Sunday, September 29, 2013

The Paranoid Style In American Politics, Fin.


Today we complete Richard Hofstatder's famous article in Harper's Magazine, "The Paranoid Style In American Politics," the article that was "(w)ritten at a time when Senator Barry Goldwater had won the Republican Presidential nomination over the more moderate Nelson A. Rockefeller, Hofstadter's article explores the influence of conspiracy theory and "movements of suspicious discontent" throughout American history.

As Wikipedia notes, "The essay was originally presented when the conservatives, led by Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater (1909–1998), were on the verge of taking control of the Republican Party.[1] In developing the subject, the historian Richard J. Hofstadter initially establishes that, in coining the term “paranoid style”, he is borrowing the clinical, psychiatric term “paranoid” to describe apolitical personality, and acknowledges that the term is pejorative:
"American politics has often been an arena for angry minds. In recent years, we have seen angry minds at work, mainly among extreme right-wingers, who have now demonstrated, in the Goldwater movement, how much political leverage can be got out of the animosities and passions of a small minority. But, behind this, I believe, there is a style of mind that is far from new, and that is not necessarily right-wing. I call it the paranoid style, simply because no other word adequately evokes the sense of heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy that I have in mind.[1]
"The background U.S. history details political paranoia against Illuminism (intellectual subversion), freemasonry (corporate subversion), and the Jesuits (religious subversion), then progresses through U.S. politics to its contemporary (1950s–60s) modern incarnations of McCarthyism and the John Birch Society."

The conclusion to "The Paranoid Style In American Politics":


"Renegades and Pedants

"A special significance attaches to the figure of the renegade from the enemy cause. The anti-Masonic movement seemed at times to be the creation of ex-Masons; certainly the highest significance was attributed to their revelations, and every word they said was believed. Anti-Catholicism used the runaway nun and the apostate priest; the place of ex-Communists in the avant-garde anti-Communist movements of our time is well known. In some part, the special authority accorded the renegade derives from the obsession with secrecy so characteristics of such movements: the renegade is the man or woman who has been in the Arcanum, and brings forth with him or her the final verification of suspicions which might otherwise have been doubted by a skeptical world. But I think there is a deeper eschatological significance that attaches to the person of the renegade: in the spiritual wrestling match between good and evil which is the paranoid’s archetypal model of the world, the renegade is living proof that all the conversions are not made by the wrong side. He brings with him the promise of redemption and victory.

"A final characteristic of the paranoid style is related to the quality of its pedantry. One of the impressive things about paranoid literature is the contrast between its fantasied conclusions and the almost touching concern with factuality it invariably shows. It produces heroic strivings for evidence to prove that the unbelievable is the only thing that can be believed. Of course, there are highbrow, lowbrow, and middlebrow paranoids, as there are likely to be in any political tendency. But respectable paranoid literature not only starts from certain moral commitments that can indeed be justified but also carefully and all but obsessively accumulates 'evidence.' The difference between this “evidence” and that commonly employed by others is that it seems less a means of entering into normal political controversy than a means of warding off the profane intrusion of the secular political world. The paranoid seems to have little expectation of actually convincing a hostile world, but he can accumulate evidence in order to protect his cherished convictions from it.


"Paranoid writing begins with certain broad defensible judgments. There was something to be said for the anti-Masons. After all, a secret society composed of influential men bound by special obligations could conceivable pose some kind of threat to the civil order in which they were suspended. There was also something to be said for the Protestant principles of individuality and freedom, as well as for the nativist desire to develop in North America a homogeneous civilization. Again, in our time an actual laxity in security allowed some Communists to find a place in governmental circles, and innumerable decisions of World War II and the Cold War could be faulted.

"The higher paranoid scholarship is nothing if not coherent—in fact the paranoid mind is far more coherent than the real world. It is nothing if not scholarly in technique. McCarthy’s 96-page pamphlet, McCarthyism, contains no less than 313 footnote references, and Mr. Welch’s incredible assault on Eisenhower, The Politician, has one hundred pages of bibliography and notes. The entire right-wing movement of our time is a parade of experts, study groups, monographs, footnotes, and bibliographies. Sometimes the right-wing striving for scholarly depth and an inclusive world view has startling consequences: Mr. Welch, for example, has charged that the popularity of Arnold Toynbee’s historical work is the consequence of a plot on the part of Fabians, 'Labour party bosses in England,' and various members of the Anglo-American 'liberal establishment' to overshadow the much more truthful and illuminating work of Oswald Spengler.

"The Double Sufferer

"The paranoid style is not confined to our own country and time; it is an international phenomenon. Studying the millennial sects of Europe from the eleventh to the sixteenth century, Norman Cohn believed he found a persistent psychic complex that corresponds broadly with what I have been considering—a style made up of certain preoccupations and fantasies: 'the megalomaniac view of oneself as the Elect, wholly good, abominably persecuted, yet assured of ultimate triumph; the attribution of gigantic and demonic powers to the adversary; the refusal to accept the ineluctable limitations and imperfections of human existence, such as transience, dissention, conflict, fallibility whether intellectual or moral; the obsession with inerrable prophecies . . . systematized misinterpretations, always gross and often grotesque.'


"This glimpse across a long span of time emboldens me to make the conjecture—it is no more than that—that a mentality disposed to see the world in this way may be a persistent psychic phenomenon, more or less constantly affecting a modest minority of the population. But certain religious traditions, certain social structures and national inheritances, certain historical catastrophes or frustrations may be conducive to the release of such psychic energies, and to situations in which they can more readily be built into mass movements or political parties. In American experience ethnic and religious conflict have plainly been a major focus for militant and suspicious minds of this sort, but class conflicts also can mobilize such energies. Perhaps the central situation conducive to the diffusion of the paranoid tendency is a confrontation of opposed interests which are (or are felt to be) totally irreconcilable, and thus by nature not susceptible to the normal political processes of bargain and compromise. The situation becomes worse when the representatives of a particular social interest—perhaps because of the very unrealistic and unrealizable nature of its demands—are shut out of the political process. Having no access to political bargaining or the making of decisions, they find their original conception that the world of power is sinister and malicious fully confirmed. They see only the consequences of power—and this through distorting lenses—and have no chance to observe its actual machinery. A distinguished historian has said that one of the most valuable things about history is that it teaches us how things do not happen. It is precisely this kind of awareness that the paranoid fails to develop. He has a special resistance of his own, of course, to developing such awareness, but circumstances often deprive him of exposure to events that might enlighten him—and in any case he resists enlightenment.

"We are all sufferers from history, but the paranoid is a double sufferer, since he is afflicted not only by the real world, with the rest of us, but by his fantasies as well."


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More from Wikipedia's article:

"Emulating the enemy

"Psychological projection is essential to the paranoid style of U.S. politics:

"It is hard to resist the conclusion that this enemy is, on many counts, the projection of the self; both the ideal and the unacceptable aspects of the self are attributed to him. The enemy may be the cosmopolitan intellectual, but the paranoid will outdo him in the apparatus of scholarship, even of pedantry. Secret organizations, set up to combat secret organizations, give the same flattery. The Ku Klux Klan imitated Catholicism to the point of donning priestly vestments, developing an elaborate ritual and an equally elaborate hierarchy. The John Birch Society emulates Communist cells and quasi-secret operation through “front” groups, and preaches a ruthless prosecution of the ideological war along lines very similar to those it finds in the Communist enemy. Spokesmen of the various fundamentalist anti-Communist 'crusades' openly express their admiration for the dedication and discipline the Communist cause calls forth.[1]

"In the personal realm, the paranoid politician usually ascribes 'sexual freedom' as a personal vice of his enemy, yet Hofstadter reports that “very often, the fantasies of true believers reveal strongsadomasochistic outlets, vividly expressed, for example, in the delight of anti-Masons with the cruelty of Masonic punishments".

"Legacy

"In a 2007 article in Harper's, Scott Horton wrote that The Paranoid Style in American Politics was 'one of the most important and most influential articles published in the 155 year history of the magazine.'[6]

"Laura Miller writes in Salon.com that The Paranoid Style in American Politics reads like a playbook for the career of Glenn Beck, right down to the paranoid's 'quality of pedantry' and 'heroic strivings for 'evidence'..."[7]


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No matter which Conservative propagandist we're talking about, Limbaugh, Beck, or Jones, the quote from Norman Cohn harkens to a familiar theme, "the megalomaniac view of oneself as the Elect, wholly good, abominably persecuted, yet assured of ultimate triumph; the attribution of gigantic and demonic powers to the adversary; the refusal to accept the ineluctable limitations and imperfections of human existence, such as transience, dissention, conflict, fallibility whether intellectual or moral; the obsession with inerrable prophecies . . . systematized misinterpretations, always gross and often grotesque."

Hofstadter's conclusion also rings a bell to anyone who has attempted to reason with the political paranoids on the Right, "A distinguished historian has said that one of the most valuable things about history is that it teaches us how things do not happen. It is precisely this kind of awareness that the paranoid fails to develop. He has a special resistance of his own, of course, to developing such awareness, but circumstances often deprive him of exposure to events that might enlighten him—and in any case he resists enlightenment.

"We are all sufferers from history, but the paranoid is a double sufferer, since he is afflicted not only by the real world, with the rest of us, but by his fantasies as well."

Next: "The Paranoid Style In American Politics" Today.




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"History is the sum total of things that could have been avoided."

Konrad Adenauer. (German statesman, the first post-war Chancellor of Germany
[West Germany] from 1949 to 1963.)

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