The New American
I always thought The American Political Tradition was a para-
doxical book. In it, Hofstadter traced a tradition that he de-
JACK POLE, 2001
Richard Hofstadter's return to New York in the autumn of 1946 prefaced his greatest achievement as a historian. While peers Eric Goldman, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., and C. Vann Woodward prepared important studies assaying the strengths and weaknesses of the reform tradition, Hofstadter's work in progress, The American Political Tradition: And the Men Who Made It, has earned a singular position in the annals of professional historical writing.1 On the strength of the book's stunning popular success, Hofstadter succeeded Charles Beard as the most influential and intellectually significant American historian of his time. The book offered critical and provocative essays about notable public figures, but its underlying themes were responsive to more contemporary concerns. In an era clouded by the Taft-Hartley Act, loyalty oaths, blacklists, and McCarthyism, The American Political Tradition ran against the conservative counterrevolution to the New Deal. Astudy ostensibly of past politics, it offered a fresh vision embraced by generations.
Hofstadter's cautious defense of New Deal liberalism ear ned him the title (privately much resisted) of consensus historian. While the designation hints at the ideological solidarity practiced by many postwar scholars, it fails to convey the complexity of Hofstadter's private pilgrimage from the left to the liberal center. Rather than celebrate an unusually successful and conservative continuity in national life, The American Political Tradition drew attention to the rather sharp economic, political, and cultural differences that divided Hoover's America from FDR's.
Hofstadter prized intellectual independence as the source of original