I have been enjoying historian Jesse Walkers’s new book, The United States of Paranoia: a Conspiracy Theory. If I had to choose just one sentence to characterize the main thesis of the book, I would choose:
In America, it is always a paranoid time.
The reference is to Richard Hofstadter’s influential article in Harper’s Magazine, “The Paranoid Style in American Politics.” Hofstadter suggested that belief in conspiracy theories was more prevalent on the right than on the left, and less so among the well-educated. Walker takes issue with this characterization of the conspiracy theorist, pointing out several counterexamples. His view is that belief in conspiracies is the norm in America rather than aberration and that it characterizes all social strata. His examples stretch back before the American Constitution. He also debunks some popular stories that I think most Americans (myself included) believe.
Conspiracy theories have been embraced by journalists and congressmen, and even Timothy Dwight, President of Yale University, denounced the Illuminati as a threat to chastity. If you like to know tidbits from the underbelly of American history, here you may find things of interest.
There are also a few pages about birthers towards the end.
I’m still reading, and perhaps I will update the article from time to time.