The paranoid fringe of the American right has become mainstream to an extent unthinkable even when the John Birch Society was at its peak, writes Thomas Frank. Historian Richard Hofstadter's landmark 1965 The Paranoid Style in American Politics seems more relevant than ever, Frank writes in the Wall Street Journal. The difference now is that the conspiracy theorists aren't handing out flyers on street corners any more—they're on Fox News ranting about birth certificates and creeping Communism, he notes.
The paranoid mindset that sinister forces are pushing America toward Communism has stayed remarkably unchanged through the decades, Frank writes, despite the demise of the Soviet Union removing any remnants of a rational basis for it. Hofstadter called the fringe "pseudo-conservatives" because they didn't embrace conservatism's "temperate and compromising spirit," Frank notes. "It's a pity Hofstadter isn't here to see the fakes eclipse the real thing."