Eric Foner: Defended against Horowitz's claims

Historians in the News

["Facts Count" was prepared by Free Exchange. The introduction to the website where the following entry was posted says: "Free Exchange has taken a close look at David Horowitz’s new book, The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America, and found a trail of errors and misrepresentations. We will be documenting these here at Free Exchange with interviews and analyses based on the book. Each response will be archived to help readers see how inaccurate Horowitz’s representation of college and university faculty is. We encourage readers to add to our list."]

Mr. Horowitz claims, “Professor Foner participated in an anti-war ‘teach in’ at Columbia University, where he invoked Communist Party icon Paul Robeson as a model of patriotism.” (178)

The Robeson quote Professor Foner used is, “The patriot is the person who is never satisfied with his country.” Professor Foner responds, “I wonder how Mr. Horowitz explains that if Robeson is an enemy of America, the postal service recently issued a stamp in his honor.”

Referring to the same teach-in at Columbia, Mr. Horowitz writes, “Professor Foner had been preceded on the podium by fellow Columbia professor Nicholas DeGenova, who told the 3,000 students and faculty in attendance, ‘The only true heroes are those who would find ways that help defeat the U.S. military. I personally would like to see a million Mogadishus.’” (178)

Mr. Horowitz fails to mention that Professor Foner “publicly reprimanded DeGenova, calling his statements idiotic.”[1] Professor Foner’s reaction and those of other Columbia faculty members were reported by the media at the time. A New York Times article appearing days after the teach-in contained the following passage:

“’Professor DeGenova's speech did not represent the views of the organizers,’ said Eric Foner, a history professor who was one of the teach-in’s organizers. ‘I personally found it quite reprehensible. The anti-war movement does not desire the death of American soldiers. We do not accept his view of what it means to be a patriot. I began my talk, which came later, by repudiating his definition of patriotism, saying the teach-in was a patriotic act, that I believe patriots are those who seek to improve their country.’”[2]

Columbia University President Lee Bollinger also condemned the content of DeGenova’s remarks, as did numerous other members of Columbia’s faculty.[3]

Mr. Horowitz quotes a negative review of Professor Eric Foner’s work by the intellectual historian John Patrick Diggins, in which Diggins describes Foner as “‘an unabashed apologist for the Soviet system and an unforgiving historian of America.’” (178)

Mr. Horowitz fails to mention that in the same article, Diggins writes, “Professor Foner himself, I happily hasten to add, has been willing to hire and support teachers of differing ideological loyalties, and in his remarkable academic career he has been more professional than political, a gentleman scholar rather than an academic apparatchik.”[4]

Mr. Horowitz claims that following the 9/11 attacks, “Professor Foner focused not on the atrocity itself but on what he perceived to be the threat of an American response” – based on an essay that someone else wrote but which Mr. Horowitz attributes to Professor Foner. (177)

Mr. Horowitz bases his claim on this quote, which he attributes to Professor Foner:
I write this in an ominous lull between the talk of vengeance and vengeance itself. The moment any such retribution is sought with bombs and guns will be the moment for the mobilisation of anti-war forces all over the world … [Terror] merely enhances and exaggerates the feeling among exploited people that the matter of protest has to be left to a few martyrs. And just as the signs were growing of a renewed confidence in the world anti-capitalist movement, the attention of the world's leaders is focused on a single, dreadful act that gives them the excuse they need to gun the engines of oppression.[5]

However, this quote comes from an essay written by Paul Foot, not Professor Foner.
Confronted with this error, Mr. Horowitz blamed it on the fact that his book was “the work of 30 researchers” and stated that it did not change the content of his profile on Professor Foner.[6]

[1] Margaret Hunt Gram, Columbia Spectator, 3/31/03.

[2] Tamar Lewin, New York Times, 3/29/03.

[3] Margaret Hunt Gram, Columbia Spectator, 3/31/03.

[4] John Patrick Diggins, The National Interest, 9/1/02.

[5] Paul Foot, London Review of Books, Vol. 23 No.19, 10/4/01.

[6] http://www.frontpagemag.com/blog/BlogEntry.asp?ID=625.

Read entire article at "Facts Count," a response to David Horowitz's book, The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America

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William L Ramsey - 5/16/2006

Whatever his current politics, Foner's scholarship on the Reconstruction era South is very solid, and every reputable historian I know regards him as a seminal figure in this field. This is one powerful reason, I feel, why he has been targeted by rightwing activists who seek to cultivate neo-confederate and white supremacist support.

S J - 5/15/2006

Calling Foner a danger is a serious reach. If Foner is dangerous I should check myself in to a institution. Thanks for posting this.