A number of bloggers have recently been commenting on the Democratic party's surrender to what Richard Hofstadter called "The Paranoid Style in American Politics" in his famous 1964 essay. James Taranto, in his Best of the Web from last Wednesday, wrote about this in relation to Congressman Hinchley's charges that Karl Rove was behind the Rathergate imbroglio. He quotes from Hofstadter:
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. . . .
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.
Taranto notes that when Hofstadter wrote his essay, most of the paranoia was on the right (the KKK, John Birch Society). He adds that Hofstadter saw plenty of evidence for a paranoid trend on both sides of the spectrum.
Both sides in today's ideological clash stand accused by the other of adopting the paranoid style. James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal has argued (in the piece that inspired this one) that the left has become politically paranoid. And a number of leftist bloggers have made the same allegation against conservative blogs. A neutral might be tempted to conclude that both sides are correct. But, as noted, strong partisanship is not the same thing as paranoia. And Hofstadter himself did not adopt a reflexive "moral equivalency" approach--in each of his examples of the paranoid style, it was the mentality of only one side. Thus, we need to explore more carefully the extent to which the two sides of today's debate exhibit paranoia.
His conclusions are worth a look.
Today's left thinks that America's interests are being sold down the river in the name of a strange ideology and oil interests. It believes that its own political interests are being undermined by massive voter fraud and the willingness of the Democratic party to accommodate the enemy. Thus, rational frustration over the outcome of the 2000 presidential election creates a derangement that, in 2004, views a margin of more than 100,000 votes in Ohio as the product of fraud. And the defeat of the most liberal member of the Senate is viewed as evidence that the party lost because it was ideologically impure. As a result, some portions of the left oppose certification of the election results (talk about "the will to fight things to the finish") and have forced the party's "compromisers" to yield to the installation of Howard Dean as DNC chair. The left's actions and beliefs fit Hofstadter's definition of the paranoid style.
This would be relatively inconsequential if the paranoid element in the Democratic party was on the repudiated fringe. Sadly, this is not the case. The paranoid left has become empowered by the Internet and by a few wealthy individuals; there is a tremendous amount of money involved.
Maybe it was the snowy weather that made the Democratic Leadership Council's Capitol Hill offices feel like a bunker. But the fact that the energy in the party is coming from the left and is focused more on tactics than on policy, as evidenced by Howard Dean's election as DNC chair, is clearly unsettling the centrist group. A representative of liberal, Internet-driven MoveOn recently accused the DLC of being "out of vogue" and irrelevant. DLCers, meanwhile, await the 2008 presidential primary as the time when the party's direction will be determined -- just as it was when the DLC and a governor named Clinton gained prominence in the early 1990s.
"You've got to reject Michael Moore and the MoveOn crowd," DLC CEO Al From said in an interview about how the Democratic Party should rebuild after 2004. From argued that the anti-war Moore and MoveOn have hurt the party on national security, the issue which he says the party needs to make "central to our cause." Rank-and-file Democrats "are more like us than MoveOn," which From called a group of "elites, people who sit in their basements all the time and play on their computers."
In my last post Narcissism, Malignant Narcissism, and Paranoia: Part I I began to explore how Narcissism develops and some of the implications of pathological narcissism. My next posts will attempt to show how pathological narcissism can lead to and become entwined with paranoia, and why this is important and potentially quite dangerous.