In October, BBC2 broadcast a series called The Power of Nightmares, which claimed fundamental affinities between Islamist terrorists and US neoconservatives in their use of fear to mobilise mass support for their ‘paranoid’ views of the world. This updated Richard Hofstadter’s once famous essay, The Paranoid Style in American Politics, first published in 1965. In the programmes, terror became a ‘myth’ – symbolised by ‘orientalist’ Hollywood footage – exploited by Machiavellian followers of the Chicago political scientist Leo Strauss. Many readers may vividly recall little flailing dots hurling themselves from hundreds of feet up out of two burning buildings, or news of hostages in Iraq who had their heads sawn off in footage too disturbing for the BBC to broadcast.
The programmes inadvertently revealed the conspiratorial mindset of those who made them – an outlook shared by the corporation that broadcast them, as one can tell from Newsnight or the Today programme each morning and night.
Let’s explore the programmes’ subtext. A hidden Jew, Leo Strauss, had employed passages from Plato’s Republic and Machiavelli’s Discourses regarding what might be called the ‘noble lie’, so as to bind together an America disintegrating under the twin impact of the 1960s ‘counter-culture’ and the Vietnam