Hofstadter's Ghosts: Reconsidering Populism, Extremism, and Conservatism in 20th-Century History

AHA Session 18
Thursday, January 3, 2019: 1:30 PM-3:00 PM
Continental C (Hilton Chicago, Lobby Level)
David Walsh, Princeton University
Anton Jäger, University of Cambridge
Tim Lacy, Loyola University Chicago
Elizabeth Sanders, Cornell University

Session Abstract

Richard Hofstadter just won’t stay dead. As the doyen of the so-called “consensus” school in American history, Hofstadter’s bold claims about the proto-fascistic nature of American Populism inspired an entire generation of historians to interrogate and ultimately refute Hofstadter’s arguments. So why yet another panel on Richard Hofstadter and populism? Because his influence remains pervasive. Particularly in our current moment, “populism” has enjoyed a second life as a transhistorical analytic amongst journalists but also by political scientists, who have drawn liberally on his portraits. At the same time, Hofstadter himself remains quite influential in scholarly circles—especially in Europe. At the same time, his legacy remains as contested as ever, with contemporary historians interrogating how Hofstadterian tropes (“paranoid style,” “status-anxiety,” ‘populism’) have cemented themselves into our wider culture.

This proposed roundtable will bring together scholars of American Populism, American conservatism, the far right in America, and intellectual history. Our conversation will be framed by the continued popularity of Hofstadter, but it will not simply be a critical chorus. Recent scholarship on American conservatism and American Populism, as well as the resurgence of the global far right since 2016, poses some important questions about how we understand “populism” as an analytic and “Populism” as a historical political movement—the same is also true for “conservatism.” What do we mean by these terms? Has recent work—and/or recent events—collapsed some of the distinctions between these terms? Are they in need of reinvention or re-articulation? How might the “f” word (fascism) fit into the picture? And has Hofstadter lost any pertinence in the face of these developments? Because of the open-ended and historiographical nature of these questions, we feel that a roundtable format would more easily facilitate conversation, and allow space for greater audience participation.

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