The Age of Anxiety: McCarthyism to Terrorism Summary

Haynes Johnson

The Age of Anxiety

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

The United States in the late 1940's was alarmed by the advance of Communism around the world. American spies were providing Joseph Stalin atomic bomb secrets and pressures for social change. The situation was well suited for demagogues to rise to prominence. The most important of these was the junior senator from Wisconsin, Joseph McCarthy.

McCarthy worked hard and diligently to excel in law school and become a judge, then he volunteered for the Marines. According to author Haynes Johnson, after that there was little to praise: he was a liar, a bully, an egomaniac, and a drunk. Almost accidentally, McCarthy discovered that the Republican party's theme of blaming Democrats for Communist successes was a road to fame and a possible run for the presidency.

In the research and writing of The Age of Anxiety: McCarthyism to Terrorism, readily available transcripts provided detailed descriptions of “investigations” which were not aimed at uncovering Communists as much as making everyone look for subversives in public offices and on school campuses. Given that many young people had contacts with leftist causes in the 1930's, those individuals had reasons to worry.

Johnson says that the situation under George W. Bush's administration is even worse. 2004 campaign rhetoric using names such as “Commie Kerry” and “Hanoi John,” the Swift Boat ads, the Patriot Act, the round-up of Moslems who overstayed their visas, the invasion of Iraq, etc., prove that Bush has gone far beyond McCarthy, who was, after all, condemned by his colleagues and died in disgrace.

The author, long a distinguished journalist and now a university professor, hates the Republican party and all its programs.