From Harper’s Magazine, November 1964:
Hofstadter on the “Paranoid Style”
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-wing. 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.
From the Web
Next month will mark the 45th anniversary of the publication by Harper’s Magazine of Richard Hofstadter’s famous essay, “The Paranoid Style in American Politics,” a work that seems to grow more relevant by the day. I was not always a fan. When I first read it two decades ago, I thought Hofstadter was being needlessly insulting by equating political views with mental illness—despite his insistence that he wasn’t using the word that way. Besides, I thought, who really cared about the strange notions that occurred to members of marginal groups like the John Birch Society? Joe McCarthy’s day was long over, and even in the age of high Reaganism, I thought, the type of person Hofstadter described was merely handing out flyers on street corners…. How times have changed! Hofstadter’s beloved liberal consensus has been in the grave for decades now. Today it would appear that his mistake was underestimating the seductive power of the paranoid style. —“From John Birchers to Birthers,” Thomas Frank, The Wall Street Journal
An international network led by Latin American drug cartels and the Lebanese Islamist group Hezbollah has chosen West Africa, among the poorest and most corrupted corners of the world, as the nexus for illegal trade in cocaine, oil, counterfeit medicines, pirated music and human trafficking. International law enforcement officials say the profits fuel terrorist activities worldwide. The past three years have seen a staggering increase in drug trafficking in particular, making West Africa— and especially the countries of Guinea-Bissau, Nigeria, Ghana and Guinea— the premier narcotics region of Africa. The consequences are most visible in Guinea-Bissau, which saw the double assassination of its president and army chief on the same day in early March and more recently the murder of two leading politicians in the struggle for succession. —“Full Frame: Africa’s new narcostate,” Marco Vernaschi, GlobalPost
The national money shamans have danced around the carcass of our dead horse economy, chanted the recovery chant and burned fiat currency like Indian sage, enshrouding the carcass in the sacred smoke of burning cash. And indeed, they have managed to prop up the carcass to appear life-like from a distance, if you squint through the smoke just right. But it still stinks here from the inside. Clearly at some point we must find a new horse to ride, and sure as god made little green apples one is broaching the horizon. And it looks exactly like the old horse. —“Raising up Dead Horses,” Joe Bageant, Deer Hunting with Jesus