John Patrick Diggins
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John Patrick Diggins
John Diggins
John Patrick Diggins.png
Diggins in 2008
John Patrick Diggins

April 1st, 1935
San Francisco, California
DiedJanuary 28th, 2009
Manhattan, New York
EducationUniversity of California Berkeley
University of Southern California (Doctorate)
OccupationHistory Professor, author
Years active1972-2007
Judith Diggins (1960-1978) Elizabeth Harlan (1994-2009)
AwardsGuggenheim Fellowship
John H. Dunning Prize
Rockefeller Foundation

John Patrick Diggins (April 1, 1935 - January 28, 2009) was an American professor of history at the University of California, Irvine and Princeton University and the Director of the City University of New York Graduate Center.

He was the author of more than a dozen books and thirty articles on widely varied subjects on American intellectual history.

Early life and education

Diggins was born in San Francisco in 1935 to Anne Naughton and a gardener for the city, John Diggins Sr., both of whom were Irish immigrants. Raised in a Catholic household, he attended Sacred Heart Cathedral Preparatory.

Diggins received a bachelor's degree from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1957; a master's from San Francisco State College; and a doctorate in 1964 at the University of Southern California. He was an assistant professor at San Francisco State College from 1963 to 1969; an associate professor and then professor at the University of California, Irvine; and, from 1990, a Distinguished Professor at the CUNY Graduate Center.[1]


Diggins taught history at San Francisco State University until 1969, when he took up an offer at UC Irvine. There, he served as an associate professor. In 1972, Diggins began at City University of New York Graduate Center (CUNY), where he stayed for two decades, until taking over as acting director of the Graduate Center from 1996 to 1997. Diggins held for a time the chair in American Civilization at the École des hautes études, Paris, and was a visiting professor at Cambridge and Princeton Universities. Additionally, Diggins was a consultant and frequent lecturer at University of London and Columbia University.[2]

Aside from teaching, Diggins wrote dozens of books and articles, starting with Mussolini and Fascism in which Diggins describes the popularity of the Italian leader prior to World War II. Diggins then took newly formed ideas of the American left to publish The Rise and Fall of the American Left and Up from Communism, which proposed that leftist ideals grew worldwide through a series of eruptions and events through history and were later exported to other countries, giving birth to movements such as Marxism. Diggins was also critical of the New Left and even tougher on the academic left, which that followed. He derided the trendy ideas of Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida.[3]

Up from Communism describes four prominent liberal doctrinaires who flipped ideologies by embracing conservatism. Diggins continued to write articles and other books on intellectual history for the next 30 years.

In his best-seller Ronald Reagan: Fate, Freedom, and the Making of History, Diggins asserted that Reagan was treated dismissively and that his virtues were indeed liberal. That was contrary to Diggins's personal experience of Reagan "standing for tear gas and police"[4] most likely in reference of the 1960s Berkeley protests.

Diggins said that his view on Reagan changed after he had read his writings that were released after Reagan's death. Diggins concluded that Reagan was "far from conservative" and more on the liberal side of the spectrum[5]. Instead of the previous notions about him, Diggins wrote, "Reagan was the great liberating spirit of modern American history, a political romantic impatient with the status quo."[6]

Diggins topped off with Why Niebuhr Now? describing the shifting political loyalties of Reinhold Niebuhr; written posthumously, the book was released in 2011.

An obituary reported that Diggins "was "critical of the anticapitalist Left for seeing in the abolition of property an end to oppression" but also "critical of the antigovernment Right for seeing in the elimination of political authority the end of tyranny and the restoration of liberty."[7] He stated, "I am left of right and right of left."

Diggins was a consultant[] on various films and documentaries, including "Between the Wars;" "Reds;" "John Dos Passos;" "The Greenwich Village Rebellion"; " Emma Goldman;" "The New York Intellectuals;" "The Future of the American Left;" and "Il Duce, Fascismo e American" (Italian television). Diggins also appeared in numerous interviews with C-SPAN.

His Mussolini and Fascism: The View from America won him the 1972 John H. Dunning Prize. He earned a fellowship award from the Guggenheim Fellowship in 1975, became a resident scholar of the Rockefeller Foundation in 1989, and was nominated for the National book Award for History.[8]

Personal life

Diggins's three marriages ended in divorce. As a California native, he lived in Laguna Beach, California, for years while he taught at UC Irvine. Later, Diggins lived in the Upper West Side. He died on January 28, 2009, in Manhattan after a battle with Colorectal cancer. He is survived by his companion of 15 years, the author Elizabeth Harlan; a son and a daughter, both from his first marriage; two sisters; and two grandchildren.[9]

Diggins's interests ranged from the foundations of the United States to the postmodern world. He declared Ronald Reagan to be "one of the two or three truly great presidents in history."[10]

Diggins was a critically acclaimed member of the American Historical Association, American Studies Association, and American Philosophical Society[11]

After Diggins's death, the John Patrick Diggins '53 Endowed Scholarship was created in his name at Sacred Heart Prep in San Francisco[12]


In a review of Diggins's Ronald Reagan: Fate, Freedom, and the Making of History Rich Lowry, editor of the National Review wrote,

Diggins seems blinded by Reagan's sunniness, which, in this interpretation, was not just a matter of temperament, but reflective of a deep philosophical and religious conviction. Reagan, Diggins maintains, sought to rid "America of a God of judgment and punishment." This is absurd. Reagan had a charitable view of human nature and a relaxed, nonjudgmental air, but there is no denying his deeply felt social conservatism. He wrote - as a sitting president, no less - the anti-abortion tract "Abortion and the Conscience of the Nation."[13]


  • (2011) Why Niebuhr Now? (ISBN 9780226148830)
  • (2007) Eugene O'Neill's America: Desire Under Democracy (ISBN 9780226148809)
  • (2007) Ronald Reagan: Fate, Freedom, and the Making of History
  • (2004) The Portable John Adams (editor)
  • (2003) John Adams: The American Presidents Series
  • (2000) On Hallowed Ground: Abraham Lincoln and the Foundations of American History
  • (1997) The Liberal Persuasion: Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. and the Challenge of the American Past (co-editor)
  • (1996) Max Weber: Politics and the Spirit of Tragedy
  • (1994) The Promise of Pragmatism: Modernism and the Crisis of Knowledge and Authority (ISBN 9780226148786)
  • (1988) The Proud Decades: America in War and Peace, 1941-1960
  • (1984) The Lost Soul of American Politics: Virtue, Self-Interest, and the Foundations of Liberalism (ISBN 9780226148779)
  • (1981) The Problem of Authority in America (co-editor)
  • (1978) The Bard of Savagery: Thorstein Veblen and Modern Social Theory
  • (1975) Up From Communism: Conservative Odysseys in American Intellectual History
  • (1973) The American Left in the Twentieth Century (reworked into The Rise and Fall of the American Left, 1992)
  • (1972) Mussolini and Fascism: The View from America

Journal articles

  • Dos Passos and Veblen's Villains, Antioch Review 23, no. 4 (1963-1964): 485-500.
  • Flirtation with Fascism: American Pragmatic Liberals and Mussolini's Italy, American Historical Review 71, no. 2 (1966): 487-506.
  • The American Writer, Fascism, and the Liberation of Italy, American Quarterly 18, no. 4 (1966): 599-614.
  • Mussolini and America: Hero-Worship, Charisma, and the "Vulgar Talent," Historian 28, no. 4 (1966): 559-85.
  • American Catholics and Italian Fascism, Journal of Contemporary History 2, no. 4 (1967): 51-68.
  • The Italo-American Antifascist Opposition, Journal of American History 54, no. 3 (1967)
  • Ideology and Pragmatism: Philosophy or Passion?, American Political Science Review 64, no. 3 (1970): 899-906.
  • Consciousness and Ideology in American History: The Burden of Daniel J. Boorstin, American Historical Review 76, no. 1 (1971): 99-118.
  • The Perils of Naturalism: Some Reflections on Daniel J. Boorstin's Approach to American History, American Quarterly 23, no. 2 (1971): 153-80.
  • Thoreau, Marx, and the "Riddle" of Alienation, Social Research 39, no. 4 (1972)
  • Getting Hegel out of History: Max Eastman's Quarrel with Marxism, American Historical Review 79, no. 1 (1974): 38-71.
  • Visions of Chaos and Visions of Order: Dos Passos as Historian, American Literature 46, no. 3 (1974): 329-46.
  • Four Theories in Search of a Reality: James Burnham, Soviet Communism, and the Cold War, American Political Science Review 70, no. 2 (1976): 492-508.
  • Slavery, Race, and Equality: Jefferson and the Pathos of the Enlightenment, American Quarterly 28, no. 2 (1976): 206-28.
  • Animism and the Origins of Alienation: The Anthropological Perspective of Thorstein Veblen, History and Theory 16, no. 2 (1977): 113-36.
  • Reification and the Cultural Hegemony of Capitalism: The Perspectives of Marx and Veblen, Social Research 44, no. 2 (1977).
  • Barbarism and Capitalism: The Strange Perspectives of Thorstein Veblem, Marxist Perspectives 1, no. 2 (1978): 138-57.
  • The Socialization of Authority and the Dilemmas of American Liberalism, Social Research 46 (1979): 454-86.
  • Power and Authority in American History: The Case of Charles A. Beard and his Critics, American Historical Review 86, no. 4 (1981): 701-30.
  • The Oyster and the Pearl: The Problem of Contextualism in Intellectual History, History and Theory 23, no. 2 (1984): 151-69.
  • Republicanism and Progressivism, American Quarterly 37, no. 4 (1985): 572-98.
  • "Who Bore the Failure of the Light": Henry Adams and the Crisis of Authority, New England Quarterly 58, no. 2 (1985): 165- 92.
  • Comrades and Citizens: New Mythologies in American Historiography, American Historical Review 90, no. 3 (1985): 614-38.
  • Between Bailyn and Beard: The Perspectives of Gordon S. Wood, William and Mary Quarterly vol. XLIV (1987): 563-68.
  • John Adams et les Critiques Francais de la Constitution Americaine ("John Adams and the French Critics of the Constitution"), La Revue Tocqueville 9 (1987-1988): 155-80.
  • The Misuses of Gramsci, The Journal of American History 75, no. 1 (1988): 141-45.
  • Knowledge and Sorrow: Louis Hartz's Quarrel with American History, Political Theory 16, no. 3 (1988): 355-76.
  • Class, Classical, and Consensus Views of the Constitution, University of Chicago Law Review 55, no. 2 (1988): 555-70.
  • From Pragmatism to Natural Law: Walter Lippmann's Quest for the Foundation of Legitimacy, Political Theory 19, no. 4 (1991): 519-38.
  • Thorstein Veblen and the Literature of the Theory Class, International Journal of Politics, Culture, and Society 6, no. 4 (1993): 481-90.
  • America's Two Visitors: Tocqueville and Weber, La Revue Tocqueville 17, no. 2 (1996): 165-182.
  • Arthur O. Lovejoy and the Challenge of Intellectual History, Journal of the History of Ideas 67, no. 1 (2006): 181-208.


  1. ^ Grimes, William. "John P. Diggins, 73, Historian, Dies", The New York Times, January 29, 2009. Accessed January 30, 2009.
  2. ^ "Diggins, John Patrick 1935- (John P. Diggins) |". Retrieved .
  3. ^ "Man in the Middle: John Patrick Diggins". Dissent Magazine. Retrieved .
  4. ^ Lowry, Rich (2007-02-18). "Ronald Reagan: Fate, Freedom, and the Making of History By John Patrick Diggins - Books - Review". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved .
  5. ^ Lowry, Rich (2007-02-18). "Ronald Reagan: Fate, Freedom, and the Making of History By John Patrick Diggins - Books - Review". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved .
  6. ^ Lowry, Rich (2007-02-18). "Ronald Reagan: Fate, Freedom, and the Making of History By John Patrick Diggins - Books - Review". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved .
  7. ^ Mattson, Kevin. "Man in the Middle: John Patrick Diggins" Archived 2009-02-19 at the Wayback Machine, Dissent Magazine, February 12, 2009.
  8. ^ "Diggins, John Patrick 1935- (John P. Diggins) |". Retrieved .
  9. ^ Grimes, William (2009-01-29). "John P. Diggins, 73, Intellectual Historian, Is Dead". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved .
  10. ^ Grimes, William (2009-01-29). "John P. Diggins, 73, Intellectual Historian, Is Dead". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved .
  11. ^ "Diggins, John Patrick 1935- (John P. Diggins) |". Retrieved .
  12. ^ "SHC Honor Roll of Investors 2017-18". Issuu. Retrieved .
  13. ^ "The Liberal Reagan" by Rich Lowry in The New York Times, Feb. 18, 2007

External links

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