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Britain’s Professor David Miller and the ‘Paranoid Style’ of Politics

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“Antisemitism,” wrote Stephen Eric Bronner, author of the engaging book A Rumor About The Jews, “is the stupid answer to a serious question: How does history operate behind our backs?” For a wide range of ideological extremists, antisemitism is still the stupid answer for why what goes wrong with the world does go wrong. It is a philosophical world view and interpretation of history that creates conspiracies as a way of explaining the unfolding of historical events; it is a pessimistic and frantic outlook, characterized in 1964 by historian Richard Hofstadter as “the paranoid style” of politics, which shifts responsibility from the self to sinister, omnipotent others — typically and historically the Jews.

Long the thought product of cranks and fringe groups, Hofstadter’s paranoid style of politics has lately entered the mainstream of what would be considered serious and respectable academic enterprise. Witness, for instance, the ongoing controversy engulfing Professor David Miller, professor of political sociology in the School for Policy Studies at Britain’s Bristol University, who has enraged Jewish students and other external stakeholders by his vicious attacks on Zionism, Israel, and Jewish organizations in England.

In his lectures, writing, and public statements Miller has vehemently suggested that Jewish communal organizations work in tandem, behind the scenes and in a furtive and underhanded manner, to subvert the interest of British universities and government. More than that, Miller also contends that Zionism itself, which he characterizes as a “fanatical” political ideology, has as one of its primary roles to slander Islam, that Zionism, he contends, is a chief source of Islamophobia. And the shady Jewish organizations he identifies as being part of the defense and promotion of Zionism are therefore agents of this bigotry, not to mention, as he put it, that “the Zionist movement and the Israeli government are the enemy of the left, the enemy of world peace.”

What troubles observers of this type of intellectual output from academia is that, unlike its intellectually flabby predecessors from right-wing hate groups or left-wing cranks, this political analysis comes complete with academic respectability, a trend that Professor Hofstadter had himself originally found curious. “In fact,” he wrote, “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. It is the use of paranoid modes of expression by more or less normal people that makes the phenomenon significant.”

Much has been made of lecture slides Miller uses in his “Harms of the Powerful” module, slides which Jewish students thought contained anti-Semitic tropes about Jewish power, malignancy, and manipulation. One of the slides, titled “Five Pillars of Islamophobia,” includes the Zionist movement as one of the five pillars responsible for promoting Islamophobia. Another slide, “Pillar 4: The zionist [sic] movement (parts of),”........

© The Times of Israel (Blogs)

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