The tradition industry: Hofstadter and Santayana on politics, culture and capitalism

David Brown, Elizabethtown College


Richard Hofstadter’s provocative interpretation of what he called The American Political Tradition has long interested students and scholars. Often read as a response to the crisis times of the depression 1930s and interventionist 1940s, the book’s origins are actually rooted in deeper cultural changes in the United States. This paper argues that George Santayana’s earlier essay, “The Genteel Tradition in American Philosophy” (1911), anticipated several key aspects of Hofstadter’s argument and proved to more accurately foresee the ideological course of twentieth century American politics.