Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Paranoid Style in American Politics

Of utmost relevance for coming to grips with the fanaticism on the right is Richard Hofstadter's great essay of 1954, "The Paranoid Style in American Politics." That this short work remains so important a half century later only testifies to a chronic condition lying deep within the American social matrix: the tendency for those of a long standing ideological discomfort to join others who are suddenly facing marginalization and/or dispossession, and then to divide the world into two. They see, on the one hand, that their troubles are caused by an enemy conspiracy (at one time or another, the Catholics, the Masons, the Jews, and now, the Liberals, who, present day believers claim are, in fact, dreaded Marxist Socialists), led by an agent of virtually apocalyptic evil, (in today's version, bent on centralizing and concentrating power in the executive branch of the federal government*). They see themselves, on the other hand, in a mirror image of their foe, this time, an in-gathering of the faithful, led a clarion caller** who will form them into an army of the righteous while announcing the coming if not arrival of a messianic deliverer** ready to lead them into an Armageddon-like struggle that will end in victorious reconquest of what was, and now again will be, "our America."

As Kurt Vonnegut would have said, "And so it goes."

*These very same persons, by the way, see no contradiction in their anger about supposed Obama-led concentration of power with their support for the Bush-Cheney idea of the unified executive. This latter would surely bring about a massive alteration of constitutional values,for it would place the president above the law. Why? Because the attorney general would no longer serve the constitution, only the president, and thus could never seek an indictment for presidential usurpation of power. And there goes John Locke, Jefferson, and the US Constitution.

**Today, an amalgam of Christian and American revolutionary imagry: Glen Beck, who thinks of himself as a modern Tom Paine, as Sarah Palin's John the Baptist; the faithful now organized into updated 1773 Boston Tea Party units, minute men-like patriots (some already armed), ready, in Beck's words, to "take back our America."

Friday, December 4, 2009

Decency on the Right: Andrew Sullivan

It is most useful to remember that right-populist demogogery has traditionally found enemies within conservative as well as liberal circles. Indeed, American conservatives whose ideas have their provenance in the writings of Edmund Burke, Adam Smith and Thomas Jefferson are reacting to the cheapening and vulgarization of American political discourse by the demogogues about us. No finer example of the power of solid and authentic conservative thinking is Andrew Sullivan's. Please reflect on his heartfelt credo, "Leaving the Right," posted Dec. 1, 2009,on the Atlantic website.

For those on the Obama left, read Howard Kurtz's commentary on both Sullivan's and progressives' outlooks.