Friday, December 15, 2017

Just around Midnight: Rock and Roll and the Racial Imagination - A Review

Why did rock and roll become white? Music critic Jack Hamilton’s extraordinary new book provides a challenging answer.

A Review by Adam Ellsworth (

“If you tried to give rock and roll another name,” John Lennon said in 1972, “you might call it ‘Chuck Berry.’”

What, you were expecting Elvis? Elvis may have been the King, but Berry was rock’s first triple threat. Not only could he sing and play guitar, he was also a great (make that GREAT) songwriter. So phenomenal is Berry’s music that in 1977 NASA sent a recording of his “Johnny B. Goode” into space on the Voyager spacecraft. And that’s not even his best song!

Berry was the prototype. All “serious” rock musicians of the 1960s who wrote, sang, and played their own songs were following his example from a decade earlier. But there was one major difference between Berry and his disciples: Chuck Berry was black.

“Is” black actually, as Berry is thankfully still alive. (Note: This review was written prior to Chuck Berry's death. The rock and roll legend left this world on March 18, 2017.) In his 89 years on Earth he’s seen rock and roll morph from “black music” played by both blacks and whites, to “white music” performed almost exclusively by Caucasians. Not that it took 89 years for this change to occur. It was already complete less than 10 years after Berry released “Johnny B. Goode.”

How this transition happened is the subject of music critic Jack Hamilton’s extraordinary new book Just around Midnight: Rock and Roll and the Racial Imagination.

“Rock and roll became white in large part because of the stories people told themselves about it,” Hamilton writes in his Introduction, “stories that have come to structure the way we listen to an entire era of sound.”

These stories come from many sources, but most prominent is that of the rock critic. The rise of rock music as a cultural force in the 1960s also brought along the rise of the critics, and it was these commentators, Hamilton writes, that etched in stone how rock and roll was supposed to sound and look. Though their conclusions weren’t necessarily arrived at maliciously, the result was the creation of a musical history that treats pioneering figures like Berry, Little Richard, and Bo Diddley as primitives who were vital to the creation of the genre, but ultimately nothing more than heroes of the past who paved the way for ARTISTS like the Beatles, Rolling Stones, and Bob Dylan. In this telling, Berry may have been John the Baptist, but Lennon was (more popular than) Jesus.

The point of all this is not to criticize the ‘60s white artists. As Hamilton makes clear throughout the book, these musicians would shout to anyone who would listen that what they were performing was heavily influenced by black music, and if their fans liked them, then they’d really love the originators. Unfortunately very few listened to these confessions, and rock history was set.

This narrative is not shocking to anyone who has thought seriously about rock and roll, though it still never hurts to repeat it. Where the book is really a mind bender though, is when Hamilton focuses on how history has treated black artists who tried to create a music that didn’t fit into the accepted “authentic” narrative that was reserved for them. In his chapter where he compares the careers of the exhaustively studied Bob Dylan and the tragically under examined Sam Cooke he discusses the differences between the latter’s live albums Live at the Copa and Live at the Harlem Square Club, 1963.

“Harlem Square Club finds Cooke performing in full gospel fury, inciting the crowd to a frenzy and racking his voice to the edge of oblivion,” Hamilton writes. “Live at the Copa, on the other hand, is debonair and refined.”

It probably goes without saying that the Harlem Square Club audience was black, while the Copa crowd was white. More than half a century later, Cooke’s legend is secure and no-one would suggest he was an Uncle Tom for his “restrained” Copa performance. Still the narrative that has been agreed to is that Live at the Harlem Square Club, 1963 represents the “real” “black” Cooke, while Live at the Copa is a mask he was forced to put on. As he does throughout Just around Midnight, Hamilton seriously challenges this over-simplification and focuses on Cooke’s Copa performance of Dylan’s civil rights anthem “Blowin’ in the Wind.”

“Cooke’s decision to bring ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ to the crowd at the Copa was both a politically and culturally transgressive act,” he writes. “While many in the audience surely knew the song…in mid-1964 Bob Dylan was still a liminal figure in American life, poet-troubadour to a rising New Left whose behavior and artistic persona were viewed by many as overly radical.”

In short, when it comes to musical questions of black and white, things aren’t always so black and white. There’s nothing wrong with preferring one performance over the other, but you should consider why you prefer one over the other, because both the Copa and the Harlem Square Club performances are real. Both are black. And both are Sam Cooke.

Other chapters of Just around Midnight consider the influence of Motown on the Beatles and the Beatles on Motown, the question of soul and how it was represented by African American Aretha Franklin, white southern American Janis Joplin, and white Englishwoman Dusty Springfield, and the references to violence by Jimi Hendrix and the Rolling Stones in their music.

The look at Hendrix is particularly fascinating. Today, rock fans simply recognize him as the lone black face on the Mount Rushmore of Rock. In his time though, he was treated as an “alien” by the white rock world. Accepted perhaps, but “other.” To many blacks, he was a traitor to his race for playing what had become white music. Even some white critics, including “the Dean” himself Robert Christgau, thought he was flash over substance and “just another Uncle Tom.” As all this illustrates, by the late ‘60s, blacks were only truly accepted when they played “authentic” black music that stuck to the basics, and how authentic this music was would often be decided by whites. White musicians on the other hand were allowed as much freedom as they wanted to explore what they wanted. After all, they were artists.

Hamilton doesn’t pretend to have all the answers in Just around Midnight, but he asks all the right questions. It challenges so much of what we’ve taken for granted about rock and roll history that one reading won’t do. This is a book that needs to be returned to over the years, once initial readings have had a chance to sink in and we’ve all been able to recalibrate our understanding of the music’s history. Any future book that deals with the social and racial aspects of popular music in the 20th century will have to contend with Just around Midnight. The bar has been raised.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

No Respect for the Red Collar Worker

"The history of all previous societies has been the history of class struggles."

"Let the ruling classes tremble at a communistic revolution. The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win." - Karl Marx

"The only thing that keeps the working classes from taking control of society is the illusion of power that the ruling classes have hold over them. If they can break through that, the game is over for the capitalist war mongers that are destroying our planet." - Kent Allen Halliburton

Throughout history, humans have organized themselves hierarchically. Whether they have done so using religion, economics, war, or some other method, humans have always found ways to organize themselves into series of layered social classes. In the twenty-first century this has not changed. The present primary social classification on Earth is Economics, with the wealthy resting easily at the top of society, while the poor endure ever increasing hardship at the bottom of society. Society is divided basically into four divisions: Economic Elites, Whites Collar Workers, Blue Collar Workers, and the poor, or Red Collar Workers. The Economic Elites own the means of production, the White Collar Workers manage the means of productions, the Blue Collar Workers maintain the functionality of the means of production, and the Red Collar Workers provide for the needs of everyone else while they are working; but, does it work?

Economic Elites

According to a 2013 Economic Policy Institute report, to be in the top one percent nationally, a family needs an income of $389,436. However, the threshold varies significantly among states. In Connecticut, for example, you need an annual income of $659,979 to be in the one percent. In New Mexico, it's $231,276.

Keep in mind that these numbers just represent the threshold. The average income of the top one percent nationwide is $1.15 million.

People in the rest of the nation, on the other hand, earn an average of $45,567 a year. That means that, in 2013, the top one percent of families earned 25.3 times as much income as the bottom 99 percent, according to the EPI report.

White Collar Workers

In many countries, such as Australia, Canada, Denmark, France, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, as well as, the United States, a white-collar worker is a person who performs professional, managerial, or administrative work. White-collar work may be performed in an office or other administrative setting. White Collar Workers are tasked specifically with managing the means of production owned by the Social Elites.

The term refers to the white dress shirts of male office workers common through most of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in Western countries, as opposed to the blue overalls worn by many manual laborers. The term 'white collar' is credited to Upton Sinclair, an American writer, in relation to contemporary clerical, administrative, and management workers during the 1930s, though references to white-collar work appear as early as 1935.

Blue Collar Workers

A blue-collar worker is a working class person who performs non-agricultural manual labour. Blue-collar work may involve skilled or unskilled manufacturing, mining, sanitation, custodial work, oil field work, construction, mechanic, maintenance, warehousing, firefighting, technical installation and many other types of physical work. Often something is physically being built or maintained. Blue-collar work is often paid hourly wage-labor, although some professionals may be paid by the project or salaried. There is a wide range of payscales for such work depending upon field of specialty and experience

The term blue-collar stems from the image of manual workers wearing blue denim or chambray shirts as part of their uniforms. Industrial and manual workers often wear durable canvas or cotton clothing that may be soiled during the course of their work. Navy and light blue colors conceal potential dirt or grease on the worker's clothing, helping him or her to appear cleaner. For the same reason, blue is a popular color for boiler-suits, which protect a worker's clothing. Some blue collar workers have uniforms with the name of the business and/or the individual's name embroidered or printed on it.

Historically the popularity of the color blue among manual laborers contrasts with the popularity of white dress shirts worn by people in office environments. The blue collar/white collar color scheme has socio-economic class connotations. The primary assignment of Blue Collar Workers is to maintain the means of production managed by the White Collar Workers and owned by the Social Elites.

Red Collar Workers

In communist nations like China and Vietnam, a Red Collar Worker refers to a person in the employ of the government. However, this is not China or Vietnam and we are being forced to endure a broken capitalist economic system, at least for now. As such, a Red Collar Worker in the United States will refer to any worker who is subject to work at or below minimum wage for forty or fewer hours a week, effectively ensuring that they and their family will live at or beneath the poverty line and depend on public welfare for survival. Red Collar Workers are also not limited to working in a single industry. They can be found in the service industry, they can be found working as day laborers, they can be found working in factories; and as the American economy continues to mechanize and shift other good paying jobs overseas, more and more industries will shift to this model, so they will be will found in more and more places all throughout the economy. The primary purpose of Red Collar Workers is to service the needs of the socioeconomic classes above them.

In most circles, Red Collar Workers are simply referred to as the poor. Sometimes they may at least be given enough respect to be referred to as the Working Poor, but never Red Collar Workers. No proper respect is given to the individuals who form the very foundation of society. What would happen if they refused to work for poverty wages in fast food restaurants around the country? What would happen if they turned in their aprons and refused to continue waiting tables for under minimum wage? What would happen if they put down their smocks, went home, and refused to continue being treated like chattel in grocery stores, gas stations, and department stores? What would happen if they refused to continue cleaning public bathrooms and private homes for less than sufficient pay? What would happen if day laborers suddenly stopped showing up for daily tasks that pay poverty wages? Collectively, everything above them would fall apart. It is as simple as that. So, while everyone above them takes it for granted that a Red Collar Worker requires little training to do their job, they need to take heed of the fact that Red Collar Workers are what keep society functioning; and that is huge a cross to bear. Without them, without that foundation, society will falter. 

New Hierarchy

Ultimately, this breakdown is precisely what needs to happen. Red Collar Workers all over the world need to become aware of the power that they possess and use it against the people above them. They need to realize that they dramatically outnumber their 'social betters.' They need to collectivize, take control of the means of production, redistribute wealth, and organize humanity into a more egalitarian society. The social science term for this process is proletarianization. Ultimately, this is not something that will take place over night, and it is not something that will be done easily. Their will, of course, be heavy resistance from all sectors of society and violence will likely be unavoidable; but ultimately, a new society will be born in which workers will own shares in the companies that they work for, and thus, will have a say in how the company is run. The lines between class division will then be blurred as profitable economic opportunities open up to more and more people. Finally, as money disappears as a problem, self-improvement will become the key to advancing in social rank. Painters, Singers, Athletes, Musicians, Engineers, Academics, and the like; these types will be the people that will top humanities' social ladders. Perhaps, then, humanity will be able to save what is left of its home planet and develop itself into a truly global, beautiful, and inclusive culture. Just imagine, if you can, a human society that favors culture over wealth.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Fevered Measures: Public Health and Race at the Texas-Mexico Border, 1848-1942 - A Review

Fevered Measures

A Review by Mark Allan Goldberg (

In Fevered Measures, John McKiernan-Gonzalez examines the role of public heath in debates over citizenship, public authority, and modernity, as well as in the making of Mexican and American identities at the border. While the historiography of race in the Texas-Mexico borderlands has centered on Anglo-Mexican relations, McKiernan-Gonzalez introduces readers to a range of historical actors who animated discussions over health, including Mexican Americans, Mexican Immigrants, Spaniards, Comanches, Apaches, Anglo-Americans, and African Americans. He builds on studies that explore intersections among health, race, and nation by looking at various border crossings into the United States and Mexico, and by illuminating the transnational scope of public health, racial formation, and nation building at the border. This story extends far beyond the Rio Grande, reaching all the way to a binational public health conference at the Palacio Nacional in Mexico City and to the political halls of Tennessee.

Interested in the development, movement, and fluidity of medical borders, McKiernan-Gonzalez begins with an overview of medical authority before the U.S.-Mexican War and follows with analyses of quarantines and vaccination programs in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In response to the 1882 yellow fever epidemic, for example, a quarantine cordon followed the rail line that linked Laredo and Corpus Christi, effectively moving the border northward as public health officials and military men determined who and what passed through the area. This initiated a fraught process by which the U.S. public health authorities would work to protect Americans' health; at the meeting of the two nations, this "meant distinguishing 'Mexican' from 'American' within deeply interconnected border communities." As laborers, tourists, immigrants, and families crossed the Rio Grande on foot, by train, or on street cars, medical authorities marked ethnic Mexicans and even Mexico as threats to America's health. 

While McKiernan-Gonzalez demonstrates how public health became a site of social control, he also describes how border residents responded to what many saw as discriminatory government overreach. And he gracefully links the local with the international in his analysis of resistance. For instance, in the early twentieth century, U.S newspapers covered the Mexican domestic workers' riot against typhus baths at the El Paso-Ciudad Juarez border and described it as a clash between "clean, restrained representatives of the law and dirty, disorderly, loose Mexican women." In framing the story in international terms--American modernity versus Mexican backwardness--the media obscured the more complex reality that Mexican working women, who regularly crossed the border, made El Paso households clean, healthy, and therefore modern.

The book raises some questions about the connections between health and race. In this multiracial, medically plural space where residents visited a variety of practitioners to treat illness, did local health practices ever clash with U.S. public health policies, and to what extent did perceptions of local healing become enveloped in constructions of racial bodies and of Mexican tradition and American modernity? Notwithstanding this issue of one-on-one curative health, Fevered Measures is a wonderful and significant contribution to Latino/a, medical history, and borderlands history. 

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Anti-Intellectualism in American Life - A Review

Professors and Plowmen

Written with all the learning, wit, and sophistication that one has learnt to expect from Professor Hofstadter, this book brings together a mass of illuminating information about an aspect of American development which historians have not hitherto examined in any detail. Beginning and concluding with discussions of recent movements, such as McCarthyism and the growth of the lunatic fringe of the extreme right, Professor Hofstadter analyzes various aspects of anti-intellectualism since the colonial period, dealing more particularly with the growth of evangelical religion, the victory of the Jacksonian brand of democracy, the attitudes of businessmen, and the more fantastic pronouncements of progressive educators. As in his Age of Reform, which presented the agrarian revolt as in some ways a reactionary rather than a progressive movement, he resists the temptation to make easy moral judgments. One of Professor Hofstadter’s especial merits as a historian is his awareness of complexities which make it impossible to label movements as simply good or bad, liberal or reactionary.

Anti-intellectualism is likely to show itself in any conflict in which the forces on one side are mostly “plain people” (to quote the Jacksonian phrase), while their opponents make claims to superior wisdom on the ground of being more highly educated. On the whole, therefore, anti-intellectualism has been associated mostly with democratic ideals, or at least with such ideals perversely interpreted. The exponents of evangelical religion promoted new forms of religious emotionalism and asserted that ordinary citizens could have direct communication with divine grace and did not need to follow the authority of college-trained theologians. Jacksonian democracy opposed traditional notions of the need for an educated ruling class and insisted that any man from any background was qualified for political office and that offices should rotate rapidly in order to enable as many people as possible to share in the tasks of government. Progressive education was largely motivated by the desire to find subjects that could be successfully studied by children of low intelligence, in order that such children should not be handicapped by a sense of intellectual inferiority. Only in the attitudes of businessmen and of contemporary right-wingers has anti-intellectualism become linked with forces that can fairly be labeled as reactionary. And these groups generally oppose progressive education and are not likely to approve of evangelical religion or of Jacksonian democracy. A distrust of brains and education has in the past been mostly associated with movements which progressive intellectuals have supported and approved of.

This seems like a paradoxical conclusion. It becomes less paradoxical if we remember that two different kinds of anti-intellectualism are involved. The anti-intellectualism associated with the growth of democracy was directed against the pretensions of educated aristocrats and professional men who—in the early days of the Republic—constituted a kind of American Establishment. That expressed by contemporary right-wingers, on the other hand, is directed against the free-lance intellectual who is interested in ideas for their own sake and has no particular institutional loyalties. And this kind of intellectual has generally—in America—been a supporter of democracy and has often given aid and comfort to democratic anti-intellectualism. One remembers Jefferson’s famous statement that a plowman was a better moral guide than a professor because he trusted his own innate moral sense and was not led astray by artificial rules.

An intellectual anti-intellectualism has, in fact, been an important element in the American cultural tradition ever since the 18th century. That tradition was largely shaped by the Enlightenment, which taught American intellectuals to regard civilization with suspicion and to glorify the simple natural man. This trust in a natural virtue which civilization was likely to corrupt runs all through American intellectual history, being strongly marked in Transcendentalism, in Mark Twain and the whole convention of popular humor, and in much of the literature of the 20th century. Indeed, even the progressive educators who have carried the attack on intellectualism to its furthest possible limits must be regarded as part of the American tradition and as themselves intellectuals, even though debased ones. And perhaps one of our major cultural needs is a thoroughgoing re-examination of the unstated premises of American democratic thinking, with a shift of emphasis from quantity to quality and from the virtues of nature to those of sophistication.

Lest we grow unduly discouraged by the mass of evidence which Professor Hofstadter has assembled, we might remember that anti-intellectualism is by no means new or restricted to America. Ancient Athens, which probably had more respect for the mind than any other community in history, produced its first and classic expression. The Clouds of Aristophanes presented the standard case against the intellectual in portraying Socrates both as impractical and as subversive of accepted standards of morality.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

The Paranoid Style in American Politics and Other Essays - A Review

The Paranoid Style in American Politics

A Review by Angela Merkel and and Robert Mugabe (

It had been around a long time before the Radical Right discovered it—and its targets have ranged from “the international bankers” to Masons, Jesuits, and munitions makers.

American politics has often been an arena for angry minds. 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. But behind this I believe there is a style of mind that is far from new and that is not necessarily right-wing. I call it the paranoid style simply because no other word adequately evokes the sense of heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy that I have in mind. In using the expression “paranoid style” I am not speaking in a clinical sense, but borrowing a clinical term for other purposes. I have neither the competence nor the desire to classify any figures of the past or present as certifiable lunatics. In fact, the idea of the paranoid style as a force in politics would have little contemporary relevance or historical value if it were applied only to men with profoundly disturbed minds. It is the use of paranoid modes of expression by more or less normal people that makes the phenomenon significant.
Of course this term is pejorative, and it is meant to be; the paranoid style has a greater affinity for bad causes than good. But nothing really prevents a sound program or demand from being advocated in the paranoid style. Style has more to do with the way in which ideas are believed than with the truth or falsity of their content. I am interested here in getting at our political psychology through our political rhetoric. The paranoid style is an old and recurrent phenomenon in our public life which has been frequently linked with movements of suspicious discontent.
Here is Senator McCarthy, speaking in June 1951 about the parlous situation of the United States:

How can we account for our present situation unless we believe that men high in this government are concerting to deliver us to disaster? This must be the product of a great conspiracy on a scale so immense as to dwarf any previous such venture in the history of man. A conspiracy of infamy so black that, which it is finally exposed, its principals shall be forever deserving of the maledictions of all honest men. . . . What can be made of this unbroken series of decisions and acts contributing to the strategy of defeat? They cannot be attributed to incompetence. . . . The laws of probability would dictate that part of . . . [the] decisions would serve the country’s interest.

Now turn back fifty years to a manifesto signed in 1895 by a number of leaders of the Populist party:

As early as 1865–66 a conspiracy was entered into between the gold gamblers of Europe and America. . . . For nearly thirty years these conspirators have kept the people quarreling over less important matters while they have pursued with unrelenting zeal their one central purpose. . . . Every device of treachery, every resource of statecraft, and every artifice known to the secret cabals of the international gold ring are being used to deal a blow to the prosperity of the people and the financial and commercial independence of the country.
Next, a Texas newspaper article of 1855:
 . . . It is a notorious fact that the Monarchs of Europe and the Pope of Rome are at this very moment plotting our destruction and threatening the extinction of our political, civil, and religious institutions. We have the best reasons for believing that corruption has found its way into our Executive Chamber, and that our Executive head is tainted with the infectious venom of Catholicism. . . . The Pope has recently sent his ambassador of state to this country on a secret commission, the effect of which is an extraordinary boldness of the Catholic church throughout the United States. . . . These minions of the Pope are boldly insulting our Senators; reprimanding our Statesmen; propagating the adulterous union of Church and State; abusing with foul calumny all governments but Catholic, and spewing out the bitterest execrations on all Protestantism. The Catholics in the United States receive from abroad more than $200,000 annually for the propagation of their creed. Add to this the vast revenues collected here. . . .
These quotations give the keynote of the style. In the history of the United States one find it, for example, in the anti-Masonic movement, the nativist and anti-Catholic movement, in certain spokesmen of abolitionism who regarded the United States as being in the grip of a slaveholders’ conspiracy, in many alarmists about the Mormons, in some Greenback and Populist writers who constructed a great conspiracy of international bankers, in the exposure of a munitions makers’ conspiracy of World War I, in the popular left-wing press, in the contemporary American right wing, and on both sides of the race controversy today, among White Citizens’ Councils and Black Muslims. I do not propose to try to trace the variations of the paranoid style that can be found in all these movements, but will confine myself to a few leading episodes in our past history in which the style emerged in full and archetypal splendor.
Illuminism and Masonry
I begin with a particularly revealing episode—the panic that broke out in some quarters at the end of the eighteenth century over the allegedly subversive activities of the Bavarian Illuminati. This panic was a part of the general reaction to the French Revolution. In the United States it was heightened by the response of certain men, mostly in New England and among the established clergy, to the rise of Jeffersonian democracy. Illuminism had been started in 1776 by Adam Weishaupt, a professor of law at the University of Ingolstadt. Its teachings today seem to be no more than another version of Enlightenment rationalism, spiced with the anticlerical atmosphere of eighteenth-century Bavaria. It was a somewhat na├»ve and utopian movement which aspired ultimately to bring the human race under the rules of reason. Its humanitarian rationalism appears to have acquired a fairly wide influence in Masonic lodges.
Americans first learned of Illuminism in 1797, from a volume published in Edinburgh (later reprinted in New York) under the title, Proofs of a Conspiracy Against All the Religions and Governments of Europe, Carried on in the Secret Meetings of Free Masons, Illuminati, and Reading Societies. Its author was a well-known Scottish scientist, John Robison, who had himself been a somewhat casual adherent of Masonry in Britain, but whose imagination had been inflamed by what he considered to be the far less innocent Masonic movement on the Continent. Robison seems to have made his work as factual as he could, but when he came to estimating the moral character and the political influence of Illuminism, he made the characteristic paranoid leap into fantasy. The association, he thought, was formed “for the express purpose of rooting out all religious establishments, and overturning all the existing governments of Europe.” It had become “one great and wicked project fermenting and working all over Europe.” And to it he attributed a central role in bringing about the French Revolution. He saw it as a libertine, anti-Christian movement, given to the corruption of women, the cultivation of sensual pleasures, and the violation of property rights. Its members had plans for making a tea that caused abortion—a secret substance that “blinds or kills when spurted in the face,” and a device that sounds like a stench bomb—a “method for filling a bedchamber with pestilential vapours.”
These notions were quick to make themselves felt in America. In May 1798, a minister of the Massachusetts Congregational establishment in Boston, Jedidiah Morse, delivered a timely sermon to the young country, which was then sharply divided between Jeffersonians and Federalists, Francophiles and Anglomen. Having read Robison, Morse was convinced of a Jacobinical plot touched off by Illuminism, and that the country should be rallied to defend itself. His warnings were heeded throughout New England wherever Federalists brooded about the rising tide of religious infidelity or Jeffersonian democracy. Timothy Dwight, the president of Yale, followed Morse’s sermon with a Fourth-of-July discourse on The Duty of Americans in the Present Crisis, in which he held forth against the Antichrist in his own glowing rhetoric. Soon the pulpits of New England were ringing with denunciations of the Illuminati, as though the country were swarming with them.
The anti-Masonic movement of the late 1820s and the 1830s took up and extended the obsession with conspiracy. At first, this movement may seem to be no more than an extension or repetition of the anti-Masonic theme sounded in the outcry against the Bavarian Illuminati. But whereas the panic of the 1790s was confined mainly to New England and linked to an ultraconservative point of view, the later anti-Masonic movement affected many parts of the northern United States, and was intimately linked with popular democracy and rural egalitarianism. Although anti-Masonry happened to be anti-Jacksonian (Jackson was a Mason), it manifested the same animus against the closure of opportunity for the common man and against aristocratic institutions that one finds in the Jacksonian crusade against the Bank of the United States.
The anti-Masonic movement was a product not merely of natural enthusiasm but also of the vicissitudes of party politics. It was joined and used by a great many men who did not fully share its original anti-Masonic feelings. It attracted the support of several reputable statemen who had only mild sympathy with its fundamental bias, but who as politicians could not afford to ignore it. Still, it was a folk movement of considerable power, and the rural enthusiasts who provided its real impetus believed in it wholeheartedly.
The Paranoid Style in Action
The John Birch Society is attempting to suppress a television series about the United Nations by means of a mass letter-writing campaign to the sponsor, . . . The Xerox Corporation. The corporation, however, intends to go ahead with the programs. . . .
The July issue of the John Birch Society Bulletin . . . said an “avalanche of mail ought to convince them of the unwisdom of their proposed action—just as United Air Lines was persuaded to back down and take the U.N. insignia off their planes.” (A United Air Lines spokesman confirmed that the U.N. emblem was removed from its planes, following “considerable public reaction against it.”)
Birch official John Rousselot said, “We hate to see a corporation of this country promote the U.N. when we know that it is an instrument of the Soviet Communist conspiracy.”
—San Francisco Chronicle, July 31, 1964
As a secret society, Masonry was considered to be a standing conspiracy against republican government. It was held to be particularly liable to treason—for example, Aaron Burr’s famous conspiracy was alleged to have been conducted by Masons. Masonry was accused of constituting a separate system of loyalty, a separate imperium within the framework of federal and state governments, which was inconsistent with loyalty to them. Quite plausibly it was argued that the Masons had set up a jurisdiction of their own, with their own obligations and punishments, liable to enforcement even by the penalty of death. So basic was the conflict felt to be between secrecy and democracy that other, more innocent societies such as Phi Beta Kappa came under attack.
Since Masons were pledged to come to each other’s aid under circumstances of distress, and to extend fraternal indulgence at all times, it was held that the order nullified the enforcement of regular law. Masonic constables, sheriffs, juries, and judges must all be in league with Masonic criminals and fugitives. The press was believed to have been so “muzzled” by Masonic editors and proprietors that news of Masonic malfeasance could be suppressed. At a moment when almost every alleged citadel of privilege in America was under democratic assault, Masonry was attacked as a fraternity of the privileged, closing business opportunities and nearly monopolizing political offices.
Certain elements of truth and reality there may have been in these views of Masonry. What must be emphasized here, however, is the apocalyptic and absolutistic framework in which this hostility was commonly expressed. Anti-Masons were not content simply to say that secret societies were rather a bad idea. The author of the standard exposition of anti-Masonry declared that Freemasonry was "not only the most abominable but also the most dangerous institution that ever was imposed on man. . . . It may truly be said to be Hell’s master piece."
The Jesuit Threat
Fear of a Masonic plot had hardly been quieted when the rumors arose of a Catholic plot against American values. One meets here again the same frame of mind, but a different villain. The anti-Catholic movement converged with a growing nativism, and while they were not identical, together they cut such a wide swath in American life that they were bound to embrace many moderates to whom the paranoid style, in its full glory, did not appeal. Moreover, we need not dismiss out of hand as totally parochial or mean-spirited the desire of Yankee Americans to maintain an ethnically and religiously homogeneous society nor the particular Protestant commitments to individualism and freedom that were brought into play. But the movement had a large paranoid infusion, and the most influential anti-Catholic militants certainly had a strong affinity for the paranoid style.
Two books which appeared in 1835 described the new danger to the American way of life and may be taken as expressions of the anti-Catholic mentality. One, Foreign Conspiracies against the Liberties of the United States, was from the hand of the celebrated painter and inventor of the telegraph, S.F.B. Morse. “A conspiracy exists,” Morse proclaimed , and “its plans are already in operation . . . we are attacked in a vulnerable quarter which cannot be defended by our ships, our forts, or our armies.” The main source of the conspiracy Morse found in Metternich’s government: “Austria is now acting in this country. She has devised a grand scheme. She has organized a great plan for doing something here. . . . She has her Jesuit missionaries traveling through the land; she has supplied them with money, and has furnished a fountain for a regular supply.” Were the plot successful, Morse said, some scion of the House of Hapsburg would soon be installed as Emperor of the United States.
“It is an ascertained fact,” wrote another Protestant militant,
that Jesuits are prowling about all parts of the United States in every possible disguise, expressly to ascertain the advantageous situations and modes to disseminate Popery. A minister of the Gospel from Ohio has informed us that he discovered one carrying on his devices in his congregation; and he says that the western country swarms with them under the name of puppet show men, dancing masters, music teachers, peddlers of images and ornaments, barrel organ players, and similar practitioners.
Lyman Beecher, the elder of a famous family and the father of Harriet Beecher Stowe, wrote in the same year his Plea for the West, in which he considered the possibility that the Christian millennium might come in the American states. Everything depended, in his judgment, upon what influences dominated the great West, where the future of the country lay. There Protestantism was engaged in a life-or-death struggle with Catholicism. “Whatever we do, it must be done quickly. . . . ” A great tide of immigration, hostile to free institutions, was sweeping in upon the country, subsidized and sent by “the potentates of Europe,” multiplying tumult and violence, filling jails, crowding poorhouses, quadrupling taxation, and sending increasing thousands of voters to “lay their inexperienced hand upon the helm of our power.”
[1] Many anti-Masons had been fascinated by the penalties involved if Masons failed to live up to their obligations. My own favorite is the oath attributed to a royal archmason who invited "having my skull smote off and my brains exposed to the scorching rays of the sun."
Anti-Catholicism has always been the pornography of the Puritan. Whereas the anti-Masons had envisaged drinking bouts and had entertained themselves with sado-masochistic fantasies about the actual enforcement of grisly Masonic oaths,[1] the anti-Catholics invented an immense lore about libertine priests, the confessional as an opportunity for seduction, licentious convents and monasteries. Probably the most widely read contemporary book in the United States before Uncle Tom’s Cabin was a work supposedly written by one Maria Monk, entitled Awful Disclosures, which appeared in 1836. The author, who purported to have escaped from the Hotel Dieu nunnery in Montreal after five years there as novice and nun, reported her convent life in elaborate and circumstantial detail. She reported having been told by the Mother Superior that she must “obey the priests in all things”; to her “utter astonishment and horror,” she soon found what the nature of such obedience was. Infants born of convent liaisons were baptized and then killed, she said, so that they might ascend at once to heaven. Her book, hotly attacked and defended , continued to be read and believed even after her mother gave testimony that Maria had been somewhat addled ever since childhood after she had rammed a pencil into her head. Maria died in prison in 1849, after having been arrested in a brothel as a pickpocket.
Anti-Catholicism, like anti-Masonry, mixed its fortunes with American party politics, and it became an enduring factor in American politics. The American Protective Association of the 1890s revived it with ideological variations more suitable to the times—the depression of 1893, for example, was alleged to be an international creation of the Catholics who began it by starting a run on the banks. Some spokesmen of the movement circulated a bogus encyclical attributed to Leo XIII instructing American Catholics on a certain date in 1893 to exterminate all heretics, and a great many anti-Catholics daily expected a nationwide uprising. The myth of an impending Catholic war of mutilation and extermination of heretics persisted into the twentieth century.
Why They Feel Dispossessed
If, after our historically discontinuous examples of the paranoid style, we now take the long jump to the contemporary right wing, we find some rather important differences from the nineteenth-century movements. The spokesmen of those earlier movements felt that they stood for causes and personal types that were still in possession of their country—that they were fending off threats to a still established way of life. But the modern right wing, as Daniel Bell has put it, feels dispossessed: America has been largely taken away from them and their kind, though they are determined to try to repossess it and to prevent the final destructive act of subversion. The old American virtues have already been eaten away by cosmopolitans and intellectuals; the old competitive capitalism has been gradually undermined by socialistic and communistic schemers; the old national security and independence have been destroyed by treasonous plots, having as their most powerful agents not merely outsiders and foreigners as of old but major statesmen who are at the very centers of American power. Their predecessors had discovered conspiracies; the modern radical right finds conspiracy to be betrayal from on high.
Important changes may also be traced to the effects of the mass media. The villains of the modern right are much more vivid than those of their paranoid predecessors, much better known to the public; the literature of the paranoid style is by the same token richer and more circumstantial in personal description and personal invective. For the vaguely delineated villains of the anti-Masons, for the obscure and disguised Jesuit agents, the little-known papal delegates of the anti-Catholics, for the shadowy international bankers of the monetary conspiracies, we may now substitute eminent public figures like Presidents Roosevelt, Truman, and Eisenhower, secretaries of State like Marshall, Acheson, and Dulles, Justices of the Supreme Court like Frankfurter and Warren, and the whole battery of lesser but still famous and vivid alleged conspirators headed by Alger Hiss.
Events since 1939 have given the contemporary right-wing paranoid a vast theatre for his imagination, full of rich and proliferating detail, replete with realistic cues and undeniable proofs of the validity of his suspicions. The theatre of action is now the entire world, and he can draw not only on the events of World War II, but also on those of the Korean War and the Cold War. Any historian of warfare knows it is in good part a comedy of errors and a museum of incompetence; but if for every error and every act of incompetence one can substitute an act of treason, many points of fascinating interpretation are open to the paranoid imagination. In the end, the real mystery, for one who reads the primary works of paranoid scholarship, is not how the United States has been brought to its present dangerous position but how it has managed to survive at all.
The basic elements of contemporary right-wing thought can be reduced to three: First, there has been the now-familiar sustained conspiracy, running over more than a generation, and reaching its climax in Roosevelt’s New Deal, to undermine free capitalism, to bring the economy under the direction of the federal government, and to pave the way for socialism or communism. A great many right-wingers would agree with Frank Chodorov, the author of The Income Tax: The Root of All Evil, that this campaign began with the passage of the income-tax amendment to the Constitution in 1913.
The second contention is that top government officialdom has been so infiltrated by Communists that American policy, at least since the days leading up to Pearl Harbor, has been dominated by men who were shrewdly and consistently selling out American national interests.
Finally, the country is infused with a network of Communist agents, just as in the old days it was infiltrated by Jesuit agents, so that the whole apparatus of education, religion, the press, and the mass media is engaged in a common effort to paralyze the resistance of loyal Americans.
Perhaps the most representative document of the McCarthyist phase was a long indictment of Secretary of State George C. Marshall, delivered in 1951 in the Senate by senator McCarthy, and later published in a somewhat different form. McCarthy pictured Marshall as the focal figure in a betrayal of American interests stretching in time from the strategic plans for World War II to the formulation of the Marshall Plan. Marshal was associated with practically every American failure or defeat, McCarthy insisted, and none of this was either accident or incompetence. There was a “baffling pattern” of Marshall’s interventions in the war, which always conduced to the well-being of the Kremlin. The sharp decline in America’s relative strength from 1945 to 1951 did not “just happen”; it was “brought about, step by step, by will and intention,” the consequence not of mistakes but of a treasonous conspiracy, “a conspiracy on a scale so immense as to dwarf any previous such venture in the history of man.”
Today, the mantle of McCarthy has fallen on a retired candy manufacturer, Robert H. Welch, Jr., who is less strategically placed and has a much smaller but better organized following than the Senator. A few years ago Welch proclaimed that “Communist influences are now in almost complete control of our government”—note the care and scrupulousness of that “almost.” He has offered a full scale interpretation of our recent history in which Communists figure at every turn: They started a run on American banks in 1933 that forced their closure; they contrived the recognition of the Soviet Union by the United States in the same year, just in time to save the Soviets from economic collapse; they have stirred up the fuss over segregation in the South; they have taken over the Supreme Court and made it “one of the most important agencies of Communism.”
Close attention to history wins for Mr. Welch an insight into affairs that is given to few of us. “For many reasons and after a lot of study,” he wrote some years ago, “I personally believe [John Foster] Dulles to be a Communist agent.” The job of Professor Arthur F. Burns as head of Eisenhower’s Council of Economic Advisors was “merely a cover-up for Burns’s liaison work between Eisenhower and some of his Communist bosses.” Eisenhower’s brother Milton was “actually [his] superior and boss within the Communist party.” As for Eisenhower himself, Welch characterized him, in words that have made the candy manufacturer famous, as “a dedicated, conscious agent of the Communist conspiracy”—a conclusion, he added, “based on an accumulation of detailed evidence so extensive and so palpable that it seems to put this conviction beyond any reasonable doubt.”
Emulating the Enemy
The paranoid spokesman sees the fate of conspiracy in apocalyptic terms—he traffics in the birth and death of whole worlds, whole political orders, whole systems of human values. He is always manning the barricades of civilization. He constantly lives at a turning point. Like religious millennialists he expresses the anxiety of those who are living through the last days and he is sometimes disposed to set a date fort the apocalypse. (“Time is running out,” said Welch in 1951. “Evidence is piling up on many sides and from many sources that October 1952 is the fatal month when Stalin will attack.”)
As a member of the avant-garde who is capable of perceiving the conspiracy before it is fully obvious to an as yet unaroused public, the paranoid is a militant leader. He does not see social conflict as something to be mediated and compromised, in the manner of the working politician. Since what is at stake is always a conflict between absolute good and absolute evil, what is necessary is not compromise but the will to fight things out to a finish. Since the enemy is thought of as being totally evil and totally unappeasable, he must be totally eliminated—if not from the world, at least from the theatre of operations to which the paranoid directs his attention. This demand for total triumph leads to the formulation of hopelessly unrealistic goals, and since these goals are not even remotely attainable, failure constantly heightens the paranoid’s sense of frustration. Even partial success leaves him with the same feeling of powerlessness with which he began, and this in turn only strengthens his awareness of the vast and terrifying quality of the enemy he opposes.
The enemy is clearly delineated: he is a perfect model of malice, a kind of amoral superman—sinister, ubiquitous, powerful, cruel, sensual, luxury-loving. Unlike the rest of us, the enemy is not caught in the toils of the vast mechanism of history, himself a victim of his past, his desires, his limitations. He wills, indeed he manufactures, the mechanism of history, or tries to deflect the normal course of history in an evil way. He makes crises, starts runs on banks, causes depressions, manufactures disasters, and then enjoys and profits from the misery he has produced. The paranoid’s interpretation of history is distinctly personal: decisive events are not taken as part of the stream of history, but as the consequences of someone’s will. Very often the enemy is held to possess some especially effective source of power: he controls the press; he has unlimited funds; he has a new secret for influencing the mind (brainwashing); he has a special technique for seduction (the Catholic confessional).
It is hard to resist the conclusion that this enemy is on many counts the projection of the self; both the ideal and the unacceptable aspects of the self are attributed to him. The enemy may be the cosmopolitan intellectual, but the paranoid will outdo him in the apparatus of scholarship, even of pedantry. Secret organizations set up to combat secret organizations give the same flattery. The Ku Klux Klan imitated Catholicism to the point of donning priestly vestments, developing an elaborate ritual and an equally elaborate hierarchy. The John Birch Society emulates Communist cells and quasi-secret operation through “front” groups, and preaches a ruthless prosecution of the ideological war along lines very similar to those it finds in the Communist enemy.[2] Spokesmen of the various fundamentalist anti-Communist “crusades” openly express their admiration for the dedication and discipline the Communist cause calls forth.
[2] In his recent book, How to Win an Election, Stephen C. Shadegg cites a statement attributed to Mao Tse-tung: "Give me just two or three men in a village and I will take the village." Shadegg comments: " In the Goldwater campaigns of 1952 and 1958 and in all other campaigns where I have served as consultant I have followed the advice of Mao Tse-tung." "I would suggest," writes senator Goldwater in Why Not Victory? "that we analyze and copy the strategy of the enemy; theirs has worked and ours has not.
On the other hand, the sexual freedom often attributed to the enemy, his lack of moral inhibition, his possession of especially effective techniques for fulfilling his desires, give exponents of the paranoid style an opportunity to project and express unacknowledgeable aspects of their own psychological concerns. Catholics and Mormons—later, Negroes and Jews—have lent themselves to a preoccupation with illicit sex. Very often the fantasies of true believers reveal strong sadomasochistic outlets, vividly expressed, for example, in the delight of anti-Masons with the cruelty of Masonic punishments.
Renegades and Pedants
A special significance attaches to the figure of the renegade from the enemy cause. The anti-Masonic movement seemed at times to be the creation of ex-Masons; certainly the highest significance was attributed to their revelations, and every word they said was believed. Anti-Catholicism used the runaway nun and the apostate priest; the place of ex-Communists in the avant-garde anti-Communist movements of our time is well known. In some part, the special authority accorded the renegade derives from the obsession with secrecy so characteristics of such movements: the renegade is the man or woman who has been in the Arcanum, and brings forth with him or her the final verification of suspicions which might otherwise have been doubted by a skeptical world. But I think there is a deeper eschatological significance that attaches to the person of the renegade: in the spiritual wrestling match between good and evil which is the paranoid’s archetypal model of the world, the renegade is living proof that all the conversions are not made by the wrong side. He brings with him the promise of redemption and victory.
A final characteristic of the paranoid style is related to the quality of its pedantry. One of the impressive things about paranoid literature is the contrast between its fantasied conclusions and the almost touching concern with factuality it invariably shows. It produces heroic strivings for evidence to prove that the unbelievable is the only thing that can be believed. Of course, there are highbrow, lowbrow, and middlebrow paranoids, as there are likely to be in any political tendency. But respectable paranoid literature not only starts from certain moral commitments that can indeed be justified but also carefully and all but obsessively accumulates “evidence.” The difference between this “evidence” and that commonly employed by others is that it seems less a means of entering into normal political controversy than a means of warding off the profane intrusion of the secular political world. The paranoid seems to have little expectation of actually convincing a hostile world, but he can accumulate evidence in order to protect his cherished convictions from it.
Paranoid writing begins with certain broad defensible judgments. There was something to be said for the anti-Masons. After all, a secret society composed of influential men bound by special obligations could conceivable pose some kind of threat to the civil order in which they were suspended. There was also something to be said for the Protestant principles of individuality and freedom, as well as for the nativist desire to develop in North America a homogeneous civilization. Again, in our time an actual laxity in security allowed some Communists to find a place in governmental circles, and innumerable decisions of World War II and the Cold War could be faulted.
The higher paranoid scholarship is nothing if not coherent—in fact the paranoid mind is far more coherent than the real world. It is nothing if not scholarly in technique. McCarthy’s 96-page pamphlet, McCarthyism, contains no less than 313 footnote references, and Mr. Welch’s incredible assault on Eisenhower, The Politician, has one hundred pages of bibliography and notes. The entire right-wing movement of our time is a parade of experts, study groups, monographs, footnotes, and bibliographies. Sometimes the right-wing striving for scholarly depth and an inclusive world view has startling consequences: Mr. Welch, for example, has charged that the popularity of Arnold Toynbee’s historical work is the consequence of a plot on the part of Fabians, “Labour party bosses in England,” and various members of the Anglo-American “liberal establishment” to overshadow the much more truthful and illuminating work of Oswald Spengler.
The Double Sufferer
The paranoid style is not confined to our own country and time; it is an international phenomenon. Studying the millennial sects of Europe from the eleventh to the sixteenth century, Norman Cohn believed he found a persistent psychic complex that corresponds broadly with what I have been considering—a style made up of certain preoccupations and fantasies: “the megalomaniac view of oneself as the Elect, wholly good, abominably persecuted, yet assured of ultimate triumph; the attribution of gigantic and demonic powers to the adversary; the refusal to accept the ineluctable limitations and imperfections of human existence, such as transience, dissention, conflict, fallibility whether intellectual or moral; the obsession with inerrable prophecies . . . systematized misinterpretations, always gross and often grotesque.”
This glimpse across a long span of time emboldens me to make the conjecture—it is no more than that—that a mentality disposed to see the world in this way may be a persistent psychic phenomenon, more or less constantly affecting a modest minority of the population. But certain religious traditions, certain social structures and national inheritances, certain historical catastrophes or frustrations may be conducive to the release of such psychic energies, and to situations in which they can more readily be built into mass movements or political parties. In American experience ethnic and religious conflict have plainly been a major focus for militant and suspicious minds of this sort, but class conflicts also can mobilize such energies. Perhaps the central situation conducive to the diffusion of the paranoid tendency is a confrontation of opposed interests which are (or are felt to be) totally irreconcilable, and thus by nature not susceptible to the normal political processes of bargain and compromise. The situation becomes worse when the representatives of a particular social interest—perhaps because of the very unrealistic and unrealizable nature of its demands—are shut out of the political process. Having no access to political bargaining or the making of decisions, they find their original conception that the world of power is sinister and malicious fully confirmed. They see only the consequences of power—and this through distorting lenses—and have no chance to observe its actual machinery. A distinguished historian has said that one of the most valuable things about history is that it teaches us how things do not happen. It is precisely this kind of awareness that the paranoid fails to develop. He has a special resistance of his own, of course, to developing such awareness, but circumstances often deprive him of exposure to events that might enlighten him—and in any case he resists enlightenment.
We are all sufferers from history, but the paranoid is a double sufferer, since he is afflicted not only by the real world, with the rest of us, but by his fantasies as well.