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  McCarthyism was named (by the US cartoonist Herblock) after Senator, Joseph McCarthy (1908 - 1957), who headed a committee of the US Senate which investigated ‘un-American activities’ between 1950 and 1954, when McCarthy himself was investigated and censured. The committee was set up as a result of the anti-communist hysteria which gripped the US in the early years of the Cold War. Its purpose was to discover and root out communist sympathizers in every walk of American life: they were thought to be loyal to the ‘International Communist Conspiracy’ rather than to their country, and to be devoted to subverting national life. McCarthy, supported by J. Edgar Hoover, the FBI chief who had been conducting an anti-left-wing, anti-intellectual campaign of his own for some 40 years, and aided by the future president Richard M. Nixon, hauled hundreds of citizens before the Committee, ranting and blustering at them to reveal their communist sympathies and to betray their friends and colleagues. Rules of evidence were abandoned; guilt was assumed before each proceeding began. No one was immune: politicians, business tycoons, film stars and writers fell victim to McCarthy\'s witch-hunting methods just as often as ordinary, anonymous citizens.

The Committee hearings were some of the first governmental proceedings ever to be televised, so that McCarthy\'s bear-pit became a nightly spectacle in millions of homes. In the end this very exposure was McCarthy\'s own undoing. His methods and his own private life were investigated, and he fell. But it is mistaken to think that McCarthyism was a unique and short-lived phenomenon. It was merely the over-the-top manifestation of a deep-seated feeling in American life, of a kind of national paranoia which is by no means confined to the US, and McCarthy\'s basic views were supported by millions who disapproved of his methods. Some modern commentators, not all of them politically left-wing, say that the slow death of liberalism endemic to US life in the second half of the century derived an impetus from McCarthyism from which it has never recovered. KMcL

Further reading David Caute, The Great Fear.



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