Red Scare and McCarthyism Consequences Essay

October 14, 2020 by Essay Writer


The 1920s to late 1950s in the United States saw the emergence of so-called ‘Red Scare’ and McCarthyism. These socio-political phenomena were caused by the birth of Communism and the Soviet Union, as well as by the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union. The word commonly used to describe the atmosphere in society at the time is ‘hysteria’ or ‘paranoia’.

As the rivalry with the Soviet Union escalated, emotions ran high, and initial suspicions gradually paved the way for subsequent arrests and trials on charges of spying and providing the Reds (communists) with inside information. Senator Joseph R. McCarthy was involved in the investigations of alleged plots and subversions in the government and cinematography1. The atmosphere of fear persisted until the late 1950s. Short-term consequences of Red Scare and McCarthyism phenomena involved the atmosphere of repression and hysteria, while the long-term consequences included a certain degree of impact on economic development.

Short-Term Consequences

In 1950, Senator McCarthy publicly claimed that the communists successfully infiltrated the U.S. government structure2. According to Storrs, the tendency to suspect communist infiltration appeared during the first Red Scare in the 1920s3. As the Great Depression revealed certain weaknesses of capitalism, the Communist Party grew in numbers. Moreover, the New Deal program, introduced by Franklin D. Roosevelt, extended the federal government’s control of the economy.

The anti-communist structures started emerging at the same time. In 1938, the Special House Committee to Investigate Un-American Activities was created. Alongside with McCarthy’s investigating committees, these structures collaborated with the Federal Investigation Bureau in their efforts to track subversive activities and identify communist spies4. Suspicions reached the presidential level when Harry Truman’s administration faced accusations of being linked to Soviet espionage activities.

Thus, the major short-term consequence of Red Scare consisted of its increasingly powerful tendency to spread to all levels of society. After the accusations directed towards Truman’s administration, Red Scare paranoia started spreading to not only local governments and employers but also the media, universities, labor unions, etc. Consequently, various accusations on all these levels resulted in ludicrous situations, interfering with the proper development of the professional areas.

Despite the irony, the idea of protecting democracy by stifling essential democratic values, such as the multitude of opinions, should be considered a short-term consequence as well5. The second Red Scare was far more elaborate than the first, as it led to executions of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg on charges of communist espionage, to multiple cases of imprisonment, deportation, or the most common punishment – long-term unemployment. Storrs stresses the fact that one of the critical consequences of Red Scare was the lively debate that goes on to this day about the proper balance between security and liberty.

Long-Term Consequences

Long-term consequences of Red Scare and McCarthyism pertain to the economic development of the country. Storrs indicates that measures undertaken by McCarthy prevented the American welfare state from developing properly6. The author stresses that the impact that McCarthyism had on the U.S. economy is largely underestimated.

A great number of officials were removed from office in the wake of McCarthyism hysteria. More often than not, the eliminated officials were working on certain policies designed to strengthen the democratic system, redistribution, and regulation. Thus, Red Scare had a negative impact on the economic potential of the New Deal, as it removed the people capable of managing the unregulated capitalist system, as well as its anti-democratic aspects7.

In their book describing the impact of Red Scare and McCarthyism on the economic development of Texas, Carleton and Faulk claim that even though Red Scare was gradually dissipating by the 1960s, the influence of this phenomenon was visible over the next several decades8. Workers, students, and various professionals were obliged to sign loyalty oaths until the late 1960s.

The police structures developed for the purposes of revealing Red espionage continued working in the 1970s. By spying on Texas population, they infringed on the privacy rights of those who could not even remotely resemble Soviet spies. Moreover, the effects of Red Scare were very prominent in public schools, where the ultra-right were the driving force. A great number of teachers were scared into resigning, and the censure of publications and curriculum continued even in the 1970s9.


Even though Red Scare phenomenon occurred as a reaction to the rising power of the Soviet Union, the impact it had on the U.S. socio-economic dimension was prominent and long-lasting. McCarthyism, which emerged from the social hysteria and paranoia, albeit based on several proven cases of communist espionage, was a radical response to the problem.

The short-term consequences involved the virulent nature of Red Scare, touching upon nearly every aspect of life in the U.S. The long-term consequences involved certain socio-political and economic obstacles that ensured that democracy and economy face very serious difficulties. Skoll and Korstanje claim that due to Red Scare, a culture of fear started developing in the U.S., with its modern equivalent and a direct consequence – a fear of terrorism, which prompts certain politicians to deliver speeches very similar to those pronounced over fifty years ago by Senator McCarthy10.

Reference List

Carleton, DE & Faulk, JH, 2014, Red Scare: right-wing hysteria, fifties fanaticism, and their legacy in Texas, University of Texas Press, Austin.

Red Scare n.d.

Skoll, GR & Korstanje, ME, 2013. Constructing an American fear culture from red scares to terrorism. International Journal of Human Rights and Constitutional Studies, 1(4), pp.341-364.

Storrs, LRY 2013, The second red scare and the unmaking of the new deal left, Princeton University Press. Princeton.

Storrs, LRY 2015, McCarthyism and the Second Red Scare.


1 Red Scare n.d., para. 2.

2 Storrs LRY 2015, ‘McCarthyism and the Second Red Scare’, para. 1.

3 Ibid., para. 2.

4 Ibid., para. 2.

5 Ibid., para. 2.

6 Storrs, LRY, 2013. The second red scare and the unmaking of the new deal left. Princeton University Press, p. 2.

7 Ibid., p. 2.

8 Carleton, DE & Faulk, JH, 2014. Red Scare: Right-Wing Hysteria, Fifties Fanaticism, and Their Legacy in Texas. University of Texas Press, p. 305.

9 Ibid., p. 305.

10 Skoll, GR & Korstanje, ME, 2013. Constructing an American fear culture from red scares to terrorism. International Journal of Human Rights and Constitutional Studies, 1(4), p. 341.

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