Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Paranoid Style, 1964 and 2009

From Richard Hofstadter's The Paranoid Style in American Politics:

What distinguishes the paranoid style is not, then, the absence of verifiable facts (though it is occasionally true that in his extravagant passion for facts the paranoid occasionally manufactures them), but rather the curious leap in imagination that is always made at some critical point in the recital of events. John Robinson's tract on the Illuminati followed a pattern that has been repeated for over a century and a half. For page after page he patiently records the details he has been able to accumulate about the history of the Illuminati. Then, suddenly, the French Revolution has taken place, and the Illuminati have brought it about. What is missing is not veracious information about the organization, but sensible judgment about what can cause a revolution.

and ...

L.B. Namier once said that “the crowning attainment of historical study” is to achieve “an intuitive sense of how things do not happen.” It is precisely this kind of awareness that the paranoid fails to develop.

This was written in 1964, but while Hofstadter has been criticized for being condescending, his criticism of "pseudo-conservatism" -- pseudo, because it lacks the moderating preservationist quality of 'true' conservatism -- read as if they had been written in 2009 (other than the emphasis on Barry Goldwater and Robert Welch, that is). For an exhibition of the paranoid style, try this response to a previously-obscure thesis written at the US Army's School of Advanced Military Studies, entitled Strategic Implications of American Millennialism.

The author reaches some rather obvious conclusions: people who think in absolutes may be ill-equipped to make subtle judgments; people who attend too closely to Israel's interests may mistake America's; people who long for Armageddon might be poor keepers of the peace. Really, nothing exceptionable there, except that he actually names premillennial dispensationalist Christians as the baleful influence.

To the paranoids at the Worldview Times, this is cause to declare an Emergency! "This report blames all the world evils on believers!" claims John McTernan, although it doesn't really blame all the world's ills on anyone at all. McTernan got himself so worked up that he called the officer listed on the Monograph Approval page and, apparently, barraged him with so much nuttery that the poor Colonel began to lose his patience:

He refused to tell me what this study was used for and who within the military was sent copies. I believe that it represents an official military view of Bible believers as Col Banack said there was no study or article refuting this one. This is directly from a Hard Left reprobate mind set.

THIS MUST BE CHALLENGED ON ALL LEVELS. I am contacting all the influential people that I know within our circles to sound the alarm. I am going to contact my elected officials to have this report refuted and stricken.

I am not exaggerating that after reading this report you will see that the next step for us is concentration camps to stop our evil influence on society and the world.

Someone thinks we shouldn't be allowed to influence foreign policy; we're obviously just a short step from the prison camps. Suddenly, the French Revolution. Mere rationality cannot make such leaps.

I tried to post a comment to that effect at the site, but it didn't pass moderation. Characteristically, the people at Worldview Times don't tolerate contrary opinions very gracefully. Or maybe they just didn't appreciate my kind reassurance that "if anyone ever locks you in a room, I promise you it will have comfy padded walls."

[PS. I notice now that a few critical comments have indeed made it past the moderator, so I'll have to be a little kinder to Worldview Times and take more blame myself. They can tolerate a little dissent, but no snark at all.]

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