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Ed Driscoll

Interview: Jesse Walker of Reason on The United States of Paranoia

August 28th, 2013 - 7:36 pm


In 1964, liberal historian Richard Hofstadter wrote “The Paranoid Style in American Politics.” With the 50th anniversary fast approaching for that landmark article, still the benchmark for many on the American left today, how is it holding up?

“Not all that well,” Jesse Walker of Reason magazine tells me during our interview to discuss his new book, The United States of Paranoia: A Conspiracy Theory. Hofstadter could spot conspiracies on the right, but was blind to his fellow liberal elites also internalizing their own share of paranoia. “He was writing in the early 1960s, at the time when there was a lot of sort of overexcited fear about the extreme right, and he drew on that in his own essay,” Walker adds. “But he didn’t recognize that just as there were anti-Communists who were sort of mimicking Communists, there were anti-anti-Communists, who were emulating the McCarthyists, who were, putting together reports on the fellow traveling organizations of the Birchers. Or who are, even within the government talking about or using the IRS or the FCC to harass people or harass organizations the way that McCarthy and people in the McCarthy era had harassed people on the left.”

And today, with domestic spying, a newly-politicized IRS, and leftwing elites who believe that they have Bletchley Park-level abilities to decode the hidden racism in every statement uttered by anyone to their right (and not just Republicans), in a sense, little has changed. But then, Walker’s insight is that even if a conspiracy theory is, as most of them are, pure bunkum, they can tell us a lot about which fears were most pressing at a particular time to the corner of society which dreamed it up.

During our 19-minute long interview, we’ll discuss:

● What are the five patterns that fit most conspiracy theories?

● What was the inspiration for Walker’s book?

● How the nature and reasons for paranoia in America have changed over the centuries.

● Why was the Hollywood left of the 1970s seeing so many rightwing boogiemen lurking behind every corner, just as the New Left was accomplishing many of their political goals?

● How did a seemingly right-wing icon like Sylvester Stallone’s Rambo character grew out of those earlier paranoid leftwing films of the 1970s?

● How conspiracy theories from fluoride paranoia to the birther movement can start on one side of the political aisle, before hopping the fence to the other.

And much more. Click here to listen:

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All Comments   (12)
All Comments   (12)
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The problem I have with this is I’m trying to make sense of the world as it is, not how I wish it was, but as it is. When black letter contract law was set aside in favor of the unions, it means that something has changed. What has changed and what are the rules? I don’t feel like I understand the rules of the game being played right now.

Does this make me a conspiracy theorist, or a rational actor?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
It ceases to be a theory if it proves to be true. And sometimes, these things are actually borne out, so sometimes, that paranoia is perfectly justified. I for one, don't trust our current incarnation of government any further than I could throw it (not far at all given its bloated size), and I've never been trusting of large bureaucratic systems who can compel me by force.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
In this current climate, to be "paranoid" or suspicious of the state is downright healthy. Look at the number of serious scandals, the complicity and cooperation of the mainstream media, the hostility that underlies many actions and a lot of communication from this administration. Their moral character is like a sepulcher. Lumping legitimate concerns and observations with nonsense like UFOs is how the left discredits any opposition. The founding fathers taught distrust of government, not disrespect for authority, but careful, constant vigilance, and the duty and responsibility of removing tyrannical governments. This "Democrat" administration is barely cloaking their malevolence and malfeasance, where they seem to delight in all of the indignities imposed upon the population at large. The communist-globalist alliance is a real threat, and this administration is aligned with it, and the idea of a one-world government has been openly discussed by elites more frequently in recent years, by such notable individuals as Henry Kissinger, as he touted Obama as the man to sell the New World Order. Their ideology is Satanic, as it seeks to overthrow the freedom of all peoples, and their sovereign governments to be replaced by a select few at the helm. Just because certain individuals make outlandish statements, or come up with theories that don't hold weight, doesn't mean that the grand narrative and ultimate objectives are any less true or that they will relent in their war on freedom.

“It is the eternal struggle between these two principles — right and wrong — throughout the world. They are the two principles that have stood face to face from the beginning of time; and will ever continue to struggle. The one is the common right of humanity, and the other the divine right of kings. It is the same principle in whatever shape it develops itself. It is the same spirit that says, "You toil and work and earn bread, and I'll eat it." No matter in what shape it comes, whether from the mouth of a king who seeks to bestride the people of his own nation and live by the fruit of their labor, or from one race of men as an apology for enslaving another race, it is the same tyrannical principle.”
-Abraham Lincoln
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I felt that about Rambo when I saw it; that at the end it was an "antiwar" movie in the 60's sense. The first Rambo had a lot of Left-wing (MSM) narrative elements in it; I did not see it, so I cannot make an overall judgement.

The article was good, but I'm not sure about Walker's acceptence of the whole anti-Nixon/FBI/CIA narrative; I don't know enough about the individual charges he brings up. (Also, Europe was much worse; there are plenty of dead Jews to prove that)

There was good reason to infiltrate left-wing groups, and the later restrictions on the CIA gave us 9/11. In fact, the pre-PATRIOT act rules meant that at one point, HAMAS was essentially headquartered in the US, and there was nothing the US could do - in spite of the fact that this was similar to the Taliban sheltering bin Laden and under international law would techincally have allowed Israel to attack the US (it would have been insane to actually do so, of course). REASON is a pretty extreme publication, though.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
When Rambo came out I was a young adult, and loved the movie. My liberal friends did not like it all that much. But it is true that there were aspects designed to appeal to liberals in the movie, but I suspect they were used to having it all their way.

It is like the Leathal Weapon series, which contained all these sops to liberal/leftist views, yet tended to contain a conservative core because a conservtive core is natural. No matter how many cop killer bullet or anti NRA snarks you include, the hero is using a Beretta 9 mm high cap pistol as his personal weapon, and that was the take away most got from the movie.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
My theory which is mine is that many conspiracy "nuts" have Asperger's and/or an addiction and/or OCD
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Hmm... I have OCD and my wife refers to my references to MSM bias as my conspiracy theory. I guess I should just accept the leftwing narrative.

Of course, just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they aren't out to get you, and "normal" people are perfectly cappable of insane theories.

BTW, being Jewish is a great reason to be suspicious of conspiracy theories, given what the grandaddy of conspiracy theories is.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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