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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

paranoia and politics « Previous | |Next »
February 26, 2007

I've just re-read Richard Hofstadter's influential 1964 Harper's essay entitled The Paranoid Style in American Politics about the anti-communist right in the US in the 1950s. How eeringly accurate for today.

Take these two paragraphs in the section entitled 'Emulating the Enemy' about paranoids:

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 for the apocalypse.

That's Bush, Cheney and Howard and Murdock's Australian as much it is the Islamic fundamentalists. The former see it as a new kind of long lasting war that involves defending civilization from barbarism.Iraq is the central battlefield is this war. The terrorist enemy cannot be deterred or contained. Their destruction requires showing strength, using power, and cutting back on civil liberties. If the US loses the enemy comes after us. It will follow us home.

Now this paragraph:

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.

That's the neo-cons---'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.' If the patriotic conservatives, who wrap themselves in a flag and carry a cross, see themselves fighting to preserve our civilization, our very existence, then the urgency and goodness of the fight against the Islamic enemies justifies any means used to fulfill it. Including torture, the easing of checks and balances on the executive, states of emergency, reducing cities to rubble etc. If The terrorist enemy is be destroyed, then that may include a possible US strike against Iran.

Cheney's is not just a bizarre analysis. It is the paranoid style in politics that is being expressed when he talks.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 11:39 AM |