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Revisiting Hofstadter


I found David Greenberg’s essay in Slate objectionable and weird for a lot of reasons, but wanted to note two in particular. First, Greenberg seems to be claiming, without evidence, that Phyllis Schlafly is an anti-Semite. He writes, “The dilemma is how you understand an extremist movement with analytic detachment without legitimizing what are often deeply misguided (and sometimes despicable) beliefs. How do you offer a sympathetic account of paleo-conservatives like Phyllis Schlafly without glossing over their anti-Semitism — or explain the Klan without explaining its racism away?” If Greenberg is not making an accusation about Schlafly personally, he has written carelessly. If he is making the accusation, I’d like to see the evidence. I can recall seeing this charge only once before, and the case was laughably thin.

Second, Greenberg refers on a few occasions to how the JFK assassination raised Hofstadter’s concern about the paranoid far Right. “And the assassination of President Kennedy on a trip to seething, ultraconservative Dallas — where mobs had just verbally and physically harassed Stevenson and where a John Birch Society newspaper ad on Nov. 22 menacingly charged the president with communistic sympathies — made the extremists appear newly dangerous.” “If nothing else, the assassination crystallized the worries about a resurgent right that led historians in the 1960s to look again at conspiracy-mindedness.” For an assassination by a Communist to have pushed Hofstadter’s thoughts in this direction, and for Greenberg not to see anything at all amiss in this, or even to mention Oswald’s actual politics: It all seems a little, well, pathological.


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