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The process represents, I believe, not a victory for religion but a fundamental, if largely unconscious, secularization of the American middle-class mind.Religion has been supplanted, not, to be sure, by a consciously secular philosophy, but by mental self-manipulation, by a kind of faith in magic.When Hofstadter starts the discussion of religion by defending the Puritans against claims of anti-intellectualism and stressing their committment to both education and to intellectual study, it's clear that this book is not necessarily going to follow one's initial expectatations.

And this, too, is not without some justification, given the degree to which those same elites clung to forms of education and study that were as much class markers as they were intellectual exploration.

There's a constant struggle between attempts to raise the intellectual level of the entire population and dislike of intellectualism that's outside the typical pursuits of the average person. There's just so in this book, including a fascinating analysis of American business culture and its focus on "practical" knowledge, and how that relates to the huge class of self-help and self-improvement books.

And while Hofstadter is thoughtful and measured in his appraisal, he's willing to lauch devastating (and entertaining) frontal assaults when it seems warranted: Modern inspirational literature builds upon the old self-help tradition and bears a general resemblence to it, but it also has major differences.

In the old self-help system, faith led to character and character to a successful manipulation of the world; in the new system, faith leads directly to a capacity for self-manipulation, which is believed to be the key to health, wealth, popularity, or peace of mind.

The United States is plagued by troubles with its educational system, troubles that are widely believed to be unique to the present day and that can be tackled by various methods of return to an earlier day of better funding, better fundamentals, better employment practices, or some other lauded technique.

Anyone who believes that, even in part, needs to read this book.

He tells a similar story in politics during the rise of Jackson and the growth of democratic sentiment and backlash against the political elite represented by the Federalists and even democrats like Jefferson.

Americans have a passionate (and laudible, in Hofstadter's presentation) belief in social equality, but one of the ways that belief expresses itself is as disapproval of education, study, and intellectual pursuit that were associated with social or political elites.

Americans would create a common-school system, but would balk at giving it adequate support.

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