Oh, to be a historian with a shovel. Arthur Goldwag's dig through the history of American hate groups and haters—from Henry Ford the utopian anti-Semite to Father Coughlin, a Rush Limbaugh prototype—finds plenty of demented, paranoid, vitriolic dirt. Much like actual dirt, some of it is fascinating and some of it is plain dreck.

While fighting his way through the muck, Goldwag continually catches himself in the inherent conflict of his project: In one sense, there's no explaining this type of hatred, the kind that ascribes massive global shifts to small sects of cloaked men. It is irrational and specious, and its falsehood needs exposing about as much as I need to mention that George W. Bush never really did care about black people.

To the extent that Goldwag spends time pointing out the internal contradictions of wacko theories, the opportunism of their mouthpieces, and the idiocy of Glenn Beck ("It's not unlikely that Beck's firsthand knowledge of Thomas Paine's writing doesn't extend very far beyond the extracts that he and his co-writers padded out Glenn Beck's Common Sense with." Right.), his effort is mostly wasted. He shows that hate is all around us, but not in a particularly threatening way—more like how cat hair gets all over a couch.

On the other hand, there's something com- pletely rational about hatred and its attendant doctrines: Threatened majorities seek scapegoats. Goldwag is at his best when finding xenophobic parallels between anti-Catholic nativists and flamboyant anti-Semites, or language shared by extremist critics of FDR and Obama. He detects a trend of influential "exposés," most notably the Hitler-inspiring The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, whose "revelations" are ripped from works of satire. Only then is it clear what's at stake. Charting the recycling of hate, Goldwag makes a better argument for the absurdity and danger of it all than any rebutting and finger-pointing could.

It's surprising, then, that Goldwag claims what is new about the "new hate" is how mainstream it has become. But this is just one way in which he fails to coalesce his widely cast research. Ultimately, The New Hate is too scattered and sarcastic to be the periodic table of American hate it aspires to be, but there are still many elements (I do not hate myself for that pun) that make it worth a sift.