A collection of essays by the 20th century historian Richard Hofstadter, this volume contains some valuable insights into the politics of the United States in the 21st century. The title essay looks at how a paranoid theme has run through the history of American politics, with demagogues campaigning on the idea that foreigners are seeking to infiltrate the US and undermine American society. Looking back from 1963 in 50 year intervals, Hofstadter shows how Monarchists, Freemasons, Catholics, and Communists have each in turn been the bogey man of the American Right. 50 years later it is easy to see that pattern repeating itself with the current anti-Muslim paranoia in the US.
The next three essays deal with the rise of the American Right under Eugene McCarthy and Barry Goldwater. Hofstadter refers to this movement as "Pseudo-Conservatism" to distinguish it from classical Conservative philosophy which seeks to conserve through moderation and by maintaining the status quo. Hofstadter borrows the term from Theodore Adorno's book "The Authoritarian Personality", in which the pseudo-conservative is defined as "a man who in the name of upholding traditional American values and institutions and defending them against more or less fictitious dangers, consciously or unconsciously aims at their abolition."
The author sees pseudo-conservatives as driven by a conspiratorial worldview and a fear of loss of cultural supremacy. He sees it as a form of status politics in which "the pseudo-conservative always imagines himself to be dominated and imposed upon because he feels that he himself is not dominant." This goes a long way to explaining why some of the wealthiest and most privileged citizens insist that they are the victims of prejudice and have to take America back; back from a semblance of equality one must assume.
Hofstadter was a better analyst than a prophet. He believed the pseudo-conservative movement had reached its peak with the failed 1964 presidential campaign of Barry Goldwater. I would have loved to have read Hofstadter analysis of the presidencies of Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush, and especially Donald Trump.
The remainder of the book is taken up with interesting but unrelated historical essays. The author examines the irony of the populist anti-Imperialist desire that lead America to war with Spain to free Cuba from colonial rule, which turned overnight to pro-Imperialist populism after America won control of The Philippines in the war. He looks at the decline of the Anti-Trust movement in the early 20th century as Americans lost their fear of big business and their reverence for small business. Lastly he looks at the Free Silver movement of the late 19th century, focusing on a popular pro-silver track titled "Coin's Financial School" which promised to end America's economic depression with the unlimited coinage of silver. I had never read anything about the complexity of a bimetallism, in which an economy is pegged to the relative values of gold and silver, and found it extremely interesting.