The Paranoid Style in American Politics

The Paranoid Style in American Politics by Richard Hofstadter, when reading the title I first thought that the issues discussed in the book will be mainly addressed to the American reader, I remember that I took a moment , hesitated for a while , and then asked : “How much ?"
Gave three dinars and went home…
After reading several pages, I realised that the book overpasses its title’s boundaries and for that reason, I decided to give you the opportunity to read some extracts with me…

The Paranoid Style in American Politics
                                                             Chapter 4:

Let us now abstract the basic elements in the paranoid style. The central image is that of a vast and sinister conspiracy, a gigantic and yet subtle machinery of influence set in motion to undermine and destroy a way of life. One may object that there are conspiratorial acts in history, and there is nothing paranoid about taking note of them. This is true. All political behaviour requires strategy, many strategic acts depends for their effect upon a period of secrecy, and anything that is secret may be described, often with but little exaggeration, as conspiratorial. The distinguishing thing about the paranoid style is not that its exponents see conspiracies or plots here and there in history, but that they regard a “vast” or “gigantic” conspiracy as the motive force in historical events. History is a conspiracy, set in motion by demonic forces of almost transcendent power, and what is felt to be needed to defeat it is not the usual methods of political give-and-take, but an all-out crusade.
The paranoid spokesman sees the fate of this 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: it is now or never in organizing resistance to conspiracy. Time is forever just running out. Like religious millenarians, he expresses the anxiety of those who are living through the last days and he is sometimes disposed to set a date for 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.” The apocalypticism of the paranoid style runs dangerously near to hopeless pessimism, but usually stops short of it. Apocalyptic warnings arouse passion and militancy, and strike at susceptibility to similar themes in Christianity. Properly expressed, such warnings serve somewhat the same function as a description of the horrible consequences of sin in a revivalist sermon: they portray that which impends but which may still be avoided. They are a secular and demonic version of Adventism.
As a member of the avant-grade who is capable of perceiving the conspiracy before it is fully obvious to an as yet un-aroused public, the paranoid is a militant leader. He does not see social conflict as something to be mediated and compromised; in the manner of working politician. 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 unqualified victories leads to the formulation of hopelessly demanding and unrealistic goals, and since these goals are not even remotely attainable, failure constantly heightens the paranoid’s frustration. Even partial success leaves him with the same sense 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.

0 commentaires: