it is powerful enough to set the tone of our political life
November 21, 2020 2:03 PM   Subscribe

The Pseudo-Conservative Revolt by Richard Hofstadter (1954) These considerations suggest that the pseudo-conservative political style, while it may already have passed the peak of its influence, is one of the long waves of twentieth-century American history and not a momentary mood. I do not share the widespread foreboding among liberals that this form of dissent will grow until it overwhelms our liberties altogether and plunges us into a totalitarian nightmare. Indeed, the idea that it is purely and simply fascist or totalitarian, as we have known these things in recent European history, is to my mind a false conception, based upon the failure to read American developments in terms of our peculiar American constellation of political realities.

The Hofstadter nostalgia boom is also fueled by readers who find in his work a foreshadowing of their own anxiety about the irrationality of populist movements. His feeling that populism posed a danger to democracy seems to liberals and conservatives alike to speak to our own time--as indeed in many ways it does. Many writers seeking to understand the 2004"red state" phenomenon turned to Hofstadter's essays on"status anxiety" and"the paranoid style in American politics"--especially after George W. Bush mobilized his supporters with a good-old-boy rhetoric that was proudly stupid.

Why Richard Hofstadter Is Still Worth Reading but Not for the Reasons the Critics Have in Mind
posted by mecran01 (17 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
 
Does that excerpt age well?
posted by ihadnotconsideredthat at 2:09 PM on November 21 [1 favorite]


I dunno. I think he hit on a real thing, even if it didn't turn out to successfully materialize as a monster in his time. His essays might as well be a running commentary on the MAGA movement.

From someone who marinates in conspiracy weirdo bullshit as a hobby, there is for sure *some* sort of very strong connective tissue between anti-bank anti-elite populism and anti-Semitism. "The Jews" are the red yarn that runs between alllll the notecards on the big ol' conspiracy theory wall, even if they don't always say "the Jews" in so many words.
posted by Scattercat at 2:41 PM on November 21 [3 favorites]


Hofstadter may age better than his critic. From the end of the first article:
it is at least conceivable that a highly organized, vocal, active and well-financed minority could create a political climate in which the rational pursuit of our well-being and safety would become impossible.
Yep, checks out. His description of the "pseudo-conservative" has held up for over 60 years:
He believes himself to be living in a world in which he is spied upon, plotted against, betrayed, and very likely destined for total ruin. He feels that his liberties have been arbitrarily and outrageously invaded. He is opposed to almost everything that has happened in American politics for the past twenty years....
On the other hand, Wiener's appraisal--
he had found the roots of American fascism among rural Protestants in the Midwest. It was history by analogy--but the analogy didn't work.
doesn't hold up so well in an era where white Evangelicals supported Trump by 75%.
posted by zompist at 2:48 PM on November 21 [19 favorites]


The article also says anti-intellectualism wasn't a thing because "American intellectuals in the early '60s had never had it so good: Universities were growing as never before, Congress provided lavish funding for elite institutions and professors like Hofstadter were highly paid and won big book contracts."

That seems to conflate education with intellectualism. Universities were growing, but that was due to the GI Bill followed by the baby boom. It was a way to get a good job in a booming economy and Congress was funding the space race. Plus it was only a few years later that Reagan would force the UC system to start charging admission.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 3:54 PM on November 21 [3 favorites]


Very interesting read. There seem to be a lot of parallels between Adorno's "pseudo-conservatism" as described by Hofstadter and Eco's "ur-fascism"; are they basically just the same thing?

I like the term "pseudo-conservative," it seems very apt. It's become very clear to me over at least the last decade that many of the people who speak loudly about being "conservatives" have no apparent understanding of or commitment to genuine conservative ideology. The mixture of authoritarian impulse, conspiracy thinking, and grievance complex described as pseudo-conservative fits quite well.

Also worth noting this little gem of a parenthetical right near the end: "It reminds me of the people who, because they found several close parallels between the NRA and Mussolini’s corporate state, were once deeply troubled at the thought that the NRA was the beginning of American fascism." Which Hofstadter treats as a "false conception," but, well, yeah.
posted by biogeo at 6:00 PM on November 21 [3 favorites]


That's NRA as in the National Recovery Administration, surely? (The "We Do Our Part" folks from New Deal 1.0, overturned by a conservative Supreme Court, etc.)
posted by Not A Thing at 6:19 PM on November 21 [2 favorites]


(From a bit of Googling, I see that the "New Deal = Fascism" canard is still quite popular in the more erudite fever swamps of the right. I should know better than to be surprised by this, but.)
posted by Not A Thing at 6:27 PM on November 21 [1 favorite]


That's NRA as in the National Recovery Administration

Oooohhh. Right.
posted by biogeo at 7:21 PM on November 21 [1 favorite]


It's worth noting that Richard Hofstadter came to disagree with Richard Hofstadter at the end of his life per the second article linked; although his analysis may indeed be more applicable to the modern reactionaries that dominate the American right than to the late 19th century populists and Mcarthyites he attempted to analyze in his own time. He seems to have been a complicated and brilliant man who died much too soon.
posted by eagles123 at 10:00 PM on November 21 [2 favorites]


Only halfway through the first article--the Hofstadter piece from the '50s--but it is eerie how he's describing the Trump voter.

A piece on Hofstadter was in the Nation recently too, on his politics and migration to consensus historian.

I read The American Political Tradition in high school. It's apparently from his earlier, more radical phase, and I guess at the time the demystification of various American figures like Lincoln might have had a whiff of People's History about it. But it was combined with lost cause Dunning school stuff. Everyone was equally self interested and actually believing in something--like the abolitionists did--was for chumps.

Off to finish the articles, thanks!
posted by mark k at 8:10 AM on November 22 [1 favorite]


Very helpful. Thanks for posting.
posted by No Robots at 9:18 AM on November 22


Hofstadter’s 66-year old piece seems far less dated than its 14-year old dismissal.
posted by bjrubble at 10:57 AM on November 22 [8 favorites]


USAian and world traveller here. I'm having a lot of trouble with this sentence...

Normally there is a world of difference between one’s sense of national identity or cultural belonging and one’s social status.

... could someone please provide examples (ie. counterexamples examples to the US) from other countries to help me understand this better?
posted by ZenMasterThis at 4:30 PM on November 22


For reference, Wikipedia has a fairly lengthy article on The Authoritarian Personality 1950 study by Adorno et al and here it is at the Internet Archive in full. (Missing its copyright notice from the front matter... oops.)

I couldn't get all the way through the above-the-fold OP piece but the beginning made me curious when the coining of the “no true Scotsman” fallacy dates to and the answer is apparently 1971.
posted by XMLicious at 9:21 PM on November 22


From someone who marinates in conspiracy weirdo bullshit as a hobby, there is for sure *some* sort of very strong connective tissue between anti-bank anti-elite populism and anti-Semitism. "The Jews" are the red yarn that runs between alllll the notecards on the big ol' conspiracy theory wall, even if they don't always say "the Jews" in so many words.

There's an old line that goes "anti-semitism is the socialism of fools"- basically a lot of people can look at the world and see that economic exploitation and the rich getting richer at everybody else's expense is making everything worse, but the problem is that while socialists ask "what is it about the way society is structured that makes that happen?" and derive the class structure of the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, and formulate ways to solve that, a bunch of people ask "what kind of impurity is the cause of this?" and, consistently throughout history, find Jews. And that's not to claim that socialists are immune to anti-semitism- especially in the 1800s but continuing on there's a long history of socialists being as anti-semitic as the cultures that produced them and failing to realize they were fucking up both practically (producing inferior, less useful theory...) and morally (...that actively harms real people and makes the world worse).
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:43 PM on November 22 [4 favorites]


I like the term "pseudo-conservative," it seems very apt. It's become very clear to me over at least the last decade that many of the people who speak loudly about being "conservatives" have no apparent understanding of or commitment to genuine conservative ideology.

A decade ago, the blog commenter known as cleek accurately defined modern conservatism this way:
Today’s conservatism is the opposite of what liberals want today, updated daily.
posted by Gelatin at 4:57 AM on November 23 [6 favorites]


Today’s conservatism is the opposite of what liberals want today, updated daily.

Sure, "ressentiment," guiding your own actions by those of your opponent/enemy. Nietzsche called it a ruling principle of the lowest sort.
posted by rhizome at 11:47 AM on November 24 [2 favorites]


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