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Claims about Macintyre are ludicrous

17 September 2008 1,681 views No Comment

LUKE Slattery’s piece, “Blainey affair role hounds professor”, warrants serious attention.

The attack on Macintyre’s work as a historian for having being an “ex-communist” is gratuitous and foolish. What about all those ex-comms who turned to the Right?

The current denigration of Macintyre is redolent of the unprincipled attacks on Geoffrey Blainey after his Warrnambool speech in 1984.

Although Blainey and I differ markedly about politics, I was distressed by the attack on his work by a posse of Australian academics, as a direct result of his views about Asian immigration.

Macintyre has always praised Blainey’s work as a historian, and he continues to do so. Also, not only did he not take part in the attempted demolition on Blainey’s professional reputation in Surrender Australia, but when it was published, he was critical of the book.

It is not surprising that Macintyre is somewhat aggrieved by the promotion of an article written by the editor of Quadrant, Keith Windshuttle. This is because Windshuttle has a long history of undermining Macintyre in the so-called History Wars, which in my opinion began in 1984-1985, with the scurrilous attacks on Blainey’s reputation.

It is not the case, as claimed, that in May 1984 Blainey stopped teaching when he became dean of Melbourne University’s history department. Rather, Blainey had become dean of Melbourne University’s history department more than two years before his historic 1984 Warrnambool speech.

And while dean from 1982-04, Blainey continued to teach a fourth-year honours class.
The suggestion that Blainey’s colleagues, including Macintyre, incited student protest against him is also wrong. A number of them, including Macintyre, deplored it.

It suggests heroic prescience to claim that Macintyre might have furthered his professional and professorial ambitions by leading an attack on Geoffrey Blainey in 1984. At that time, Macintyre was only a senior lecturer, and there were a number of colleagues in the Melbourne University history department who were senior to him, in particular the extremely capable Lloyd Robson and Noel McLachlan.

How, for example, was Macintyre to know that Robson, who had far stronger claims to a chair than him, would take early retirement? And how was Macintyre to know that there would be no stronger external applicant?
In truth, the Machiavellian claims about Macintyre are ludicrous.

The fact is that Blainey and Macintyre are continuing to produce historical work and writings of the first rank. Long may this happy state of affairs continue.

Ross Fitzgerald is Emeritus Professor History and Politics at Griffith University and a regular columnist for The Australian.