Julian and the Paranoids

In his superb essay The Paranoid Style in American Politics, Richard Hofstadter took care not to tie paranoia to a particular ideology. He was writing after the red scare of McCarthyism had driven thousands of allegedly “subversive” Americans from their jobs. In that cold climate, it felt natural to investigate conservative-led outbreaks of hysteria. Throughout American history, rightwing movements had raged against masonic, Catholics and Jewish conspiracies. In Hofstadter’s day, they had led demented campaigns against gun control and fluoride in the water supply. If Hofstadter were alive today, he would doubtless write about the birther movement, or cast a scornful eye at the gibbering career of Glenn Beck, formerly of Fox News, who has all the traditional anxieties about secret societies and Jews.

But although Hoftstadter investigated the manias of conservatives, he refused to call them conservative manias. Rather than use the language of right and left he explained that he preferred to talk of the paranoid style, “simply because no other word adequately evokes the sense of heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy that I have in mind.”
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