I-Y-Is strike again
Every theory has a political agenda
Elite panic and elite power
A few years back I blogged about G. K. Chesterton’s shattering insight that progressives like H.G. Wells and G. B. Shaw hated humanity as it was and wished (dreamed?) of remaking mankind so that we were more like insects.
It even helped Hitler gobble up much of Europe. Really.
Yet this particular “paranoid style” is seldom discussed.
No surprise. This form of mass hysteria is not populist; it haunts the imagination of the Intellectual-Yet-Idiot.
We have all heard about Orson Welles’s radio broadcast of H.G. Wells’s “War of the Worlds” in October 1938. The conventional narrative highlights the mass panic than ensued due to the gullibility of the American public.
Lazy journalists still trot it out when they need to write an easy story about the dangers of mass hysteria.
It does not seem to matter that the whole narrative is bogus.
Two years before the radio broadcast another H.G. Wells work was turned into a movie. “Things to Come” begins with a new European war and the terror bombing of London. The bombing causes a collapse of civilization and a “barbarous struggle for survival.”
The 'War of the Worlds' story is usually told as a parable about popular hysteria -- a sudden spike in the sort of fear that Hofstadter's essay decried. But at least as much, it is a parable about elite hysteria -- of the antipopulist anxiety that Hofstadter's essay exemplifies. No history of American paranoia can be complete unless it includes the latter.
The United States of Paranoia
The movie-makers, like Wells himself, shared the key assumption of early air-power theorists: bombing the home front would so disrupt daily life that a nation would be forced to surrender or face a total collapse.
This was one of the key fears that drove support appeasement in Britian in the 1930s. “The bomber would always get through” and the bombing would cause mass panic and a total breakdown of order.
One would think that the events of the summer and fall of 1940 would have decisively refuted this elite hysteria.
And let’s not kid ourselves—elite hysteria may look ridiculous, but elite paranoia serves a useful purpose for modern mandarins and the Intellectuals-Yet-Idiots who populate that class. Paranoids are great at spotting problems and “looming crises”. These then inevitably provide a pretext for the mandarins to acquire more power.
Conspiracy theories about past events usually carry with them a political agenda
Elite paranoia goes hand in hand with elite control.
Which is something Chesterton understood a century ago.
We are always ready to make a saint or a prophet of the educated man who goes into cottages to give a little kindly advice to the uneducated. But the mediaeval idea of a saint or a prophet was something quite different. The mediaeval saint or prophet was an uneducated man who walked into grand houses to give a little kindly advice to the educated