Texas Liberal

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Paranoia In American Politics Has Long Been With Us—Those Of Us On The Left Must Do The Work Of Freedom Ourselves

Hamburger Wearing An Astros’ Hat—A member of the Texas Liberal Panel of Experts—is reading The Paranoid Style in American Politics and Other Essays by Richard Hofstadter.

This 1965 book makes it clear that extreme paranoid thinking has long been a feature of American public life. Some may think that today’s conservative movement and Republican Party is some type of new-fangled craziness. Yet as it says in the Bible—There is nothing new under the sun.

Here is a link to the Paranoid essay which was first delivered as a lecture in 1963, and then appeared in Harper’s Magazine in 1964.

From this essay—

“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. …. Anti-Catholicism has always been the pornography of the Puritan. Whereas the anti-Masons had envisaged drinking bouts and had entertained themselves with sado-masochistic fantasies about the actual enforcement of grisly Masonic oaths, the anti-Catholics invented an immense lore about libertine priests, the confessional as an opportunity for seduction, licentious convents and monasteries….we now take the long jump to the contemporary right wing, we find some rather important differences from the nineteenth-century movements. The spokesmen of those earlier movements felt that they stood for causes and personal types that were still in possession of their country—that they were fending off threats to a still established way of life. But the modern right wing, as Daniel Bell  has put it, feels dispossessed: America has been largely taken away from them and their kind, though they are determined to try to repossess it and to prevent the final destructive act of subversion. The old American virtues have already been eaten away by cosmopolitans and intellectuals; the old competitive capitalism has been gradually undermined by socialistic and communistic schemers; the old national security and independence have been destroyed by treasonous plots, having as their most powerful agents not merely outsiders and foreigners as of old but major statesmen who are at the very centers of American power. Their predecessors had discovered conspiracies; the modern radical right finds conspiracy to be betrayal from on high.”

It is important to see that this type thinking is not just part of today’s right wing. And that it is not just conservatives who embrace paranoid thinking in how they see the conduct of public affairs. Plenty of folks on all sides of the aisle are full of crazy notions.

(A good book that reviews Hofstadter’s thought is Richard Hofstadter—An Intellectual Biography by David S. Brown.)

Yet among in today’s politics, it is the conservative movement and Republican Party that is to the greatest extent predicated on extremism, fear and anger.

The bottom line for those of us on the left is that while circumstance and the actions of others makes a difference, what we are able to control is our own actions and our own effort. The work of freedom and democracy is up to each of us.

Just as anti-tax and business lobbyists, so-called pro life advocates, and the gun lobby found common cause to build the modern Republican Party despite differences—Liberal and progressive Democrats, Greens, Occupy Wall Street backers and most on the left are on the same side. There does not have to be full agreement or 100% cooperation, but we can all move in the same general direction.

February 2, 2012 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , ,

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