The late Joseph McCarthy has left a permanent mark on American political life. But the meaning and depth of that mark has been obscured. A major theme of this important study is that McCarthy did not suppress or stifle political thinking so much as he radically transformed it. A large block of American intellectuals evolved an original theory of politics in reaction to McCarthyism.
Many American intellectuals found McCarthy's roots in the agrarian radical tradition—emerging from Populists, La Follette progressives, the non-Partisan League. The present study challenges the notion that McCarthy had agrarian radical roots. The book concludes by suggesting that fear of popular uprisings and radical protest has divorced political analysis from the specific issues around which protest forms. These issues determine whether mass movements will be dangerous or valuable. Ignoring the issues of politics, Rogin argues, leads to a reliance on established institutions unhealthy and unrealistic in a free society.