Wednesday, March 9, 2016

3-9-16: Rob's Book of the Week!

American Hysteria by Andrew Burt

Savvy political and historical analysis with narrative punch, this debut of a new commentator on the American political scene looks at pivotal moments in our history when political outliers moved to the center, getting support from the general populace and those in power. From the Anti-Illuminati movement in the early Republic to the effort to ban Sharia law today, Burt shows how fear of loss of influence propels these movements to the center of American life. Unlike other recent works on American politics, Burt argues that these movements are not random and inexplicable, but are driven by a particular set of circumstances in which those with social status and political power see it slipping away. Engaging in political hysteria blacklists, scapegoating, conspiracies, cover-ups is how they seek to get it back. While covering all American history, main chapters put readers at the center of the early nation's Anti-Illuminati and the Anti-Masons beginning in 1826, The Red Scare, 1919's Palmer Raids, 1950s McCarthyism, and the post-9/11 Anti-Sharia movement. For each political hysteria, Burt looks at the threat the movement rose to confront, its claims for who was to blame, the tools used to accomplish its ends, and how successful it was in convincing more Americans of its arguments. The ultimate aim of the book is to describe not simply what political hysteria is, but how and why it is so successful, so that past instances may be more fully understood, and future dangers avoided. Through the stories and characters who have exemplified hysteria in our past, Burt provides a compelling survey of American political extremism. And he shows that hysteria is no partisan phenomenon, nor simply a product of the lower or less-educated American classes (indeed, the demographic data suggest the contrary). American Hysteria argues that political hysteria is central to our national identity, a type of movement not relegated to the fringes, but rather routinely taking center stage. Wide swaths of the American public, its leaders and its intellectuals buy into the conspiracy theory, ready to sacrifice whatever they must like basic constitutional rights to keep the internal enemy at bay. As Mark Twain put it, history may not repeat itself, but it sure does rhyme. By narrating and analyzing movements of hysteria in our nation's history, this book sheds light on the politics of today and tomorrow.

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