….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.

Richard Hofstadter


The prevalence of paranoid personality disorder in the general population has been estimated at around 4.5 percent. In effect, the United States is home to over 14 million paranoids. But there is another category of persons, of indeterminate number, who indulge paranoid thoughts without being clinically paranoid. These are the people Richard Hofstadter described as evincing a “paranoid style” of political thought.

According to Hofstadter, “this term is pejorative, and it is meant to be; the paranoid style has a greater affinity for bad causes than good.” In his Harper’s article of November 1964, Hofstadter quotes three examples from American history: (1) a populist rant from 1855 claiming that monarchs and papists were plotting America’s destruction; (2) an 1895 rant about “the secret cabals of the international gold ring”; and (3) a 1951 excerpt from Senator Joseph McCarthy’s speech on the manipulation of U.S. foreign policy by Soviet agents.

We shouldn’t be surprised that no evidence has emerged in subsequent years about the supposed 1855 monarchist/papist plot; neither did any evidence of such a plot emerged from memoirs or state archives, or histories; and the same can be said about the conspiracy of the alleged 1895 “gold ring”; and yet, whatever historians now allege against Senator Joseph McCarthy, intelligence archives show that hundreds of Soviet agents had, in fact, penetrated the U.S. Government in the 1940s. Therefore, unlike the other two conspiracy theories cited by Hofstadter, the communist conspiracy was real; and its consequences are very much with us today.

The claim, then, that the anti-communist “hysteria” of the 1950s was the same as the anti-monarchist hysteria of the mid-nineteenth century, or populist hysteria against the gold standard in the 1890s, is to confound a reasonable fear with groundless paranoia. As Alexander Solzhenitsyn demonstrated in his three volume work, The Gulag Archipelago, communism is anti-human in its homicidal inclinations — a taproot of tyrannous grandiosity and destructionism. Here we are not describing a “conspiracy theory.” We are describing a conspiratorial political movement, outlined as such by Vladimir Lenin in his pamphlet, What is to be Done? — a movement that took power in the world’s largest country (Russia), and the world’s most populous country (China), and in more than a dozen other countries. It is a movement that has been led by psychologically abnormal persons, like Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot and Castro. It is a movement that has not relented, despite its many deceptions to the contrary, and even now continues to employ networks of subversives to realize a longstanding program of global conquest.

Was it right for Hofstadter, then, to characterize the anticommunism of Joseph McCarthy as partaking of a “paranoid style”? This pejorative characterization of anticommunism was the first major error in our postwar political understanding. It was an error that benefitted the communists, rehabilitating them as they flooded back into government during the 1960s. And we have been living with the consequences ever since.

The second error, thereafter, followed from the first, and from the Marxist-inspired dumbing-down of the public schools, which dimmed the wits of later generations. That second error was to mistake subsequent mass outbursts of sublimated fear as politically meaningless and irrational, thereby guaranteeing paranoia’s future salience. With the decline of historical understanding, in the midst of a growing philosophic and spiritual vacuum, people knew less and less how to interpret events. They were soon susceptible to “conspiracy theories,” feeling intuitively that something was wrong, that something was out to “get them.” As the general malaise of the times was not properly explained, and the nihilistic premises of the left were not generally understood to be a root cause, only the occult processes of the unconscious could perform the role of Public Oracle.

Human beings have an inborn hunger for the truth. If events cannot be rendered intelligible, if dialectical materialist explanations do not satisfy, imagination will make up the difference. The phantasmagoria of disoriented minds, afflicted with dreamlike metaphoric and symbolic “messages,” have brought us to a grand science fiction melodrama; namely, to the flying saucer — what Carl Jung called “a modern myth of things seen in the sky.” Here is an emerging subculture which ufologist Jacques Vallee has described as “the next form of religion.” It is a subculture which grows, from year to year, to something that may usurp all culture. It has, with the controversy of its claims, reinvented a realm of superhuman beings. This time, not gods and demons, but interstellar reptiles from Zeta Reticuli, ultra-terrestrials, grays, and other space-faring or inter-dimensional humanoids.

There is a growing cult of believers for whom these beings are just as real as Thor and Odin were to the pagans of Scandinavia. And here, unsurprisingly, we find that Hofstatder’s “paranoid style” has been readily grafted onto an ever-forming edifice, with stories of “men in black,” government coverups, terrifying secrets, and an unseen galactic war between forces of good and evil.

A new mythology is being built, despite our scientific pretensions, of unseen worlds and hidden forces. If The Invasion of the Body Snatchers became the science fiction metaphor for a gradual communist takeover, the snatching of bodies via “alien abduction” would reflect an overall process of psychic transformation — of alien social engineers hijacking unsuspecting human subjects for long-term experimentation and social control.

The message in the metaphor is unmistakable. The hapless subjects do not take their experiences as metaphorical, however — and why should they? The decayed culture around them has lost the thread of its meaning. And one thing is certain about the new phenomenon: the subjects seem to believe in something intensely meaningful. According to the U.K. Guardian newspaper, 12 million Americans believe that “alien lizards” rule us. It is absurd, of course — yet powerfully symbolic.

With no prior indication of mental illness, David Icke claims that shape-shifting reptilian aliens have taken over planet earth. Icke was once a respected sports broadcaster in the United Kingdom, a former footballer. After hearing “messages” from the spirit world, his utterances became decidedly oracular, paranoid, bizarre — nevertheless attracting a large cult following. How is this to be explained?

If Alex Jones of Infowars refers to Earth as a “prison planet,” and tells Joe Rogan in a recent podcast of “alien beings” luring the global elite to indulge in ritual blood sacrifices, is there nonetheless a metaphorical truth in it? What we see across the spectrum of our diminishing awareness, is a growing hysteria from within. If we are now cut off from the truth by an all-pervading censorship, then the ersatz truth of the extraterrestrial reptile must suffice. It is all the masses have left as the darkness closes in on them; a symbol and reference-point for the experience of being poked and prodded by a power against which they are helpless.

Senator Joseph McCarthy attempted to warn America about a more literal kind of reptile: the communist reptile. McCarthy alluded to a national abduction by “alien” infiltrators. Their cold scientific cunning, their hostility to human life, and the drab grey Soviet “system” from which they hailed, earned them their diminutive stature as totalitarian “drones” — the faceless minions of world revolution.

I hope that no one is offended by this politically incorrect interpretation of “signs in the sky.” Lest anyone pick up the cudgel of argument against me, remember Nyquist’s Law: Everyone believes something that someone else thinks is crazy.

That does not exclude the possibility we’re all nuts.


“The Paranoid Style in American politics,” https://harpers.org/archive/1964/11/the-paranoid-style-in-american-politics/

“Paranoid Personality Disorder,” https://www.therecoveryvillage.com/mental-health/paranoid-personality-disorder/#gref

On penetration of the U.S. Government by Soviet agents, see The Venona Secrets: The Definitive Exposé of Soviet Espionage in America (Cold War Classics) https://www.amazon.com/dp/1621572951/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_api_i_vTUrEbGM7ZJK1

Also see Diana West’s American Betrayal https://www.amazon.com/dp/1250055814/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_api_i_aVUrEbYZQ3QF8

David Icke, https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Icke

“Conspiracy craze: why 12 million Americans believe that alien lizards rule us,” https://www.google.com/amp/s/amp.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2016/apr/07/conspiracy-theory-paranoia-aliens-illuminati-beyonce-vaccines-cliven-bundy-jfk

Joe Rogan interview with Alex Jones, https://youtu.be/-5yh2HcIlkU

One thought on “Paranoid Ideation in Political Discourse

  1. Mark Twain supposedly once said, “When we remember we are all mad, the mysteries disappear and life stands explained.”
    It is very easy to sometimes fall for “stories/tales of unexplained events/occurrences, especially when there is no other reasonable explanation.
    Senator McCarthy knew of what was going on, but did not have the hard evidence or proof to make what he said something that would open the eyes of those that did not want to open their eyes.
    That seems to be one of the failings of us humans, that we want to know what is going on, but not really, when the reality exceeds our ability to handle the situation.
    The internet has expanded everything from the ease of getting information, to the ease of presenting Photoshop images that seem real, but are not real.
    Misinformation and disinformation have become everyday realities, and trying to sort through them has become a full time job.
    That is where you Jeff, come in, along with a handful of others that help to sort a lot of this stuff out.

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