It took him seven years to write his next book Anti-Intellectualism in American Life. It was a deeply personal work, a kind of thinking man’s guide to populist rage in which Hofstadter took on middle-class America for what had happened during the Eisenhower years (1953-1960).
The era had been launched by Arthur Miller’s indictment of McCarthyism in The Crucible. It would end with Hoftstadter’s indictment of Midwestern populism and evangelical revivalism as hostile not only to intellectuals, but to the life of the mind itself.
Hofstadter set out to construct a new national narrative for America, one that would find its way into the work of Robert Mapes Anderson who studied at Columbia during the 1960s and into the work of Mark Noll who utilized Hoftstadter to foist blame for the scandal of the evangelical mind upon those belonging to the Holiness-Pentecostal movement. It was, in short, the creation of a new National Myth.
From Arthur Miller to Richard Hofstadter
When Miller composed his play about the witch hunts in Salem, Massachusetts, he was reacting to statements like Michigan Congressman George Dondero’s comment about the 1948 bill against Un-American activities.
In highly-charged rhetoric Dondero claimed “the world is dividing into two camps, freedom versus Communism, Christian civilization versus paganism.”
The House Committee on Un-American Activities had been in operation since 1945 and accusations and counter-accusations were in the air.
Miller wanted to recast the debate by placing it in a dramatic framework set in a fictionalized account of a historical event in America’s past.
Having come through those debates himself, Richard Hofstadter set down to deal with the forces that led to them in the first place. In the opening lines of Anti-intellectualism, he made it clear that the book was a response to the conditions of the 1950s. He wanted to understand the forces that created McCarthyism and the way they constantly challenged the intellectual establishment.
From his perch at Columbia, Hofstadter surmised that the McCarthyites were populists with their Republican Midwestern values. He aimed to drive a wedge between intellectualism and egalitarianism, cultural elitism and middle-class populism.
Evangelical revivalists were simply another brand of populism and therefore part of the problem rather than the solution. These revivalists were the obstacles of American pluralism with their sectarian identities and their use of apocalyptic imaginary.
There was no effort on Hofstadter’s part to understand the role the same apocalyptic and prophetic imagery had played in launching the Civil Rights movement during the same decade. No effort to understand how holiness rhetoric was bound up with an egalitarian vision that called for the unity of the races.
Social Deprivation and Robert Mapes Anderson
It was Hofstadter’s Columbia that Robert Mapes Anderson entered when he received his MA in 1962 and PhD in 1969. It was at this same Columbia that Anderson would choose as his dissertation topic the social history of early pentecostalism, later published as Vision of the Disinherited.
Anderson followed Hofstadter’s lead in arguing that pentecostals essentially could not cope with industrializaton and urbanization in America.
Pentecostalism was largely a movement of the poor and their protest against the economic advances in America, which they felt left out of. Their turn to tongues and apocalypticism were simply forms of escapism and coping mechanisms.
Pentecostalism promoted a “vision of the disinherited” that pacified its members and turned them away from social protest.
In this way, Anderson sought to confirm Hofstadter’s claim that evangelical revivalism was part of the problem in American discourse, not the cure. They were a problematic feature of American life.
A new national myth was beginning to form.
Scandalizing Noll’s Scandal
When Noll set out to write The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind in the early 1980s, he needed to do two things.
First, he needed to correct Hofstadter’s effort to trace anti-intellectualism among evangelical revivalsts from the First Great Awakening forward. In short, he needed to vindicate the Puritan vision.
Second, he needed to find a way to affirm Hofstadter’s original indictment of evangelical revivalism. In light of the recent work of George Marsden, he had a ready-made target. The problem was the forms of evangelicalism that came out of the Fundamentalist/Modernist controversy.
Who were they? Holiness spirituality, pentecostalism, and premillenial dispensationalism.
When you follow Noll’s language closely, his indictment seems to be that evangelicals should have followed the Puritans in attempting to create a comprehensive system of life (a world view).
They should have followed Abraham Kuyper who grounded cultural engagement in recognizing that there is no neutral ground for scholarship and then launching a Reformed vision that encompassed every area of life–Cultural Calvinism.
Instead, like Hofstadter before him, Noll claimed the problem with evangelical revivalism was its activist, populist, pragmatic, and utilitarian ethos.
In an important sense, Noll’s work provided the capstone of an effort to construct a national narrative about the presence of evangelical revivalism and its contribution to the larger republic. Noll saved Puritanism by sacrificing pentecostalism.
A new historiography is called for, then. Pentecostals and members of the holiness movement have the numbers. This is the time to correct this new narrative that still haunts our national discourse, driving political wedges between parts of both movements. It’s time to scandalize the scandal.