitler can be ignored. A reasonable inference from his pro-Nazi activities after the war is disallowed and shows signs of historical incompetence.
2. I get to ASSUME whatever makes me feel better: Tansill MUST have changed his mind after WWII–I have no evidence to that effect, but he must have because that fits my libertarian worldview. At the same time I get to assume facts not in evidence, I demand my opponents fulfill very high probative obligations for their evidence. While *I* have zero evidence Tansill changed his mind, YOU must produce a specific kind of evidence that I dictate to you. Again: A reasonable inference from his pro-Nazi activities after the war is disallowed and shows signs of historical incompetence.
3. I get to ignore the well-known fact that the Nazi regime was identical to Der Fuhrer’s wishes (Führerprinzip) and thus admiration for the Nazis is reasonably understood as admiration for Hitler. There is no real reason for this other than it adds to the arbitrary probative standards I demand my opponent fulfill. So I get to say things like: “Sure, he loved the Nazis, but you need to show he loved HITLER himself!” That this is a very common tactic of Holocaust deniers is something I am unaware of. I also think I’ve made libertarians look better: hey, it isn’t like the guy was was an unrepeated admirer of Hitler! He was *only* a vicious antisemitic racist who was deeply involved in the neo-Nazi underground! So we’re cool!
4. I have quickly skimmed the 700-page book and don’t find it “terribly controversial.” I can thus substitute my quick skim and ignorance of the relevant historiography for the vast consensus of experts in the field who found the book very controversial indeed. I then accuse my opponent of not reading the book; remember my speculations count as firm and established evidence.
5. I get to lecture you about the history of libertarianism, but you don’t get to tell me anything about the racist/radical right. My ignorance of those people (where they wrote, their ideas, how they operated, who they were) is of zero consequence. I have no need of that information for I know a priori that libertarians would never have been mixed up with them. This is not a sign of historical incompetence!
5. I have a whole bagful of whataboutisms that I’d rather you talk about. I demand my argumentative opponent talk about them not about the subject s/he has chosen.
6. I get to speculate about my opponent’s “preconceived ideas.” I have no real evidence that the opponent HAS preconceived ideas, but I throw that in there anyway to distract from the issue. My own, lifelong commitment to libertarian ideology, my own position in an institution well-known to be funded by a radical libertarian who dictates how he wants to spend his money, and the equally well-known tendency for libertarians to be doctrinaire ideologues are irrelevant to my analysis of the controversy. I get to Pee Wee Herman these issues.
And THAT is how libertarians thought when they funded an unrepentant admirer of Hitler. And, incidentally, how they defend that decision 60 years later. Being a libertarian means never having to say you are sorry.
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I notice that you don’t say you read the book. I thought so. Also, if you are so hostile to libertarians who are just giving what is actually constructive criticism so you don’t embarrass yourself as Prof. MacLean has, you really shouldn’t be writing about them. I feel sorry for you, your ideological hatred is consuming your better judgment.
You think I object to libertarian support Tansill because of my “ideological hatred” of libertarianism rather than the overwhelming evidence that he was clever racist who produced work to support his racist worldview? And that I am wrong to worry that there is something troubling about libertarians welcoming his work as supporting *their* worldview? That this whole thing is because I am “hostile to libertarians” rather than “hostile to racism?” As the old cliché has it: It isn’t always about you.
For the record, *I* am not the one who began speculating about people’s “preconceived ideas”, you are. But, when such speculation is turned back on you, you object. If you don’t want to play that game, don’t start it. Glass houses and all that.
As for embarrassing myself, thank you for thinking of my well-being and reputation, I would HATE to end up with Maclean’s fate. She must be so terribly, terribly embarrassed by her book being of such poor quality that it was a National Book Award finalist. That is the kind of thing that usually ends people’s careers!
I think we’re done here, don’t you?
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Phil: Thank you for pointing out my error regarding Liggio. I corrected my text and thanked you for correcting me.
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