“The Paranoid Style in American Politics” has its 50th Anniversary

[One of my few blog entries on politics, and how it relates to psychology, sociology, and modern apocalyptic eschatology. Here is a full pdf version: Paranoid Style Turns 50_Shogren]

Because of his ability to describe and predict American political behavior, Richard Hofstadter’s “The Paranoid Style in American Politics” should be required reading for the citizen. And except for Sacred Scriptures and the US Constitution, I never say any text should be mandatory. “Paranoid Style” was a short, dynamite article in the November 1964 issue of Harper’s, and is still available on their website archive. [1] We will look at some of its insights for today, and in particular, its implications for the evangelical church.

His immediate interest was the conservative movement that backed Barry Goldwater for president in the 1964 election. As a confirmed liberal of the old style, that is, to the left of typical Democrats of today, Hofstadter argued that he was not simply being anti-conservative – and that he was! – but rather: “I believe there is a style of mind that is far from new and that is not necessarily right-wing.”

I offer my own summary of the script of the “paranoid style”:

Nothing is what it seems to be: there are evil forces at work, carrying out their treacherous actions and shielding themselves from the attention of the general public;

I and a small group of whistle-blowers are even now revealing this hidden reality;

the proofs are extraordinarily complex and interwoven, but the central truth is simple and can be explained in a few sentences;

we who are “in the know” are continually hampered or even checkmated due to powerful enemies and widespread public apathy and gullibility.

“Nothing is what it seems to be – there are evil forces at work, carrying out their treacherous actions and shielding themselves from the attention of the general public”

conspiracy-theory-top-secretExamples from recent decades would have to include Senator Joe McCarthy, who argued that the loss of Eastern Europe and China to the Reds could not reasonably have happened by accident, or by normal political or military forces, but must have been the outcome of a conspiracy high in the ranks of the US government. While some communist spies were in fact outed in the 40s and 50s and some of the blacklisted Hollywood stars had leftist leanings, McCarthy developed an entire constellation of “known communists” and fellow travelers – a list that only he was permitted to see. Whether his paranoia was genuine or a style he adopted for his own advancement is uncertain; both explanations should be troubling. What is clear is that he was very typically American in his ability to draw connections between individuals and groups into a grand hidden plot against American values.

Hofstadter argued that McCarthyism was not out of the ordinary, but was in fact part of a long historical current in American political life; he traced the mindset back to colonial times.

An example: How odd in the 21st century, that many groups which evangelical Christians now regard as their political allies – for example, Catholics, Mormons, to some extent, Jews – were for many decades considered infiltrators, bent on destroying the American way of life. Our ancestors would have stampeded in panic had they known that in 2012, several major candidates would be firmly Catholic (Paul Ryan, Biden, Gingrich, Santorum), or card-carrying Mormons (Romney, Jon Huntsman); let alone the list of Jewish conservatives whom evangelicals support (Ben Stein; Eric Cantor; Michael Medved). Many took it for granted in the 1800s that the Pope was attempting to take over the US, and that therefore all German and Irish Catholic immigrants – or perhaps the Jesuits – were conscious papal agents to overthrow US the government; see especially the so-called American Party (also called the Know-Nothings) in the years surrounding the Civil War.

This 2004 book is a new take on an old narrative:

The Mormon Conspiracy reveals how the Mormon church leaders are involved in this conspiracy and how they conspire to control the United States government and eventually the world by establishing its “Kingdom of God” on earth. The words “Kingdom of God” are in quotes, because in reality this is not a Kingdom of God that the Mormon Church wishes to establish, but rather a Kingdom of the Mormon Church, led by fifteen men, the Presidency (three men) and the Quorum of Twelve apostles of the church. This conspiracy theory gains relevance when concerns are addressed about the Mormon church members. [2]

Notice the classic language of the paranoid style: “reveals”, “conspire”, “control”, and the grammatical passive voice: “concerns are addressed” (see endnote 4 for another prime example). People have been making the above claim in one form or another for 150 years, by the way! One feature of conspiracy theories is how the same plot can be said to be taking place over centuries, but the alleged perpetrators never seem to get their act together to take over the world! For example, if some supposed group of Illuminati have been “taking over the world” since the 1700s, then somewhere they have lost their way, and we can probably sleep easy.

Another anti-Mormon allegation is that, “Because young Mormon men have served in and studied the languages of foreign countries throughout the world, large numbers of them have been hired by the federal Central Intelligence Agency and therefore are in control of a significant amount of CIA activities.” (Note: Mormon missionaries typically don’t work in a second language, since they are trained for only a few weeks before going out – I have seen many Mormon missionaries here in Costa Rica, but none who could hold a conversation in Spanish). Now of course, just because someone thinks people are out to get him doesn’t mean he’s paranoid. Maybe the Mormons do have the USA in their sights, although if they do the evidence is sketchy. And it is at this point that the paranoid political narrative uses another fallacy, the “slippery slope” argument (also called the thin end of the wedge, or the camel’s nose), that is, that if one step is taken in a certain direction, then further steps will inevitably follow. In this case, if many Mormons work for the CIA, then it is only a question of time before they control the entire country. To take another example, many argue that since it is now possible to implant subdural microchips in pets, then inevitably the government will plant them in humans in order to control the population.

Conspiracies of course do exist. Whatever way you parse it, 9/11 was a conspiracy. We now know that J. Edgar Hoover really did conspire to entrap Martin Luther King, Jr., and really did smear Civil Rights leaders as Commies. Today, it is generally accepted that Iran-Contra was a conspiracy. The CIA did try its hand at mind control through its Program MK Ultra. The US Public Health Service did on purpose infect black men in its Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment. The US Army did inject black soldiers with plutonium. The US Navy did dump bacteria over San Francisco in the ’50s. The list of infamy goes on, and some unproven charges – for example, that the US Navy infected Tampa with whooping cough – could of course be substantiated in the future.

But the characteristic paranoid scheme is usually more far-fetched. Do you like rock music? Of course you do! But Lyndon LaRouche has exposed the truth that “rock was not an accidental thing. This was done by people who set out in a deliberate way to subvert the United States. It was done by British intelligence”; thus, the Beatles were “a product shaped according to British Psychological Warfare Division specifications.” And you thought you just liked their soup bowl haircuts!

The deeply paranoid feels him- or herself to be fighting in an ongoing battle between good and evil, while at the same time believing that we stand at a unique turning point in history. One type of worldview is that “America has been largely taken away from them and their kind, though they are determined to repossess it and to prevent the final destructive act of subversion” (Hofstadter). The theorist feels set apart for some climactic battle that will have far-reaching consequences and must be won at all costs; therefore:

“I and a small group of whistle-blowers are even now revealing this hidden reality”

There are true whistleblowers who actually do have insight into that which on the surface seems a paranoid fantasy (think Al Pacino in “The Insider” regarding Big Tobacco). We might add here that after the fall of the Soviet Union, documents were released that showed that Alger Hiss and Julius Rosenberg, if not necessarily Ethel, really had been spies, proving those anti-Communists correct after all. As the crown prince of conspiracy thinking, Alex Jones correctly points out, there are plenty of conspiracies that history proved to be correct; he loses the thread of logic when he concludes that, if there have been conspiracies in the past, then the theories he spins must therefore be true as well.

Let’s return to Lyndon LaRouche, who could provide us with many vivid examples. I remember back in 1989, listening to a radio broadcast of an orchestral piece. The thing was, the performance was played by an orchestra tuned to middle A that was pitched at 432 Hz, not the conventional 440 Hz. This because, as LaRouche explained, that 440 Hz was a Rockefeller-Nazi-British attack against listeners of music in order to created discord, aggression, and anxiety; thus it must be rectified! The audience – packed with his followers – erupted into shouted applause to confirm that 432 Hz sounded like the “correct” pitch. [3]

The psychological effect of such theories is palpable. First, there is a handy rationalization, that if “they” are keeping me down, then I am not responsible for my own failure and alienation. Second, my self-esteem rises as I realize that only a tiny minority of the population has figured out the real truth – I can claim to be merely a humble seeker, but deep within I know I am above the common herd.

On the other hand, one of the major objections to Hofstadter has to do precisely with the degree of marginalization that characterizes a conspiracy theory. According to him, only outsiders and losers believe in conspiracies. But in fact, many well-known theories are the property of the center and the majority – more than half of all Americans believe that JFK was not killed by Oswald, and at times up to 81% believed that there was a hidden conspiracy. Hofstadter’s elitism, which suggested that only the poorly-educated could fall for such nonsense, dissolves when conspiracy theories since his original essay are examined in detail; here one might recommend Jesse Walker’s The United States of Paranoia: a conspiracy theory (2013). Walker’s libertarian perspective allows him to examine paranoia from non-conservatives and the educated. He discovers that many paranoid narratives were mainstream, not the possession of the poorly-educated or disenfranchized.

Maybe there is a Matrix, and maybe the Neos of the world have had their eyes opened – but they have to demonstrate their case to the rest of us by the normal methods of human reasoning. This leads to the next point:

“The proofs are extraordinarily complex and interwoven, but the central truth is simple and can be explained in a few sentences”

How do you explain the current state of things? Easy, said Hitler, the Jew! And the Communists too, and the international bankers, the press, and the degradation of music, film and art – but simply put, the Jewish conspiracy is behind all of them! Other popular targets today are the Illuminati; or the Zion Occupation Government; or the news media; or the Rothschilds; or the Council on Foreign Relations; or the International Monetary Fund; or the Bilderberg Club; or the Queen of England and a supposed “Anglo-Dutch liberal system” (LaRouche again); or even extraterrestrials. Again, maybe the Bilderbergs really are pulling the strings on world events, causing wars, messing with the economy, but a conspiracy asserted is not a conspiracy proved.

As Hofstadter observes, it takes a superior level of analytical thinking to be able to integrate thousands of data into a cogent theory; the average person cannot pull it off. Here a viewing of “A Beautiful Mind” is instructive: it is not a lack of intelligence that causes John Nash to see “connections” between the dots; it is his very brilliance, combined with paranoia, which does him in. Here is a current example, concerning the Ebola virus: “a mere connecting of dots spells an evil agenda.” [4] And it is this sheer self-confidence that gives the theorist a patina of intellectual authority. Hofstadter again: “The higher paranoid scholarship is nothing if not coherent – in fact the paranoid mind is far more coherent than the real world.” Show the theorist a crisis – an assassination, 9/11, a war, a mass murder, a jet crash, a failing economy, or even a general feeling of vulnerability and “wrongness” – and the brilliant mind will figure out the How and Why. A paranoid political thinker, whether mentally disturbed or not, is nothing if not thorough – in his or her world, every bit of a 10,000 piece puzzle fits, none are left over. This “almost touching concern with factuality” (Hofstadter again) yields to a phenomenally complex and interwoven narrative.

The only problem is that the paranoid style relies on poor reasoning: one error is the assumption that a hundred weak arguments lead to a strong case. If you can demolish one “proof”, then like the Hydra two (or a hundred!) more grow up. If this reminds you of the phrase “Don’t confuse me with facts, my mind is made up,” it’s not a coincidence – proofs and evidence can be swapped out, but the central narrative marches on. This is why one will argue that the Rothschilds are really the danger, while others will say, No, the Rothschilds are merely the pawns of the IMF or the Trilateralists.

Another common fallacy here is the Vaticinium ex eventu, which is the trick of “predicting” an event, but only after it takes place. (“The Protocols of Zion” rely heavily on this sort of literary trick, see below). All kinds of people, it turns out, “foresaw” 9/11, but we only found out about it after the planes struck. What we are not told is that the same people predicted all sorts of events that never came to pass. Still, an adept of the paranoid style will make people believe that “of course the Arabs were going to attack the WTC; if you had studied my findings you would have had to conclude, What else could they have done?

If your theory can explain all the available data – and then some! – then it is worthless to explain everything. Life is never that neat.

Look at the YouTube videos that claim that 9/11 was not what it seems to be, an attack by nineteen Al-Qaida operatives on the Twin Towers, the Pentagon, and a third target in Washington DC by United flight 93. In this case, there are thousands of data showing who flew the planes, from where, which passengers were aboard, the names of the victims on the ground, and the exact damage in New York and Washington. Yet there exists an entire industry to prove that it didn’t happen the way the “sheep” believe – that it was engineered by President Bush; that it was an Israeli attack (a good one that, given that some political paranoids blame the Jews for much ill that happens in the world, making a Zionist attack a “twofer”); that it was arranged by Saudi Arabia, the same Arabians who had financed Bush’s oil-drilling operations; that there was no 9/11 attack, but only an optical illusion; and so on. Each one of these theories contradicts all other theories, which should tell us something.

Many exposés of 9/11 begin with the person saying, I saw it on TV, and it just didn’t feel right, so I started with that doubt and sought to prove why it wasn’t what it seemed. [5] Well, of course it didn’t feel right – even Americans who could remember Pearl Harbor had no analogous national disaster in their memory, so everyone’s feelings were in utter turmoil.

The paranoid style leads to contradictory theories. What links them together is that they are mutually-exclusive – that is, to accept one theory is to reject all the others. To take one example: who killed JFK? Was it a lone gunman? The Cubans? The Soviets? LBJ? The CIA? J. Edgar Hoover? The Mafia? The KGB? Some combination of them? A false logic that some follow is to ask the question “Who stands to benefit?” (Latin has a phrase for it, Cui bono?). Who stood to gain from eliminating JFK? A lot of people, it turns out! One estimate is that 42 different groups, 82 assassins, and 214 other people been accused of killing him (see Vincent Bugliosi, Reclaiming History: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy, 2007). These theories cannot all be right, and most or all of them must be wrong. But people in the paranoid style continue to hold on to the main narrative – the awfulness of the result demands that there be an equally vast cause, thus Kennedy could not have been killed by one man working alone. Conspiracy theories thrive in the face of horrifying events: people have a hard time believing that a non-entity like Oswald could pull off something so unimaginable.

“We who are ‘in the know’ are continually hampered or even checkmated due to powerful enemies and widespread public apathy and gullibility”

There truly are conspiracies out there. Heads of business get together to limit production and fix prices. Governments used to be regularly overthrown by the CIA. There is legislation that is advertised as doing one thing, while its backers have hidden motives. Those who object to the CIA torturing prisoners suspected that it was widespread for some years; that was just revealed to be true in December 2014, and even more common than many had guessed. The NSA is reaping tons of data on its citizens – you don’t have to be paranoid to think that the government knows too much about you. Or, as I believe, we are much more likely in the near future to be stalked by Big Business than by Big Government.

The paranoid style must rely on the foil of the mighty Über-Enemy, always two steps ahead of the whistle-blowers. According to Hofstadter, this explains why some in the paranoid style justify their use of extreme measures in order to defend themselves and fight back, and why no compromise may be tolerated. As Goldwater stated in his acceptance speech at the 1964 Republican convention, “extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice” [6]; it is the same sentiment that recently led Dick Cheney to justify the torturing of terror suspects. There is no gray area, there is no room to “wait and see”.

When I last travelled to the Marxist country where I sometimes teach, I was surprised to find that a government official recognized me as I deplaned and had a long list of questions to ask me. “What will you be doing? Whom will you be with? Name names!” I thought: Name names? What a classic scenario! I named a few, hoping I wasn’t betraying anyone. “No, no problem,” I was later told by friends. “When you are ‘interviewed’, the best thing is to assume they know absolutely everything, and just want to see if you’re trying to get away with something.” And later, government agents did indeed spot me at a meeting they had enquired about. Now, I don’t believe that communist governments know everything. But for purposes of interrogation, my friends instructed to assume the worst.

If you pitch the spiel that the federal government or the UN or the EEC or a hidden shadow government is all-knowing and all-powerful, you are giving way too much credit to a fallible and sometimes goofy human organization. “If the American government had all that power, then why doesn’t it reduce unemployment to zero?” The answer is usually, “Ah, but you see that’s part of their plan – they have to disguise what they’re really doing!”

And today?

I have gone around the web, looking for pages on liberal and conservative conspiracy theories. Some people I ran into incline toward being suspicious of Government, others of Business. It looks like conservatives are paranoid when Democrats are in power, and liberals go a little nuts when Republicans are voted in – that certainly was the case under Bush père, Clinton, Bush fils, and Obama. But beyond a certain point it is hard to assign labels at all. David Icke goes around preaching that the world is really run by reptilian aliens who wear human body suits as a disguise. Is he liberal? Conservative? On a whole other scale, more like. LaRouche is a sort of libertarian, but he too is sui generis. And how does one begin to categorize Jenny McCarthy?

In the current examples below, we see that the paranoid style works in two levels: the micro-narrative (for example, the belief that the Ebola virus was purposely created for the end of killing Africans), and the meta-narrative, an overarching Grand Theory that explains many smaller conspiracies (as one person says, the Ebola virus is a Weapon of Mass Destruction developed by the US government to commit genocide). [7] Most of these micro-narratives can be made to fit into a variety of meta-narratives:

  • The thimerosal found in some vaccinations causes autism; and vaccinations for MMR, polio, or flu are a plot by the government or Big Pharm. Here is a list of some anti-vaccination theories.
  • Fluoridation is an evil device to pacify American citizens into submission; some say that is because a fluoride compound is an ingredient in common anti-depressants. [8] The meta-narrative: your federal government is doping you up so that you will obey it without question. A similar tale is that jets are seeding the atmosphere with “chemtrails” (the actual scientific term is “contrails”, click HERE), and it is a government experiment to change the weather, drug the population, or kill off undesirables. These theories are likely projections of the theorist’s own sense of personal or sexual impotence (one more movie reference would be General Jack D. Ripper from “Dr. Strangelove”).
  • Caltech supposedly sent its workers home on April 12, 2010, because they knew an earthquake was imminent – they didn’t want to cause a panic or perhaps they didn’t care enough to warn the general public of the coming danger. A meta-narrative is that if scientists are deceitful, then we should not trust them about climate change, vaccinations, chemtrails.
  • The “Sandy Hook Massacre” in December 2012 never took place, 23 children did not die, it was a hoax of “false flag”. Cui bono? Who was to benefit? One theory is that the Obama administration was going to confiscate guns, in order to establish a dictatorship.
  • There is a huge secret Muslim conspiracy, aided and abetted at the highest level of the US government, to establish Sharia law; or more specifically, one rumor has it that Florida Democrats have already imposed Sharia law on women; or the White House now celebrates Muslim holidays rather than Christmas. The meta-narrative is similar to the anti-Catholic one mentioned above: Muslims are trying to destroy the US; Obama, who supposedly “faked” his birth certificate, is a closet Muslim with a mission (although if that were his true agenda, he had better get cracking!); or other, unknown Muslims who are conspiring behind the scenes. And for some, that means that even that nice Muslim lady from your neighborhood is “in on” the plot.
  • The crash of Malaysia flight MH17 happened because the occult and Illuminati brought it down; the reason: to ignite World War III and establish a New World Order.
  • The big car companies know how to build cars that will get 200 miles to the gallon, but they are holding out on us. The meta-narrative is, Big Government – or the auto industry, or the petroleum industry – have decided for some obscure reason to keep us in the dark. [9]
  • 4000 Jews supposedly stayed at home from their offices at the WTC on 9/11, proving that it was all a Zionist plot; the big picture – a Zionist conspiracy is trying to take over the US or the world. [10]

I’m afraid that Hofstadter’s baby will continue to grow into a monster, and at an increasingly faster rate. Where people used to hear paranoid theories on the street or in books or from the stock figure “some guy at work”, they now are bombarded with data, much of it false or long-debunked, and at a fingertip. The odds are not good: while the internet and cable TV were once thought to be saviors, so that Americans of different stripes could really communicate and appreciate other points of view, the exact opposite has happened: people are gravitating toward sites and channels that already reinforce their viewpoint; they hear mainly from people who affirm their beliefs, and unfriend those who do not. [11] Even my beloved History Channel has found it economically beneficial to leave sober history behind and to introduce a number of “conspiracy” programs. This leaves too many people in the echo chamber – everything they see online or in the media affirms their current beliefs.

Americans don’t own the patent on paranoia – the document “The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion” is a hoax that presents itself as secret information from a Jewish cabal to take over the world. It forms a part of the playbook in Arab countries, and around the world, despite having been discredited again and again, and proven wrong by history: it was published in 1897 and the Jews still have not pulled off world domination. Except according to the evidence of “those in the know” of course! [12]

We evangelical Christians by definition live by our own meta-narrative of creation, fall, and redemption. We believe in Good and Evil. That is why, as a group, we might be especially vulnerable to other narratives – after all, if you believe in one, it’s easier to accept a second and a third. One example: in the 1980s and 1990s too many of us accepted the story of widespread Satanic Ritual Abuse (SRA), despite the fact that the evidence could not be found, nor could anyone name the thousands of missing children who supposedly had been sacrificed to the devil.

Especially for those of us who believe the Bible teaching that history is heading toward a final crisis (an “eschatological” or telic world view), then the temptation exists to identify current events with the end of the world. One theory has it that contemporary Bible translations are an end-times New Age plot to steal your King James Bible. Other examples: identifying whatever political figure is prominent at the moment as the antichrist; the long-running tale about the super-computer, “The Beast”; the identification of 666 with bar codes or ATMs; [13] the story that Obamacare mandates that every US citizen (or newborns, in one version; or schoolchildren in Wyoming) must receive a microchip implant [14]; that FEMA has set up death camps, special freight cars, or portable guillotines in order to kill Christians.

Again, any of these might prove to be true: nevertheless because they bear the standard packaging of the paranoid style as outlined in the four points above, it should make us pause to consider how we determine what is true, and also remind us how easily people have gone off the rails in generations past. Yes, Christians are instructed to be alert, but they are also to avoid “bearing false witness.”

Without firm evidence, we might fall into the panic that Paul himself resisted:

Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you, brothers, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit or a spoken word, or a letter seeming to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction (2 Thess 2:1-3)

That is, when the “man of lawlessness” really appears, not when some prominent figure strikes us as a lawless person.

For all these reasons, we must exercise great caution about competing or parallel narratives – for they might become a false god that commands our allegiance. Beware of divided loyalties!

People have a right to complain and fight for change when they are truly being ripped off; many in the world are alienated, powerless, and disenfranchised – let’s stand by them in concrete ways. But when people have faith in God, it means they have a Rock that is higher than they, and also mightier than any group on earth. Christian faith can lead them in two ways: improperly, it might cause them to find a demon under every stone, to live life within a system of fear. For others, it means that the name of Christ may be invoked in every place and at every moment, because he is “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come” (Eph 1:21).

Our peace is not derived through esoteric knowledge, but is a gift from the Savior; and if we have that focused agenda will we be able to handle true conspiracies when they arise.


[1] http://harpers.org/archive/1964/11/the-paranoid-style-in-american-politics/?single=1 Also available is Richard Hofstadter’s master work, Antiintellectualism in American Life (1963), go to the Internet Forum (http://openlibrary.org/works/OL2465582W). Another resource is the well-written and less tilted politically book by David Aaronovitch’s, Voodoo Histories: How Conspiracy Theory Has Shaped Modern History (2010; on Amazon, also on Audible.com). Also Jesse Walker, The United States of Paranoia (2013).

[2] See “Conspiracy LDS Conspiracies Reveal Themselves” http://mormonconspiracy.com/conspiracy.html

[3] The Schiller Institute is the musical arm of the LaRouche organization. See its “A Brief History of Tuning” http://www.schillerinstitute.org/music/rev_tuning_hist.html

[4] From http://www.globalresearch.ca/the-ebola-virus-pandemic-a-weapon-of-mass-destruction/5394976). The syntax of paranoia is everywhere: “no doubt”, “far more probable” (black and white language); “potential” (that is a possibility of something happening, but there is no proof of it yet); “final solution” (a comparison to the Nazis, typical of conspiracy theorists; others appeal to the Communists); “actual truth” (the truth according to our theory, not the Official Version of the Truth); “closer examination” (that is, the material that the conspiracy theorist holds to be true); “simultaneous incidents are intimately related” (the fallacy that correlation implies causation); “a mere connecting of the dots” (a very popular method of conspiracy theorists); “declaring war” (exaggerated description of one’s opponents); “a war on all people who seek and speak the truth” (that is, “they” are hunting us down, so no wonder we seem paranoid!).

On 1/21/17 – “I just had a ‘Yikes!’ moment, when I read a conspiracy theorist who said that the Illuminati had purposely made it that the movie “A Beautiful Mind” came out in 2001 [in fact it came out in January, 2002, but I suppose that datum doesn’t mean much], specifically to make people think that 9/11 Truthers were paranoid. This is the Paranoid Style triple-distilled. Like John Nash in that movie, perhaps certain individuals might want to consult with their physicians about the hidden things they think only they can see.

[5] Here’s an example: http://www.truthin7minutes.com/september-11-hoax-the-truth-about-the-911-hoax/

[6] Goldwater’s 1964 Acceptance Speech. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/politics/daily/may98/goldwaterspeech.htm

[7] See again http://www.globalresearch.ca/the-ebola-virus-pandemic-a-weapon-of-mass-destruction/5394976 – “No doubt the US government is highly invested in Ebola for both potential Big Pharma profits developing a vaccine as well as for a potential ‘final solution’ as a convenient biowarfare global population-killer.”

[8] The general theory has been around since the 1940s; the latter-day identification of fluoride with anti-depressants seem to have been put together by folks who failed Chemistry in High School, at least the exam on molecular compounds. Prozac does in fact contain a fluoride compound; but the compound doesn’t break down into fluoride in the body. The claim that drinking fluoride is like taking Prozac is like saying that using table salt is tantamount to taking cyanide, since they both contain sodium.

[9] http://www.snopes.com/autos/business/carburetor.asp The story has been circulating since 1948.

[10] See http://www.iamthewitness.com/DarylBradfordSmith_ZionSummary.html

[11] Not only that, but the level of discourse on the web is a shocker – read the comments of any political post and you’ll see what I mean. The trolls are out there, and are they fuming! Some major sites (Reuters, Chicago Sun-Times; even Popular Science and Popular Mechanics!) have reluctantly eliminated the Comments section entirely for this reason. This fragmentation has revealed itself in the extremist rhetoric of the past three presidential elections.

[12] See for example http://blog.adl.org/tags/the-protocols-of-the-learned-elders-of-zion

[13] https://openoureyeslord.com/2012/05/04/christians-and-modern-myths/

[14] https://openoureyeslord.com/2012/10/01/obamacare-microchips-biochips-and-march-23/

“The Paranoid Style in American Politics” has its 50th Anniversary, by Gary Shogren, PhD, Professor of New Testament at Seminario ESEPA, San José, Costa Rica

18 thoughts on ““The Paranoid Style in American Politics” has its 50th Anniversary

  1. I found a pretty well… Entertaining website full of things I think you would like to read
    I mean their second news story is a visitation from God and he himself saying most christians aren’t saved
    This site is full of..well I’ll let you judge it hash 🙂

      1. It’s seems like all of the conspiracy theorists kind of gathered up all of the crazy things they believe and make up news articles about it haha. Apparently the Super Bowl this weekend is going to be nuked, and the government is making people disappear. So many crazy things on this website. I guess it bothers me more they try to tie God into it all

  2. Wow, Gary! The things you read. I’m surprised that you can keep your sanity. By the way, you do want to be careful with Hofstadter. In my first year at Brown I had to write a review of his Anti-Intellectualism in American Life for a class in American social and intellectual history. He claimed that Evangelicals or others who follow the worn out ideas of Adam Smith, Thomas Aquinas, and John Calvin were anti-intellectual. William F. Buckley was also anti-intellectual. When I read this, I thought, “My Lord! My father was right. The East-coast liberal establishment does think we’re all idiots!” However, since I was a bit cowardly to say such things in my first Ivy League class, I toned my criticisms way down. Dr. McLoughlin, no friend of conservatives said my review lacked bite and that Hofstadter did think that conservative thinkers of any stripe were not worth considering seriously from an intellectual point of view.
    You might be interested in Lionel Trilling, a liberal writer of that era that I appreciate. He wrote The Liberal Imagination. Since he thought that there was no conservative thought (that was the attitude of many before the renewal of conservative thought), he wrote that it was necessary for liberals to critique their own work. His work is very insightful, particularly the tension he sees between freedom and rationalism in liberalism because the latter necessarily seeks to order, even control, socieity.
    Well, I better sign off. The Martians hired by my communist employers are peeping through my computer screen to see whether I’m grading final exams.

    1. Thanks Bill! People today throw the terms “ultraliberal” or “leftwing” way too easily; they have little sense of where our country has traveled, especially since the end of WW II.

      Many conservatives follow the narrative that both Republicans and Democrats are drifting steadily leftward, whereas it is palpably clear that both parties are moving rightward. The truth: what people are calling RINOs today were just plain Republicans up until a few years ago.

      Is it my imagination, or has the National Review gotten more loopy and reactionary since WFB’s death? I used to enjoy reading it, but not now. For example, Andrew McCarthy’s lastest, “Who’s to Blame for the NYPD Killings?” (it goes all the way to Obama!).

      I have read some Trilling, but now for a long time, I will revisit him. See you!

      1. I’m not sure what right and left mean any more. You probably know that the terms were coined during the French Revolution, with the more revolutionary members sitting on the left side of the assembly. I haven’t read the National Review in years. In fact, I am so out of touch with and disillusioned with contemporary politics, that I had to look up RINO. God bless you and your family this coming new year.

        1. Politics is not a spectrum but a torus – keep going and eventually left meets right. Prime example – Mussolini started his political career in the international socialist movement.

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