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The paranoid style

You’ve perhaps seen me mention the phrase “paranoid style” a couple of times recently. I’ve been reminded of that term coined by the historian Richard Hofstadter when reading some comments left here recently and comments elsewhere. Hofstadter’s essay, “The Paranoid Style in American Politics” is one of the most insightful works I know on the the modes of expression we see in birthers. Just to pique your interest, let me quote from Hofstadter:

In the paranoid style, as I conceive it, the feeling of persecution is central, and it is indeed systematized in grandiose theories of  conspiracy. But there is a vital difference between the paranoid spokesman in politics and the clinical paranoiac: although they both tend to be overheated, oversuspicious, overaggressive, grandiose, and apocalyptic in expression, the clinical paranoid sees the hostile and conspiratorial world in which he feels himself to be living as directed specifically against him; whereas the spokesman of the paranoid style finds it directed against a nation, a culture, a way of life whose fate affects not himself alone but millions of others. Insofar as he does not usually see himself singled out as the individual victim of a personal conspiracy, he is somewhat more rational and much more disinterested. His sense that his political passions are unselfish and patriotic, in fact, goes far to intensify his feeling of righteousness and his moral indignation.

Fit anybody you know?

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6 Responses to The paranoid style

  1. avatar
    Shagnastie March 29, 2012 at 9:33 pm #

    I’ve used Hofstadter to reply to birthers on several occasions and the only answers that I’ve gotten were out-of-hand dismissals. They can’t deal with his thesis.

  2. avatar
    Majority Will March 29, 2012 at 9:41 pm #

    Shagnastie:
    I’ve used Hofstadter to reply to birthers on several occasions and the only answers that I’ve gotten were out-of-hand dismissals. They can’t deal with his thesis.

    Light frightens cockroaches.

  3. avatar
    JPotter March 29, 2012 at 10:03 pm #

    Fit anybody you know?

    Thankfully not personally!

  4. avatar
    Paul March 29, 2012 at 10:41 pm #

    Sounds like a PERFECT description of our friend Rudy (“I’ll be happy to execute Obama!”) whereas Oily Taint is more the classic paranoid with delusions of grandeur (“They’re out to get MEEEE! And LOOK, they’re talking about MEEEE!!!”)

  5. avatar
    Paper March 30, 2012 at 8:30 am #

    Yes, and unfortunately personally. To the point that I am told I could never understand what it means to be so unselfish.

  6. avatar
    Arthur March 30, 2012 at 10:52 pm #

    Excellent choice for citation, and one that many will find helpful as they try to understand the birther mindset.