8/20/2005

Daily Kos: Paranoia

Hofstader's description of the paranoid style:

American politics has often been an arena for angry minds. In recent years we have seen angry minds at work mainly among extreme right-wingers, who have now demonstrated in the Goldwater movement how much political leverage can be got out of the animosities and passions of a small minority. But behind this I believe there is a style of mind that is far from new and that is not necessarily right-wind. I call it the paranoid style simply because no other word adequately evokes the sense of heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy that I have in mind. . . . [T]he idea of the paranoid style as a force in politics would have little contemporary relevance or historical value if it were applied only to men with profoundly disturbed minds. It is the use of paranoid modes of expression by more or less normal people that makes the phenomenon significant. Of course this term is pejorative, and it is meant to be; the paranoid style has a greater affinity for bad causes than good. But nothing really prevents a sound program or demand from being advocated in the paranoid style. Style has more to do with the way in which ideas are believed than with the truth or falsity of their content. I am interested here in getting at our political psychology through our political rhetoric. The paranoid style is an old and recurrent phenomenon in our public life which has been frequently linked with movements of suspicious discontent.

I can't help but believe that Eco had Hofstader in mind on some level when he wrote Foucault's Pendulum. Read his statement here:

Why is the notion of conspiracy and plotting so important to Foucault's Pendulum?

In some ways, my novel is the story of paranoia, interpretive paranoia. I have always been fascinated by the idea of conspiracy, which doesn't hold only in the political world but also sometimes in literary interpretation. There are forms of hermeneutics, for example, that try to find a secret meaning in a text. So we have always the obsession for a supplement of meaning that can lead to pure paranoia or to intolerance. That's why the early Christians were thrown to the lions; the Roman empire needed to find a conspiracy in order to justify certain social troubles. . . . But you can have a conspiracy syndrome anywhere. I am not saying that there are no plans, that there are no secret conspiracies. But it's not by chance that every dictatorship, when it cannot face a difficult internal situation, looks for an external enemy who is responsible. I am terrorized and frightened by this conspiracy syndrome. Somebody said to me," But you are a semiotician, you are a critic! You are always trying to uncover, to unmask meaning." True, but I am not against the act of interpretation. I am against the paranoia of interpretation, which is different.

To return us to the pragmatic and the purely political, the "paranoid style" has almost always been the enemy of Liberalism. Because it is dependent upon an anti-rationalism that is anathema. Sure, certain strains of our politics will appeal to anti-rationalism, to emotionalism, to blind hatred. But that is mostly in our past, I believe and I hope. But some wish us to embrace certain paranoid styles and issues. On social issues. On foreign policy issues. On domestic issues. To use a little hate of our own.

One commentator in particular has laid out a number of issues where he wants Democrats to appeal to the basest natures of the electorate. I speak of Michael Lind, who writes at the TPM Café. From social issues to immigration, Mr. Lind advocates either embracing or winking at a politics of resentment, of hate. Some will pretend that there is rational policy analysis behind Mr. Lind's positions. If there is, I personally have not seen it. I speak only for myself here, but I reject Mr. Lind's golem, his "false book." Mr. Lind's Plan is the path to moral defeat and cowardice. I also believe it the path to political defeat as well.

Daily Kos: Paranoia

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