Red Hunting in the Promised Land


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In the wake of the cold war, an eminent social critic examines the roots of America’s anticommunist frenzy. What amounted to an American civil religion for nearly half a century was at least as much a spiritual as a political phenomenon, according to Joel Kovel. It succeeded because it mobilized fears about our own social and individual identities against a demonized enemy. Organized around a series of compelling portraits of leading politicians and ideologues, Red Hunting in the Promised Land traces the evolution of anticommunism from the time of the Bolshevik Revolution to the collapse of Communism in our time. Beginning with the great red scare of 1919, Kovel goes on to explore the diabolic imaginings of Father Coughlin and his brand of anti-Semitic anticommunism; George Kennan and his elitist vision of the national security state; John Foster Dulles and the apocalyptic world of “massive retaliation”; J. Edgar Hoover and the paranoia of socio-sexual repression; Joe McCarthy and the right-wing populism of the “American Inquisition”; Hubert Humphrey and the strange career of liberal anticommunism; James Angleton and the knight errantry of anticommunism at the CIA; and lastly the denouement of the “Evil Empire” in the age of Ronald Reagan and George Bush. Cold war anticommunism was not the first of our great “red scares.” Kovel points out that the original, far more extended “red scare” was the European reaction to indigenous peoples, or Native Americans, who had to be diabolized so that their lands could be expropriated. What is it about America that has made both our leadership and the public repeatedly prone to hunt enemies in great crusades of moral absolutism? By shifting attention from its object, Communism, to its subject, American civilization, the book challenges the basic understanding of the nature of anticommunism. It draws connections between anticommunism as an internal control mechanism and anticommunism as the instrument of foreign policy.

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