- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 29, 2002

THE PARANOID (AND COMIC) STYLEIN AMERICAN SCHOLARSHIP
By Paul Gottfried
University of Missouri Press, $24.95, 264 pages
REVIEWED BY HERB GREER

Paul Gottfried is a professor of Humanities at Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania. His political outlook is essentially conservative. His book, "After Liberalism," dealt with the supposed transmogrification of Western Democracy into what he calls the Managerial State, a kind of complicated conspiracy which involves the provision of administrative services in exchange for servitude.
In "Multiculturalism and the Politics of Guilt," Mr. Gottfried carried this thesis forward into what he called the "Managerial-Therapeutic state." Even more sinister, this involves not only government, but the media, who collaborate in a massive exercise in "sensitising" the populace to the values and culture of "victims" who have been oppressed by our Christian Protestant Civilization. The "sensitising" involves the instillation of guilt for past wrongs and, according to Mr. Gottfried, the effacing of our history and its replacement by a tabula rasa on which is written the terms of our own cultural and political extinction as a democracy.
Now there is no doubt that politically correct pressure groups do exist in the West, and that some of them do cherish such a goal. One thinks of the Black Muslims, the apostles of reverse discrimination, the (Black) neo-apartheid fringe groups which infest the Humanities Departments of Ivy League and other American Universities, and in the United Kingdom where I live the sedulous "multiculturalism" of elements in Tony Blair's New Labor government and the British Race Relations Industry. In Britain you can now be prosecuted, not just for committing a crime, but for what you think about your victim when you commit it if the victim supposes your thoughts are racist.
Of course such legislation would be impossible under the U.S. Constitution, which still protects freedom of speech even if this protection is occasionally circumvented not to say flouted and violated in the academic community. But Mr. Gottfried jumps from this to the conclusion that the American government and media are involved with these nasty elements in a huge suppressive conspiracy to destroy democratic government as we know it. With the best will in the world (and sympathy for Mr. Gottfried's conservative view), this recalls Richard Hofstadter's definition of "The Paranoid Style in American Politics": heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy.
In Mr. Gottfried's scenario the enemy of democracy is no longer foreign or on the fringes of politics, but domestic and at the highest levels of government. The majority are instilled not by pressure groups, but by the government itself with guilt over past "wrongs" committed by their nation; the guilt a legacy of our quasi-Calvinist Protestantism is then used as a political weapon to raise the status of ethnic and other minority "victims." These victims, with government connivance, can with impunity then manipulate the majority into accepting repressive and unjust "rights" legislation which destroys freedom of speech and reduces the majority to the status of second-class citizens.
As Mr. Gottfried puts it, the majority population is "sensitized" and "socialised." In less fashionably PC terms, he portrays current democratic government as a gigantic brainwashing operation working on behalf of the politically correct and against the majority population and its culture.
The French philosopher Blaise Pascal once remarked (I am paraphrasing) that the people think thus: Because some part of a thing is true, such as the fact that the moon affects the tides, it must be that everything said of it is true, and so it becomes a "fact" that the moon makes men into lunatics.
The lunacy in this case is not confined to multiculturalism. In wonderful quantum leaps in the Pascal style, Mr. Gottfried takes seriously the wacko pamphleteering of fringe figures like Rosemary Radford Reuther and Susan Okun and their cultural clones who assert, for example, that current Christianity [sic] treats gender distinctions as "oppressive and symptomatic of Mankind's fallen state, a falling away into sin from an original hermaphroditic perfection."
America, then, is "a country redeemed from its own racist, sexist homophobic past, the repentant Protestant allowed to go forth and bring enlightenment to others. This, we are told, accounts for America's anti-tyranny foreign policy. Domestically this repentant manie, or habit, of minority group activists has in Mr. Gottfried's view been swallowed whole, not only by our government, but by most Americans, who their nerve destroyed by carefully fostered guilt accept unfair and oppressive administrative pro-minority measures without protest.
Mr. Gottfried seems unaware or at least never mentions such PC disasters as bussing and its eventual rejection because in classic socialist style it had the opposite effect of that intended, worsening race relations instead of improving them. In his picture of a media-government conspiracy to brainwash us all, there is no place for figures like broadcasters G. Gordon Liddy, Michael Graham, Glenn Beck, Don Imus, Rush Limbaugh, Howard Stern, or a bestselling writer like Ann Coulter. An influential opponent of multiculturalism like Thomas Sowell appears nowhere in Mr. Gottfried's feverish fantasy.
Mr. Gottfried cites apologies from of all people Bill Clinton for the Crusades and "the sin of slavery" as a serious influence on clergy and journalists, "because of the need for public confession on behalf of a sinful nation." Americans, it seems, "consider the Holocaust the worst tragedy in history but know nothing about it despite its massive and bestselling exposure in film, television, literature and the news because of our "cultural and historical illiteracy."
This explains in part our vulnerability to the great government-media brainwashing conspiracy and our willingness to throw away our democracy in favour of an oppressive system based on gay rights, multiculturalist, feminist, and "sensitive" ideas which reduce our society into a face-off between "victims" and those who victimize and (out of guilt) allow the victims to dominate and destroy our cultural heritage.
The very odd picture painted by Mr. Gottfried is further undermined by some simple mistakes which appear to show that he himself suffered from a case of historical tabula rasa. It is not true, for instance that the United States "backed the overthrow of Pinochet." Indeed, Augusto Pinochet was not overthrown at all. He lost a plebiscite which he himself set up. It seems highly doubtful that a "new internationalism, as suggested by Clinton and Blair, aims at … a transformation of human consciousness."
It is also demonstrably untrue that "minimising one's national heritage has become a matter of good taste" (the radical chic are not representative of the American people at large); or that Tony Blair campaigned on a multicultural platform, or that there is a 'multicultural takeover of British society', despite legal limitations on freedom of speech.
It is insulting (and inaccurate) of Mr. Gottfried to muse that "a mercurial public opinion in the United States makes one wonder whether a core culture exists there at all." It is ludicrous to assert that the American government is turning away from material programmes toward behaviour control, or that it "requires the majority population to forfeit, disavow, or disparage their inherited identities."
These examples and many much worse, encompassing America, Britain, and Europe, pile up, and up, into a kind of mad fantasy world which finally begins to provoke laughter; indeed much of it reads more like material for a stand-up comic than an academic dissertation. The American far right, notoriously given to paranoia, may welcome this material. But if Mr. Gottfried expects it to be taken seriously by anyone else as a portrait of how we are developing socially or politically, I am afraid he will be badly disappointed. That would need a far larger dose of reality than this book contains.

Herb Greer is an American writer who lives in Salisbury, England.



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