Richard Hofstadter’s “Anti-Intellectualism in American Life”

by David Frum

Question: Could Richard Hofstadter’s Pulitzer Prize winning book “Anti-Intellectualism in American Life” possibly have been rendered obsolete?

Hofstadter argued that there existed a distinctively American tradition that distrusted intellect. This tradition drew its power from the three great shaping forces of American culture: religion, commerce, and democracy. American-style Protestantism valued emotion over theology. American commerce disparaged abstract analysis in favor of practical experience. And American democracy demanded an education system that nurtured the less able rather than challenging the most brilliant.

As ever, Hofstadter pressed his case with learning, insight and astringent wit. And yet as one closes the final page, one is left wondering: Could it be that Hofstadter’s great masterwork is already obsolete?


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