The Paranoid Style

Charles C. W. Cooke offers up some “praise”:

By reminding its citizenry that government tyranny is not an abstract concept, the IRS has done America a considerable favor. “Strange how paranoia can link up with reality now and then,” wrote Philip K. Dick in A Scanner Darkly. Indeed. Next time an authoritarian explains how, say, a national gun registry will be just swell — and labels its naysayers as neurotic — his opponents will have a new and useful shorthand: “IRS scandal.”

Why, you might ask, do I use “paranoia,” instead of the more palatable “skepticism”? Paranoia, after all, is an involuntary reaction — less of a tendency to “wait and see” than a recipe for constant fear. I will tell you why: because reflexive suspicion of government power is a magnificent and virtuous tendency, and one that should be the starting point of all political conversation in a free republic.

Jonah Goldberg agrees that the “fear of tyranny, healthy and unhealthy, are American traits, not right-wing ones”, but is less gung-ho about embracing the word “paranoia”:

If you know in your gut something is wrong, but you lack the ability to distinguish your emotions and instincts from facts and reason, it is all the more likely you’ll succumb to paranoia — and that’s a bad thing.

Cooke doubles down:

The word “skepticism” isn’t quite strong enough for me because one can be convinced from a position of skepticism, “Look, we’re not doing anything bad. How about it?” As a general rule, I want people far more afraid of the government than that would allow. I want people saying, “I don’t care how safe you say it is, I’m just not doing it. Ever.” There is never going to be a government or a society in which “tyranny is not just around the corner,” to borrow a phrase from the president. Never, ever. And there are never going to be people who can be trusted to rule.