Tuesday, February 20, 2024

The Paranoid Style in American Politics

"The Paranoid Style in American Politics" is written by Richard Hofstadter and published in Harper's Magazine. It uncannily describes someone who must not be named:
...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. 

...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.”

It would be hard to describe him more perfectly, and the entire article is a thoughtful historical tour through paranoia in American politics.

It was published in 1964.

In other words, this is nothing new. Worse, perhaps, but not new. The imaginary villains are replaced with others, but the style never changes.

Here's the article (it's considered a classic): The Paranoid Style in American Politics.

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