Ever since Richard Hofsteadler published his famous 1964 Atlantic magazine essay "The Paranoid Style in American Politics," it has been an article of faith that conservatives are crazy--dangerously so--and their actions illegal--even if slow to cite any "law" violated--which has become "blinding Bush-hatred"--no matter what he does. So, for example, in March, Senator Hillary Clinton dusted off and re-played the "Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy" card; later, Carl Bernstein -- of Watergate fame and author of a new Hillary bio -- subsequently pronounced the '07-08 version accurate. Of course, accusations that Gitmo transgresses the Constitution, international law and human rights are as common-place as they are uninformed. The 2004 Democrats argued "the United Nations is the world's last, best hope, and every jot of its writ should always be respected, unless it inconveniences Saddam Hussein. . .[and] unilateral U.S. diplomatic pressure is always wrong, unless it is brought to bear on Israel." Finally, although Bin Laden touted his responsibility for September 11th and the science seems clear, plenty still think the attacks were a phony prop for war.
Wait a minute. . .what does this have to do with the supposedly irrational right? Nothing: in truth, Hofsteadler's thesis was less scholarly than advocacy and didn't age well. Oh, conspiracists still "deny the available evidence, maintaining that appearances deceive." Yet, for some time, as even liberal Glenn Greenwald admits (while still demonizing the right), free speech is swamped by those claiming "that Bush's behavior is exceedingly simple to explain. He is, they asset, simply Evil, and is only motivated by a one-dimensional desire for profit and power." So, despite (because?) unparalleled channels of communications, today, "the paranoid style is firmly on the left."
In Thursday's Wall Street Journal, Fred Siegel explains the shift:
During his presidency, Kennedy had repeatedly criticized the irrationalism of far-right-wing anticommunists and their segregationist cousins. . . Thus when Kennedy was shot on Nov. 22, 1963, it was widely assumed that his killer was the kind of hate-filled reactionary who believed Kennedy to be selling out America to Soviet Communism and to be showing too little resistance to the civil-rights movement. . .Siegel reviews James Piereson's new book Camalot and the Cultural Revolution, which I've not yet read. According to Siegel, the book details how Kennedy's death de-coupled the left from reason--a sine qua non since the French Revolution. Noting the Broadway revival of "Inherit the Wind" -- the liberal chestnut about the Scopes "Monkey Trial" -- Siegel goes beyond the book in search of the "progressive" future:
In the minds of liberals, then, Kennedy's killer should have been a right-wing fanatic. But he wasn't. Oswald was a man of the hard left. He had defected to the Soviet Union. When he found that country too bureaucratic, he returned to America and began proselytizing for Fidel Castro and his supposedly new brand of the third-world revolution. Nor was Oswald an irrational, discontented Dostoevskian loner, as some depicted him. He was in fact a joiner of movements and something of a self-defined intellectual who thought that his mixture of Marxism and anarchism made him smarter and more sophisticated than his frivolous peers.
Jackie Kennedy was distraught at the nature of Oswald's political identity. Her husband, she said, "didn't even have the satisfaction of being killed for civil rights. . . . It had to be some silly little communist. It even robs his death of meaning." But not for long.
Mr. Piereson's own argument is persuasive and well-presented, but liberalism was never as reasonable as he assumes. The irrationalism that exploded later in the 1960s had been a component of left-wing ideology well before. Herbert Croly, the liberal founder of the New Republic magazine, was drawn to mysticism. In the 1950s ex-Marxists fell over themselves in praise of Wilhelm Reich and "orgone box," hoping that sexual therapy might replace Marxist theory as the toga of the enlightened. And in the very early 1960s a veritable cult of Castro, informed by Franz Fanon's writings on the cleansing virtues of violence, emerged among intellectuals searching for an alternative to middle-class conventions.As Betsy Newmark argues:
It's not reason that is at the heart of modern-day liberalism but rather the claim to superior virtue and, even more important, to a special knowledge unavailable to the unwashed or unenlightened. Depending on the temper of the time, such virtue and knowledge can derive disproportionately from scientism or mysticism--or it can mix large dollops of both. "Camelot and the Cultural Revolution" lays bare the long-ignored failure of intellect that hastened the decline of American liberalism. If liberals can belatedly come to grips with their failure to acknowledge Oswald's political identity, they might be able to celebrate a revival that involves more than a Broadway show.
[I]t's not that liberals lost the power to argue about their superior qualities. It's that so much of the liberal proposed solutions had been tried and had been shown to have failed. Suddenly, liberals had to face arguments that weren't based on theory, but actual analysis of what had happened when liberal solutions had been put into practice. Actual data was available and it didn't favor liberal solutions to helping the poor, fighting crime, or improving education. So, all liberals were left with were their superior motives: they were just the better people and recognition of their desire to do well should be enough.The post-war right wasn't blameless--for decades, lefties justly accused conservatives of bolstering dictators merely because they weren't Commies. We probably did err on the side of "the-enemy-of-my-enemy-is-my-friend" (though it promoted stability and prosperity). But Bush doesn't do that today--for example, and unlike Dad, he has distanced America from Saudi Arabia. Yet progressives who embrace every Euro or Islamic cause -- and suspend their hatred of "hate speech" for Israel -- seem blind to their reverse reactionary tendency today, as I've observed:
If "tolerance" is to endure, it must mean something other than "anti-Americanism." If the left has a future, it must be able to identify, then condemn, tyranny. And if the Democratic Party is to survive, it needs to rethink its priorities.Start with this: The winds have shifted, and paranoia primarily enters stage left.
National Review's Rich Lowry calls Piereson's book "eye opening":
From a distance of nearly 50 years, the liberalism of 1960 is hardly recognizable. It was comfortable with the use of American power abroad, unabashedly patriotic, and forward-looking. But that was before The Fall. . .
His kind of liberalism -- "tough and realistic," as Piereson puts it, in the tradition of FDR and Truman -- was carried away in the riptide of his death. . . Thus, the assassination curdled into an indictment of American society: "Kennedy Victim of Violent Streak He Sought to Curb in Nation," read a New York Times headline. Until this point, 20th-century liberalism had tended to see history as a steady march of progress. Now, the march had been interrupted by the country's own pathologies. "Kennedy was mourned in a spirit of frustrated possibility and dashed hopes," Piereson argues, and that sense of loss came to define the new liberalism.
American history no longer appeared to be a benign process, but a twisted story of rapine and oppression. "With such a bill of indictment," Piereson writes, "the new liberals now held that Americans had no good reason to feel pride in their country's past or optimism about its future."
Their agenda took on a punitive edge, focused on compensating victim groups and expiating the country's guilt.