The Paranoid Style in Postmodern Leftwing Politics

“The aftermath of the Norway massacre has confirmed one thing beyond reasonable doubt: faced with the choice between wiping the rictus expression off Mark Steyn’s beardy face or defending the hard-fought-for right to freedom of speech, left-wing commentators will go for Steyn-bashing every time,” Brendan O’Neill writes. “Goodbye age-old liberties, hello anti-Steyn schadenfreude:”


Carr reckons European politicians should do something about the “toxic and often delirious bile” that Breivik wallowed in and regurgitated in his dumb manifesto. Do what about it? Blacklist it? Ban it? Burn it? Prevent Melanie Phillips from ranting on about Islamists just in case someone somewhere with some screws loose decides to act on what he thinks is the true meaning of her words?

In that case, politicians must also do something about The White Album (it killed Sharon Tate), Taxi Driver (it nearly killed Ronald Reagan), and Marilyn Manson (I think he was involved in the Columbine massacre somehow).

I thought us progressives were meant to be against this kind of thing, against the idea that speech causes violence and thus the state must curb and control and rigorously police our speech? It seems I was wrong. It seems those longstanding liberal principles can be chucked on the shitheap of history as soon as an opportunity to accuse Jeremy Clarkson of being an accessory to mass murder presents itself.

Everywhere one turns, some commentator is claiming that right-wing thinkers have helped to create an atmosphere of “hysteria”, of “delusion”, a “rising tide of hate”, and that Breivik is the bastard offspring of their wicked words. You don’t need to have a degree in world history to know where these kind of arguments can end up: with greater restrictions on what we’re allowed to say and in what tone of voice and at which level of intensity we’re allowed to say it.

For all the radical pretensions of the Steyn-slaters and Melanie-maulers, their argument is straightforwardly, nakedly, almost unabashedly censorious. They are effectively using moral blackmail to pressure people into keeping their thoughts to themselves: “Don’t say you hate Muslims because someone might go out and kill one.” They simultaneously express disgust not only for dotty writers but also for the moronic masses, who they presume to be so gullible, so putty-like, that one shrill column in the Daily Mail might be enough to turn them into machine gun-wielding maniacs.

These warriors against Evil Speech, the heirs to Torquemada’s war against Evil Speech, overlook two of the key insights made by free speech warriors over the past 500 years. First, that writers cannot be held responsible for how people interpret or act on their words, because of a little thing called free will. And second that in a free and democratic society, debate should be as loud and as rowdy as people want it to be.


As Ann Coulter quips today, “New York Times Reader Kills Dozens in Norway:”

Breivik says he is “not an excessively religious man,” brags that he is “first and foremost a man of logic,” calls himself “economically liberal” and reveres Darwinism.

But Times reporters had their “Eureka!” moment as soon as they heard Breivik used the word “Christian” someplace to identify himself. No one at the Times bothered to read Breivik’s manifesto to see that he doesn’t use the term the way the rest of us do. That might have interfered with the paper’s obsessive Christian-bashing.

Other famous killers dubbed conservative Christians by the Times include Timothy McVeigh and Jared Loughner .

McVeigh was a pot-smoking atheist who said, “Science is my religion.”

Similarly, Breivik says in his manifesto that “it is essential that science take an undisputed precedence over biblical teachings” –- a statement that would be incomprehensible to all the real scientists, such as Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, Descartes, Bacon, Newton, Mendel, Pasteur, Planck, Einstein and Pauli, all of whom believed the whole purpose of science was to understand God.

The Tucson shooter, Jared Loughner, was lyingly described by the Times as a pro-life fanatic. Not only did more honest news outlets, such as ABC News , report exactly the opposite — for example, how Loughner alarmed his classmates by laughing about an aborted baby in class — but Loughner’s friends described him as “left wing,” “a political radical,” “quite liberal” and “a pothead.” Another said Loughner’s mother was Jewish.

The only reason Timothy McVeigh has gone down in history as a right-wing Christian and Jared Loughner has not — despite herculean efforts by much of the mainstream media to convince us otherwise — is that by January 2011 when Loughner went on his murder spree, conservatives had enough media outlets to reveal the truth.


But that didn’t stop the left from running with their narrative literally even as ambulances were still carting away the victims in Tuscon. Which is why Daniel Henninger of the Wall Street Journal wrote in January, “The accusation that the tea parties were linked to the Tucson murders is the product of calculation and genuine belief:”

The stakes for the American left in 2012 couldn’t possibly be higher. If then, and again in 2014, progressives can’t pull toward their candidates some percentage of the independent voters who in November abandoned the Democratic Party, they could be looking in from the outside for as many years as some of them have left to write about politics. A wilderness is a terrible place to be.

Against that grim result, every sentence Messrs. Krugman, Packer, Alter, the Times and the rest have written about Tucson is logical and understandable. What happened in November has to be stopped, by whatever means become available. Available this week was a chance to make some independents wonder if the tea parties, Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and Jared Loughner are all part of the same dark force.

Who believes this? They do.

The divide between this strain of the American left and its conservative opponents is about more than politics and policy. It goes back a long way, it is deep, and it will never be bridged. It is cultural, and it explains more than anything the “intensity” that exists now between these two competing camps. (The independent laments: “Can’t we all just get along?” Answer: No.)

The Rosetta Stone that explains this tribal divide is Columbia historian Richard Hofstadter’s classic 1964 essay, “The Paranoid Style in American Politics.” Hofstadter’s piece for Harper’s may be unfamiliar to many now, but each writer at the opening of this column knows by rote what Hofstadter’s essay taught generations of young, left-wing intellectuals about conservatism and the right.

After Hofstadter, the American right wasn’t just wrong on policy. Its people were psychologically dangerous and undeserving of holding authority for any public purpose. By this mental geography, the John Birch Society and the tea party are cut from the same backwoods cloth.

“American politics has often been an arena for angry minds,” Hofstadter wrote. “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.”

Frank Rich, Oct 17: “Don’t expect the extremism and violence in our politics to subside magically after Election Day—no matter what the results. If Tea Party candidates triumph, they’ll be emboldened. If they lose, the anger and bitterness will grow.”

Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Tuesday in the Huffington Post: “Jack’s death forced a national bout of self-examination. In 1964, Americans repudiated the forces of right-wing hatred and violence with an historic landslide in the presidential election between LBJ and Goldwater. For a while, the advocates of right-wing extremism receded from the public forum. Now they have returned with a vengeance—to the broadcast media and to prominent positions in the political landscape.”

This isn’t just political calculation. It is foundational belief.

So, yes, Tucson has indeed been revealing. On to 2012.


Speaking of which, Glenn Reynolds notes today that “Obama Would Lose to Mitt Romney or Rudy Giuliani. The way things are going, by fall 2012 he’d lose to my cat. And I don’t have a cat. But the big news is: Obama 50, Ron Paul 50.”

To compensate, get ready for the ultimate apocalypse now negative campaign next year by the president and his surrogate news media.


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