Richard Hofstadter: An Intellectual Biography

By David S. Brown | Go to book overview

2
The Twilight of Waspdom

One always has to reckon with the generation
that has gone before.

RICHARD HOFSTADTER, 1960

The New Deal changed everything. More than simply a model for economic recovery, it launched the crucial process of affrming the deep and still controversial changes in American life triggered by modernity. Roosevelt's reforms appealed to black and ethnic voters, celebrated the cities, and initiated a social-welfare state more expansive than anything imagined by either the Populists in the 1890s or the Progressives in the 1910s. A raw, anarchic enthusiasm for property rights had fueled the swift expansion of American material progress, but the laissez-faire state proved incapable of mastering the current crisis. Something had to give. Among thoughtful observers, it seemed clear that the old order, and the social, intellectual, and racial underpinnings that supported it, were ripe for revision.

As he searched for a dissertation topic in the late Depression spring of 1940, Richard Hofstadter sensed a fundamental shift in American life. Waspdom was breaking up. The subject, and its extraordinary implications linking the Anglo past to the ethnic present, never ceased to interest him. “The United States began with the heritage of slavery and with white Anglo-Saxon Protestant domination,” he wrote in a late career summing-up. “The upsurge of the new immigrants, the Catholics, and now finally of the Negroes has made our twentieth-century history into a story of ethnic wars of various kinds, wars incidental to transforming the old America into a multi-ethnic, multi-religious urban society.” As a critic of the older liberalism, a product of a mixed ethnic parentage, and an ambitious junior scholar in search of an important

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Richard Hofstadter: An Intellectual Biography
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents ix
  • Acknowledgments xi
  • Introduction - Interior, Exterior xiii
  • Part I - Education, 1916–1950 1
  • 1: Radical Roots 3
  • 2: The Twilight of Waspdom 28
  • 3: The New American Political Tradition 50
  • 4: The Historian as Social Scientist 72
  • Part II - Engagement, 1950–1965 97
  • 5: The Age of Reform and Its Critics 99
  • 6: The Crisis of Intellect 120
  • 7: The Paranoid Mind 142
  • Part III - Eclipse, 1965–1970 161
  • 8: Rebellion from Within 163
  • 9: Conflict and Consensus—redux 188
  • 10: The Trials of Liberalism 207
  • 11: A World Full 222
  • Notes 239
  • Bibliographic Essay - In Search of Richard Hofstadter 267
  • Sources 277
  • Students of Richard Hofstadter 281
  • Index 283
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