Sunday, August 06, 2006

Richard Hofstadter

Sam Tanenhaus has a review of a new biography of Richard Hofstadter, in the New York Times. Hofstadter is a favorite of mine, for two of his books: Social Darwinism in American Thought and Anti-Intellectualism in American Life. Not only are they impressive pieces of historical scholarship, but they remain relevant today.

To wit, we might have thought that Social Darwinism petered out in the 1930's but, of course, it didn't. One only has to look at the domestic policies of Ronald Reagan and Bush II to see that Social Darwinism still influences policy makers.

Likewise, Anti-Intellectualism is as much a problem today as when Hofstadter wrote in the early 1930's. While I don't agree entirely with that book (in particular, his treatment of some of the pragmatists), there's no question that Anti-Intellectualism is well entrenched in American culture. Not only is it well-entrenched, it's even glorified and often rewarded. On a practical and political level, we see this whenever politically appointed ideologues reject the expertise of career government employees (at NASA, the CIA, EPA, etc.)

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