Richard Hofstadter
Anti-Intellectualism in American Life

One may well ask if there is not a certain fatal contradiction between these two qualities of the intellectual temperament, playfulness and piety. Certainly there is a tension between them, but it is anything but fatal: it is just one of those tensions in the human character that evoke a creative response. It is, in fact, the ability to comprehend and express not only different but opposing points of view, to identify imaginatively with or even to embrace within oneself contrary feelings and ideas that gives rise to first-rate work in all areas of humanistic expression and in many fields of inquiry. ... The tensile strength of the thinker may be gauged by his ability to keep an equipoise between these two sides of his mind.

This historical background may go far to explain what Will Herberg has found to be such a prominent characteristic of contemporary Anerican religion—a strong belief in the importance of religion-in-general coupled with great indifference to the content of religion. (Cf. Eisenhower in 1952: “Our government makes no sense, unless it is founded in a deeply felt religious faith—and I don’t care what it is.”) This generalized faith in faith is the product, among other things, of centuries of denominational accommodation.

There was much more concern among evangelicals with rescuing the vast American interior from the evils of Romanism and religious apathy than there was with dispelling the rather faint afterglow of the Enlightenment.

In Roosevelt one finds the archetype of what has become a common American political image: the aspiring politician, suspected of having too gentle an upbringing, too much idealism, or too many intellectual interests, can pass muster if he can point to a record of active military service; if that is lacking, having made the football team may do.

During the Progressive era...

The country seems to have been affected by a sort of spiritual hunger, a yearning to apply to social problems the principles of Christian morality which had always characterized its creed but too rarely its behavior.

One of the revealing comments of the [1952] campaign was made by a woman who wrote to the Detroit News that “we should have something in common with a candidate for President, and that’s why I’m voting for General Eisenhower.”

...if real live businessmen fail to appear in the American novel, it is partly because the American writer rarely appears in the society of businessmen: chances for close observation are minimal. The hostility is not one-sided but mutual; and it would be an unenviable task to try to show that the businessman lacks the instruments of self-defense or retaliation, or that he has not used them.

Once great men created fortunes; today a great system creates fortunate men.

With the relative decline in the importance of commerce and the rise in manufacturing, a smaller part of the business community was exposed to the enlarging, cosmopolitan effects of overseas trade.

It is rare for an American intellectual to confront candidly the unresolvable conflict between the elite character of his own class and his democratic aspirations.

Sooner or later, when the public fails to meet the political or cultural demands of the intellectuals, the intellectuals are hurt or shocked and look for some way of expressing their feelings without going so far as to repudiate their popular allegiances altogether. The phenomenon of mass culture has given them a vent for their estrangement from the people. The collapse of hope for socialism, and even, for the moment, of any new movement of serious social reform, has eliminated expectations of any new rapprochement. One reason for the fascination of so many intellectuals with mass culture—quite aside from the intrinsic gravity of the problem—is that they have found in it a legitimate (that is, non-political) way of expressing their estrangement from democratic society.

Re: Van Wyck Brooks

...his “Makers and Finders” series, which led him to read his way patiently through all the first-, second-, and third-rate figures in American literary history from 1800 to 1915. It seemed now that nothing American was alien to him except his own earlier work, whose strident indictment of the nation’s culture he regretted. He had passed from a relentless assertion of the limitations of important writers to an affectionate search for the importance of limited writers.

It appears, then, to be the fate of intellectuals either to berate their exclusion from wealth, success, and reputation, or to be seized by guilt when they overcome this exclusion.

The truly creative mind is hardly ever so much alone as when it is trying to be sociable. ... Facing the world together is a tactic of politics, but facing it alone seems to be the characteristic creative stance.

Before any writer or thinker can look upon himself as a potentially productive mind, he has already been born into a particular situation in life and endowed with a character and temperament that are only in limited respects malleable. This is the range that fate gives him, and he must work within it.

Those who have made their case against intellect in our time have not found it necessary to originate a single new argument...

To be confronted with a simple and unqualified evil is no doubt a kind of luxury...

...I believe...that an unbridled passion for the total elimination of this or that evil can be as dangerous as any of the delusions of our time.

In the succession of scapegoats chosen by the followers of this tradition of Know-Nothingism, the intelligentsia have at last in our time found a place.

In earlier days, after all, it had been our fate as a nation not to have ideologies but to be one.

Lower-class religions are likely to have apocalyptic or millenniarian outbursts, to stress the validity of inner religious experience against learned and formalized religion, to simplify liturgical forms, and to reject the idea of a learned clergy, sometimes of any professional clergy whatever.

Testimony before a subcommittee of the Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce, H.o.R., 79th Congress, 2nd session

“Outside of myself, I think everyone else thinks he is a social scientist. I am sure that I am not, but I think everyone else seems to believe that he has some particular God-given right to decide what other people ought to do... The average American does not want some expert running around prying into his life and deciding for him how he should live, and if the impression becomes prevalent in the Congress that this legislation is going to establish some sort of an organization in which there would be a lot of short-haired women and long-haired men messing into everybody’s personal affairs and lives, inquiring whether they love their wives or do not love them and so forth, you are not going to get your legislation.”

To the extent that it becomes accepted in any culture that religion is largely an affair of the heart or of the intuitive qualities of mind, and that the rational mind is irrelevant or worse, so far will it be believed that the rational faculties are barren or perhaps dangerous.

To the most insular type of American mind, it seemed that only peoples blinded by abstractions and dead to common sense could fail to see and appropriate all the virtues of the American system, and that some fatal complex of moral weaknesses has prevented the systems of foreign societies from working, not the least of these being the acceptance of sinister ideologies.

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