…saw authoritarian personalities and anti-intellectual tendencies bristling nearly everywhere in the America west of the Hudson River, tendencies that were the expression, not of a genuinely aggrieved outlook that deserved a hearing, but of social resentment (“status anxiety”) or even psychological disorder (“the paranoid style”).
This was too dismissive, and Hofstadter’s good friend, the great Southern historian C. Vann Woodward, took him to task for it. In a private letter, he lambasted Hofstadter for the sweepingly dismissive generalizations in his book Anti-Intellectualism in American Life, a work for which he would win a Pulitzer Prize and which is still widely cited as authoritative today:
“Dick, you just can’t do this,” Woodward exclaimed. “No amount of Adorno, Stouffer, Hartley, etc., will sustain it.” (…)
We ought to be wary when listening to any person or group that claims to speak for “the people.”
But we ought to listen.
Woodward’s tone, unlike Hofstadter’s, was wary but attentive, and not at all cynical. Remember, he hoped there would be more populistic rebellions in the future. And note well that his warning about democracy’s need for occasional “shock therapy” was offered in precisely the same spirit as Thomas Jefferson’s famous dictum that the well-being of a republic depends on periodic revolutions and rebellion. “What country can preserve its liberties,” Jefferson wrote from Paris in 1787, “if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance?” These are words that resonate in unexpected ways, given the time and place of their utterance.