WITCH HUNT: The Underside of American Democracy by Michael Dorman

WITCH HUNT: The Underside of American Democracy

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KIRKUS REVIEW

McCarthyism"" is so often used as a synonym for political witch hunting that younger readers may not be aware of subversive hunting's long tradition. Dorman sets out to put the phenomenon into perspective by digging back to the roots of congressional investigations (the first was in 1792, and smeared the reputation of General Arthur St. Clair) and to the career of Martin Dies whose creation of HUAC as a personal forum for a war against ""subversives"" parallels the rise of McCarthy in some uncanny ways. Mississippi Congressman John Rankin, a master of procedural maneuvering, succeeded in making HUAC a permanent committee, and it survived (under a different name) until 1975 though by then leadership in pursuing political enemies had passed to the executive branch. The witch hunt parallel has of course been used before, though Dorman employs it effectively by hammering away at the psychology of confession by expiation and the naming of names which proved such a powerful coercive tool. But his principal contribution is to remind us (and to inform those who never knew) that the fear of subversion was no passing, feverish aberration, and to underline the regularity with which individuals and organizations critical of witch hunting committees found themselves next in line for investigation. The excerpted testimony ranges from merely sad (an inarticulate Gary Cooper trying to remember unpatriotic remarks overheard at parties) to ridiculous (Ginger Rogers' mother protesting communist scripts--including the line ""Share and share alike--that's democracy""). And the value of Dorman's selective survey is enhanced by the comments on ""sources and supplementary reading"" appended to each chapter. Solid.

Pub Date: July 1st, 1976
Publisher: Delacorte