Richard Hofstadter's The Paranoid Style In American Politics

Improved Essays
In the controversial essay, which was first published in the November 1964 issue of Harper’s Magazine, “The Paranoid Style in American Politics,” Richard Hofstadter argues how the prevalence of paranoia in American politics has dominated the politics in the country. Hofstadter asserts American politics has been governed by paranoia since the creation of the United States, and it has manifested itself into the minds of both average Americans and intellectuals. He contends that paranoia has played a pivotal role in American politics by fostering fear in citizens regarding issues such as gender, ethnicity, race, and religion—and proclaims the reason fear is heightened in citizens has more to do with the style in which panic is spread than any …show more content…
One of the most compelling pieces of anecdotal evidence Hofstadter utilizes in his essay revolves around the concept of McCarthyism. Through the examination of Senator Joseph McCarthy, Hofstadter emphasizes how politicians release fear into vulnerable populations in order to gain attention and power. In the case of Senator McCarthy, the widespread panic of communist ideologies emerged first through the United States icey relationships with the Soviet Union, but became an outspread pandemic when McCarthy fed off the already heightened fears of American citizens and utilized fear as a source of power. In order to prove his point that suspicion and paranoia create an issue in regards to progress, Hofstadter quotes McCarthy’s statement “This must be a product of great conspiracy on a scale so immense as to dwarf any previous such venture in the history of man” (Hofstadter 77). The usage of this quote allows for Hofstadter to prove that McCarthy instilled fear in his followers through phrases similar to this one to escalate their fears to the point that they would look to him as a leader against the “great conspiracy” he speaks of. Through fascinating pieces of anecdotal evidence, such as this one, Hofstadter further proves the continuous prevalence of paranoia …show more content…
Each early heading in this essay represents another example of paranoia in American politics, the role it played during the time of panic, and the outcoming, negative effect it had on improving the country. Yet, as the essay moves forward, these headings shift to explain the root cause of paranoia upon people, why they feel compelled to feed into paranoia, and why individuals do not realize they are being impacted by the influence of others. By organizing the essay in this order, Hofstadter’s argument becomes much more believable and urgent. Additionally, by concluding his essay with the concept that paranoia dominates not only American politics, but also global politics, Hofstadter establishes the true problem with paranoia. Referring to a man impacted by paranoid thoughts, Hofstadter states “circumstances often deprive him of exposure to events that might enlighten him-- and in any case he resists enlightenment” to demonstrate how paranoids resist the desire to become enlightened by new information; that they are stuck believing one single creed (Hofstadter

Related Documents

  • Superior Essays

    Political extremes have always been a part of the American system, but when these outliers are allowed to take center stage it can cause a multitude of problems. These extremists pray upon Americans fears often prompting mass hysteria. In his book, American Hysteria, Andrew Burt explains why these hysterias occur and uses five historical examples. His thesis is that political extremism is used as a coping mechanism for Americans who have lost social status and their sense of national identity which results in a scapegoat being blamed. Overall Burt’s book does an excellent job of explaining the origins of the phenomena that is hysteria, the historical impacts of it, and how to best combat it in the future.…

    • 1071 Words
    • 5 Pages
    Superior Essays
  • Improved Essays

    Appeal for McCarthyism in the Cold War In the era following World War II, tensions between the United States and Soviet Russia were at their highest. Americans were on constant alert for an imminent nuclear war outbreak. This constant threat caused many Americans to become frightened. McCarthy gave people a relief to their stress, by giving them the belief that the government was successfully hunting down and capturing communists, and that McCarthy’s actions were preventing a war. In addition, anti-communist propaganda was utilized by the government to promote opposition to communism, and to create fear of communism.…

    • 1426 Words
    • 6 Pages
    Improved Essays
  • Improved Essays

    This book best represents the Red Scare in the McCarthy Era. The first reason why The Crucible is an allegory for the Red Scare is that it showed the fear to the public. During the McCarthy Era, the public result there fear to hate.…

    • 979 Words
    • 4 Pages
    Improved Essays
  • Improved Essays

    Taken Hostage Analysis

    • 1093 Words
    • 4 Pages

    Taken Hostage by David Farber plays through the set up of the Iranian-Hostage Crisis and the many governmental failings that lead to it. The reactions of the American public make it apparent that the actions of the United States government, through its many economic, domestic, and foreign policies, majorly lead to the crisis and perhaps even exacerbated…

    • 1093 Words
    • 4 Pages
    Improved Essays
  • Improved Essays

    The Crucible Allegory

    • 1475 Words
    • 6 Pages

    “Senator Joseph R. McCarthy uses fear of communism to increase his own power and destroy the reputation of others” (Appleby, et al 550). McCarthy puts his authority to sway others. Another tactic McCarthy utilized his power was forcing the government officials to testify about alleged communist influences, forming the investigation into a witch hunt (Appleby, et al 550). The searched was based on flimsy evidence and irrational fear. McCarthy used his power to intimidate others.…

    • 1475 Words
    • 6 Pages
    Improved Essays
  • Improved Essays

    Lastly, the Party dictates peoples logic through the process of double think (tactic used to make people believe contradictions). The Party, in a nutshell, is the all-powerful dictatorship present in the year nineteen eighty-four. George Orwell created the Party and Oceania to represent a totalitarian society that he envisioned may become reality in the year nineteen eighty-four if people didn’t stop the spread of communism in the early twentieth century. Personally, Orwell greatly opposed communism and totalitarianism. In the years prior to Orwell’s writing of Nineteen Eighty-four, Orwell witnessed firsthand the negative impacts that a totalitarian government had on a society.…

    • 1297 Words
    • 5 Pages
    Improved Essays
  • Improved Essays

    Studying the motivations of humanity, American Literature analyzes the positive and negative effects of fearing the unknown. Terror and panic brought on by fear are more paralyzing than any other feeling within the human range of emotions. American Authors assess behavioral changes caused by the crippling fear of the unknown, ranging from personality shifts, to reckless behavior, investigating the way fear affects different individuals. Tim O’Brien uses his war book The Things They Carried to exemplify the most unavoidable unknown that people face: the fear of death. Tim announces it as well, “I was scared,” (O’Brien, 215).…

    • 1009 Words
    • 5 Pages
    Improved Essays
  • Improved Essays

    The American people were beginning to fear the spread of communism, increasing hysteria throughout the United States. The Eisenhower administration attempted to soothe the hysteria of Americans through legislation. However, American fear of communism and the failing of the economy kept American hysteria…

    • 1184 Words
    • 5 Pages
    Improved Essays
  • Improved Essays

    The end of WWII marked the start of the Cold War between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. During this time period there was a clash between Capitalism and Communism that engulfed the world. These two very different ideologies caused thousands to dye, billions of dollars to be spent, and great advancements in technology. As a result of the Cold War and the fear of the spread of communism, America’s citizens and culture were changed drastically. During the 1950s a Senator named Joseph McCarthy went on a national witch hunt trying to find communist loyalist within America. McCarthy’s witch hunt caused the fear of communism to become even stronger in America.…

    • 1824 Words
    • 8 Pages
    Improved Essays
  • Superior Essays

    Hysteria Of The Iraq War

    • 1351 Words
    • 6 Pages

    Similar to the Red Scare, this hysteria was and still is a factor in American politics. It has contributed to the polarization between Democrats and Republicans, and tribalist dispositions among voters. Studies also show that this hysteria may have been a factor in rising isolationist views among Americans and this supposed war for oil sparked mass protest and discourse around the world. In conclusion, the political aftermath of this hysteria has drastically changed American politics and the only solution may be a change in the current school…

    • 1351 Words
    • 6 Pages
    Superior Essays