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From the Trade Paperback edition.
Posted September 22, 2009
I first read Paranoid Style in the 1960's. Hofstader was an important journalist of that time, who is still very much worth reading. The Paranoid Style in politics refers to the emergence within politics of a style of thought and action about flaws, failures and problems in American politics. But rather than working within the political system to help right it, the paranoid style involves moral denunciation on one hand, and the search for evil doers within the system, on the other.
McCarthy's communist hysteria, illustrates these features of the paranoid style. Hofstader rightly points out that this style has been around the U.S. for a very long time. However, when politicians, rather than fringe elements take it up, the paranoid style poses a serious limitation upon a more gradual, give-and-take development of political solutions.
Hofstader points to Barry Goldwater as the originator of the paranoid style, in recent American politics. In this, I think Hofstader is probably correct. Contemporaries tend to think of "neo-conservatisim" with the emergence of contemporary conservatism. Reagan's "evil empire" was cast in moral terms, but Reagan did not rely on witch hunts as President. His attack on the U of California, was done while he was governor. In my view, Reagan may have helped turn loose proponets of the paranoid style. But, at least as President he did not act out the paranoid style, if my memory serves me correctly.
For people who are interested in the phenomena of hate radio and such personages as Ann Coulter, Shaun Hannity, and Rush Limbaugh, Hofstader provides an important point of reference.
To be sure, times have changed. The era of American dominance has changed; the national economic picture has changed since The Paranoid Style was written, and long after Hofstader's death in 1970. These changes mean that Hofstader is no longer the last word as he often was in the fifties and sixties. But for the theme paranoia or "screwballism" in American politics, Hofstader's Paranoid Style is a crucial starting point.
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