Who said: "If there is anything more dangerous to the life of the mind than having no independent commitment to ideas..."

BookBrowse's Favorite Quotes

"If there is anything more dangerous to the life of the mind than having no independent commitment to ideas, it is having an excess of commitment to some special and constricting idea."
— Richard Hofstadter

Richard HofstadterRichard Hofstadter (1916-1970) was born in Buffalo, New York to a Jewish father and a German Lutheran mother, who died when he was 10-years old. He majored in philosophy and minored in history at the University of Buffalo. The town of Buffalo was suffering from the full impact of the Great Depression at the time which strongly colored his thinking on political and intellectual matters - he became involved in left-wing politics and joined the Young Communist League, which is where he met his future wife, Felice Swados.

After graduation he enrolled in the history program at Columbia University and, along with many other disaffected intellectuals at that time) joined the Communist Party. At the time he went on record saying, 'I join without enthusiasm but with a sense of obligation... My fundamental reason for joining is that I don't like capitalism and want to get rid of it. I am tired of talking... The party is making a very profound contribution to the radicalization of the American people.... I prefer to go along with it now.'

However, by 1939 (about a year after joining) he had become disenchanted with the Communist Party, and after the Nazi-Soviet pact in September 1939 he became permanently disillusioned with it, the Soviet Union and Marxism. However, he remained deeply cynical of capitalism.

In 1942 he completed his dissertation (published in 1944 as Social Darwinism in American Thought, 1860-1915); two years later he joined the faculty of Columbia and in 1959 he was named DeWitt Clinton Professor of American History.

He became one of the leading historians of his generations - at the time, progressive historians were inclined to explain American history through the prism of economics; but Hofstadter described it as essentially irrationally motivated - emphasizing unconscious motives such as status anxieties, irrational hatreds, and paranoia. In some of his works, such as The Paranoid Style in American Politics and Anti-intellectualism in America, he described American society as a whole as extremely provincial, harboring widespread fears of any ideas outside the mainstream, and described a direct lineage between the Salem witch hunts (17th century) and the McCarthy era (early 1950s).

He planned to write a three-volume history of American politics but died at age 54 from leukemia having partially completed the first volume, which was published posthumously as America in 1750.

More Quotes

This quote & biography originally ran in an issue of BookBrowse's membership magazine. Full Membership Features & Benefits.

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: The Perfectionists
    The Perfectionists
    by Simon Winchester
    We seek precision in our lives every day. We want to drive from home to work and work to home safely...
  • Book Jacket: Beauty in the Broken Places
    Beauty in the Broken Places
    by Allison Pataki
    Ernest Hemingway wrote that we are "strong at the broken places," and Allison Pataki found that to ...
  • Book Jacket
    Love and Other Consolation Prizes
    by Jamie Ford
    Love and Other Consolation Prizes was read and reviewed by 22 BookBrowse members for First ...
  • Book Jacket: The Judge Hunter
    The Judge Hunter
    by Christopher Buckley
    In London 1664, Balthasar de St. Michel or "Balty" has no discernable skills besides pestering his ...

Book Discussion
Book Jacket
The Twelve-Mile Straight by Eleanor Henderson

An audacious American epic set in rural Georgia during the years of the Depression and Prohibition.

About the book
Join the discussion!

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    Clock Dance
    by Anne Tyler

    A delightful novel of one woman's transformative journey, from the best-selling and Pulitzer Prize-winning writer.
    Reader Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    The Family Tabor
    by Cherise Wolas

    Wolas's gorgeously rendered sophomore novel reckons with the nature of the stories we tell ourselves.
    Reader Reviews

Win this book!
Win A Place for Us

A Place For Us

A deeply moving story of love, identity and belonging--the first novel from Sarah Jessica Parker's new imprint.

Enter

Word Play

Solve this clue:

H, W H A Problem

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.