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The Paranoid Style in American Politics

4.18 of 5 stars 4.18  ·  rating details  ·  473 ratings  ·  52 reviews
This timely reissue of Richard Hofstadter's classic work on the fringe groups that influence American electoral politics offers an invaluable perspective on contemporary domestic affairs.In The Paranoid Style in American Politics, acclaimed historian Richard Hofstadter examines the competing forces in American political discourse and how fringe groups can influence — and d ...more
Paperback, 330 pages
Published June 10th 2008 by Vintage (first published 1964)
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Hadrian
Six decades past publication, it is remarkable how much Hofstadter's analyses the conservative fringe have retained their lucidity, not least because the circumstances between then and now are too similar.

For example - why were the Birther movement/John Birch Society, and McCarthyism/Anti-Muslim scare as prominent as they were, then and now? Both Eisenhower and Obama were centrist presidents, what could have offended them? Granted, there is discontent with Obama because of the economy, and Eisen
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Michael
One of the most important books I've ever read, and my only regret is I waited this late in life. (I think in my earlier days Hofstadter was tarred with the "liberal consensus" brush of ideas like Daniel Bell's "End of Ideology." To an aging liberal, however, Hofstadter holds up remarkably well.) Hofstadter takes a step back from the growing "pseudo-conservative" movement of the 1950s and 1960s and shows it in a broader historic context. Whereas contemporary commentators and bloggers tend to get ...more
Anthony D Buckley
Eric kindly sent me a copy of the title essay, but I must certainly have a look at the entire book.

The phrase “paranoid style” has been bandied about in discussions of American politics ever since Hofstadter wrote his article, back in the 1960s. It points to an irrational fearfulness directed by the American right towards such people as communists, socialists, liberals and ethnic minorities. The article specifically pinpoints hostility to Catholics and Freemasons, which I never really thought to
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Peter Jana
The more things change, the more they stay the same ... This collection of essays is especially insightful in today's political environment where the Tea Baggers' boiling kettle is making such a ruckus.

The parallels between what Hofstadter called "pseudo-conservatism" in 1954 and today are amply discerned when he claims, "It is at least conceivable that a highly organized and effective minority [has developed:] whose main threat is its power to create a political climate in which the rational p
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James
The titular essay feels so contemporary that I had to recheck its date of original publication. It was written almost fifty years ago, but if you replaced 'Goldwater Republicans' with 'Tea Party', it could easily have been written anytime in the last year or two. The main difference is a sad one, that in the 1960s the U.S. and world economies were still growing, whereas now it looks as if we're headed into permanent decline driven mainly by fossil fuel depletion.
The focus of the book, as the tit
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Michael
If you're scratching your head about Glenn Beck or Lou Dobbs or Sarah Palin or any of our current crop of defenders of the American way, spend a few hours with Hofstadter, a legendary twentieth century political historian, cut off in his prime but not before he got a real bead on the phenomenon of right wing radicalism. Its a pretty honest attempt to rake through McCarthyism and Goldwater's rise to discern the common themes, the rhetoric and perhaps the underlying emotional, psychological and so ...more
matt


I haven't finished this yet but I can already say I'll read it for a lifetime. I'm quoting it and recommending it to my friends and I'm going to go over it and some of its themes and issues again and again.

As far as I can tell, it more or less prophesied the entire political situation of today....read it and shiver....
Diocletian
This book is a collection of essays examining radical political groups that influence American politics. The essays were well written and comprehensible, particularly in the first half of the book; the second half still is too, but they do get more scholarly and are meant for a more specific audience.

Although these essays explore multiple different aspects of fringe politics, it has a specific focus on the politics of the extreme right- a group that claims to be conservative, but is more willin
...more
Ivonne Rovira
O Paul Krugman! Not only do readers learn so much by reading his column and blog posts, but even the commenters on his blog “The Conscience of a Liberal” strew pearls of wisdom! This is the second time that a commenter on Krugman’s blog has recommended a book that turned out to be fantastic.

I had read the title article of The Paranoid Style in American Politics in 1978 or 1979 when I was still in college, and I had forgotten completely about it. But the commenter mentioned that the book of essa
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Will
Everybody else has noted the prescience and relevance of Hofstadter's title essay (a study of the psychology underlying the extremist rhetoric of the John Birch Society and related libertarian ideologues in the 50s and 60s). I agree there. What is seldom pointed out is where Hofstadter went wrong.

First, Hofstadter is unfair to some of the historical movements he cites as presaging the "Paranoid Style". The preachers who fanned the Illuminati scare in 1790s New England were wrong, it's true, but
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Mark
I intended to read only the title essay, but found the entire collection fascinating. The first half of the book features similarly themed essays about the paranoid style through American history and in the then-contemporary sixties. It's remarkable how little has changed, except that the lunatics are now a bit closer to being in charge of the asylum.

The second half of the book - three essays about different topics in American History - will greatly interest American History buffs. I especially
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Donald Luther
Richard Hofstadter was a legend in American History circles during my undergraduate days. His study of the Progressive Era and the New Deal, 'The Age of Reform', was one of the required texts during my sophomore year. Later I read his 'Anti-Intellectualism in American Life' (twice!) and, long story short, I have seen power of his insights and the quality of his researches pay off in my thinking and in courses I have taught.

I held off reading this because I thought the title made it a bit more po
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Rob Salkowitz
Should be required reading in every freshman Poli-Sci class. Still sadly relevant to the current moment.
Marc
This was pretty great. I was mostly reading it for the famous title essay, which delivered exactly what I wanted. Predictably enough, it's one of those pieces that had me nodding my head and constantly thinking of parallels to the current political scene--if Rick Perlstein's books on Goldwater and Nixon provide the factual background necessary to understand modern movement conservatism, Hofstadter's essay remains the best psycho-social analysis of the phenomenon. The related essays on Goldwater ...more
Jo O'donnell
'The Paranoid Style in American Politics' is a classic essay that both holds up well and seems eerily prescient for our own times. A handful of other fantastic essays follow, ending with an entertaining look at the great 1890s debate over the silver & gold standards focused around one William H. Harvey, a prodigious crank and major figure of this now-overlooked period.
Jason
This was phenomenal and anybody wanting to understand the current political situation in the United States should read this, despite it being around fifty years old. I would have easily given this five stars, but in my opinion, the final essay really didn't mix with the rest of the essays in this collection.
Hal
This book changed my life around 1989. I was heading off the deep end into conspiracies but this pulled me back into reality.
Erik
The most (sadly) prophetic book on the state of modern American politics I've ever read.
Oliver Bateman
Although the scholarship behind these essays is a bit dated, Hofstadter's prose hasn't lost its ability to delight. The titular essay resonated with my US history students this semester, as they were able to make the obvious connections between earlier "paranoid style" political movements and the work of contemporary buffoons like G. Beck and M. Savage. "The Mind of 'Coin' Harvey," the book's concluding piece, is an excellent biographical sketch.
Peter
Even though the time period is different (when Hofstadter wrote this, the US was just emerging from a long era of liberal Democratic dominance politically), the message still resonates in today's political environment. Particularly, various right wing movements such as the Tea Party movement and "birtherism" fit very nicely into his frame of the far right wing as paranoid and not entirely rational. It certainly makes the politics of today make more sense.
Charles Seluzicki
The title essay is brilliant. First published in 1964, it is even more relevant today in an America where a small percentage of people actually take seriously the labyrinthine "logic" and faux anti-intellectual intellectualism of Glenn Beck and his ilk, the latest incarnations of the paranoid style. This has been pointed out before but it needs to be said again and again until it is heard.
Robert
Brilliant and fascinating. The latest essay is written in the mid-sixties way before the race and class discussions we know now. Still this is a fascinating and illuminating read. It is particularly useful in examining not only the motivations of many current right-wing personalities but also the genesis or rather the resurrection of many current arguments.
Simon
A classic examination of the role of political conspiracy theories in the USA.
Tom
Jul 24, 2012 Tom marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Cited in recent article in The Nation, "The Making of 'Green Menace,'" Jack Shaheen, about anti-Islamic imagery in media. Sounds highly relevant to today's political atmosphere, especially in light of Michelle Bachmann's McCarthyist attack on Hilary Clinton aide for allegedly helping Muslim Brotherhood infiltrate US gov't.
Christopher
Great collection of essays, and the similarities between the Goldwater right and the Tea Party are interesting. A lot has happenned since 1964 and both types of non-pragmatic rightists had qualities to distinguish them, but still, worth reading.
Hofstadter is clearly an elitist, though. It comes out a lot during his writing.
Katrinka
Although I was more interested in the essays included in the first half of the book, on the history of paranoid (political) thought in the U.S., all of Hofstadter's essays are incredibly well thought-out, and give careful consideration to as many sides as possible of the issue he's considering. Excellent historical work.
Spencer
Dec 05, 2011 Spencer marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Note to self: looking for an edition with all four of the following essays:
“The Paranoid Style in American Politics”
“The Pseudo-Conservative Revolt — 1954”
“Pseudo-Conservatism Revisited — 1965”
“Goldwater and Pseudo-Conservative Politics”
Alex
While the subsequent essays are probably a bit inside-baseball-y for some folks (read: non political scientists), the title piece is one of the finest 20th Century pieces on American politics, and should be required reading in schools.
Steve Kierstead
Important stuff. I didn't understand until this that the 1964 Goldwater campaign actually started the GOP down the path of the race-based Southern Strategy. The shame goes back further than I'd realized.
Margaret
As a newcomer to U.S. history, this book was an uphill climb. I had to look up every other event or person on Wikipedia. By the end, I got the hang of reading Hofstadter. He's a good historian to know.
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Sean Wilentz on The Paranoid Style in American Politics 2 26 Jan 26, 2012 05:27AM  
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5908
Richard Hofstadter (6 August 1916 – 24 October 1970) was an American public intellectual, historian and DeWitt Clinton Professor of American History at Columbia University. In the course of his career, Hofstadter became the “iconic historian of postwar liberal consensus” whom twenty-first century scholars continue consulting, because his intellectually engaging books and essays continue to illumin ...more
More about Richard Hofstadter...
Anti-Intellectualism in American Life The Age of Reform The American Political Tradition and the Men Who Made It Social Darwinism in American Thought America at 1750: A Social Portrait

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“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.” 8 likes
“If for every error and every act of incompetence one can substitute an act of treason, many points of fascinating interpretation are open to the paranoid imagination.” 6 likes
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