Politics, Nostalgia, and the Strange Estrangements of The American Political Tradition
This essay concerns the writerly features of Richard Hofstadter’s The American Political Tradition and the Men Who Made It. Of particular interest is how Hofstadter structured his arguments in the book, his modes and methods. There is also speculation as to whether readers today should feel nostalgia for Hofstadter’s verve and wit as a writer when the idea of the political in the book is so narrow, concerned primarily with economic motivations and interests. The two issues—memorable observation and the shrinking of the political—can hardly be disentangled. The “realism” of the historical figures in the book created the space for some of Hofstadter’s more memorable and cutting observations.