The Naked Communist: Cold War Modernism and the Politics of Popular Culture

The Naked Communist: Cold War Modernism and the Politics of Popular Culture

The Naked Communist: Cold War Modernism and the Politics of Popular Culture

The Naked Communist: Cold War Modernism and the Politics of Popular Culture

Synopsis

The Naked Communist argues that the political ideologies of modernity were fundamentally determined by four basic figures: the world, the enemy, the secret, and the catastrophe. While the "world" names the totality that functioned as the ultimate horizon of modern political imagination, the three other figures define the necessary limits of this totality by reflecting on the limits of representation. The book highlights the enduring presence of these figures in the modern imagination through detailed analysis of a concrete historical example: American anti-Communist politics of the 1950s. Its primary objective is to describe the internal mechanisms of what we could call an anti-Communist "aesthetic ideology." The book thus traces the way anti-Communist popular culture emerged in the discourse of Cold War liberalism as a political symptom of modernism. Based on a discursive analysis of American anti-Communist politics, the book presents parallel readings of modernism and popular fiction from the 1950s (nuclear holocaust novels, spy novels, and popular political novels) in order to show that, despite the radical separation of the two cultural fields, they both participated in a common ideological program.

Excerpt

Those familiar with the history of American anti-Communism will immediately recognize that I borrow my title from Cleon W. Skousen’s The Naked Communist (1958). the book belongs to the same genre as J. Edgar Hoover’s better-known classic, Masters of Deceit (1958), and it presents to a general audience a history of Communism in conjunction with the practical knowledge necessary to fight its expansion. For Skousen, an ex-FBI agent, the nakedness of this Communist has a precise meaning. As he explains in the preface, the book “attempts to present the Communist in his true native elements, stripped of propaganda and pretense. Hence the title, ‘The Naked Communist.’” the title refers to the “naked truth” itself, which is expected to come about as the result of a successful critique of ideological mystifications and which offers pure presentation in place of deceitful representations.

But when I quote Skousen’s title, I intend to repeat it with a significant difference. As Skousen’s own career shows, the first revelation of truth leaves something to be desired. in 1970, he authored the companion piece to The Naked Communist under the title The Naked Capitalist, in which he argued (in the form of an extended review of Carroll Quigley’s Tragedy and Hope) that the Communist conspiracy was a mere tool in the hands of an even bigger conspiracy run by rich capitalists. of course, this shift from the Communist conspiracy to something resembling contemporary theories of the New World Order might appear to be a historically predictable move. But we could also interpret the “naked capitalist” as the answer to the inherent ambiguity of the “naked Communist,” since it replaces an unstable earlier version of the truth with a new kind of certitude.

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