The paranoid pattern persists regardless. It is impervious to world events; a blurting of the American subconscious that has not changed since Hofstadter analyzed it 45 years ago. Consider the recent wave of fear that the hypnotic Mr. Obama was planning to indoctrinate schoolchildren. In “The Paranoid Style,” Hofstadter wrote, “Very often the enemy is held to possess some especially effective source of power: he controls the press; . . . he has a new secret for influencing the mind; . . . he is gaining a stranglehold on the educational system.”
Conspiracy-mindedness isn’t just for fringe political groups anymore; it makes for riveting entertainment. And it is all around us today, a disorder with an entire industry to act as its enabler.
The source for much of the current epidemic of paranoia is no doubt the “Glenn Beck Show” on Fox News, which follows the Hofstadter script with remarkable faithfulness. One episode last month featured Mr. Beck and a panel of guests speculating darkly about indoctrination in the public schools, about the war on religion, about the Federal Reserve, about the student loan system, the United Nations, and the swine flu vaccine. As a bonus, Mr. Beck rattled off a short history of lobbying that was almost entirely incorrect—perhaps to illustrate his favorite plaint about Americans not learning history. And in the commercial break the real-life conspirator G. Gordon Liddy advised viewers to invest in gold.