By Robert Wallace
Renowned American historian Richard Hofstadter published an essay called The Paranoid Style in American Politics in Harper’s Magazine in 1964. Clearly, this essay–in many ways a rebuke of Goldwater–is not going to win friends and influence people here at America’s Right. And that’s okay. Hofstadter was wrong to write off Goldwater as a right-wing extremist, and he was wrong to write off McCarthy as nothing but a witch-hunter. The Verona papers prove conclusively the extent and depth of Soviet penetration into United States society. Just this week, news broke that documents reveal liberal journalist hero I. F. Stone was yet another KGB mole.
The importance and relevance of this essay is two-fold. First of all, it establishes the pattern for how society has dealt with movements that have been labeled conspiracy theories — whether they were fairy tales or fact. But, more importantly from a conservative perspective, it places current fears of Obama into a historical context.
It is of vital importance for Americans–who are justifiably proud of the ideals emblazoned in honor during the American Revolution–to keep in mind the horrifically divergent path which the French Revolution took. In America, religious freedom, peace, prosperity, and a stable democratic republic resulted. In France, it was intolerant secularism, bloody slaughter, war, poverty, and an absolute autocracy which resulted. Those who seek the allure of a tabula rasa in another American Revolution–whether they entertain the use of force or not–must be reminded of what a dangerous venture they embark upon. To rebel is, of necessity, to decimate the current social order.
One of the greatest failings of liberalism is that they focus only on the faults of a capitalist system. The unjustice not addressed, the endemic poverty that remains. They turn a blind eye to the prosperity, equality, liberty, and rising standard of living for all that have been the benefits of capitalism, and so seek to either destroy the goose that lays the golden egg (Marxist socialism) or to enslave it to a pernicious, benevolent tyranny (socialism lite). In fact, as Milton Friedman argued, it is actually the success of capitalism that leads to liberal attacks on it. It is only because capitalism is beneficial to so many that the tragedies which have always existed are thrown into stark contrast.
If we as conservatives call for any kind of a revolt without fully weighing the good which remains in American society, have we not committed the same type of error? Yes, we have a mainstream media that is complicit with the Obama administration. But this complicity is not an example of authoritarian state controlling the media, but of complicity among consenting individuals with ideological common ground supported by the American people voluntarily paying for those newspapers. Yes, we have a dishonest administration that has misled the American people with respect to their ultimate aims and principles, but since when was political dishonesty grounds for revolution? The appropriate response to politicians who lie is to–from among the middle class–present a viable alternative to hold that office.
Too often we make excuses–conservatives and liberals alike–for why we can not change the status quo. Only the wealthy can afford to run for office. Only the politically connected can run for office. Only those with name recognition can run for office. These are all self-fulfilling, fatalistic prophecies. Mike Huckabee got his start as a pastor. Sarah Palin as a hockey mom.
The real problem in America today is neither corrupt politicians, nor lobbyists, nor a biased media. The real problem is a cynical and disengaged public. It is the duty of private citizens and not the federal government to enforce the principles of the American Revolution, and yet we as a nation have failed in our duties. Before anyone can talk seriously about revolution, we need to see American conservatives literally flooding the electoral system at every single level — from the school board to the presidency.
And let’s be realistic: if we cannot organize a movement to attempt to take back the GOP using the system in place, we have neither the moral right nor the practical capacity to pull off any kind of revolution whatsoever. What some may see as the spirit of 1776, I see as American modernist consumerism — don’t bother to fix it, just buy a new one.
Americans on the left and right have cried “Conspiracy!” in response to Catholics, immigration in the 18th century, Mormons, Freemasons, Illuminists, Jesuits, Communists, and now Socialists. How many of these threats were as real as imagined? Do you fear Joseph Smith and his hypnotic powers? Do you lock your door and keep your gun loaded to keep the Jesuits at bay? Even when we’ve been right, we were wrong. Sure, the Soviets had a concentrated effort to corrupt American society through left-leaning sympathizers. But it never reached the bleak levels that Senator McCarthy railed against:
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.
Where was that “great conspiracy?” It never existed. Not on that scale. Perhaps Senator McCarthy would have had more success with mainstream America if he had kept his views more realistic: the Soviet government is recruiting useful idiots to sow confusion and dissent and weaken American resolve. And what was the final solution to this menace? Trials and secret police? No, it was the election of an optimistic conservative who had the willingness to stand firm against the evils of Communism abroad — not persecute moronic political tools at home. The solution was not to destroy the threat, but to counter it with a greater positive force of our own.
Now we face a threat that, I believe, is greater than anything the Soviets ever had to throw at us. And it is a threat from within instead of without. It’s our job to learn from the lessons of the past.
First of all, conspiracy theorists are wrong far more often then they are right, and we must acknowledge the reasonable American (and conservative) skepticism that results.
Secondly, even when conspiracy theorists are more or less correct, they tend to sabotage their own claims through exaggeration. As a key point, consider that the vast majority of people on both sides of the political spectrum will not believe that Obama’s service initiative is going to involve a bunch of brown-shirts armed with rifles, body armor, and armored cars to break down the doors of every Tea Party participant and drag them off to detention camps. To the vast majority of people, that’s crazy talk. Of course, that does not mean the service initiative isn’t an affront to American principles. Of course it is. To get our point across, we must argue against it, point-by-point, rather than drum up outrage in a select few through incendiary rhetoric.
Instead, our response to these measures should be patterned on the successful approach of optimistic, positive efforts rather than pessimistic, negative action. We need to be proactive instead of reactive. We need Reagan, not McCarthy.
Robert Wallace has been writing for America’s Right since December 2008.