Even Paranoiacs Have Real Enemies

Henry Kissinger? Delmore Schwartz? Sigmund Freud? Virginia McManus? Mark Harris? Buck Henry? Joseph Heller? Anonymous?


Dear Quote Investigator: A family of sayings with a humorous edge was popular in the 1960s and 1970s. Here were two versions:

1) Even a paranoid can have enemies.
2) Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you.

This adage has been attributed to Delmore Schwartz who wrote short stories and poetry and who also suffered from mental illness. In addition, the saying has been ascribed to the political scientist and negotiator Henry Kissinger. What do you think?

Quote Investigator: The earliest close match located by QI appeared in an article published in July 1967 about the rebellious young generation. The words were printed as a slogan on a button, and no ascription was provided. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

When it comes to expressing their views on life, they say by button: “I Want to Be What I Was When I Wanted To Be What I Now Am,” or “Neuroses Are Red, Melancholy Is Blue, I’m Schizophrenic, What Are You?,” or “End Poverty, Give Me $10.” They further advise: “Reality Is Good Sometimes for Kicks But Don’t Let It Get You Down,” and “Even Paranoids Have Real Enemies.”

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

In 1953 a volume of “The Collected Papers Otto Fenichel” was published. Fenichel was a pioneering psychoanalyst, and several people were involved in preparing and editing the volume including his wife, Hanna. A footnote composed by an editor contained a remark about Freud that provided a thematic match for the saying under investigation: 2

Freud, in his study “Certain Neurotic Mechanisms in Jealousy, Paranoia and Homosexuality,” (Coll. Pap., Vol. II, London, Hogarth, 1948), shows that even paranoiacs do not project arbitrarily, but rather by exaggerating minute objective signs.

In 1960 a novel titled “Not for Love” by Virginia McManus contained a thematic match: 3

“I think he’s watching my apartment.” “Do you know what p-a-r-a-n-o-i-d means?” Ronald asked me. “Yes, I know what paranoid means,” I said, “but it doesn’t mean there aren’t any blackmailers in the world.”

The April 1967 issue of the “Bulletin of the American Psychoanalytic Association” contained an article that reviewed the status of the profession titled “Psychoanalysis — A Current Look” by Leo Rangell. A thematic match was included: 4

Just as Freud pointed out that there is a kernel of truth behind even a paranoid delusion (no connection intended!), so I submit that there are facts behind these strongly held opinions which we would do well to look into–but not in order to declare our demise.

In July 1967 the magazine “Christianity Today” described a miscellaneous set of slogans printed on buttons. One motto closely matched the saying under examination. This citation was presented at the beginning of this article:

They further advise: “Reality Is Good Sometimes for Kicks But Don’t Let It Get You Down,” and “Even Paranoids Have Real Enemies.”

In September 1967 “The Atlantic Monthly” published an article titled “The Flowering of the Hippies” by Mark Harris that mentioned the motto: 5

The most obvious failure of perception was the hippies’ failure to discriminate among elements of the Establishment, whether in the Haight-Ashbury or in San Francisco in general. Their paranoia was the paranoia of all youthful heretics. Even Paranoids Have Real Enemies.

Also in September 1967 a piece about “The First International Psychedelic Exposition” printed in “The New York Times” also reported that the saying was circulating on buttons: 6

Otherwise, one must be content with psychedelic shopping bags, buttons (“Even Paranoids Have Real Enemies”), various corporeal grotesqueries and such slogans as “Everything is a part of everything is a part of . . .”

In 1968 a column in “Esquire” magazine by the social critic Dwight Macdonald attributed a version of the saying with the word “paranoiacs” instead of “paranoids” to Delmore Schwartz who had a died a couple of years earlier in 1966: 7

But that McCarthy is in cahoots with Johnson on Vietnam would bother me if I could believe it, which I can’t, too baroque for my set of mind. Granted that, as Delmore Schwartz remarked when someone accused him, justly, of paranoia, “Even paranoiacs have some real enemies.”

In September 1970 a book reviewer in “The Washington Post” attributed the saying to Schwartz. The laudatory report was reprinted in “The New York Times” shortly afterward as an advertisement: 8 9

The book is a map of our modern urban paranoia (in which, as Delmore Schwartz pointed out, even paranoiacs have real enemies).

Some books and websites assert that the saying can be found in the 1961 book “Catch-22” by Joseph Heller or in its 1970 movie adaption; however, QI has searched the book and watched the movie and has not found the saying. The movie did contain a thematically pertinent scene employing the term “persecution complex”, but the dialog did not contain a close match. The main character, John Yossarian, was conversing with fellow soldiers: 10

Voice: You’ve got a persecution complex.
Yossarian: You’re damn right I have.
Dobbs: You admit it!
Yossarian: I admit I’m being persecuted.
. . .
Milo: No one’s trying to kill you, sweetheart. Now, eat dessert like a good boy.
Yossarian: Oh yeah, then why are they shooting at me Milo?
Dobbs: They’re shooting at everyone Yossarian.

In the 1960s and 1970s the researcher Robert Reisner together with his students and correspondents collected samples of graffiti from a variety of locations. In 1971 he published a compilation titled “Graffiti: Two Thousand Years of Wall Writing” which contained two relevant entries: 11

Help! The paranoids are after me.
(Arlington County Public Library, Va. Cited in American Library Association Bulletin, April, 1969.)

Even paranoids have real enemies.
(Back of the seat of bus in New York City. Also on a button.)

In September 1971 a newspaper in Fitchburg, Massachusetts printed a graffito that presented a variant expression: 12

Add graffiti:
Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean you’re not being followed.

In December 1971 a newspaper in Indianapolis, Indiana printed another variant that mentioned watching instead of following: 13

. . . the modern-day graffitti: “Just because you’re paranoid, doesn’t mean someone isn’t watching you.”

In April 1972 a Washington D.C. newspaper published a permuted version of the saying: 14

There is a wisecrack that goes: “Just because someone is out to get you, that’s no reason to feel paranoid.”

In March 1973 the comic strip “Miss Peach” by Mell Lazarus depicted a school psychologist talking to a person lying on couch who delivered the following line: 15

Just because I’m paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not really after me.

In June 1973 the New York tabloid “The Village Voice” printed another expression ascribed to Schwartz. The entire article was written in lowercase: 16

just because i’m paranoid, delmore schwartz used to say, doesn’t mean i don’t have enemies.

In September 1973 the political columnist Stewart Alsop writing in “The Washington Post” attributed the saying to Henry Kissinger: 17

To the presidential enemies, this may appear further evidence of Nixonian paranoia. But as Henry Kissinger has remarked in jest, “even paranoiacs have real enemies,” and Nixon’s enemies are entirely real.

In conclusion, the earliest citations in 1967 indicated that the saying appeared on buttons without attribution. There was some evidence that Delmore Schwartz used the expression, but the earliest ascription to him appeared after his death which weakened its credibility. There was also some evidence that Henry Kissinger employed the adage by 1973, but that was a late date; the phrase had already been circulating for several years.

Image Notes: Illustration of fear and paranoia from geralt at Pixabay.

(Great thanks to Victor Steinbok, W. M. Hamilton, Jay Dillon, and Richard Babyak whose inquiries led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration. Steinbok located valuable citations such as the one dated April 1967. Special thanks to the discussants including: Jonathan Lighter, Dave Wilton, Dan Goncharoff, Laurence Horn, Ben Zimmer, Fred Shapiro, and Charles Doyle. Jay Dillon has also watched the “Catch-22” film and determined that the “paranoid” saying was absent.)


  1. 1967 July 21, Christianity Today, Dear Slogan-Lovers by Etychus III, Page 20, Christianity Today International, Carol Stream, Illinois. (Verified on microfilm)
  2. 1953, Collected Papers of Otto Fenichel: First Series, Article: Psychoanalysis and Metaphysics: A Critical Inquiry, First published in Imago, Vol. 9, 1923, pages 318-343, The excerpt was part of a footnote at the bottom of page 11, Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company, New York. (Verified on paper)
  3. 1960 Copyright, Not for Love by Virginia McManus, Quote Page 160, G. P. Putnam’s Sons, New York. (Verified on paper)
  4. 1967 April, Bulletin of the American Psychoanalytic Association, Volume 23, Number 1, Psychoanalysis – A Current Look by Leo Rangell, Start Page 423, Quote Page 427, (This Bulletin was bound together with Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, Volume 15), International Universities Press, Inc., New York. (Verified on paper)
  5. 1967 September, The Atlantic Monthly, The Flowering of the Hippies by Mark Harris, Quote Page 68, Column 1, Atlantic Monthly Co. (Verified on paper)
  6. 1967 September 22, New York Times, Psychedelic Show Open in Queens by McCandlish Phillips, Quote Page 52, New York. (ProQuest)
  7. 1968 March, Esquire, Volume 69, Number 3, Politics by Dwight Macdonald, Start Page 14, Quote Page 16, Esquire Inc., Chicago, Illinois. (Verified on microfilm)
  8. 1970 September 13, Washington Post, Section: Book World, An anguish worn with a difference by Daniel Stern, (Book Review of “The Dick” by Bruce Jay Friedman), Quote Page 4, Washington, D.C. (ProQuest)
  9. 1970 September 27, New York Times, (Advertisement reprinting a book review by Daniel Stern that originally was published in “The Washington Post” on September 13, 1970), Quote Page BR6, New York. (ProQuest)
  10. 1970, Catch-22, Movie from Paramount Pictures, Director: Mike Nichols, Writers: Joseph Heller (novel) and Buck Henry (screenplay), Dialog spoken by several actors, Start Time Location: 7 mins 41 seconds of 2 hrs 2 minutes, (Verified by watching video)
  11. 1971, Graffiti: Two Thousand Years of Wall Writing by Robert Reisner, Quote Page 184, Cowles Book Company, New York. (Verified with scans)
  12. 1971 September 9, Fitchburg Sentinel, And So On: Discordant Music on the Typewriter by John Fitch IV, Quote Page 4, Column 6, Fitchburg, Massachusetts. (Newspapers_com)
  13. 1971 December 10, The Indianapolis Star, ‘Sinfonia’ Something To Think About by Cecil Richmond, Quote Page 39, Column 5, Indianapolis, Indiana. (Newspapers_com)
  14. 1972 April 13, The Sunday Star and The Washington Daily News, Europe Builds New Walls For U.S. Business by David Hall (Chicago Daily News Service), Quote Page D12, Column 5, Washington, D.C. (GenealogyBank)
  15. 1973 March 12, Detroit Free Press, Comic Strip: Miss Peach by Mell Lazarus, Quote Page 9D, Column 1, Detroit, Michigan. (Newspapers_com)
  16. 1973 June 21, The Village Voice, A Return To Normalcy by Joel Oppenheimer, Quote Page 28, Column 3, New York. (Google News Archive)
  17. 1973 September 1, The Washington Post, The President and His Enemies by Stewart Alsop, Quote Page A14, Column 5, Washington, D.C. (ProQuest)