Life at № 42
Richard Hofstadter was DeWitt Clinton Professor of American History at Columbia University. His book “Anti-intellectualism in American Life” was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction in 1964. This essay was adapted from the Herbert Spencer Lecture, delivered at Oxford University in November 1963.
“… 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…
… 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.”
If you prefer the pdf version it’s here: Hofstadter-Paranoid-Style-American-Politics
This makes for outstanding reading – Prof. Hofstadter explores the mechanics of the paranoid style, including “the sense that all our ills can be traced to a single center and hence can be eliminated by some kind of final act of victory over the evil source.” Incredibly religious, but even more pronounced in Protestant cultures. This does of course also happen outside America. For much of the 20th century the Judeo-Masonic conspiracy was part of the Spanish political discourse and now the Muslims are the new Catholics.