February 24, 2009


REVIEW: of THE ENEMY ­WITHIN: 2,000 Years of ­Witch-­Hunting in the Western ­World By John Demos (A. J. Loftin, Wilson Quarterly)

If witches existed, John Demos would have found ­them. [...]

At last Demos ventures somewhat timidly into more recent centuries, to discuss the Chicago ­union-­organized Haymarket riots of 1886, the “Red Scare”–era of Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s, and the ­day­care “abuse” cases of the last 30 years. [...]

Certainly Demos is entitled to stop writing about witchcraft. But this book, far from putting the matter to rest, simply invites more speculation. In treating modern instances, Demos repeatedly asks, “Was it a ­witch-­hunt?” bringing the intellectual scruples and caution of a scholar to bear on his answer. But a general reader doesn’t need to be convinced. Hell, ­yeah—­close enough.

That's accurate so long as you don't make the Lofton/Demos mistake of using "witch-hunt" as a pejorative. The general reader is presumably well aware that the history is dispositive as regards leaders at Haymarket Square being anarchists and socialists and the subsequent throwing of a bomb; the penetration of the arts and government by agents of the USSR; and the comparative prevalence of sexual abusers in professions that provide access to children. But, even if not, so-called "scholars" are obligated to be so informed. When, instead, they choose to whitewash the subversives and pedophiles, we can only assume that they're doing likewise for the witches.

Especially revealing in this regard is that the "witch-hunts" they approve of -- to put down the militia movement after Oklahoma City or to bring pedophile clergy to justice -- are seldom if ever included in such studies. Of course, the problem is that once you concede that beneath the arguable excesses of each of these hunts there lurked genuine "witches" then you're somewhat constrained from throwing brick-bats at the ancestors who you want to look down upon as superstitious hysterics.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at February 24, 2009 6:39 AM
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