Is Captain America a libertarian

200 years of political paranoia in America

History of ideas. From the panic of Illuminati, Freemasons and the Pope to Senators McCarthy and Goldwater to Donald Trump's demagogy, conspiracy fantasies have always gripped parts of the American people.

On an oppressively hot day in Washington's late summer, around 1,000 people gathered in front of the Capitol to protest against the Iranian nuclear deal. Following a call from the Tea Party movement, all sorts of eccentrics appeared, a man in the skirt and tricorn of a colonist from 1773 as well as one in Captain America costume. Centrally in front of the speaker's stage, on which the tree billionaire Donald Trump and Senator Ted Cruz will speak, a group of young people in the red sashes of the “American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property” collects signatures for a petition to the Pope , in which they warn of “dissident Catholic influence groups” who “supported by the liberal media are working feverishly to tear down important church doctrines at the family synod in Rome”.

In the midst of all this stands Anita Barnier, a 66-year-old housewife from Virginia, and with her understated clothes and friendly expression doesn't really fit here. Why did she come? “Because I think our president is evil. He's on the side of all these Muslims. He's like a dictator who does what he wants. ”Perhaps the Mexican government is really sending“ all of its bad apples, ”the rapists, murderers and thieves, to the United States, as Trump claims. “We don't know which terrorists are crossing the border,” she adds, smiling engagingly.

Daughters, concubines of the Illuminati!

You hear this a lot at events like this one and on the platforms of the Republican presidential candidates. Enormous conspiracies that work either from Tehran, Beijing or the hated Washington to break down the morale of Americans and subjugate them to a despotism that, depending on the mood, is Islamist, socialist or homosexual-hedonistic. The enemy is as wicked as it is powerful. At the said demonstration in front of the Capitol, Ted Cruz, senator and presidential candidate, declared in the unctuous tone of a Baptist preacher that Iran could detonate a nuclear weapon on a boat in the Atlantic at any time to trigger an electromagnetic pulse and murder tens of millions of Americans.

This political style, based on conspiracy fantasies, high-pitched exaggeration, and the Manichean struggle between good and evil, is almost as old as the United States. 50 years ago the historian Richard Hofstadter traced its roots back to 1797 in his volume of essays "The Paranoid Style in American Politics". At that time, a book called "Proofs of a Conspiracy against all the Religions and Governments of Europe" was circulating in the young republic. in which the former Scottish Freemason John Robison claimed to prove plans for a world revolution by the Freemasons and Illuminati. It is unknown whether a follower of illuminism, which was founded in 1776 by Ingolstadt law professor Adam Weishaupt, made the leap across the Atlantic. But when Bête noire, which was libertarian, anti-Christian, dedicated to seducing women and cultivating physical pleasures, he captured the excited imaginations of Puritan scholars. “Should our sons become the disciples of Voltaire, our daughters the concubines of the Illuminati?” Warned Timothy Dwight, president of Yale University on July 4, 1798.

In the 1820s, the Freemasons replaced the Illuminati as bogeymen. Cosmopolitan secret circles of powerful scholars who sealed their pact for world domination with blood rituals: Such a feverish delusion attracted many Americans who did not want to come to terms with the industrialization, urbanization and globalization of their previously agrarian society of Protestant squires.

Metternich's Jesuit secret agents

After that, an alleged Catholic overturn plan caused conspiracy fever. In 1835, S. F. B. Morse, inventor of the apparatus of the same name, described in "Foreign Conspiracy against the Liberties of the United States" how Metternich planned the seizure of power in America. "Austria is now active here", warned Morse: "Jesuit missionaries travel through the country", on behalf of Vienna. It is only a matter of time before some Habsburg duke is installed as Emperor of America. Alleged Catholic conspiracies were also suspected later. The Depression of 1893, for example, was triggered by Catholics with a coordinated run on the banks; a forged encyclical of Pope Leo XIII. called on America's Catholics that same year for the murder of all heretics.

After the Second World War, this paranoid political style reached its climax under the leadership of the fanatical communist hunter Joseph McCarthy. "How can we explain our current situation other than with the belief that men in high government positions conspire to destroy us?" The senator summed up his credo in 1951.

The enemy in your own country: this delusional idea brings the strangest flowers to bud. In 1963, for example, it was rumored that a US Army exercise in Georgia was actually a United Nations operation to seize power in the United States. This fantasy still heats conservative minds today: Greg Abbott, the governor of Texas, instructed the Texas Guard this year to oversee the US Army's jade helmet maneuver. He was responding to rumors in tea party internet groups and conservative radio broadcasts that Jade-Helm was serving as Washington’s takeover in Texas (including secret tunnels under supermarkets through which Chinese troops would invade from the Mexican border).

"What is characteristic of the paranoid style is not the fact that its representatives see conspiracies or secret plans here and there in history, but that they regard a comprehensive conspiracy as the driving force of historical events," wrote Hofstadter: "History is a single conspiracy, which was set in motion by demonic powers with an almost transcendent force. ”Consequently, it could be defeated“ not by the usual methods of political give and take, but only by a total crusade ”. Paradoxically, this worldview is much more conclusive than the real world, Hofstadter pointed out. Because whoever believes in the world conspiracy does not have to deal with contradictions.

The 1964 Goldwater Revolution

The representative of the paranoid political style is constantly standing on the barricades of civilization, fighting one cultural war after another in a secular form of end-time Adventism. No American politician has come as far as Barry Goldwater with this stance. In 1964, the Senator from Arizona organized a revolt at the Republican Congress in San Francisco and was elected a presidential candidate. "My goal is not to pass laws, but to abolish them," was one of his mottos. He wanted to resign from the UN, stated that he “fear Washington and the central government more than Moscow” and that rulings of the Supreme Court are not necessarily applicable law (the latter is heard again today, by the way, after the ruling on the legality of same-sex marriage by some Republicans, such as former Arkansas governor and current presidential candidate Mike Huckabee).

Goldwater lost the election to incumbent Lyndon B. Johnson with only 38.5 percent of the vote. According to polls, one in five of his voters was not just a regular Republican voter, but an ardent Goldwater supporter. That would be around eight to ten percent of all citizens, as many as are leaning towards the Tea Party today: enough to dominate the primaries for Congress in many states.

“We are all victims of history,” wrote Richard Hofstadter half a century ago. "But the paranoid suffers twofold because he is plagued not only by the real world with the rest of us, but also by his fantasies."

("Die Presse", print edition, September 19, 2015)