David Greenberg “Richard Hofstadter: The pundits' favorite historian” http://www.slate.com/id/2143217/
Hofstadter's roaming, experimental style is often associated with the so-called New York Intellectuals*3―and more precisely with the American Jews who came of age in the world of letters and scholarship after World War II. Half-Jewish, half-Lutheran, Hofstadter belonged to what sociologist Daniel Bell*4 called "the Upper West Side Kibbutz"―a circle that included such Columbia-based (and predominantly Jewish) thinkers as Bell, Seymour Martin Lipset, C. Wright Mills, and Lionel Trilling. It wasn't just the intellectual voracity and playfulness of these peers (or their ethnicity) that Hofstadter shared; he also mined their research in psychology and sociology for new ways to address problems of historical motive, values, and ideology. These were problems that an earlier generation of materialist-minded scholars―the "Progressive Historians" to whom Hofstadter devoted a book in 1968―had failed to adequately theorize or explain.
Traditional historians scoffed at Hofstadter's approach. They said he placed too much weight on ideas and intellect and not enough on archival research and empirical evidence. "This is not science," sniffed a now little-remembered colleague, David Shannon, "this is an example of what an intelligent person can do sitting in an arm chair." Such caustic criticism, however, didn't bother Hofstadter much, according to Brown; he shrugged off his detractors as "archive rats." Perhaps he knew that this disdain for the "New York style" could be a veiled form of anti-Semitism. Of course, such anti-Jewish feelings were usually expressed discreetly, as when one University of California historian asked another to size up Hofstadter at a conference: "I am not yet quite sure that he is the man we want. His point of view strikes me as rather typical of the New York Jewish intelligentsia, although I do not even know that he is a Jew." Occasionally, however, the profession's anti-Semitism was expressed more publicly (if still obliquely), as in 1962, when Brown University's Carl Bridenbaugh, addressing the entire American Historical Association, denigrated historians from "lower middle-class or foreign origins,"*5 whose emotions, he said "get in the way of historical reconstructions."
More than his status as a Jew or a New Yorker, Hofstadter's intellectual identity and style were rooted in his liberalism. Plenty of other New York Jewish thinkers, after all, chose radicalism or neoconservatism in these years as their abiding creeds. Hofstadter's Jewishness no doubt contributed, in a post-Holocaust world, to his fear of the McCarthyite "masses" and later of the New Left's violence against the university. But his deep commitment to openness of thought and argument, to the life of the mind, was surely the more important factor.
Lawrence W. Levine
*1:http://d.hatena.ne.jp/sumita-m/20110624/1308884616 http://d.hatena.ne.jp/sumita-m/20110627/1309150169 http://d.hatena.ne.jp/sumita-m/20110709/1310229320 http://d.hatena.ne.jp/sumita-m/20110713/1310569835