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<nettime> The Paranoid Style in American Politics


The Paranoid Style in American Politics

By Richard Hofstadter? Harper?s Magazine, November 1964, pp. 
77-86.

It had been around a long time before the Radical Right 
discovered it?and its targets have ranged from ?the 
international bankers? to Masons, Jesuits, and munitions 
makers.

    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-wind. 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. In using the 
    expression ?paranoid style? I am not speaking in a 
    clinical sense, but borrowing a clinical term for other 
    purposes. I have neither the competence nor the desire 
    to classify any figures of the past or present as 
    certifiable lunatics., In fact, the idea of the paranoid 
    style as a force in politics would have little 
    contemporary relevance or historical value if it were 
    applied only to men with profoundly disturbed minds. It 
    is the use of paranoid modes of expression by more or 
    less normal people that makes the phenomenon 
    significant. Of course this term is pejorative, and it 
    is meant to be; the paranoid style has a greater 
    affinity for bad causes than good. But nothing really 
    prevents a sound program or demand from being advocated 
    in the paranoid style. Style has more to do with the way 
    in which ideas are believed than with the truth or 
    falsity of their content. I am interested here in 
    getting at our political psychology through our 
    political rhetoric. The paranoid style is an old and 
    recurrent phenomenon in our public life which has been 
    frequently linked with movements of suspicious 
    discontent.

Here is Senator McCarthy, speaking in June 1951 about the 
parlous situation of the United States:

How can we account for our present situation unless we 
believe that men high in this government are concerting to 
deliver us to disaster? This must be the product of a great 
conspiracy on a scale so immense as to dwarf any previous 
such venture in the history of man. A conspiracy of infamy 
so black that, which it is finally exposed, its principals 
shall be forever deserving of the maledictions of all honest 
men.?What can be made of this unbroken series of decisions 
and acts contributing to the strategy of defeat? They cannot 
be attributed to incompetence.?The laws of probability would 
dictate that part of?[the] decisions would serve the 
country?s interest.

Now turn back fifty years to a manifesto signed in 1895 by a 
number of leaders of the Populist party:

As early as 1865-66 a conspiracy was entered into between 
the gold gamblers of Europe and America.?For nearly thirty 
years these conspirators have kept the people quarreling 
over less important matters while they have pursued with 
unrelenting zeal their one central purpose.?Every device of 
treachery, every resource of statecraft, and every artifice 
known to the secret cabals of the international gold ring 
are being used to deal a blow to the prosperity of the 
people and the financial and commercial independence of the 
country.

Next, a Texas newspaper article of 1855:

?It is a notorious fact that the Monarchs of Europe and the 
Pope of Rome are at this very moment plotting our 
destruction and threatening the extinction of our political, 
civil, and religious institutions. We have the best reasons 
for believing that corruption has found its way into our 
Executive Chamber, and that our Executive head is tainted 
with the infectious venom of Catholicism.?The Pope has 
recently sent his ambassador of state to this country on a 
secret commission, the effect of which is an extraordinary 
boldness of the Catholic church throughout the United 
States.?These minions of the Pope are boldly insulting our 
Senators; reprimanding our Statesmen; propagating the 
adulterous union of Church and State; abusing with foul 
calumny all governments but Catholic, and spewing out the 
bitterest execrations on all Protestantism. The Catholics in 
the United States receive from abroad more than $200,000 
annually for the propagation of their creed. Add to this the 
vast revenues collected here.?

These quotations give the keynote of the style. In the 
history of the United States one find it, for example, in 
the anti-Masonic movement, the nativist and anti-Catholic 
movement, in certain spokesmen of abolitionism who regarded 
the United States as being in the grip of a slaveholders? 
conspiracy, in many alarmists about the Mormons, in some 
Greenback and Populist writers who constructed a great 
conspiracy of international bankers, in the exposure of a 
munitions makers? conspiracy of World War I, in the popular 
left-wing press, in the contemporary American right wing, 
and on both sides of the race controversy today, among White 
Citizens? Councils and Black Muslims. I do not propose to 
try to trace the variations of the paranoid style that can 
be found in all these movements, but will confine myself to 
a few leading episodes in our past history in which the 
style emerged in full and archetypal splendor. Illuminism 
and Masonry

    I begin with a particularly revealing episode?the panic 
    that broke out in some quarters at the end of the 
    eighteenth century over the allegedly subversive 
    activities of the Bavarian Illuminati. This panic was a 
    part of the general reaction to the French Revolution. 
    In the United States it was heightened by the response 
    of certain men, mostly in New England and among the 
    established clergy, to the rise of Jeffersonian 
    democracy. Illuminism had been started in 1776 by Adam 
    Weishaupt, a professor of law at the University of 
    Ingolstadt. Its teachings today seem to be no more than 
    another version of Enlightenment rationalism, spiced 
    with the anticlerical atmosphere of eighteenth-century 
    Bavaria. It was a somewhat naïve and utopian movement 
    which aspired ultimately to bring the human race under 
    the rules of reason. Its humanitarian rationalism 
    appears to have acquired a fairly wide influence in 
    Masonic lodges. Americans first learned of Illumism in 
    1797, from a volume published in Edinburgh (later 
    reprinted in New York) under the title, Proofs of a 
    Conspiracy Against All the Religions and Governments of 
    Europe, Carried on in the Secret Meetings of Free 
    Masons, Illuminati, and Reading Societies. Its author 
    was a well-known Scottish scientist, John Robison, who 
    had himself been a somewhat casual adherent of Masonry 
    in Britain, but whose imagination had been inflamed by 
    what he considered to be the far less innocent Masonic 
    movement on the Continent. Robison seems to have made 
    his work as factual as he could, but when he came to 
    estimating the moral character and the political 
    influence of Illuminism, he made the characteristic 
    paranoid leap into fantasy. The association, he thought, 
    was formed ?for the express purpose of rooting out all 
    religious establishments, and overturning all the 
    existing governments of europe.? It had become ?one 
    great and wicked project fermenting and working all over 
    Europe.? And to it he attributed a central role in 
    bringing about the French Revolution. He saw it as a 
    libertine, anti-Christian movement, given to the 
    corruption of women, the cultivation of sensual 
    pleasures, and the violation of property rights. Its 
    members had plans for making a tea that caused 
    abortion?a secret substance that ?blinds or kills when 
    spurted in the face,? and a device that sounds like a 
    stench bomb?a ?method for filling a bedchamber with 
    pestilential vapours.? These notions were quick to make 
    themselves felt in America. In May 1798, a minister of 
    the Massachusetts Congregational establishment in 
    Boston, Jedidiah Morse, delivered a timely sermon to the 
    young country, which was then sharply divided between 
    Jeffersonians and Federalists, Francophiles and 
    Anglomen. Having read Robison, Morse was convinced of a 
    Jacobinical plot touched off by Illuminism, and that the 
    country should be rallied to defend itself. His warnings 
    were heeded throughout New England wherever Federalists 
    brooded about the rising tide of religious infidelity or 
    Jeffersonian democracy. Timothy Dwight, the president of 
    Yale, followed Morse?s sermon with a Fourth-of-July 
    discourse on The Duty of Americans in the Present 
    Crisis, in which he held forth against the Antichrist in 
    his own glowing rhetoric. Soon the pulpits of New 
    England were ringing with denunciations of the 
    Illuminati, as though the country were swarming with 
    them. The anti-Masonic movement of the late 1820s and 
    the 1830s took up and extended the obsession with 
    conspiracy. At first, this movement may seem to be no 
    more than an extension or repetition of the anti-Masonic 
    theme sounded in the outcry against the Bavarian 
    Illuminati. But whereas the panic of the 1790s was 
    confined mainly to New England and linked to an 
    ultraconservative point of view, the later anti-Masonic 
    movement affected many parts of the northern United 
    States, and was intimately linked with popular democracy 
    and rural egalitarianism. Although anti-Masonry happened 
    to be anti-Jacksonian (Jackson was a Mason), it 
    manifested the same animus against the closure of 
    opportunity for the common man and against aristocratic 
    institutions that one finds in the Jacksonian crusade 
    against the Bank of the United States. The anti-Masonic 
    movement was a product not merely of natural enthusiasm 
    but also of the vicissitudes of party politics. It was 
    joined and used by a great many men who did not fully 
    share its original anti-Masonic feelings. It attracted 
    the support of several reputable statement who had only 
    mild sympathy with its fundamental bias, but who as 
    politicians could not afford to ignore it. Still, it was 
    a folk movement of considerable power, and the rural 
    enthusiasts who provided its real impetus believed in it 
    wholeheartedly. As a secret society, Masonry was 
    considered to be a standing conspiracy against 
    republican government. It was held to be particularly 
    liable to treason?for example, Aaron Burr?s famous 
    conspiracy was alleged to have been conducted by Masons. 
    Masonry was accused of constituting a separate system of 
    loyalty, a separate imperium within the framework of 
    federal and state governments, which was inconsistent 
    with loyalty to them. Quite plausibly it was argued that 
    the Masons had set up a jurisdiction of their own, with 
    their own obligations and punishments, liable to 
    enforcement even by the penalty of death. So basic was 
    the conflict felt to be between secrecy and democracy 
    that other, more innocent societies such as Phi Beta 
    Kappa came under attack. Since Masons were pledged to 
    come to each other?s aid under circumstances of 
    distress, and to extend fraternal indulgence at all 
    times, is was held that the order nullified the 
    enforcement of regular law. Masonic constables, 
    sheriffs, juries, and judges must all be in league with 
    Masonic criminals and fugitives. The press was believed 
    to have been so ?muzzled? by Masonic editors and 
    proprietors that news of Masonic malfeasance could be 
    suppressed. At a moment when almost every alleged 
    citadel of privilege in America was under democratic 
    assault, Masonry was attacked as a fraternity of the 
    privileged, closing business opportunities and nearly 
    monopolizing political offices. Certain elements of 
    truth and reality there may have been in these views of 
    Masonry. What must be emphasized here, however, is the 
    apocalyptic and absolutistic framework in which this 
    hostility was commonly expressed. Anti-Masons were not 
    content simply to say that secret societies were rather 
    a bad idea. The author of the standard exposition of 
    anti-Masonry declared that Freemasonry was ?not only the 
    most abominable but also the most dangerous institution 
    that ever was imposed on man.?It may truly be said to be 
    hell?s master piece.? The Jesuit Threat

    Fear of a Masonic plot had hardly been quieted when the 
    rumors arose of a Catholic plot against American values. 
    One meets here again the same frame of mind, but a 
    different villain. The anti-Catholic movement converged 
    with a growing nativism, and while they were not 
    identical, together they cut such a wide swath in 
    American life that they were bound to embrace many 
    moderates to whom the paranoid style, in its full glory, 
    did not appeal. Moreover, we need not dismiss out of 
    hand as totally parochial or mean-spirited the desire of 
    Yankee Americans to maintain an ethnically and 
    religiously homogeneous society nor the particular 
    Protestant commitments to individualism and freedom that 
    were brought into play. But the movement had a large 
    paranoid infusion, and the most influential anti-
    Catholic militants certainly had a strong affinity for 
    the paranoid style. Two books which appeared in 1835 
    described the new danger to the ?American way of life 
    and may be taken as expressions of the anti-Catholic 
    mentality. One, Foreign Conspiracies against the 
    Liberties of the United States, was from the hand of the 
    celebrated painter and inventor of the telegraph, S.F.B. 
    Morse. ?A conspiracy exists,? Morse proclaimed , and 
    ?its plans are already in operation?we are attacked in a 
    vulnerable quarter which cannot be defended by our 
    ships, our forts, or our armies.? The main source of the 
    conspiracy Morse found in Metternich?s government: 
    ?Austria is now acting in this country. She has devised 
    a grand scheme. She has organized a great plan for doing 
    something here.?She has her Jesuit missionaries 
    traveling through the land; she has supplied them with 
    money, and has furnished a fountain for a regular 
    supply.? Were the plot successful, Morse said, some 
    scion of the House of Hapsburg would soon be installed 
    as Emperor of the United States.

?It is an ascertained fact,? wrote another Protestant 
militant,

that Jesuits are prowling about all parts of the United 
States in every possible disguise, expressly to ascertain 
the advantageous situations and modes to disseminate Popery. 
A minister of the Gospel from Ohio has informed us that he 
discovered one carrying on his devices in his congregation; 
and he says that the western country swarms with them under 
the name of puppet show men, dancing masters, music 
teachers, peddlers of images and ornaments, barrel organ 
players, and similar practitioners.

Lyman Beecher, the elder of a famous family and the father 
of Harriet Beecher Stowe, wrote in the same year his Plea 
for the West, in which he considered the possibility that 
the Christian millennium might come in the American states. 
Everything depended, in his judgment, upon what influences 
dominated the great West, where the future of the country 
lay. There Protestantism was engaged in a life-or-death 
struggle with Catholicism. ?Whatever we do, it must be done 
quickly.?? A great tide of immigration, hostile to free 
institutions, was sweeping in upon the country, subsidized 
and sent by ?the potentates of Europe,? multiplying tumult 
and violence, filling jails, crowding poorhouses, 
quadrupling taxation, and sending increasing thousands of 
voters to ?lay their inexperienced hand upon the helm of our 
power.?

**************** The Paranoid Style in Action

The John Birch Society is attempting to suppress a 
television series about the United Nations by means of a 
mass letter-writing campaign to the sponsor,?The Xerox 
Corporation. The corporation, however, intends to go ahead 
with the programs.?

The July issue of the John Birch Society Bulletin?said an 
?avalanche of mail ought to convince them of the unwisdom of 
their proposed action?just as United Air Lines was persuaded 
to back down and take the U.N. insignia off their planes.? 
(A United Air Lines spokesman confirmed that the U.N. emblem 
was removed from its planes, following ?considerable public 
reaction against it.?)

Birch official John Rousselot said, ?We hate to see a 
corporation of this country promote the U.N. when we know 
that it is an instrument of the Soviet Communist 
conspiracy.?

?San Francisco Chronicle, July 31, 1964

****************

    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. Probably the most widely read contemporary 
    book in the United States before Uncle Tom?s Cabin was a 
    work supposedly written by one Maria Monk, entitled 
    Awful Disclosures, which appeared in 1836. The author, 
    who purported to have escaped from the Hotel Dieu 
    nunnery in Montreal after five years there as novice and 
    nun, reported her convent life in elaborate and 
    circumstantial detail. She reported having been told by 
    the Mother Superior that she must ?obey the priests in 
    all things?; to her ?utter astonishment and horror,? she 
    soon found what the nature of such obedience was. 
    Infants born of convent liaisons were baptized and then 
    killed, she said, so that they might ascend at once to 
    heaven. Her book, hotly attacked and defended , 
    continued to be read and believed even after her mother 
    gave testimony that Maria had been somewhat addled ever 
    since childhood after she had rammed a pencil into her 
    head. Maria died in prison in 1849, after having been 
    arrested in a brothel as a pickpocket. Anti-Catholicism, 
    like anti-Masonry, mixed its fortunes with American 
    party politics, and it became an enduring factor in 
    American politics. The American Protective Association 
    of the 1890s revived it with ideological variations more 
    suitable to the times?the depression of 1893, for 
    example, was alleged to be an international creation of 
    the Catholics who began it by starting a run on the 
    banks. Some spokesmen of the movement circulated a bogus 
    encyclical attributed to Leo XIII instructing American 
    Catholics on a certain date in 1893 to exterminate all 
    heretics, and a great many anti-Catholics daily expected 
    a nationwide uprising. The myth of an impending Catholic 
    war of mutilation and extermination of heretics 
    persisted into the twentieth century. Why They Feel 
    Dispossessed

    If, after our historically discontinuous examples of the 
    paranoid style, 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. Important changes may also be traced to 
    the effects of the mass media. The villains of the 
    modern right are much more vivid than those of their 
    paranoid predecessors, much better known to the public; 
    the literature of the paranoid style is by the same 
    token richer and more circumstantial in personal 
    description and personal invective. For the vaguely 
    delineated villains of the anti-Masons, for the obscure 
    and disguised Jesuit agents, the little-known papal 
    delegates of the anti-Catholics, for the shadowy 
    international bankers of the monetary conspiracies, we 
    may now substitute eminent public figures like 
    Presidents Roosevelt, Truman, and Eisenhower., 
    secretaries of State like Marshall, Acheson, and Dulles, 
    Justices of the Supreme Court like Frankfurter and 
    Warren, and the whole battery of lesser but still famous 
    and vivid alleged conspirators headed by Alger Hiss. 
    Events since 1939 have given the contemporary right-wing 
    paranoid a vast theatre for his imagination, full of 
    rich and proliferating detail, replete with realistic 
    cues and undeniable proofs of the validity of his 
    suspicions. The theatre of action is now the entire 
    world, and he can draw not only on the events of World 
    War II, but also on those of the Korean War and the Cold 
    War. Any historian of warfare knows it is in good part a 
    comedy of errors and a museum of incompetence; but if 
    for every error and every act of incompetence one can 
    substitute an act of treason, many points of fascinating 
    interpretation are open to the paranoid imagination. In 
    the end, the real mystery, for one who reads the primary 
    works of paranoid scholarship, is not how the United 
    States has been brought to its present dangerous 
    position but how it has managed to survive at all. The 
    basic elements of contemporary right-wing thought can be 
    reduced to three: First, there has been the now-familiar 
    sustained conspiracy, running over more than a 
    generation, and reaching its climax in Roosevelt?s New 
    Deal, to undermine free capitalism, to bring the economy 
    under the direction of the federal government, and to 
    pave the way for socialism or communism. A great many 
    right-wingers would agree with Frank Chodorov, the 
    author of The Income Tax: The Root of All Evil, that 
    this campaign began with the passage of the income-tax 
    amendment to the Constitution in 1913. The second 
    contention is that top government officialdom has been 
    so infiltrated by Communists that American policy, at 
    least since the days leading up to Pearl Harbor, has 
    been dominated by men who were shrewdly and consistently 
    selling out American national interests. Finally, the 
    country is infused with a network of Communist agents, 
    just as in the old days it was infiltrated by Jesuit 
    agents, so that the whole apparatus of education, 
    religion, the press, and the mass media is engaged in a 
    common effort to paralyze the resistance of loyal 
    Americans. Perhaps the most representative document of 
    the McCarthyist phase was a long indictment of Secretary 
    of State George C. Marshall, delivered in 1951 in the 
    Senate by senator McCarthy, and later published in a 
    somewhat different form. McCarthy pictured Marshall was 
    the focal figure in a betrayal of American interests 
    stretching in time from the strategic plans for World 
    War II to the formulation of the Marshall Plan. Marshal 
    was associated with practically every American failure 
    or defeat, McCarthy insisted, and none of this was 
    either accident or incompetence. There was a ?baffling 
    pattern? of Marshall?s interventions in the war, which 
    always conduced to the well-being of the Kremlin. The 
    sharp decline in America?s relative strength from 1945 
    to 1951 did not ?just happen?; it was ?brought about, 
    step by step, by will and intention,? the consequence 
    not of mistakes but of a treasonous conspiracy, ?a 
    conspiracy on a scale so immense as to dwarf any 
    previous such venture in the history of man.? Today, the 
    mantle of McCarthy has fallen on a retired candy 
    manufacturer, Robert H. Welch, Jr., who is less 
    strategically placed and has a much smaller but better 
    organized following than the Senator. A few years ago 
    Welch proclaimed that ?Communist influences are now in 
    almost complete control of our government??note the care 
    and scrupulousness of that ?almost.? He has offered a 
    full scale interpretation of our recent history n which 
    Communists figure at every turn: They started a run on 
    American banks in 1933 that forced their closure; they 
    contrived the recognition of the Soviet Union by the 
    United States in the same year, just in time to save the 
    Soviets from economic collapse; they have stirred up the 
    fuss over segregation in the South; they have taken over 
    the Supreme Court and made it ?one of the most important 
    agencies of Communism.? Close attention to history wins 
    for Mr. Welch an insight into affairs that is given to 
    few of us. ?For many reasons and after a lot of study,? 
    he wrote some years ago, ?I personally believe [John 
    Foster] Dulles to be a Communist agent.? The job of 
    Professor Arthur F. Burns as head of Eisenhower?s 
    Council of Economic Advisors was ?merely a cover-up for 
    Burns?s liaison work between Eisenhower and some of his 
    Communist bosses.? Eisenhower?s brother Milton was 
    ?actually [his] superior and boss within the Communist 
    party.? As for Eisenhower himself, Welch characterized 
    him, in words that have made the candy manufacturer 
    famous, as ?a dedicated, conscious agent of the 
    Communist conspiracy??a conclusion, he added, ?based on 
    an accumulation of detailed evidence so extensive and so 
    palpable that it seems to put this conviction beyond any 
    reasonable doubt.? Emulating the Enemy

    The paranoid spokesman sees the fate of conspiracy in 
    apocalyptic terms?he traffics in the birth and death of 
    whole worlds, whole political orders, whole systems of 
    human values. He is always manning the barricades of 
    civilization. He constantly lives at a turning point. 
    Like religious millenialists he expresses the anxiety of 
    those who are living through the last days and he is 
    sometimes disposed to set a date fort the apocalypse. 
    (?Time is running out,? said Welch in 1951. ?Evidence is 
    piling up on many sides and from many sources that 
    October 1952 is the fatal month when Stalin will 
    attack.?) As a member of the avant-garde who is capable 
    of perceiving the conspiracy before it is fully obvious 
    to an as yet unaroused public, the paranoid is a 
    militant leader. He does not see social conflict as 
    something to be mediated and compromised, in the manner 
    of the working politician. Since what is at stake is 
    always a conflict between absolute good and absolute 
    evil, what is necessary is not compromise but the will 
    to fight things out to a finish. Since the enemy is 
    thought of as being totally evil and totally 
    unappeasable, he must be totally eliminated?if not from 
    the world, at least from the theatre of operations to 
    which the paranoid directs his attention. This demand 
    for total triumph leads to the formulation of hopelessly 
    unrealistic goals, and since these goals are not even 
    remotely attainable, failure constantly heightens the 
    paranoid?s sense of frustration. Even partial success 
    leaves him with the same feeling of powerlessness with 
    which he began, and this in turn only strengthens his 
    awareness of the vast and terrifying quality of the 
    enemy he opposes. The enemy is clearly delineated: he is 
    a perfect model of malice, a kind of amoral 
    superman?sinister, ubiquitous, powerful, cruel, sensual, 
    luxury-loving. Unlike the rest of us, the enemy is not 
    caught in the toils of the vast mechanism of history, 
    himself a victim of his past, his desires, his 
    limitations. He wills, indeed he manufactures, the 
    mechanism of history, or tries to deflect the normal 
    course of history in an evil way. He makes crises, 
    starts runs on banks, causes depressions, manufactures 
    disasters, and then enjoys and profits from the misery 
    he has produced. The paranoid?s interpretation of 
    history is distinctly personal: decisive events are not 
    taken as part of the stream of history, but as the 
    consequences of someone?s will. Very often the enemy is 
    held to possess some especially effective source of 
    power: he controls the press; he has unlimited funds; he 
    has a new secret for influencing the mind 
    (brainwashing); he has a special technique for seduction 
    (the Catholic confessional). 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. On the other hand, the sexual freedom often 
    attributed to the enemy, his lack of moral inhibition, 
    his possession of especially effective techniques for 
    fulfilling his desires, give exponents of the paranoid 
    style an opportunity to project and express 
    unacknowledgeable aspects of their own psychological 
    concerns. Catholics and Mormons?later, Negroes and 
    Jews?have lent themselves to a preoccupation with 
    illicit sex. Very often the fantasies of true believers 
    reveal strong sadomasochistic outlets, vividly 
    expressed, for example, in the delight of anti-Masons 
    with the cruelty of Masonic punishments. 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.

? Richard Hofstadter is DeWitt Clinton Professor of American 
History at Columbia University. His latest book, ?Anti-
intellectualism in American Life,? was awarded the Pulitzer 
Prize for General Nonfiction earlier this year. This essay 
is adapted from the Herbert Spencer Lecture delivered at 
Oxford University in November 1963.

* Many anti-Masons had been fascinated by the penalties 
involved if Masons failed to live up to their obligations. 
My own favorite is the oath attributed to a royal archmason 
who invited ?having my skull smote off and my brains exposed 
to the scorching rays of the sun.?

* In his recent book, How to Win an Election, Stephen C. 
Shadegg cites a statement attributed to Mao Tse-tung: ?Give 
me just two or three men in a village and I will take the 
village.? Shadegg comments: ? In the Goldwater campaigns of 
1952 and 1958 and in all other campaigns where I have served 
as consultant I have followed the advice of Mao Tse-tung.? 
?I would suggest,? writes senator Goldwater in Why Not 
Victory? ?that we analyze and copy the strategy of the 
enemy; theirs has worked and ours has not.

http://karws.gso.uri.edu/JFK/conspiracy_theory/the_paranoid_
mentality/The_paranoid_style.html


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