Why I Still Teach Richard Hofstadter in my Course

Here is a great post on Richard Hofastdter and a defense on using his perspective in the U.S. History course:

The Hofstadter nostalgia boom is also fueled by readers who find in his work a foreshadowing of their own anxiety about the irrationality of populist movements. His feeling that populism posed a danger to democracy seems to liberals and conservatives alike to speak to our own time–as indeed in many ways it does. Many writers seeking to understand the 2004 “red state” phenomenon turned to Hofstadter’s essays on “status anxiety” and “the paranoid style in American politics”–especially after George W. Bush mobilized his supporters with a good-old-boy rhetoric that was proudly stupid.

I would read the rest here.

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4 thoughts on “Why I Still Teach Richard Hofstadter in my Course

  1. So… Hofstadter’s theories usually proved a bit off with more historical perspective, but mere months after the evil Bush left office they fit the Republicans like a glove? I see.

    That being said, I won’t throw the baby out with the bath water. Despite the dig at folks that “cling” to guns and religion, that was a well-written, engaging article. Thanks for linking that.

    There is some suggestion that Hofstadter was willing to critique fellow liberals, an intellectual honesty that I’d like to see more of today (on both sides). That kind of work is always relevant, be it in the 50’s or the… er… 10’s? (This year 2000 stuff is gonna take some getting used to!)

    The “paranoid style in American politics” cuts both ways, not just for “Bush idiots”. This week we have the Department of Homeland Security warning law enforcement officials that “right-wing extremist activity” could include favoring state or local authority over the federal government, or being dedicated to opposing abortion or tighter immigration policies. As a final salute to the troops, the Department claims returning war veterans might join white-power militias.

  2. I am with you Matt. Read his American Political Tradition and America at 1750. You will notice how he attacks various historical takes only to ponder and reflect why historians have drawn the conclusions that they have. I do think one can reason in a comparative way historical trends and changes from one epoch to the next; however, it does require skill and a willingness to use some objectivity — which is never easy to do.

    I just do not find his work to be outdated. I know some do.

  3. I think why some contemporary historians find his scholarship and interpretation is related to his view of their being a consensus narrative in American history. While it is not an exceptionalist or heroic narrative, most contemporary historians would suggest that history is more complicated and contingent than Hofstadter concludes. He is a marvelous writer and thinker, but he is writing during the Cold War, and a product of his times’ desire to find a common center in the American past. Since the publication of this book, globalization, multiculturalism, the culture wars, and a variety of other factors would suggest that there is not An American Tradition, but that there are American Traditions.

    If only I had a 1/4 of the talent that he had though…

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