[Marxism] RE: Hofstadter and consensus history [WAS: LBO...]

Mark Lause MLause at cinci.rr.com
Fri Feb 9 13:00:14 MST 2007


Congratulations to Doug Henwood and the LBO!

Permit a note of caution to enter into this reliance on Richard Hofstadter's
AMERICAN POLITICAL TRADITION AND THE MEN WHO MADE IT.  A generation of
college students was intellectually raised on this work.  More than once, I
saw that thick red-white-and-blue paperback in the possession of people
demonstrating against the war or participating in one or another movement
activity at the time.

Hofstadter examined, in well-written and coherent chapters the views of
Jefferson, Jackson, John C. Calhoun, Lincoln, Wendell Phillips, William
Jennings Bryan, Teddy Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, and Franklin D. Roosevelt.
As a progressive bemoaning the reaction after World War II, he picked
"representative" examples that suited his sensibilities.

Using it to portray the white workers as being what Spiro Agnew or Rush
Limbaugh say they are is...well, mistaken....

1. There is nothing whatsoever "representative" about these figures.  As the
subtitle explicitly states, it is "THE MEN WHO MADE" what he saw as the
"American Political Tradition" that concerned him.  All are white men.
Almost all are ruling class white men.

2. The only two figures on this list that remotely fit into the political
tradition of the Americans on this list--Lincoln and Phillips--are presented
based upon the selective use of material that fits Hofstadter's thesis and
the exclusion of material that does not.

3. Any generalization about American civic culture in general or the working
class particularly (which is totally ignored in Hofstadter) based on this
work is on shaky ground and requires top-down elitist assumptions about mass
consciousness.

4. Hofstadter's work embodied what the New Left historians called "consensus
history"--a view of the past the saw serious challenges to the status quo as
inherently marginal.  The alternative emphasized conflict, radicalism, race,
gender, class and the possibilities of serious change.

Beyond this particular source and its myriad flaws, I doubt the evidence
that "the white working class has been hoodwinked by Republican culture
warriors into voting against their economic interests."

1. Voter participation and its demographics doesn't indicate this.

2. There's little evidence that the culture wars matter much to most workers
whose time is preoccupied with work...which has been taking a growing
portion of their time.

3. Of those that do vote, they are as likely to be hoodwinked by one party
as the other.

4. The minority that actually votes and votes Republican are less reacting
to issues like gay marriage than orchestrated fears of terrorism, imperial
decline, tougher conditions, etc.

5. All of these things play out on different levels in different parts of
the work force, but nothing that works or doesn't work among white workers
is exclusive to them.

Just a few observations....

ML













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