August 31, 2009

Paranoid is back in style

The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters by Goya.

In 1964, historian Richard Hofstadter published an influential essay in Harper’s Magazine titled “The Paranoid Style in American Politics.” I’ve been thinking about it lately in lieu of the more extreme versions of the hysteria and hyperbole that has arisen during the current health care debate. It fits the moment pretty well.

Hofstadter opened by observing that “American politics has often been an arena for angry minds.” Off and on throughout the nation’s history he found a style of mind that was paranoid not necessarily in the clinical sense but was nevertheless characterized by a “sense of heated exaggeration, auspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy…”

Holy granny-whacking, Batman! This same style of mind has shown itself to be alive and well in the current debate over heatlh care reform, with bizarre rumors of death panels, mandatory abortions, euthanasia, government takeovers, Sovietized health care, etc.—sometimes seasoned with a dash or two of speculations about the Kenyan birth of a certain elected official.

I'll be taking a look at Hofstadter's insights into political paranoia this week. Stay tuned--same bat time, same bat channel.

THEN AND NOW. Here's the latest from Paul Krugman, including a bit of Nixonian nostalgia.

AN OUNCE OF PREVENTION. Here are some suggestions for keeping the nation from spinning out of control.


MICRO-LENDING is one kind of banking that survived the credit meltdown.



Jay said...

Great timing. I'm finishing up Idiot America which is heavily inspired by Hofstadter's Anti-Intellectualism In American Life.

And "Keep government hands off my Medicare" is very much a part of Idiot America.

El Cabrero said...

That sounds like an interesting book. By the way, I love the Green Day album and one of my favorite Dylan sonds is "Idiot Wind."

Thanks for the comment!