What Richard Hofstadter Got Wrong

Chris Lehman in TNR:

Hofstadter debuted his argument in his Pulitzer Prize–winning 1955 study The Age of Reform, and as the Cold War drove American politics, on the right especially, into operatic new registers of derangement, Hofstadter updated and expanded this general theory of cultural lag into a diagnosis of the distempers of the reactionary anti-modern mind. The two works now anthologized by the Library of America, Anti-Intellectualism in American Life (1963) and The Paranoid Style in American Politics (1964), showcase Hofstadter’s most ambitious efforts to supply a unified theory of the American romance with cultural reaction.

Of the two, Anti-Intellectualism in American Life (which also won a Pulitzer Prize) is the more engaging study, and in its strongest sections the book lands a sharp argument for the autonomy of intellectual inquiry in an American educational tradition that’s proved all too vulnerable to philosophic fads and watery, low-cost brands of socially minded sloganeering. Like The American Political Tradition, it’s a synthetic interpretation of the full sweep of American history. But instead of disinterring the shared material interests of the American leadership caste, as he did in that book, here Hofstadter charts the shifting fortunes of intellectuals as a class and the life of the mind as a precarious redoubt of cultural privilege.

More here.