Chapter

The Twilight of Waspdom

in Richard Hofstadter

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print April 2006 | ISBN: 9780226076409
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226076379 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.7208/chicago/9780226076379.003.0002
The Twilight of Waspdom

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This chapter elaborates upon issues touched by Richard Hofstadter in his work Social Darwinism in American Thought, 1860–1915. As he searched for a dissertation topic in the late spring of 1940, Richard Hofstadter sensed a fundamental shift in American life. Waspdom was breaking up; however, the subject, and its extraordinary implications linking the Anglo past to the ethnic present, never ceased to interest him. Social Darwinism is much more than a review of capitalist apologia. A product of the 1930s struggle to carve out a new liberal tradition, the book responded to the political and intellectual milieu that shaped its author's youthful interaction with a tumultuous era. Social Darwinism, which Hofstadter completed at the age of twenty six, played nicely to Hofstadter's talent for using irony as a tool for insight. The plutocrats who exploited the nation's uniquely egalitarian principles to make their fortunes, he pointed out, had shown their gratitude by building an industrial regime hostile to future social mobility. The acceptance of Social Darwinism in America relied on more than popular veneration for individual rights, however, and it also tapped into the country's Protestant heritage.

Keywords: Social Darwinism; American life; capitalist apologia; social mobility; veneration; protestant heritage

Chapter.  8918 words. 

Subjects: Methods and Historiography

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