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The anti-Masonic movement was a product not merely of natural enthusiasm but also of the vicissitudes of party politics. The July issue of the John Birch Society Bulletin . It was held to be particularly liable to treason—for example, Aaron Burr’s famous conspiracy was alleged to have been conducted by Masons.It was joined and used by a great many men who did not fully share its original anti-Masonic feelings. Masonry was accused of constituting a separate system of loyalty, a separate imperium within the framework of federal and state governments, which was inconsistent with loyalty to them.The Paranoid Style in Action The John Birch Society is attempting to suppress a television series about the United Nations by means of a mass letter-writing campaign to the sponsor, . Since Masons were pledged to come to each other’s aid under circumstances of distress, and to extend fraternal indulgence at all times, it was held that the order nullified the enforcement of regular law.
Anti-Masons were not content simply to say that secret societies were rather a bad idea. One meets here again the same frame of mind, but a different villain.
The author of the standard exposition of anti-Masonry declared that Freemasonry was “not only the most abominable but also the most dangerous institution that ever was imposed on man. The anti-Catholic movement converged with a growing nativism, and while they were not identical, together they cut such a wide swath in American life that they were bound to embrace many moderates to whom the paranoid style, in its full glory, did not appeal. She has her Jesuit missionaries traveling through the land; she has supplied them with money, and has furnished a fountain for a regular supply.” Were the plot successful, Morse said, some scion of the House of Hapsburg would soon be installed as Emperor of the United States.
The anti-Masonic movement of the late 1820s and the 1830s took up and extended the obsession with conspiracy.
At first, this movement may seem to be no more than an extension or repetition of the anti-Masonic theme sounded in the outcry against the Bavarian Illuminati.
Style has more to do with the way in which ideas are believed than with the truth or falsity of their content. The laws of probability would dictate that part of . As early as 1865–66 a conspiracy was entered into between the gold gamblers of Europe and America. The association, he thought, was formed “for the express purpose of .” It had become “one great and wicked project fermenting and working all over Europe.” And to it he attributed a central role in bringing about the French Revolution.
I am interested here in getting at our political psychology through our political rhetoric. He saw it as a libertine, anti-Christian movement, given to the corruption of women, the cultivation of sensual pleasures, and the violation of property rights.
In fact, the idea of the paranoid style as a force in politics would have little contemporary relevance or historical value if it were applied only to men with profoundly disturbed minds. Every device of treachery, every resource of statecraft, and every artifice known to the secret cabals of the international gold ring are being used to deal a blow to the prosperity of the people and the financial and commercial independence of the country. Its humanitarian rationalism appears to have acquired a fairly wide influence in Masonic lodges.
It is the use of paranoid modes of expression by more or less normal people that makes the phenomenon significant. Americans first learned of Illuminism in 1797, from a volume published in Edinburgh (later reprinted in New York) under the title, .
I do not propose to try to trace the variations of the paranoid style that can be found in all these movements, but will confine myself to a few leading episodes in our past history in which the style emerged in full and archetypal splendor.
In the history of the United States one find it, for example, in the anti-Masonic movement, the nativist and anti-Catholic movement, in certain spokesmen of abolitionism who regarded the United States as being in the grip of a slaveholders’ conspiracy, in many alarmists about the Mormons, in some Greenback and Populist writers who constructed a great conspiracy of international bankers, in the exposure of a munitions makers’ conspiracy of World War I, in the popular left-wing press, in the contemporary American right wing, and on both sides of the race controversy today, among White Citizens’ Councils and Black Muslims.