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When Ideas Had ConsequencesOr, Whatever Happened to Intellectual

Drew Maciag

Reviews in American History, Volume 39, Number 4, December 2011,

pp. 741-751 (Article)

Published by The Johns Hopkins University Press

DOI: 10.1353/rah.2011.0119

For additional information about this article

Access provided by UNICAMP Universidade Estadual de Campinas (21 Jan 2014 09:56 GMT)

When Ideas Had ConsequencesOr,

Whatever Happened to Intellectual History?

Drew Maciag

Early in the postwar period, the conservative intellectual Richard Weaver pub-
lished an influential book entitled Ideas Have Consequences. Perhaps Weaver felt
his title stated the obvious in 1948; yet it is doubtful that twenty-firstcentury
historians would share his confidence in such a simple and unqualified cause-
and-effect relationship. In todays intellectual climate, Weavers pronouncement
seems to project a quaintly outmoded tone. Not only did the phrase mimic the
certitude of a mathematical axiom or a self-evident truth, but it gave primacy
to reason and implied a scientific penchant for observable results. Ironically,
Weavers title was misleading; more precisely, its double meaning could be
understood only after digesting his argument. For Ideas Have Consequences was
a jeremiad on the dissolution of the West and an attack against (what he
saw as) the moral relativism and misguided rationalism of the modern age:
including the inordinate value that present civilization placed on science,
secularism, democracy, equality, personal happiness, and progress. Hence the
deeper thrust of his title was that Western civilization began to disintegrate
once individuals abandoned their traditional belief in transcendent univer-
sals (beginning around the year 1300) and started thinking for themselves.
Ideas were destructive things, because their applications spawned the mass
psychosis, abysmality, hysterical optimism, insensibility, decadence,
and egotism that turned modern man into a moral idiot.
While I have no appetite for Weavers conclusions and do not share his
nostalgia for medieval Christendom, I agree with him that ideas have been,
and still are, powerful agents for change in human behavior: political, eco-
nomic, social, and religious. Alternatively, ideas have been and are powerful
obstacles to change; to use current terminology, paradigm shifts rarely occur
without struggle. And though Weaver chose to focus solely on what he saw as
the destructive consequences of modern thought, I would suggest that there
were many constructive consequences too. Notwithstanding its ideological
enthusiasms, Ideas Have Consequences contained many useful insights, even
for readers who were not innately hostile to the effects of the extended age of

Reviews in American History 39 (2011) 741751 2011 by The Johns Hopkins University Press

reason. Thus I will venture the (possibly perverse) admission that, of all the
books I disagree with, this is one I would recommend to others. Not because
I accept its quasi-theological worldview or agree with its culturally reaction-
ary analysis of twentieth-century civilization, but because I wholeheartedly
endorse its more fundamental message: that what persons believe dictate the
essential characteristics of their society. (Notice I say believe rather than
think, and I will expand upon this distinction later.)
But one book, or one author, does not constitute a pattern. Weaver, his new
conservatism aside, was writing within an established tradition of historical
discourse. Far from ignoring the standard great books canon or seminal
thinkers pantheon, his iconoclasm portrayed the major modern thinkers in a
negative light (literally, since he referred to their ideas as the powers of dark-
ness). In other words, Weaver agreed with mainstream intellectuals that such
luminaries as Bacon, Locke, Hume, Rousseau, Comte, and Darwin mattered;
but to him their undeniable influence had been counterproductive. The notion
that modern thought was the sum total of the thinking of such characters, and
that a critical component of modern life was the application of their cumula-
tive thought to practical pursuits, was not at issue. Quite the contrary, it was
a prevailing view of the era. As the British historian R. G. Collingwoods clas-
sic The Idea of History declared in 1946: The historian is not concerned with
events as such at all. He is only concerned with those events which are the
outward expression of thoughts, and is only concerned with these in so far as
they express thoughts. At bottom, he is concerned with thoughts alone. And,
in 1939, Max Lerners Ideas Are Weaponswhich in a later preface he called
a study in the trajectory of ideasexplored the writings of (among others)
Thoreau, Holmes, Brandeis, Veblen, Lippmann, and Marx, because they were
men who have strongly influenced our contemporary thinking, and shaped
what we call the modern mind.1
Such reifications as the modern or Western or American mind allowed
for disagreements within the family, yet they underscored the presence of a
cohesive intellectual system. These systems acknowledged (or celebrated) the
evolution of thought over time, and their heuristic justification rested on the
assumption that, if distinctive ideas were in the air at any historical moment,
they had been placed there by particular writers. Moreover, the final crucial
supposition was that real-world historical agents behaved in accordance with
those ideas. Or, to put it more bluntly, in large measure they acted because of
those ideas. Whether everyone knew precisely where or from whom his or
her ideas came was a separate question that did not shake the basic premise,
since often ideas were absorbed second or third hand. The economist John
Maynard Keynes sounded the best tribute to this interpretive scheme in 1936.
His words deserve exact quotation, and my sole editorial comment is that one
might easily substitute the terms thinker or intellectual for economist,
MACIAG / When Ideas Had Consequences 743

since Keynes believed he was stating a general principle (with which orthodox
intellectual historians would have concurred):

The ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and
when they are wrong, are more powerful than is commonly supposed. Indeed
the world is ruled by little else. Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite
exempt from any intellectual influences, are usually the slaves of some defunct
economist. Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their
frenzy from some academic scribbler from a few years back. I am sure that the
power of vested interests is vastly exaggerated compared with the general en-
croachment of ideas. . . . Soon or late, it is ideas, not vested interests, which are
dangerous for good or evil.2

Well said. But was it accurate? Did ideas almost alone control (the important)
human decisions, and thereforeby extensiondetermine historical outcomes?
Moreover, whether it was tenable or not in its day, does Keynes dictum still
retain its persuasive power? I will address these issues in due course. For
now, I simply want to emphasize that in midtwentieth-century America there
was a virtually instinctive belief in the agency of applied ideas among the
educated public, policymakers, academics, and historians. In part, this carried
forward the nineteenth-century fascination with scientific and technological
progress, which, contrary to myth, was not destroyed by the world wars. It
was also a continuation of the somewhat teleological belief in the advancement
of civilization thanks to a steady accumulation of knowledge: not just more
information, but greater theoretical comprehension. The postwar faith in the
collective benefits of higher education and of specialized expertise were ex-
amples of this, as were optimistic expectations about economic growth, public
health, and less tangible quality of life enhancements. Human reason, now
synergized into complex systems and commanding cutting-edge technology,
could finally liberate people not only from unnecessary toil or danger, but
from the equally cruel hindrances of customary ignorance.
Taken together, these and other elements cohered into the now much-
maligned concept (or process) of modernization. Modernization may have
meant different things to various observers, but at its core was the belief that
organized intellect could improve the human condition by understanding it,
identifying problems, and solving them. Certainly historians were not expected
to fix societys ailments; but the professional study of history could add to
the public stock of knowledge by explaining how the past contributed to the
present. Intellectual history, in particular, was a perfect fit for the moderniza-
tion era. No better specialty could have ascended in an atmosphere in which
ideas were assumed to be so useful and idea makers so indispensable.
Besides the new ethos of modernization, two older preconditions set the
stage for the rise and appeal of American intellectual history after World War

II. One was the standard practice of identifying overarching mentalities and
applying them to broad social entities: nations chief among them. In this respect,
it was no coincidence that the height of intellectual historys influence among
Americanists coincided more or less with that of the consensus school. If
some identifiable body of mainstream thoughts, values, goals, and sensibili-
ties could be loosely agreed upon, then the investigation of any contributor
to that homogenized culture could aid in understanding the universe of that
culture. This holistic synthesis assured that ideas were best evaluated in rela-
tion to a tacitly accepted grand narrative. Even ideas that diverged from the
familiar order (say, Marxism or existentialism) were best comprehended by
their opposition to, or deviance from, the comfortable intellectual norm. If
the neatness of such packaging was not efficacious enough, its susceptibility
to exceptionalism only increased its allure. As long ago as 1912, Bliss Perry
published his interpretation of the admirably distinctive American Mind; and
in 1919, George Santayana suggested that a single ideal figment can cover a
large part of what each American is in his character, and almost the whole of
what most Americans are in their social outlook and political judgments.3 By
1950, the early pages of Henry Steele Commagers own American Mind echoed
Santayanas thesis, noting howand whydisparate Americans harmonized
their thinking in dramatic contrast to the discordant nature of Old World
parochial attachments.
The second precondition was the acceptance of a hierarchical order for the
construction and dissemination of ideas. Intellectual history depended on ar-
guments put forward by intellectuals. I use intellectual as a broad catch-all
label; but the common denominator is that such persons produced writings,
speeches, sermons, or other textual material intended for public consumption.
Hence I am referring to an educated elite, constituting a small minority in any
society. Yet their potential influence was magnified, often by their positions,
more often by their knowledge, communication skills, and opportunities to
air their opinions. In the years before social or labor or other bottom-up ap-
proaches to history had gained much traction, figures who could articulate their
views in some formal way became a focus of historiography. Thus the voices
of selected politicians or clergy, men of letters, journalists, artists, academ-
ics, scientists, literary authors, and the like were heard more often and more
clearly than were the less articulate (or less often recorded) voices of others.
When the literary scholar Vernon Parrington compiled his sweeping Main
Currents of American Thought in the late 1920s, he no doubt assumed that the
easily observable surface currents (published mostly in books) spoke for the
undercurrents as well; or that any counter-currents deserved less scrutiny than
did the mainstream flow. Even Merle Curtis The Growth of American Thought
(considered in 1943 to be a blending of social and intellectual history) betrayed
a similar major trends of progress inclination. It incorporated bottom-up
MACIAG / When Ideas Had Consequences 745

movements but evaluated them via the articulations of their internal-elites.

Neither of these booksin fact none of the American authors I have mentioned
thus farset out to ignore those on the lower rungs of society or outside of the
intellectual sphere. Quite the contrary, they believed their methods captured
representative samples of thought, opinion, and experience, which enabled
them to paint a broad landscape of America in the aggregate.
In fairness to these umbrella treatments (today considered elitist, arro-
gant, non-inclusive, biased, and simplistic), it seems to me that scholars who
undertook such projects reckoned that genericism rather than particularism
offered a better key to understanding the big picture to which everyone
belonged. By their lights, they were not imposing a royal we but seeking a
universal us. Similar modernist ambitions characterized some of the classic
intellectual histories of the postwar era. Richard Hofstadter undertook essen-
tially epidemiological studies of American culture in his Social Darwinism
in American Thought (1944) and Anti-intellectualism in American Life (1963).
Both books traced endemic sociological pathologies: a scientistic defense of
laissez-faire competition in the first instance; a crude, insular, resistance to
sophistication and complexity in the second. Although they focused on aber-
rant slices of society, both studies described patterns of thought that could be
logically supposed to affect indirectly the majority of Americans. Hence they
were intendedand this was a quiet conviction of intellectual historyas
microcosmic treatments that illuminated the macrocosm of culture at large.
Henry Mays The End of American Innocence (1959) fulfilled a similar objective.
By focusing solely on the literary and political transformation of an educated
middle class, May confronted the vanguard of challenges to Victorian culture
with which the greater mass of Americans would eventually have to contend.
Likewise, the implicit justification for Perry Millers work on seventeenth-
century Puritan leaders was that those figures devised many of the intellectual
and cultural templates that shaped the thinking of succeeding generations, and
their influence was not restricted to New England Protestant elites. All of these
works dealt with the reception (or inception) of new ideas in a modernizing
world, and they were grounded in the belief that the currents they traced
extended beyond the cast of characters they examined.

As fashion would have it, Americanist intellectual history flourished from

the 1940s to the 1960s, then held its own for a decade or more before declining
in relative importance. By the early 1980s, intellectual historians were already
wondering why their golden age had passed.4 There are still plenty of practi-
tioners today, but their influence has diminished within the broader historical
community.5 To borrow a Washington metaphor: the fields constituency no
longer extends beyond its own beltway. So when I ask whatever happened
to intellectual history? I am not claiming that it has disappeared, nor am I

predicting its inevitable extinction. What has happened is less apocalyptic but
no less disturbing. The field has slipped from its former station at or near the
core of Americanist historiography (where the action, attention, and authority
were) to a more peripheral position. Granted, some will argue that the very
idea of a core is outdated; yet it is difficult for me to imagine an effective
professional or academic discipline without oneeven if its exact borders
are blurred. If history is mostly about understanding human behavior in a
way that cannot be reduced to scientific method or intoxicated into artistic
expression, then surely intellectual historywhich is the most direct approach
for discovering changes in collective consciousnessdeserves a central place.
Why then, has it devolved to a specialized niche? What has caused this turn
of historiographical events?
Foremost among explanations has been the multiplication of new fields
in history: women, gender, cultural, queer, minority, ethnic, environmental,
media, food, fashion, and so forth, along with the growth of interest in other,
less-novel fields: labor, immigration, urban, literary, religious, technological,
regional, and others. Hence intellectual and political history have lost market
share, and demand for them has declined within the profession. This com-
petitive new products model, in which the historical community fragments
and balkanizes as a condition of growth, makes sense in strictly quantitative
terms. Yet it does not explain why certain fields grow while others shrink in
relative importance. For instance, womens history blossomed in light of the
recognition that women had been ignored or marginalized under prior systems
of investigation. The influx of women into the profession after 1970 (awakened
by the social revolutions of the 1960s) facilitated this corrective adjustment,
which seems logical in retrospect. Conversely, the disproportionate historical
attention once paid to diplomacy and wars fell victim to the realization that
too much important human experience occurred outside of those venerable
arenas. In short (and though there certainly are other factors), fields tend to
expand or contract based on changing conceptions about just what constitutes
history. On a loosely generational cycle, scholars ponder the fundamental issue:
what is historical research, writing, and education for? Given the numerous
alternatives, what should it emphasize?
In this vein, I assume that I am not the only historian who periodically asks:
Why am I doing this? What am I trying to accomplish? Why do I think my
own work is important enough to justify the effort? Who (in general terms) am
I trying to reach or influence? Obviously not all historians will arrive at identi-
cal answers to such questions, and that is exactly my point. I am suggesting
that the patterns formed by the myriad choices (regarding subjects, methods,
and fields of interest) made by thousands of individual historiansand the
changes in those patterns over timeprovide, in effect, cumulative and shift-
ing mission statements for the profession. Thus the decline in the popularity
MACIAG / When Ideas Had Consequences 747

of intellectual history signals a realignment of the ambitions of Americanist

historians as a group. It also signifies a collapse of confidence in the underly-
ing premises that encouraged intellectual history in the first place.
Indeed, many of the criticisms of intellectual history are too potent to be
summarily rejected or deflected. Intellectual history (as it had been traditionally
practiced) was fairly top-down, uni-cultural, and constricted in its evidence
(and thus in its social vision); it was not completely the story of the American
mind or Western civilization, but of smaller groups of privileged characters
whose connection to other groups is now debatable. To some degree, intellec-
tual history was an offshoot of the Great Man theory of history, with notable
thinkers replacing men of action. These drawbacks, however, only serve to
highlight the exclusive nature of the field; they do not, by themselves, make
a convincing case against its relevance. If all fields were penalized for their
sins of omission, history as we know it would cease to be written. (Reverse
charges of willful blindness could be leveled at certain newer specialties,
which favor previously excluded groups by excluding previously favored
ones.) Still, it is difficult today to claim the sort of hegemonic authority that
intellectual history had once been accorded, nor can one any longer build a
convincing case for a universalist history of everyone. The most pertinent
criticism of intellectual history may well be that it claimed (more by implica-
tion and attitude than by direct assertion) to deliver insights that were more
comprehensively applicable than was justified.
Few interpretive approaches remain in vogue for long, and it is nearly im-
possible to prove why any particular one has lost its charm. Besides increased
competition from other fields and the stigma of deadwhite-male elitism,
intellectual history has also had to contend with new linguistic perspectives
(the Cambridge school, deconstructionism), which, at the very least, called
into question the type of straight-forward textual analysis that had once been
the bedrock of its methodology. Possibly this hastened the fields fall from
grace by eroding its erstwhile scriptural authority. In any event, by the end
of the twentieth century, intellectual history had been supplanted byand
apparently subsumed intocultural history, which has become the preferred
approach for exploring the collective impulses of American society. Cultural
history has addressed many of the shortcomings of old-style intellectual his-
tory; it is far more inclusive in the types of evidence it collects and more varied
in the methods of analysis it employs. Yet that very diversification probably
relegates cultural historyno matter how appealing or valuableto a plural-
ity within the profession; it is too heterogeneous to form the core. No doubt
all of the above factors have contributed to intellectual historys demise as a
clear voice of synthesis. But the conceptual foundations of the field have also
been weakened by a deterioration of the central underpinnings of modernism
itself. That is, the climate of belief that gave rise to intellectual history as an

outgrowth of modern American thought has dissipated. To my mind, it was

this fundamental breakdown of comforting and optimistic beliefs that, more
than anything else, wilted the bloom off the intellectual-history rose.

Before tackling the matter of belief-system trauma, I must insert three quick
provisos. First, be warned that I offer my remaining remarks in the spirit of
informed reflection, not as an attempt to prove a hypothesis. Second, as far as
I can tell, historiography follows rather than leads social, political, or cultural
reorientations; it reflects rather than initiates recent trends (though, once they
are under way, historiography helps to shape and support them). Thus, when
the mission of history changes, it is because conventional views have already
been reconstituted in society or within significant intellectual circles. So when
a distinctive type of history slips out of favor, it is because its corresponding
habits of thought have lost their advantage elsewhere. Third, before we talk
about belief systems, we must distinguish between ideas and beliefs. While all
ideas are useful mental concepts, beliefs are conceptions about what is true.
Beliefs are ideas that represent firm convictions: especially those related to an
intellectual, ideological, or religious worldview. Given this distinction, I suspect
that both Richard Weaver and Maynard Keynes used the term ideas when
beliefs might have been more fitting. Or, to put it another way: Weaver and
Keynes understood that new ideas could change beliefs, which in turn could
have major consequences for society at large. This last point is crucial. Because
while intellectual history is usually associated with a discussion of ideas and
the writers who spawned them, its more critical contributionand its larger
relevance outside its own beltwayhas been in its examination of beliefs: all
of the books I referred to above serve as examples of this. Civilization, after
all, depends on shared beliefs and common (or at least closely related) values,
and the most serious clashes within or between civilizations are over beliefs.
Earlier in this essay I mentioned some of the standard premises (or read-
ily accepted beliefs) that exemplified the mainstream American intellectual
tradition at mid-century, and I purposely saved for separate discussion the
single most fundamental premise supporting that worldview: a confidence
in the capacity of rational minds in a free society to reason. Reason had been
the ideological justification for democracy and market capitalism, and for
the later rise of educated experts. Reason also served as a fair arbiter in the
intellectual (and scientific) marketplace of ideas, where truth would sup-
posedly win out by way of evidence, logic, and clarity.6 In most spheres of
human activity (excepting religion, love, the arts, and other domains of faith
or emotion), the right way of doing things was naturally the most reason-
able; that which was unreasonable could be sustained only by force, passion,
or customexactly the demons that modernization sought to exorcise. I am
not claiming that American society conformed to this rational model in real
MACIAG / When Ideas Had Consequences 749

life; virtually the opposite was often the case. But the Enlightenment-inspired
ideal of reason had been internalized into the national psyche since the days
of Paine and Jefferson, andafter waxing, waning, and evolvingreached
its technocratic apex with postwar modernization theory. For our purposes
here, the extent to which postwar society was rational, or the soundness of
that rationality, is not the main issue. More important is our recognition that
there was a broadly held belief that society was more reason-based than it had
been in earlier times, and that it was in the process of becoming more reason-
able still. This belief revealed more about intellectual aspirations than actual
experience, but the soft power of reason did not depend on the consistency
of its practical implementation. (Like freedom or the pursuit of happiness,
the less reason was put to some demanding test, the easier it was to believe in
abstractly.) A corollary to this trust in reason was a tendency toward genericism
and homogenization. As with the scientific method, ideas that made rational
sense were applicable everywhere and for everyone.
For good or ill, the widespread belief in the inevitable beneficence of human
reason has run its course. With it, the lure of modern thought and its expecta-
tions of progress by way of human intellect and the steady advancement of
knowledge have lost their potency. Though never monolithic and certainly
never static, the ethos of modernization supplied a convincingor at least a
satisfactoryset of common conceptual guideposts for intellectuals and other
well-informed Americans for several generations. Lately however, modern-
ism has been displaced by postmodernism in the intellectual world, and the
legitimacy of reason (as a neutral, objective faculty), with the possibility of its
universal application (with the discovery of general laws, principles, and at-
tributes), has collapsed. Thus the likelihoodeven the desirabilityof shared
values has plummeted. To the postmodern mind, the one size fits all view
has become indefensible, and the premise that everyone is fundamentally
in the same boat is almost laughable. If ideas still have any purchase, it is
for specific groups (or even individuals) and in proprietary forms. Given this
disjointed environment, historiographical tastes have become highly differenti-
ated under the guise of becoming more refined.
America has not experienced such an obvious crisis of confidence since
the malaise of the seventies. Then, as now, economic insecurity merely ac-
centuated the cultural disunity (precipitated by the breakdown of modernity)
that predated any shocks to the nations material well-being. For the bold or
the reckless, there may be a measure of intellectual excitement involved in
celebrating the unraveling of American civilization by denying the neces-
sity of comprehensive historical synthesis. Even for the professionally timid
scholar, adhering to a highly specialized particularist orientation in todays
environment merely constitutes going with the flow. Yet whether scholars
endorse or merely acknowledge the current situation, it is difficult to deny

that society, and hence historiography, has lost even the pleasing illusion of an
intellectual center of gravity. If I may borrow Robert Wiebes famous language
out of context: America is once again becoming a distended society, without
a core.7 Consequently, all the unifying elements that made Americanist intel-
lectual history in its postwar heyday so appropriate and insightful have lost
their grip on the historical imagination.
The rise of intellectual history took place in an atmosphere of confidence
and optimism. It relied in part on the benign assumption of modernization,
which itself represented a climatic phase of the Enlightenment frame of mind.
This view presumed the neutrality and objectivity of rational thought, and by
extension, that ideas were an important medium of exchange that could be
employed as agents of persuasion in a free society, and also that applied ideas
served as instruments of mostly positive change. The fields special authority
stemmed from the premise that explicit, self-conscious, written thought influ-
enced and could explain human activity; and that, in the process, it could reveal
generic philosophical and sociological principles. Embedded in this paradigm
was the progressive belief that new ideas were inspired and informed by earlier
ideas; thus twentieth-century thought represented the latest developments in a
long, cohesive heritageWestern civilizationthat remained worthy of study
and respect. All of this rested on the belief that how we think (as expressed
by the writings of the best, brightest, and influential) pretty much summed
up who we were and what we did. Since trust in professional expertise was
also cresting in the postwar period, intellectualsincluding historianswere
expected to figure things out and explain them. Moreover, the Cold War
forced American intellectuals to examine their nation comprehensively (not
as a collection of discrete subsets) in order to showcase its exceptional pat-
terns of thought, which contrasted so well with totalitarian alternatives. This
further encouraged the quest for consensus, overarching synthesis, and for
prominent discussions of ideas, ideals, beliefs, values, traditions, and related
national character traits.
Looking back, it was all too neat. Postwar America was never the clean,
well-lighted place of discovery and understanding that it (apparently) seemed
to many. And the high regard for intellectual authority now seems to have
presaged a twilight of idols.8 Nevertheless, the high status of intellectual
history reflected the triumphalist spirit of the times. Its decline reflects the
reduced expectations of our present era and the loss of confidence in our
ability to understand our world by deciphering our thinking.

Drew Maciag has taught at SUNY-Geneseo for the past three years. His book
The Americanization of Edmund Burke is forthcoming from Cornell University
Press, and he is currently working on a book about 1970s America.
MACIAG / When Ideas Had Consequences 751

1. R. G. Collingwood, The Idea of History (1946), 217. Max Lerner, Ideas Are Weapons: The
History and Uses of Ideas (1939); quotes from 1991 edition, xviii, xxi.
2. John Maynard Keynes, The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money (1936), 383.
3. George Santayana, Materialism and Idealism in America (1919), in his Character and
Opinion in the United States (1924), 168.
4. For example: William J. Bouwsma, Intellectual History in the 1980s, Journal of Interdis-
ciplinary History 12 (1981): 27991; Robert Darnton, Intellectual and Cultural History, in The
Past Before Us: Contemporary Historical Writing in the United States, ed. Michael Kammen (1980).
5. I would liken the plight of intellectual history to that of poetry in America. In both cases
there are apparent signs of revitalization, but they are deceiving. Poetry readings to aficio-
nados in coffee houses or bookstores, the exponential growth of graduate creative writing
programs, or an increase in the absolute number of published poets have done little to stem
poetrys relative decline as a component of broader American culture. So too, the appearance
of a new journal, blog, or conference on intellectual history is no accurate indicator of the
weight it carries outside its own circle.
6. For an explanation of how reason really works (by a cognitive scientist), see George
Lakoff, The Political Mind: Why You Cant Understand 21st-Century American Politics with an
18th-Century Brain (2008).
7. Robert H. Wiebe, The Search for Order, 18771920 (1967): a classic book of postwar his-
torical synthesis in the modernization mold.
8. Twilight of Idols is Randolph Bournes phrase from War and the Intellectuals: Collected Es-
says, 19151919 (1999), reflecting his own disillusionment with American intellectuals in 1917.