The Corner

PARANOID STYLE WATCH

One of the great highbrow haters of conservatives in the 1950s and 1960s was the historian Richard Hofstadter, a revered figure among many academic liberals–he’d probably be held in even higher regard today if he hadn’t died prematurely at the age of 54. He was perhaps the most influential historian of American politics of his time. And, boy, did he think conservatives were a bunch of wackos–the title of his famous essay, “The Paranoid Style of American Politics,” says about all you need to know.

Bill McClay has an excellent review of the new biography of Hofstadter, in today’s WSJ:

Mr. Brown’s book makes it hard to evade the fact that Hofstadter was a historian who, for all the charm of his work, was nearly always wrong in his most important assertions.

Although Hofstadter was a conventional leftist of the 1930s, it was his reaction to the rise of Hitler, and his readiness to connect that phenomenon with the postwar rise of McCarthyism in America, that really cemented his view of the world. In a way, Hofstadter’s books can be seen as one extended argumentum ad Hitlerum and an extended warning against the dangers of nearly all popular or populist movements. He saw fascistic and anti-intellectual tendencies bristling nearly everywhere in the America west of the Hudson River, although of course he assumed that such tendencies had a particular attraction for the political right. …

Indeed, the record of Hofstadter’s best-known books shows an almost uninterrupted pattern of interpretive overstatement and of positions that Hofstadter himself would later have to back away from or modify.

Unfortunately, there’s no free link to the article. So if you want to read it, you’ll have to plop down a buck and a half for your weekend edition–if you have any money leftover after paying for those khakis.

John J. Miller is the national correspondent for National Review and the director of the Dow Journalism Program at Hillsdale College. His new book is Reading Around: Journalism on Authors, Artists, and Ideas.

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