“The Paranoid Style in American Politics” – Richard J. Hofstadter (1964)


“‘The Paranoid Style in American Politics‘ is an essay by American historian Richard J. Hofstadter, first published in Harper’s Magazine in November 1964; it served as the title essay of a book by the author in the same year. Published soon after Senator Barry Goldwater had won the Republican presidential nomination over the more moderate Nelson A. Rockefeller, Hofstadter’s article explores the influence of conspiracy theory and “movements of suspicious discontent” throughout American history. The essay was adapted from a Herbert Spencer Lecture that Hofstadter delivered at Oxford University on November 21, 1963. An abridged version was first published in the November 1964 issue of Harper’s Magazine, and was published as the titular essay in the book The Paranoid Style in American Politics, and Other Essays (1964). The essay was originally presented when the conservatives, led by Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater (1909–1998), were on the verge of taking control of the Republican Party. Recurring paranoia in American politics. In developing the subject, Hofstadter initially establishes that his use of the phrase ‘paranoid style’ was a borrowing from the clinical psychiatric term ‘paranoid’ to describe a political personality, and acknowledges that the term is pejorative. Psychological projection is essential to the paranoid style of U.S. politics. Historians have also applied the paranoid category to other political movements, such as the conservative Constitutional Union Party of 1860. Hofstadter’s approach was later applied to the rise of new right-wing groups, including the Christian Right and the Patriot Movement. The political scientist Michael Paul Rogin, in his book The Intellectuals and McCarthy: The Radical Specter (1967), offered a thorough criticism of Hofstadter’s thesis regarding the People’s, or Populist, party of the 1890’s and similar progressive groups, showing that the ethnic and religious groups that supported Joseph McCarthy and other ‘paranoid style’ figures differ from those which supported the Populists and their successors, and thus that the origins of McCarthyism cannot be found within agrarian radical groups. Despite Rogin’s work, the tendency to conflate left-wing and right-wing populism, ignoring significant differences between the two, continues to be a significant long-term effect of Hofstadter’s work. …”
W – “The Paranoid Style in American Politics”
W – Richard Hofstadter
Harpers: “The Paranoid Style in American Politics” By Richard Hofstadter (November 1964)
NY Times: The Paranoid Style – Paul Krugman (Oct. 9, 2006)
New Republic: Trump’s Cult of Personality Takes Paranoia to the Next Level (Jan. 26, 2018)

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