Elena Kagan wrote her college thesis on the history of the New York socialist party. It’s kind of interesting (pdf), but never makes a value judgment about the movement.
Scholars will know that studying a topic doesn’t mean you’re a fan of it. My Criminal Law professor was a rape scholar who did not in fact rape people, and my favorite college professor, one of the world’s foremost authorities on the Byzantine emperor Justinian I, once told me and several friends that, like Procopius, he thought Justinian was “kind of a dick.” True story.
Acknowledging this, Erickson conditions his statement that “the woman [!!!!! –Ed.] declares that socialists must stick together instead of fracture in order to advance a socialist agenda, which Kagan advocates,” adding:
I’m getting blowback on this statement. When you couple Kagan’s thesis with her op-eds in the 80’s and her later work, I think it is a complete and fair statement. Look at the forest, not the trees.
In other words, ignore the individual facts on the ground and, instead, roll together thirty years of Kagan’s life, make generalizations, trust your gut, and run with it, all the way to CNN.
The key paragraph, most amenable to distortion, is below the line:
“Through its own internal feuding, then, the SP [Socialist Party -Ed.] exhausted itself forever and further reduced labor radicalism in New York to the position of marginality and insignificance from which it has never recovered. The story is a sad but also a chastening one for those who, more than half a century after socialism’s decline, still wish to change America. Radicals have often succumbed to the devastating bane of sectarianism; it is easier, after all, to fight one’s fellows than it its to battle an entrenched and powerful foe. Yet if the history of Local New York shows anything, it is that American radicals cannot afford to become their own worst enemies. In unity lies their only hope.”
Never mistake sympathy for support. History is replete with the stories of bad guys working towards, but ultimately failing to achieve, a desirable goal. Those are sad stories. This is all Kagan’s saying. Note the key pronouns implying distance — the SP’s decline is sad “for those who” share their goals; “in unity lies their only hope.” It’s remarkably bad luck for Kagan that she chose to take a scholarly interest in the far-right’s buzzword-of-the-week, but that’s all it is.