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The Paranoid Style in American Politics Paperback – June 10, 2008

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Editorial Reviews


“[Hofstadter's] account stands as the most balanced and authoritative analysis we have of a formidable and apparently permanent force in American politics.” —The New York Times Book Review“Hofstadter's essays . . .are calm, clear, dispassionate and devastating-a joy to read.” —Harper's“Hofstadter's status theory helps us understand a political history that goes far beyond the issues of the fifties and sixties which it was invoked to explain.” —New Republic

About the Author

Born in 1916, Richard Hofstadter was one of the leading American historians and public intellectuals of the 20th century. His works include The Age of Reform, Anti-intellectualism in American Life, Social Darwinism in American Thought, 1860-1915, The American Political Tradition, and others. He died in 1970.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 330 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (June 10, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307388441
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307388445
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.8 x 7.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #173,081 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

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138 of 147 people found the following review helpful By Music Fan on March 31, 2009
Format: Paperback
Don't be put off by the lame cover design. The late Mr. Hofstadter's book deserves your attention, particularly in light of recent American history.

'The Paranoid Style' is in fact a collection of essays, the first four of which are thematically-related studies of American hyper-conservatism. (I won't discuss the other essays in this review.) In the first, Hofstadter brings to light earlier historical avatars of conservative paranoia, reaching back to 18th century fears of 'Illuminati' and Freemasons, and 19th century anti-Catholic sentiment. Hofstadter then contextualizes the then-current anti-communist movement and McCarthyism as the latest examples of a 'style' of American political rhetoric that cannot brook coincidence, and that, in contrast, prefers to see historical events, which are largely beyond our control, as the evidence of a vast and perfect conspiracy to destroy America and its values.

In the next essays, Hofstadter engages with what he calls 'pseudo-conservatism,' a philosophy embodied in those ultra-right wing movements that do not seek to conserve or guide our social institutions at all, but instead wish to tear them out root and branch, on the grounds of their complete and utter corruption. At the time, Hofstadter's targets were right-wing organizations like the John Birch Society, but above all Barry Goldwater and his supporters. These 'pseudo-conservatives' rejected completely the moderate Republican leadership of the time, and sometimes went so far as to accuse them of treason.
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107 of 120 people found the following review helpful By William Hare on December 5, 2001
Format: Paperback
During the fifties, and up to the time of his death in the sixties, Richard Hofstadter was one of America's most renowned historians with two Pulitzer Prizes to his credit. He was at his intellectual peak when, as one of America's eminent authorities of his country's political ideologies, he tackled the developing phenomenon of the early sixties' right wing extremism under the guise of conservatism. He differentiates between the traditional American conservatism espoused by the likes of President Herbert Hoover and Senator Robert Taft alongside the venom of Robert Welch's John Birch Society, in which, as the group's idea man, Welch referred to Dwight D. Eisenhower as a "dedicated and conscious agent of the Communist conspiracy."
Hoftstadter delineates how fringe rightist elements took over the Republican Party and rallied behind the banner of Arizona's Senator Barry M. Goldwater, resulting in one of the party's most calamitous losses in the 1964 presidential election against incumbent Democratic president, Lyndon B. Johnson.
The work has a timely ring as an historical analytical measuring rod in comprehending the activities of current right wing movements, such as the Christian Right behind the banners of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson and its link to the militant anti-abortion movement, alongside earlier rightist political philosophies and their vigorous adherents such as Welch and television commentator Dan Smoot.
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62 of 75 people found the following review helpful By Jonathan Hoffman on March 29, 2010
Format: Paperback
I read this book when it was first published in the 1960's. Now, gee, just when I had completely forgotten about it, along comes the Tea Party movement and those wackoes declaring Obama the first Communist president since Eisenhower, and others shouting racial and homophobic epithets at congressmen. As I recall, Prof. Hoffstedter said this kind of uprising occurs about once every 20 years or so (and, here in the Pacific Northwest, I recall the Posse Comitatus crowd in the late 1970's who believed the IRS was illegal because Ohio wasn't a state, or something like that, so this sort of thing seems about as regular as Halley's Comet, just more frequent and less exciting to watch). But I suppose that if the original Tea Party in 1773 had just shortened their slogan to, "No taxation," either we would have begun the American Revolution a little sooner, or (more likely)the American revolutionaries would have been written off as a bunch of nut jobs and all the rest of us would still be singing God Save the Queen.
But Hoffstedter's book really made sense of these periodic paroxysms in our society and, thanks to the wackoes, the book retains its great vitality and relevance. Be sure to buy the book now, though, before the Stamp Act party returns in 2030. And I can't wait for the Know-Nothings (or are they hiding amidst the Tea Party?)
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By DonL2507 on May 8, 2012
Format: Paperback
I read this book several decades ago, but (1) after painfully witnessing the bizarre notions entertained in the Republican primary debates this season (e.g. the Federal Reserve is some kind of criminal enterprise, public health vaccinations reflect coercive gov't power run amok), (2) reading of a recent survey where 26% of those who identified themselves as Republicans also identified Barack Obama as the "Antichrist" (26%!), and (3) seeing on TV a recently-elected Congressman of the Tea party persuasion reject out-of-hand political compromise saying he was sent to Washington to "go to war" (with a electoral margin of about 150 votes!), I thought "Paranoid Style" might bear re-reading. I'm glad I did; this is an excellent and probing analysis, and also beautifully written, of the development of the radical right in American politics around the middle part of the last century. Professor Hofstadter analyzes the underlying premises of McCarthyism in the 1950s and Goldwaterism in the 1960s, and discusses the social and psychological dimensions of these right-wing movements. It was interesting, to me at least, how much in his analysis Hofstadter relies on prevailing sociological notions of the time (e.g., the primacy of status politics over interest politics in times of prosperity) when sociology today appears far less intellectually influential. Thus, this book is worthwhile just as a historical treatment of political and social forces shaping American rght-wing movements at particular points in time.

My re-reading was prompted by what the McCarthy and Goldwater movements discussed in "Paranoid Style" could tell us about the motives and forces underlying the current right-wing resurgence in the Republican party.
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