There is, as Richard Hofstadter put it many years ago, a paranoid style of politics. While, he came up with this notion in his examination of American politics, McCarthyism and its predecessors, I am struck how this sort of politics can be found in just about every democracy. The paranoid knows that enemies surround us. We must be vigilant and protect ourselves, limit or eliminate immigration, impose loyalty oaths, arm ourselves. For, “they” are out to get us. The complexities of the world are explained by the machinations of “them.” (A most popular them these days are Muslims.)
The paranoia continues: we will resolve the problems posed by them only through vigilance. Those who don’t see this are naïve, in some ways worse than the enemy itself. You’re either with us or you’re against us: our country right or wrong, love it or leave it. The National Front in France, the Swedish Democracy Party, the Austrian Freedom Party, Belgium’s Vlaams Belang, the Bulgarian Ataka party, Hungary’s Jobbik party, the Party for Freedom in the Netherlands, the British National Party, the League of Polish Families, among others in Europe and beyond, including the Tea Party in the U.S., utilize this style of politics, the populist, xenophobic kind. (link) (link)
In each country, the health of democracy, it seems to me, will be determined by whether the paranoid style is marginalized, and remains so through time, or if it seeps into the political mainstream. When a right wing coalition ruled in Poland and included the League of Polish Families, the prospects for Polish democracy dived, only reviving when that coalition was defeated in the polls, and , indeed, to mention Hofstadter’s immediate concerns, when Dwight Eisenhower’s Republican Party turned against McCarthy, American democracy was strengthened. A pressing American concern today has to do with the paranoid style of politics in the Tea Party and in the anti-immigration movement. Our fate is tied to how we respond to the Park Islamic Community Center and other . . .