Here for the first time in a single authoritative annotated edition are two masterworks by one of America’s greatest historians, Richard Hofstadter (1916–1970). In the Pulitzer Prize–winning Anti-Intellectualism in American Life
(1963) and in The Paranoid Style in American Politics
(1965), Hofstadter offered groundbreaking and still urgent analyses of deep undercurrents in American life: a stubborn, irrepressible opposition to rationality, expertise, and higher learning, and the destabilizing pull exercised by conspiratorial movements on the right and left.
Anti-Intellectualism in American Life is at once a sweeping history of hostile attitudes toward ideas in the United States and, by Hofstadter’s own account, a deeply personal work of analysis, prompted by the “atmosphere of fervent malice and humorless imbecility” stirred up by McCarthyism. Dissecting the political and social uses of ignorance by demagogues, crusaders, self-help gurus, and even reformers assured of their own good intentions, Anti-Intellectualism uncovers a persistent, multifaceted feature of our national culture. It remains an essential resource for our time, fulfilling, in the words of Susan Jacoby, “the dream of every historian to produce a work that endures and provides the foundation for insights that may lie decades or centuries in the future.”
“American political life,” Hofstadter writes at the beginning of The Paranoid Style, a book so powerful its title has entered the lexicon of modern political disorders, “has served again and again as an arena for uncommonly angry minds.” Examining the rhetoric and mindset of figures outside the political mainstream who tapped into the fears and conspiratorial thinking of large constituencies, the book reveals how unruly political movements—from Freemasonry to Populism to the John Birch Society and the rise of Barry Goldwater—have played an outsized role in our nation’s history.
Intellectually omnivorous and an engaging and elegant stylist, Hofstadter wrote widely while working on these two books in the 1950s and 1960s. Included here are his most trenchant uncollected writings from the period: discussions of the Constitution’s framers, the personality and legacy of FDR, higher education and its discontents, the rise and fall of the antitrust movement, and the genius of Alexis de Tocqueville, among other subjects. Several essays reveal the profound shock of Goldwater’s nomination as the Republican nominee for president in 1964, which in Hofstadter’s view brought closer the troubling prospect that “the rational pursuit of our well-being and safety would become impossible.”
Sean Wilentz, editor, is the George Henry Davis 1886 Professor of American History at Princeton University. His many books include The Politicians and the Egalitarians: The Hidden History of American Politics (2016); Bob Dylan in America (2010); and The Age of Reagan: A History, 1974–2008 (2008). The Rise of American Democracy: Jefferson to Lincoln (2005) was awarded the Bancroft Prize, and he has received two Grammy nominations for his writings on music.
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