The American Political Tradition
This article reads like a review rather than an encyclopedic description of the subject. (December 2007)
The American Political Tradition is a 1948 book by Richard Hofstadter, an account on the ideology of previous U.S. presidents and other political figures. The full title is The American Political Tradition and the Men Who Made It.
Hofstadter's introduction proposes that the major political traditions in the United States, despite contentious battles, have all
- ...shared a belief in the rights of property, the philosophy of economic individualism, the value of competition... [T]hey have accepted the economic virtues of a capitalist culture as necessary qualities of man.
While many accounts have made political conflict central, the author proposes that a common ideology of "self-help, free enterprise, competition, and beneficent cupidity" has guided the Republic since its inception. Through analyses of the ruling class in the U.S., Hofstadter argues that this consensus is the hallmark of political life in the U.S.
Part of Hofstadter's project is to undermine the democratic credentials of politicians mythologized by historians, calling for reflection rather than nostalgia. Thomas Jefferson is presented in all his ambiguities, the agrarian radical whose "laissez-faire became the political economy of the most conservative thinkers in the country".
Likewise, Andrew Jackson's democracy was also "a phase in the expansion of liberated capitalism", and Progressive trustbuster Theodore Roosevelt, though he "despised the rich", was at heart a conservative frightened by "any sign of organized power among the people". Even Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal — an amalgam of "improvised" programs — was "far from being intrinsically progressive, [easily] capable of being adapted to very conservative purposes". But nonetheless, had "revived American liberalism".
- 15th printing/ed. August 1961 V-9, Vintage Books: New York, p. 340.
- The American Political Tradition and the Men Who Made It (New York: A. A. Knopf, 1948).
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