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The Paranoid Style in American Politics and…
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The Paranoid Style in American Politics and Other Essays (1965)

by Richard Hofstadter

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Six decades past publication, it is remarkable how much Hofstadter's analyses the conservative fringe have retained their lucidity, not least because the circumstances between then and now are too similar.

For example - why were the Birther movement/John Birch Society, and McCarthyism/Anti-Muslim scare as prominent as they were, then and now? Both Eisenhower and Obama were centrist presidents, what could have offended them? Granted, there is discontent with Obama because of the economy, and Eisenhower on foreign policy, but why this new criticism clouding debate?

Hofstadter classifies this as the 'paranoid style' - not necessarily limited to conservatism, but broadly associated with it. It includes a fear of compromise (seen in both Eisenhower and Obama), and redefining the opponent into a broadly conspiratorial role, which must be defeated utterly. In both cases, the accused are associated with international Communism.

He also identifies ethnic character as having a possible background to this perversion, and having it stretch back to the 19th century, and the first waves of immigrants, who would contaminate American culture and use foreign customs to destroy the traditional way of life. The Anglo-Saxons feared the Irish and Catholicism. Then they feared the Germans. Then the Eastern Europeans and Italians. Then the East Asians. And now primarily the Hispanics.

Another question is the personification of the extreme Fringe in conservatism - some 50 years ago it was Barry Goldwater, whose brinksmanship was very tempting in an era of national crisis - and yet so terrifying to a sufficient majority that LBJ trounced him.

The rest of the essays do not strictly deal with paranoia and extreme conservatism, but they deal with relatively obscure topics fluently.

One of my surprise favorites was on the crisis of bimetallism in the 19th century. It's oddly fascinating, and one now thinks of the modern day 'gold bugs' at our Beck and Paul, conspiring against International Finance as much as demagogues in the 19th century feared International Jewry.

A new dose for the politics junkie. Worth the read. ( )
  HadriantheBlind | Mar 30, 2013 |
Although I was more interested in the essays included in the first half of the book, on the history of paranoid (political) thought in the U.S., all of Hofstadter's essays are incredibly well thought-out, and give careful consideration to as many sides as possible of the issue he's considering. Excellent historical work. ( )
  KatrinkaV | Apr 10, 2012 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0307388441, Paperback)

This timely reissue of Richard Hofstadter's classic work on the fringe groups that influence American electoral politics offers an invaluable perspective on contemporary domestic affairs.In The Paranoid Style in American Politics, acclaimed historian Richard Hofstadter examines the competing forces in American political discourse and how fringe groups can influence — and derail — the larger agendas of a political party. He investigates the politics of the irrational, shedding light on how the behavior of individuals can seem out of proportion with actual political issues, and how such behavior impacts larger groups. With such other classic essays as “Free Silver and the Mind of 'Coin' Harvey” and “What Happened to the Antitrust Movement?, ” The Paranoid Style in American Politics remains both a seminal text of political history and a vital analysis of the ways in which political groups function in the United States.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:42:59 -0400)

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