Most textbook and encyclopedia definitions of McCarthyism refer to unsupported and unfair accusations against innocent parties. McCarthyism has been considered a style of dirty politics rather than an ideology. In Lawrence J.R. Herson’s Politics of Ideas, ideology is defined as linking values with a number of ideas concerning reality and has an action component. McCarthyism qualifies as an ideology under Herson’s definition.
McCarthyism has three significant components. The first is anti-communism. McCarthy argued that his concern with communism was not political but moral. Economic systems, one-party rule, and censorship were things to which McCarthy felt westerners could adapt. What westerners cannot adapt to or deal with is atheism, a central component of communism. Since communists cannot tolerate Christianity, McCarthy drew a line. McCarthy saw the world in terms of traditional Christian values vs. atheistic communism.
The second component of McCarthyism concerns McCarty’s views of where the communist threat was most significant. McCarthy saw subversion from within the U.S. government as the primary threat from communism. He feared subversives creating U.S. foreign policy, which would then jeopardize U.S. interests and national security. McCarthy’s first target was the State Department, headed by Dean Acheson. Acheson symbolized to McCarthy, those diplomats who were ‘born with a silver spoon in their mouth’ and were either sympathetic to or dangerously naive about the communist threat. McCarthy expanded his focus to include the “Eastern Establishment”- the press, intellectuals, and the “Wall Street wing” of the Republican Party. McCarthy attacked these targets who but as being “soft on communism.”
The final component of McCarthyism is its style of attack. Because the communist threat was so significant and the public so uninformed or naive, McCarthy claimed that extraordinary and extreme tactics were necessary to warn the public. If the communist threat had to be illustrated with half-truths or by bullying opponents, McCarthy would do so. Civil liberties might be infringed upon to some degree by McCarthy in the name of national security.
It is this brutal style that the term McCarthyism has come to represent today. McCarthyism’s dedication to Christian values, anti-communism, and its view of internal threats to national security along with character assassination tactics qualify McCarthyism as an ideology.
Thanks and a tip of the hat to Wikipedia for the image.