Conspiracy

The Trouble with Richard Hofstadter

Prostitution panics and the paranoid style

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This weekend an essay adapted from my book The United States of Paranoia appeared in The National Memo. This piece features some of my criticisms of Richard Hofstadter's "The Paranoid Style in American Politics," particularly his claim that political paranoia is "the preferred style only of minority movements." Here's an excerpt from my article:

World's Purity Federation

[T]he antiprostitution panic of the early twentieth century…featured lurid tales of a vast international white-slavery syndicate conscripting thousands of innocent girls each year into sexual service. An influential book by a former Chicago prosecutor claimed, in the space of three paragraphs, that the syndicate amounted to an "invisible government," a "hidden hand," and a "secret power," and that "behind our city and state governments there is an unseen power which controls them."

Coerced prostitution really did exit, but it was neither as prevalent nor as organized as the era's wild rhetoric suggested. Yet far from being consigned to a marginal minority movement, the scare led to a major piece of national legislation, the Mann Act of 1910, and gave the first major boost in power to the agency that would later be known as the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Within a decade, the Bureau would be extending its purview from alleged conspiracies of pimps to alleged conspiracies of Communists, getting another boost in power in the process.

Such stories are missing from Hofstadter's account….The result was a distorted picture in which the country's outsiders are possessed by fear and its establishment usually is not.

In related news:

The Chicago Tribune reviews my book, reporting that "Walker repeatedly uses his impressive skills to offer fascinating, lengthy accounts of some of the most thrilling moments in American history."

The New York Post likes it too.

The Boston Globe says the book is "immensely entertaining" but could do without some of my "iconoclastic political points."

The Pittburgh Tribune-Review calls the book "a distinctive, valuable perspective on an intriguing topic."

The Baltimore Sun interviews me. Note: Some of the answers were mistranscribed. I did not, for example, suggest that a totalitarian society is less likely to embrace Enemy Outside stories.

• C-Span recorded me giving a talk about the book.

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  1. I watched most of the CSpan thing this weekend and thought you did well. Are there really a lot of architect/engineer 9-11 truthers as the woman’s question implied?

    1. I think her view of the distribution of opinion is in error.

      1. When a conspiracy theorist says ‘engineers agree with me’ there’s a tendency for that sentence to mean ‘I found one guy.’

        1. No there is a group of engineers and architects who have signed on to the jet fuel couldn’t melt steel argument as to the unrealisticness of the official explanation as to why the buildings collapsed. They have a pretty impressive paper ‘proving’ them right that you can find on various bits of the Internet.

          And they make a great deal of hay about their academic/professonal pedigrees.

          I personally think they’re bonkers based on my personal knowledge of metallurgy from my days in the steel industry. Steel will soften if you heat it to temps far bellow its melting point, and the collapse of the buildings from progressive failures of the load-bearing beams as they softened while the load on each individual building increased is pretty straightforward. In my experience, the engineer truthers are hand-waving away the annealing effect of the fires and not addressing the point convincingly.

  2. Why was I not told Walker had written a book? WHY WAS I NOT TOLD OF THIS?!

    1. Wait, did Jesse write a book or something?

      1. Yes, but there’s no need to buy it. You can just print out the excerpts and staple them together.

  3. Everyone from Naperville is Fucked Up. In the head.

  4. It is nearly always the elite and the establishment who panic over this or that issue. It wasn’t some oppressed minority who went insane over things like crack and drunk driving and satanic child molestation cults just to name a few panics. It was always people in power like politicians and DAs and “professionals” like psychologists and public health and government types. The establishment will believe any story no matter how ridiculous as long as it gives them an excuse for more power.

    1. It was always people in power like politicians and DAs and “professionals” like psychologists and public health and government types.

      You are not giving soccer moms their due credit here, John.

      Why do you hate the soccer moms?

      1. The soccer moms just follow the professionals’ lead. They rarely lead themselves. They need a psychiatrist or a talk show host to tell them what they should be panicked about.

        1. I’m not convinced that every soccer mom who screeches and whines about the latest monster under their little snowflakes bed need anyone to lead them.

          Having kids seems to be the number one recruiter of mini tyrants in this country.

          1. I am not a violent man. But whenever someone tells me “some day you will have kids and you will understand” after they have made some idiotic argument for some idiotic government action, it takes all of my effort not to become one.

            1. This seems to be every conservative with kids that I’ve ever talked to about the WOD.

              These are people who you can talk to about almost anything and they can be open minded, unlike proggies. But you mention the WOD and it’s always the same thing. ‘Well, I have kids’, and that’s the end of the conversation.

              1. Yes. That would be probably the most common time I hear that. The other time I hear it is with regard to sex offender registries and the age of consent. “Some day you will have a kid and understand that a 16 year old just can’t consent to sex and her 19 year old b/f shoudl go to jail” is something I have often heard. My response is “if I have a 16 year old daughter running around with someone too old for her, I am going to tell her to grow up and close her legs rather than call the cops.” That usually doesn’t go over well.

              2. I’ve observed that as well.

              3. Cool, ask them if they think their child’s life should be ruined for getting caught smoking a little weed.

        2. Wasn’t the lady who started MADD a “soccer mom?”

      2. You are not giving people who listen to overnight radio their due credit here, Hyperion.

        Why do you hate people who work third shift?

        1. Working nights does weird things to your mind.

          1. You’ve got the cause and effect backwards.

        2. Look, 3rd shifters are those people that you never see. They sleep all day and only come out at night. They could be vampires, you know, no one really knows. But you can’t trust them, that’s for sure.

          1. Worked third shift at a Kinko’s back in the early ’90’s. used to get high, drop acid, etc. Had a blast.

            1. You’re good people, EDG. I liked working third shift in my youth too. It could be highly entertaining like a Grahan Wilson cartoon come to life.

    2. Like hyperinflation, sharia law, war on Christmas, etc.?

      1. You make less and less sense every day. You used to be just boring. Now you are just strange.

  5. The Baltimore Sun interviews me. Note: Some of the answers were mistranscribed. Most notably, I did not claim that a totalitarian society is less likely to embrace Enemy Outside stories

    Maybe you didn’t speak proper Balmerese and they didn’t understand you.

  6. Within a decade, the Bureau would be extending its purview from alleged conspiracies of pimps to alleged conspiracies of Communists, getting another boost in power in the process.

    Wait… Alleged????

    1. Note the phrase “within a decade.” I’m referring to the Red Scare that followed World War I, not the Red Scare that followed World War II.

      (That said, depending on the context I think it’s fair to use the phrase “alleged conspiracies of Communists” in reference to the Cold War period too. Soviet espionage was very real, but not every accused Soviet spy was guilty.)

  7. “You like me! You really like me!”

  8. Such stories are missing from Hofstadter’s account

    Well, that is what happens when you have a nerdy physicist writing about history…

    Oh! It’s Richard Hofstadter… Sorry.

  9. An influential book by a former Chicago prosecutor claimed, in the space of three paragraphs, that the syndicate amounted to an “invisible government,” a “hidden hand,” and a “secret power,” and that “behind our city and state governments there is an unseen power which controls them.”

    Replace “white slaver” with “narcoterrorista”. Rinse, repeat.

  10. The Boston Globe says the book is “immensely entertaining” but could do without some of my “iconoclastic political points.”

    Code for “We’re upset he made libertarian arguments instead of doctrinaire leftist arguments. Also, why didn’t he devote half the book to ascribing paranoid beliefs to the Tea Party? I noticed it didn’t cite the Southern Poverty Law Center nearly enough.”

    1. Yeah, “make the conservatives look bad, but not us liberals.”

  11. I noticed it didn’t cite the Southern Poverty Law Center nearly enough.

    Over the weekend, somebody posted the DoD “You might be an EXTREMIST” checklist. I couldn’t help but insert “SPLC” for “extremist” in each section.

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