Political Beliefs

Again, there is an extensive literature on the psychology of extreme political beliefs. Not surprisingly studies in the late 1940s focused on the origins of Nazi ideology, those in the 1950s and 1960s were more oriented toward studying the left, and most contemporary treatments focus on the far right, especially hate-groups.

Aho, James. This Thing of Darkness: A Sociology of the Enemy. University of Washington Press, 1994. A sociologist examines how right-wing hate groups construct their world view and how they can reach intellectual accommodation with their enemies.

Altemeyer, Bob. Enemies of Freedom: Understanding Right-Wing Authoritarianism. Jossy-Bass, 1988. A description of a long-term research program documenting the sources and correlates of authoritarianism. A bit technical in places.

Barkun, Michael. Religion and the Racist Right: The Origins of the Christian Identity Movement. University of North Carolina Press, 1997. This groups believes that white Christians descend from ancient Israel and Jews from Satan. Arguably the most important of the modern hate groups which claims Christian roots.

Bushart, Howard L., Craig, John R., & Barnes, Myra  Soldiers of God: White Supremacists and Their Holy War for America (*) Pinnacle Books, 1998. A bit sensationalized, but a fairly detailed and illuminating examination of most of the leading contenders for Racist of the Century. 

Crossman, Richard (Ed). The God that Failed. (*) Harper, 1945. Various testimonials from ex-communists about the nature of their beliefs.

Dees, Morris & Corcoran, Gary. Gathering Storm. America=s Militia Threat (*). HarperCollins, 1996. Heavy on description of the major players in the modern militia movement and on links to various racist groups.

Gibson, James William. Warrior Dreams: Paramilitary Culture in Post-Vietnam America (*). Hill & Wang, 1994. Perhaps the best scholarly treatment of the paramilitary movement. He sees much of the resurgence of this movement as a legacy of Vietnam.  

Goertzel, Ted. Turncoats and True Believers: The Dynamics of Political Belief and Disillusionment. Prometheus Books, 1992. A recent attempt at explaining various political beliefs including communism, fascism, feminism, and sixties style politics.

George, John, & Wilcox, Laird. American Extremists: Militias, Supremacists, Klansmen, Communists, and Others Prometheus, 1996. A fairly recent treatment of political extremism.

Hoffer, Eric. The True Believer. (*) Harper, 1951. A classic book by a former longshoreman about those who give their lives to a total belief system. While Hoffer is not a professional scholar and therefore misses some important ideas, he more than makes up for it through lucidity of style and being able to take an outsider's look at old ideas.

Hofstadter, Richard. Social Darwinism in American Thought. (*) several editions, originally published in 1944. Social Darwinism, a movement popular in the last part of the last century, was based on loose applications of evolutionary theory to human societies. According to the theory, successful people are obviously the most fit to survive, and some races and groups of people such as the poor are less fit to survive. Attempts to help the poor only encourage them to reproduce more which in turn messes up Mother Nature's Evolutionary Plan. Hofstadter argues that such ideas, although now discredited as sound extensions of Darwin's theories, have been a powerful, if sometimes implicit, foundation of some aspects of modern social thought and of conservative ideology. The evidence for that influence is even stronger today than it was when the book was written.

Koestler, Arthur. Arrow in the Blue: An Autobiography (*) Macmillian, 1952 and The Invisible Writing (*) Macmillian, 1954. Koestler is one of the most interesting people of this century. He wrote widely on science, became a communist and subsequently a leading ex-communist, was a novelist, later wrote widely on psychology and creativity, and was a strong supporter of the reality of paranormal phenomena. These books represent his autobiography in which he discusses the basis of his communist beliefs and his rejection of them. In so doing he offers some insights into the psychology of true believers. In his famous novel, Darkness at Noon (*) he tries to deal with the psychology of victims of Stalin's purges in the late 1930s when many high ranking Soviet officials confessed to crimes they could not possibly have committed.

Lipstadt, Deborah E. Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory. The Free Press, 1993. A study of those who deny the reality of the holocaust.

MacDonald, Andrew. The Turner Diaries. National Vanguard Books, 1978. A famous novel actually written by physicist and ultra-right wing racist, William Pierce, in which the destruction of American society perpetrated by Jews and blacks is foiled by ultra-hero and patriot, Earl Turner, who, alas, gives up his life in the cause. Despite the vitriolic hatred that fills the book, it is actually quite readable although not exactly a thriller in the grand tradition. The Turner Diaries has become a virtual bible for right-wing conspiracy folks and was reportedly a major influence on Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber. You can not find the book at your local Barnes & Noble, nor will you find it in your local public or university library. Maybe your local Christian Identity member will lend you his copy. 

Rokeach, Milton. The Open and Closed Mind. Basic Books, 1960. This is one of several books written in the decades when fascism and communism were active ideologies that tried to explain the psychological basis of dogmatism and authoritarian attitudes. While this book contains some technical material, it is readable if one reads selectively.

Smith, Brent Terrorism in America: Pipe Bombs and Pipe Dreams. SUNY Press, 1994. Discussion of both domestic and international terrorism from both the political right and left. Some attention given to characteristics of people who join terrorist organizations.