Richard Hofstadter


American Historian and Intellect

Author Quotes

Out of the beliefs nourished by the agrarian myth there had arisen the notion that the city was a parasitical growth on the country. Bryan spoke for a people raised for generations on the idea that the farmer was a very special creature, blessed by God, and that in a country consisting largely of farmers the voice of the farmer was the voice of democracy and of virtue itself. The agrarian myth encouraged farmers to believe that they were not themselves an organic part of the whole order of business enterprise and speculation that flourished in the city, partaking of its character and sharing in its risks, but rather the innocent pastoral victims of a conspiracy hatched in the distance. The notion of an innocent and victimized populace colors the whole history of agrarian controversy, and indeed the whole history of the populistic mind.

Get action, do things; be sane, he once raved, don?t fritter away your time; create, act, take a place wherever you are and be somebody: get action.

Historically, it may be useful to fancy playfulness and piety as being the respective residues of the aristocratic and priestly backgrounds of the intellectual function. The element of play seems to be rooted in the ethos of the leisure class, which has always been central in the history of creative imagination and humanistic learning. The element of piety is reminiscent of the priestly inheritance of the intellectuals: the quest for and the possession of truth was a holy office. As their legatee, the modern intellectual inherits the vulnerability of the aristocrat to the animus of Puritanism and egalitarianism and the vulnerability of the priest to anticlericalism and popular assaults upon hierarchy. We need not be surprised, then, if the intellectual?s position has rarely been comfortable in a country which is, above all others, the home of the democrat and the antinomian.

In the end, the real mystery, for one who reads the primary works of paranoid scholarship, is not how the United States has been brought to its present dangerous position but how it has managed to survive at all.

In using the terms play and playfulness, I do not intend to suggest any lack of seriousness; quite the contrary. Anyone who has watched children, or adults, at play will recognize that there is no contradiction between play and seriousness, and that some forms of play induce a measure of grave concentration not so readily called forth by work.

Clearly, the need for political and economic reform was now felt more widely in the country at large. Another, more obscure process, traceable to the flexibility and opportunism of the American political system, was also at work: successful resistance to reform demands required a partial incorporation of the reform program.

Any historian of warfare knows that it is in good part a comedy of errors and a museum of incompetence; but if for every error and every act of incompetence one can substitute an act of treason, we can see how many points of fascinating interpretation are open to the paranoid imagination: treason in high places can be found at almost every turning -- and in the end the real mystery, for one who reads the primary works of paranoid scholarship, is not how the United States has been brought to its present dangerous position, but how it has managed to survive at all.

Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., in a mordant protest written soon after the [1952] election, found the intellectual ?in a situation he has not known for a generation.? After twenty years of Democratic rule, during which the intellectual had been in the main understood and respected, business had come back into power, bringing with it ?the vulgarization which has been the almost invariable consequence of business supremacy.?

A university's essential character is that of being a center of free inquiry and criticism - a thing not to be sacrificed for anything else.

An intellectual... lives for ideas?which means that he has a sense of dedication to the life of the mind which is very much like a religious commitment. This is not surprising, for in a very important way the role of the intellectual is inherited from the office of the cleric: it implies a special sense of the ultimate value in existence of the act of comprehension. Socrates, when he said that the unexamined life is not worth living, struck the essence of it. We can hear the voices of various intellectuals in history repeating their awareness of this feeling, in accents suitable to time, place and culture. ?The proper function of the human race, taken in the aggregate,? wrote Dante in De Monarchia, ?is to actualize continually the entire capacity possible to the intellect, primarily in speculation, then through its extension and for its sake, secondarily in action.? The noblest thing, and the closest possible to divinity, is thus the act of knowing.

Anti-Catholicism has always been the pornography of the Puritan.

Anti-intellectualism... first got its strong grip on our ways of thinking because it was fostered by an evangelical religion that also purveyed many humane and democratic sentiments. It made its way into our politics because it became associated with our passion for equality. It has become formidable in our education partly because our educational beliefs are evangelically egalitarian. Hence, as far as possible, our anti-intellectualism must be excised from the benevolent impulses upon which it lives by constant and delicate acts of intellectual surgery which spare these impulses themselves.

Anti-intellectualism... has been present in some form and degree in most societies; in one it takes the form of the administering of hemlock, in another of town-and-gown riots, in another of censorship and regimentation, in still another of Congressional investigations.

To the reactionary ear every whispered criticism of the elite classes has always sounded like the opening shot of an uprising.

To be sick and helpless is a humiliating experience. Prolonged illness also carries the hazard of narcissistic self-absorption.

The intellectual is engaged-he is pledged, committed, enlisted. What everyone else is willing to admit, namely that ideas and abstractions are of signal importance in human life, he imperatively feels.

The delicate thing about the university is that it has a mixed character, that it is suspended between its position in the eternal world, with all its corruption and evils and cruelties, and the splendid world of our imagination.

It is ironic that the United States should have been founded by intellectuals, for throughout most of our political history, the intellectual has been for the most part either an outsider, a servant or a scapegoat.

Such biological ideas as the 'survival of the fittest,' whatever their doubtful value in natural science, are utterly useless in attempting to understand society... The life of a man in society, while it is incidentally a biological fact, has characteristics that are not reducible to biology and must be explained in the distinctive terms of a cultural analysis... the physical well-being of men is a result of their social organization and not vice versa ... Social improvement is a product of advances in technology and social organization, not of breeding or selective elimination... Judgments as to the value of competition between men or enterprises or nations must be based upon social and not allegedly biological consequences; and ... there is nothing in nature or a naturalistic philosophy of life to make impossible the acceptance of moral sanctions that can be employed for the common good.

Is there some principle of nature which states that we never know the quality of what we have until it is gone?

It is a poor head that cannot find plausible reason for doing what the heart wants to do.

If for every error and every act of incompetence one can substitute an act of treason, many points of fascinating interpretation are open to the paranoid imagination.

Intellectualism, though by no means confined to doubters, is often the sole piety of the skeptic.

Intelligence is an excellence of mind that is employed within a fairly narrow, immediate and predictable range; it is a manipulative, adjustive, unfailingly practical quality--one of the most eminent and endearing of the animal virtues. Intelligence works within the framework of limited but clearly stated goals, and may be quick to shear away questions of thought that do not seem to help in reaching them. Finally, it is of such universal use that it can daily be seen at work and admired alike by simple or complex minds. Intellect, on the other hand, is the critical, creative, and contemplative side of mind. Whereas intelligence seeks to grasp, manipulate, re-order, adjust, intellect examines, ponders, wonders, theorizes, criticizes, imagines. Intelligence will seize the immediate meaning in a situation and evaluate it. Intellect evaluates evaluations, and looks for the meanings of situations as a whole.

As a member of the avant-garde who is capable of perceiving the conspiracy before it is fully obvious to an as yet unaroused public, the paranoid is a militant leader. He does not see social conflict as something to be mediated and compromised, in the manner of the working politician. Since what is at stake is always a conflict between absolute good and absolute evil, what is necessary is not compromise but the will to fight things out to a finish. Since the enemy is thought of as being totally evil and totally unappeasable, he must be totally eliminated

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American Historian and Intellect