I want to thank everyone who has been following along, but with today’s entry I regret to report that I have to close the book club earlier than anticipated. What follows is an explanation coupled with some brief thoughts on chapters 11-12. Continue reading
In the interest of expediency—due to the fact that I’m covering five chapters (252 pages)—this installment will follow a mechanical format. I’ll be concentrating on facts and highlights instead of constructing a review narrative with lots of reflection. I hope to resume that format next week. Continue reading
Tonight I began a six-week session leading a Newberry Library seminar on Richard Hofstadter’s Anti-Intellectualism in American Life. I’m pleased to report that the course is full. Twenty-two people voluntarily signed up to explore a 54-year-old work of intellectual history. And even the waitlist is eleven-deep. Yes, I’m bragging a bit. It’s because I’ve never had so much enthusiasm for one of my seminar offerings. It’s exciting.
But the excitement comes at a time when my relationship with the book has never been more complicated. Continue reading
I’m a sucker for any historical reading related to the Enlightenments in Europe and America. Why? The expansion of knowledge. The romance of scientific discovery. New ways of thinking about religion. Skepticism about received values and traditions. Belief, however naive, in the ideas of progress and reason. Beyond the topics and ideas, it’s also the outstanding figures: Voltaire, Montesquieu, Denis Diderot, Francis Bacon, John Locke, Isaac Newton, David Hume, René Descartes, Immanuel Kant, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Adam Smith, Benjamin Franklin, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, and on and on. Continue reading
These chapters, meaning three and four, were hard for this modern Americanist. I’m a post-Civil War historian with broad interests, but reading the historical details from English events and people dating from the Thirty Years War (1618-1648), the English Civil War (1642-1651), Restoration (1660-1688), and Glorious Revolution tested my professional patience. Continue reading
Chapter One – Born in Bloodshed: The Origins of Democracy
Chronologically speaking, this is the broadest chapter. Its survey of the precursors of pre-modern democratic thought moves us from the Greeks to Reformation Europe, and a bit beyond. It covers 500 BCE to roughly ~1600 CE. Continue reading
[Updated: 2/16/2017, 8:10 pm, central. – TL]
I regret to report that I’m unexpectedly on the road this week for family matters. The travel is leaving me with little keyboard and desk time. So today I’ll simply post the reading schedule, in preparation for next four entries—which will cover a lot of ground in the book. – TL Continue reading
Richard Hofstadter asserted, in his 1963 classic Anti-Intellectualism in American Life, that anti-intellectualism is about resentment and hostility toward “the life of the mind and of those who are considered to represent it.” On the latter, it was about categorizing intellectuals as outsiders, servants, and scapegoats. It would be foolish to deny that instances of these attitudes and behaviors have occurred, both in the past and present.
Yet, as my reading in the historiography grows (in terms of Hofstadter’s heirs), a lack of evidence, or at least evidence that can be interpreted in different ways, is pointing me to a contrarian claim: citizens are not, in fact, exhibiting clear general problems in those areas. They do not generally resent critical thinking, creativity, research, or intellectual individualism. Regular people are not hostile to what Hofstadter identified as “the play of the mind” or “playfulness” of the intellect. While some evidence exists regarding contrary tendencies, that evidence doesn’t indict broad swaths of the population. What seems clear, however, in historical and present-day political news is a resentment about what those intellectuals represent in the sturm und drang of democratic discourse. Hostility toward intellectuals is accidental in relation to what those individuals symbolize, or appear to symbolize. To belabor the point no longer, very often I find that instances of so-called anti-intellectualism are really about elitism and anti-elitism. Continue reading