McCarthyism Revisited

McCarthyism Revisited

NIGHTMARE IN RED: THE MCCARTHY ERA IN PERSPECTIVE, by Richard M. Fried. New York: Oxford University Press, 1990. xi + 229 pp. $22.95.

Senator Joseph R. McCarthy described McCarthyism as “Americanism with the gloves off,” but few students of this century’s second red scare have been satisfied with his definition. As that scare ebbed in the mid-1950s, the earliest serious students of the subject, a group of pluralist social scientists led by Daniel Bell, Nathan Glazer, and Seymour Martin Lipset, interpreted McCarthyism as a movement of the far right. For them the second red scare was primarily the work of Americans anxious about their rising or falling status: displaced elite WASPs, sunbelt millionaires, and Catholic ethnics like McCarthy himself. According to the pluralists, this “extremist” anticommunism differed qualitatively from the sensible version promoted by President Harry S. Truman and fellow adherents to the “vital center.”

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