Daily Archives: September 19, 2009

Democracy and Demonology

In his perceptive and occasionally caustic book Ronald Reagan: The Movie, and Other Episodes in Political Demonology, Michael Rogin defines “countersubversive tradition and political demonology [as] the creation of monsters… a continuing feature of American politics by the inflation, stigmatization, and dehumanization of political foes.”

“American demonology,” he elaborates, “has both a form and a content. [It] splits the world in two, attributing magical, pervasive power to a conspiratorial center of evil. Fearing chaos and secret penetration, the countersubversive interprets local initiatives as signs of alien power. Discrete individuals and groups become, in the countersubversive imagination, members of a single political body directed by its head. The countersubversive needs monsters to give shape to his anxieties and to permit him to indulge his forbidden desires. Demonization allows the countersubversive, in the name of battling the subversive, to imitate his enemy.”

Rogin builds on an earlier essay by historian Richard Hofstadter to make these claims, the indispensable “The Paranoid Style in American Politics,” which traces the weird, intense and often incoherent fear of social degeneration that characterizes so much of political discourse in the United States, from the anti-Mason sentiment of the early 19th century through McCarthyism and on to the rebirth of the right in the early 1960s.

In light of these analyses, consider the following images.