The Rise of the New Right

"You tend to forget now and then that about half the people you meet live from one day to the next in a state of such fear and uncertainty that about half the time they honestly doubt their own sanity.” - Hunter S. Thompson - 1972

HST defined this boiling desperation in the air around the country in 1972 as the “underculture vote,” or “the young, the black, the brown, the women, the poor—all the people who feel left out of the political process.”

But in 2016, the voices of dissent have been defined on the Right. Who are the voters in the new Age of Trump that challenged, dismantled, and formulated anew our understandings of individual and collective identity following Barack Obama's two terms. Does Donald Trump's victory necessitate the redefining our assumptions that defined public intellectual life, and the very way social reality itself is constructed? 

While as a Democrat who gave more than 20 months of my life to the Hillary Clinton campaign, I am fearful of the consequences of a Trump presidency, but I pause in defining American life in broad brushstrokes. I also take some comfort in knowing that we don't live in an Age of Trump, for we live, and have always lived, among contested points, rather than single, defining moments. The only constant to an "American Consensus" is contestation. The fight will continue, and the only thing we can control is the vigor we bring to the fight. 

I look back on the following post, which is a modified version of my literature review on the New Right political movement that I wrote for my PhD comprehensive exam, with some curiosity. I post this essay now because while I wrote it in late 2012 and early 2013 following Obama's 2012 resounding victory, the warning of defining America in absolutes remains relevant. 

- Mike McCollum (Dec 2016).

The Rise of the New Right

To wax poetic about the death of any political movement following a resounding, national defeat is a practice among many journalists and historians to account for the emergence of what they envision to be a new governing equilibrium, or an “American consensus.” Political commentators often claim that elections have consequences and politics is a theatre of absolutes. To claim that the bearer of an American consensus in winner-take-all elections is the succession of political administrations recasts social milieus in universal terms. With the passing of each gubernatorial, congressional, or presidential election, either the nation was longing for roots and tradition, retreating to the political right from a maelstrom of modernity, or Americans were building new liberal coalitions. For writers and scholars to put forward as a hypothesis that the birth or reemergence of a political tradition corresponds to the death of its counterpart ignores the fact that Americans are never as united as commentators claim.

       When Barack Obama defeated John McCain in 2008 there was a sense in the mainstream press that conservatism—as a national movement—finally died. Writing just 10 days following Barack Obama’s victory, Peter Beinart wrote in Time that conservatism “collapsed” due to associations of economic turmoil reminiscent of the cultural disorder that precipitated liberalism’s collapse in the 1960s. “The public mood on economics today is a lot like the public mood on culture 40 years ago,” he argued. “If (Obama) can do what F.D.R. did—make American capitalism stabler and less savage—he will establish a Democratic majority that dominates U.S. politics for a generation.”[1] The new liberal order that Beinart envisioned could not coexist with a conservatism that seemed to be so out of touch with what he imagined to be the American mainstream. It is the Democratic Party, or so it seems, that maintains a big tent, uniting coalitions with divergent demographics and agendas. President Obama’s 2012 victory reinforced the notion among pundits that conservative Republicans can no longer win a national election. A coalition of women, African Americans, Hispanics and young Americans delivered the president a second term in the White House by a wide electoral margin despite an 8-percent unemployment rate.[2]

         Too often among political observers, predicting political ruin presumes a generalized pattern of political lifecycles. Ideologies proceed through stages of development, stability, abandonment—and finally—renewal. After all, political prognosticators have announced the death of conservatism many times before. The apparent ebbing of conservative floodwaters in 2008 led Beinart to nickname conservatism the “Receding Right” following McCain’s defeat.[3] After Barry Goldwater’s loss in 1964 to Lyndon Baines Johnson, many commentators also believed that conservatism was dead as a national movement, defeated by the struggle for civil rights championed by a broad, diverse liberal coalition. Goldwater’s conservative revolt was not dead. Rather, the body of scholarship from the previous three decades of the New Right reveals that defeat and success must be measured by means beyond electoral results.[4] Ronald Reagan’s victory in 1980 was no electoral happenstance. The victories of Reagan and other conservatives in the 1980s and 1990s were successes predicated on institutions and ideas championed by the vibrant political mobilization of the New Right following Goldwater’s 1964 defeat. 

            The literature of the American New Right reveals a conservative social, political, and cultural movement that is as diverse and complex as their progressive counterparts. The history of the study of the field has moved away from evaluating the movement by electoral results and legislative battles toward a more useful framework that positions the grassroots, New Right movement as a populist bulwark against liberalism. To simplify the New Right legacy as a movement of white, wealthy males ignores the ideological entanglements among its diverse constituencies. The body of literature of the New Right demonstrates that ordinary citizens working outside traditional political institutions could transform party politics and conservative positions on race, religion, economics, family, foreign policy and gender roles. Pundits and academics miss the consistency and continued relevancy of conservative politics in American political and cultural life by ignoring this diversity.

            A small number of intellectuals emerged after World War II, including Russell Kirk, Peter Viereck and Richard M. Weaver, to give a nascent American conservative movement an intellectual counterargument against the New Deal liberalism of the previous decade.[5] These mid-century conservatives shared an opposition to communism and a devotion to laissez-faire economics. Resistance to the civil rights movement and a commitment to traditional sexual norms also help define their post-war conservatism. These broad, conservative principles—charted by movement scholars such as George H. Nash, Allen Guttmann and Ronald Lora among others—serve as common ground for scholars of American conservatism.[6] Nash’s The Conservative Intellectual Movement in the United States Since 1945 (1976) was among the first texts to explore the philosophical alternatives to modern liberalism among the varied camps of mid-century conservatism, including libertarians, anti-communists, and traditionalists. As the broad, conservative field matures beyond movement histories, most recent scholarship of conservatism reveals that it is not a single movement of ideas, for no robust political movement is systematically coherent on every account.

            This literature review narrows the field of conservative scholarship to the New Right, but identifying this sub-movement from the range of scholarship on conservatism over the past 40 years is particularly difficult. William Rusher’s The Rise of the New Right (1984) was among the first books to directly study the New Right. John Judis’s William F. Buckley Jr. (1988) followed Rusher’s text a few years later. However, the scholars included in this literature review do not share a single definition of the New Right. Judis and Rusher gave Buckley considerable agency in the New Right movement that later scholarship mostly dismissed.[7] Some scholars entirely abstained from using the New Right label at all, and settled on the less specific, “the Right.” Other scholars in this review investigate related conservative sub-movements of the era, such as the Dixiecrats, the American Independence Party, and the Christian Right who are often included among a New Right coalition of 1960s and 1970s conservatives. These sub-movements were often in conflict with each other, such as the disputes between John Birch Society acolytes and admirers of the William F. Buckley inspired Young Americans for Freedom (YAF).[8] Further complicating the field of New Right studies is a question of periodization. Some scholars use Goldwater’s presidential campaign in 1964 as a foundational moment of sorts for the New Right, while other scholars date the movement back to Nixon’s divisive, and victorious, 1968 presidential campaign. Reagan’s 1966 gubernatorial victory in California serves as a starting point for yet another group of scholars, while Strom Thurmond’s 1948 presidential campaign on the third-party Dixiecrat ticket serves as the locus for other New Right scholarship.

            The difficulty in identifying a starting point for the New Right is due to a lack of a movement leader around which the movement supporters coalesced. Although Buckley served as the intellectual forefather and inspiration for a new generation of young conservatives in the 1960s that later developed into the New Right, he played little to no role in the grassroots activism that eventually came to define the New Right. John A. Andrew III’s The Other Side of the Sixties (1997) and Rebecca Klatch’s A Generation Divided (1999) identified a foundation movement of sorts for the New Right when YAF was formed in 1960. That year, more than 90 conservative youth activists attended a conference at Buckley’s estate in Sharon, Connecticut. “The Sharon Statement,” the declaration of principles drafted by conference attendees, is an important primary document for New Right scholars. In it, they rallied against the welfare state, proclaimed their faith in God, and dismissed the containment or coexistence of the Soviet Union. Andrew and Klatch’s movement histories revealed that the New Right shared much of the broad principles with postwar conservatives. They also uncovered political action on a host of issues—like abortion, school prayer and creationism—that Robert Taft and other moderate conservatives of the old guard GOP largely ignored. What most distinguished the New Right from their conservative predecessors in Andrew and Klatch’s books was the mobilization and political education efforts against liberalism of a new generation of conservatives during Goldwater’s 1964 presidential campaign that was the seedbed for modern conservatism.[9]

            While a few scholars forefront formal legislative battles from 1960 to 1980, the endurance and strength of grassroots historical actors in the fight to rollback liberalism dominate most recent narratives scholarship of the New Right. Gillian Peele argued that it was not only new single-issue campaigns that distinguish the New Right from the “Old Right,” but a “new mood” and a “determination to succeed.” Richard Meagher’s movement history of the New Right described this new, conservative consciousness as “activist traditionalism.” He argued that social issue activists and Christian evangelicals entered politics for the first time, which in time became a new coalition that propelled the GOP to governing power with Reagan.[10] The radicalism of New Right thought that emerged in the 1960s and matured during the 1970s was the concept that conservatives were no longer looking to preserve the status quo. Daniel Rodgers charted this new war of ideas and way of life in Age of Fracture (2011), where he argued that there is not a single, dominant idea to define the past quarter century since the rise of the New Right. He claimed that the “range across which the intellectual assumptions that had defined the common sense of public intellectual life since WWII were challenged, dismantled and formulated anew.”[11] By exploring the New Right, historians have presented a more textured understanding of 1960s and 1970s American political and cultural history.

            About 20 years ago, scholarship across the American conservatism spectrum was at a crossroads and debates within the field among scholars revealed disagreements about the amount of attention being given to it. In 1994, Alan Brinkley published an essay in the American Historical Review to draw attention to what he considered a relatively modest body of scholarship in the field. He claimed that for more than 20 years in historical scholarship, the New Left often overshadowed the young, conservative volunteers and political operatives who first entered conservative activism during Goldwater’s campaign. He claimed that New Left scholarship had relatively little to say about the Right due to the way the New Left celebrated, even romanticized, “the people.” Brinkley argued, “Scholars of the Left had difficulty conceding that mass movements could be anything but democratic and progressive. They found it difficult to acknowledge that they could emerge from the Right.”[12] The 1960s was an era, or so it seemed, defined by progressive, youth political, and social movements. Tom Hayden of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and Stokely Carmichael of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) provided compelling narratives about crisis in the nation’s political and cultural order of the era.[13]

            Leo Ribuffo responded in the American History Review Forum to Brinkley’s assertion that American conservatism was an “orphan” in historical scholarship prior to 1994. Ribuffo claimed that a large body of work on the conservative movement existed among intellectual historians. He also took Brinkley to task for his claim that there was not likely an effective conservative movement before 1970. However, in Ribuffo’s own review on American conservatism, he noted only in passing the work of scholars writing of the era following Goldwater’s overwhelming defeat. Ribuffo summarized the depth of scholarship on William McKinley, Herbert Hoover and New Deal era conservatives, but he failed to note much scholarship on New Right successes in curbing liberal victories during the 1960s.[14]

            Several scholars since the mid-1990s have argued that the New Right community of activists was as robust, and often more organized and united as their progressive counterparts. Mary Brennan’s Turning Right in the Sixties: The Conservative Capture of the GOP (1995) was among the first scholarly accounts of Goldwater’s 1964 campaign.[15]

Rick Perlstein later explored in more detail the new conservative coalitions and grassroots actors examined by Brennan in his texts, Nixonland (2008) and Before the Storm (2001). Perlstein charted the maturation of this conservative grassroots movement in these texts that work as companion books on the maturation of the New Right from 1964 to 1972. In Before the Storm, his reevaluation of Barry Goldwater, he claimed that the 1964 campaign is epilogue to a broader narrative that reveals that “[t]he conservative revival is the youth movement of the 60s.”[16] Likewise, Klatch argued in her comparative analysis of SDS and YAF that “the untold story of the 1960s is about the New Right.”[17] Klatch, Perlstein and Brennan’s texts assert that under the shadow of their defeat in 1964, conservatives battled for their beliefs at the grassroots level.

            Moving the New Right narrative from Goldwater to the 1968 presidential campaign in Nixonland, Perlstein argued that Nixon’s conservative America unmasked the myth of American consensus to reveal a nation of two kinds of Americans.[18] The “Silent Majority” or “values voters” coalition of middle-class, suburban, exurban and rural Americans united in opposition to liberal, cosmopolitan elites. The men and women of the YAF, hundreds of college republican chapters, conservative youth organizations, the John Birch Society and other social institutions left deeply embedded patterns of belief and behavior that a rapidly expanding body of scholarship in the field continues to shed light on. This new literature of the New Right took shape at a moment when the discipline of political history began to direct greater attention to cultural studies. Scholars from the fields of American studies, gender studies and religious studies have made significant contributions to New Right scholarship over the past two decades. In each of these approaches, scholars examined the movement at various historical and social intersections.

            Taking the Mass Media Studies field as an example, Steve Macek argued that the Right’s challenge to liberalism from 1964 to 1980 was a battle waged as much on rhetoric and culture as at the ballot box. In Urban Nightmares (2006) he maintained that law and order rhetoric was the defining feature of American, post-industrial politics, which was inflated by the mass media.[19] Other scholars of white backlash, including movement historians who wrote during the New Right era, assigned different weight to the amount of coordination that was directed from above. Kevin Phillips’ top-down approach in his influential 1969 text, The Emerging Republican Majority (1969), urged conservative leaders to tap into southern dissatisfaction with liberalism to ensure a conservative realignment in national politics. In his study of American voting patterns from 1966 to 1969, written while he was a presidential campaign aide to Richard Nixon, he predicted the abandonment of the “negrophobic Deep South” and “modern outer South” from the southern Democratic tradition. He warned that the consequence of liberal “overreaching” was southern “repudiation visited upon the Democratic Party for its ambitious social programming, and inability to handle the urban and Negro revolutions.”[20] Phillips’ conclusion that the GOP elite embraced coded racial rhetoric to appeal to white voters remained standard analytic approach to the New Right for almost 30 years.

            Some scholars carried on Phillip’s white backlash approach past the turn of the century. Robert Mason’s examination of Richard Nixon’s attempt to foster an electoral realignment based upon racial divisions and polarizations in Richard Nixon and the Quest for a New Majority (2004) drew liberally from Phillips’ text almost 40 years after its publication.[21] Thomas Edsall’s history of conservative think tanks, such as the American Enterprise Institute, the Heritage Foundation, and the Cato Institute also centralized race as the catalyst of political division. In Building Red America: The New Conservative Coalition and the Drive for Permanent Power (2006), Edsall argued that, “the roots of contemporary conservative rhetoric go directly back to issues of race in the 1960s,” when figures like George Wallace and Nixon laid the groundwork for conservative populism based upon white backlash.[22]

            Phillips’ The Emerging Republican Majority appeared only four years after the 1965 Moynihan Report, commissioned by the United States Department of Labor to study the black family. Daniel Patrick Moynihan concluded in his report, formally titled “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action,” that the “steady expansion of welfare programs can be taken as a measure of the steady disintegration of the Negro family structure over the past generation in the United States.”[23] The report’s legacy was the insinuation that liberal, governmental social welfare programs created a “tangle of pathology” among blacks that was to blame for their socio-economic condition. This perceived culture of dependence became a rallying point for many New Right activists who advocated for free market solutions to black poverty over further expansion of the welfare state.[24]

            In the wake of Phillips’ pioneering study, a prominent body of literature emerged whose authors began with the assumption, as articulated by Phillips, that a cadre of conservative elites who manipulated populist unrest led the postwar conservative movement. Kari Frederickson’s The Dixiecrat Revolt (2001) and Dan T. Carter’s The Politics of Rage: George Wallace (1995) argued that conservative political figures like Goldwater, Nixon, George Wallace, Strom Thurmond, and Reagan tapped and shaped a southern, white protest against liberalism with appeals to morality, law and order and local control. In Carter’s reevaluation of George Wallace in The Politics of Rage, he asserted that the backlash rhetoric parroted by Goldwater was more “platitudes of the country club” than the populist social conservatism of Wallace. Carter claimed that Wallace’s genius “lay in his ability to link traditionalist conservatism to an earthy language that voiced powerful cultural beliefs and symbols with a much broader appeal to millions of Americans.”[25] In this narrative, it was Wallace, not Goldwater, who was the alchemist of a new social conservatism that synthesized racial fear, anticommunism, cultural nostalgia and laissez faire economics that set in motion the tide that swept Regan into the White House. In Frederickson’s analysis of the end of the Democratic Party’s hold on the South, known as the Solid South, she backdated the genesis of the New Right from Goldwater in 1964 to Strom Thurmond’s 1948 presidential campaign on his Dixiecrat Party ticket. Frederickson claimed that both the New Right and the Dixiecrats substituted class issues for race issues in national politics to tap into the same core of Deep South whites.[26]

            Some New Right scholarship in the twenty-first century continue to employ a top-down, racial reductionist approach, such as Earl Black and Merle Black’s The Rise of Southern Republicans (2002). The authors maintained that the “central political cleavage, as ancient as the South itself, involves race,” which structured the political and social foundations of the region.[27] Like Frederickson, the authors maintained that the white backlash of New Right conservatives is the historical legacy of the Dixiecrat Party. The Blacks expanded the white backslash narrative through Reagan’s 1980 campaign, which they called the “Great White Switch,” or the moment when the majority of Southerners abandoned the Democratic Party for the GOP.[28]

            One of the earliest interventions in the field of New Right scholarship in the 2000s was a call for more attention to be paid to actors who were driven to conservative grassroots activism by something more than blind racism. The stories of conservative activists, once marginalized in the top-down approach, revealed new ways the New Right movement took hold. Most recent work on the New Right has moved in new, dynamic directions, treating conservatives as part of a social movement that created alternative intellectual infrastructures to liberalism. Catherine Rymph’s Republican Women: Feminism and Conservatism from Suffrage through the Rise of the New Right (2006) drew attention to the relationship of women’s rights and gender consciousness. Her narrative of Phyllis Schlafly and other women within the National Federation of Women’s Clubs pivoted socially conservative women as a critical component of the New Right coalition. Their strong and adverse backlash against second wave feminism and right-wing conservative exclusion from the GOP establishment drove their devotion to work from outside the political spectrum. In the absence of women from elected office, Schlafly and her followers were able to explore partisan politics from the safety and familiarity of traditional women’s organizations. Schlafly and other female, conservative grassroots activists significantly changed the tenor of politics in Washington by framing politics as a morally charged crusade against evil and to reform society.[29] So long as women like Schlafly remained political outsiders, they had little to lose by retaining their attachment to issues beyond compromise. Rymph argued, “To present one’s political demands as moral suggests that one’s demands are non-negotiable.”[30] It is no small wonder that moral absolutists like Schlafly first cut their teeth for Goldwater, a candidate who declared, “I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.”[31]

            Departing from GOP moral crusaders as subjects, scholars such as Matthew Dallek illuminated New Right activists who do not frame grassroots activism in absolutist terms. A balanced approach that gave equal weight to the analytical categories of race and class was the most significant development of New Right literature of the past 15 years. Dallek’s The Right Moment: Ronald Reagan’s First Victory and the Decisive Turning Point in American Politics (2000) charted Reagan’s successful 1966 California gubernatorial campaign. Dallek’s text challenged the absolutist claims made by many backlash scholars, to argue that after Goldwater, ideological purity gave way to pragmatic politics. It was the political moderates of the middle class suburbs, not the extremists of the John Birch Society that rushed to support Reagan.[32] Reagan’s appeal, according to Dallek, was to whites disillusioned with costly liberal social programs. Liberal missteps—such as California Governor Pat Brown’s response to the Watts riots in 1965—created an opening for conservatives like Reagan to exploit morality concerns and law and order anxieties. The identification of democrats with the black civil rights movement and the New Left turned off voters increasingly concerned about law and order in the streets. For Dallek, the Reagan Revolution that began in 1966 in California was a New Right movement campaigning to retake control of a society in chaos.[33]

            The historical current that captured this moderate, grassroots turn in New Right scholarship revealed the role suburbanites played in the Sunbelt South. Matthew Lassiter’s The Silent Majority: Suburban Politics in the Sunbelt South (2006) and Kevin Kruse’s White Flight: Atlanta and the Making of Modern Conservatism (2004) charted how the New Right rallied around color-blind discourse of suburban innocence in their opposition to such political issues as residential segregation and school busing. The grassroots activism for consumer rights that theses scholars uncovered among the New Right revealed a new American dilemma. According to Lassiter, the spatial policies of suburban sprawl in the Sunbelt South are a structural mechanism of exclusion, not an exclusion based on individual racism.[34] Kruse and Lassiter introduce a new grassroots perspective to narratives of southern segregation. Kruse said of his study, “Instead of focusing on ways in which national politicians sought to exploit the anger and alienation of white voters, this study focuses on those whites themselves.”[35] Lassiter is particularly critical of the race reductionist narratives of most white backlash scholarship. He claimed that these studies downplay “the centrality of class ideology in the outlook of suburban voters and ignores the consistent class divisions among white southerners.”[36] Lassiter and Kruse discarded familiar stereotypes of southern, New Right suburbanites as racial bigots to reconstruct segregation in Atlanta and Charlotte as contestations over private property rights.

            Cities beyond the South were not immune from the contestations over school desegregation. Ronald P. Formisano examined the battles of busing that emerged at the intersection of race, class, and ethnicity in 1960s Boston in his book, Boston Against Busing (1991).[37] Although his narrative unfolded in the white, working class neighborhoods of Boston—rather than the suburbs—shared anxieties emerged in each setting over local control. Lisa McGirr’s Suburban Warriors: The Origins of the New American Right (2001) moved the Sunbelt narrative west to Southern California. Orange County in suburban Los Angeles was the lens she used to explore what she described as the most profound transformation of twentieth century U.S. politics: the move of grassroots activity away from anti-communism toward single-issue campaigns. The vibrant political mobilization of Goldwater activists shifted the locus of the GOP from Wall Street to the Sunbelt through suburban advocacy on such kitchen table issues as abortion, busing, and property rights. McGirr’s study also rejected the framework that the New Right acted as moral crusaders despite the agency she gives to a resurgent evangelism. Even from within the walls of Robert Schuller’s Chrystal Cathedral, property rights trumped civil rights as the ultimate test of freedom.[38]

            Formisano and McGirr, as well as Lassiter and Kruse’s southern narratives, challenged traditional top-down histories of white flight and massive white resistance to desegregation to reveal an interconnected web of racial, social and class conflicts. These texts moved away from race reductionist narratives in New Right scholarship, like Carter’s The Politics of Rage that typified most “white backlash” scholarship. These new suburban histories emphasized that homeowners were drawn to small government and free market solutions to social problems. In this new understanding of the New Right, suburban and urban conservatives turned to the language of segregation simply because it was the closest tool available. These structural examinations of desegregation reveled that class identity among the New Right took a powerful, spatial orientation that was more pragmatic in approach than moral absolutist scholarship. In fact, McGirr argued that the key to New Right success was preservation and adaptation, not crusading at all costs.[39] Other recent scholarship on the New Right departs from questions about race entirely, such as David Lublin’s The Republican South: Democratization and Partisan Change (2004). His structural analysis of the impact of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 on southern elections also challenged the race reductionist narratives of Phillips and Carter. Lublin claimed that scholars have often misunderstood the process of partisan change in the South as white racial backlash. He concluded that racial issues were not the predominant factor in promoting GOP growth among southern whites; rather, racial issues emerged more slowly than economic issues.[40]

            Other recent literature of the New Right illuminated a range of conservative constituencies that emerged in American political life between 1964 and 1980. The urban, working class, explored in Kenneth Durr’s Behind the Backlash: White Working-Class Politics in Baltimore, 1940-1980 (2003) and Jefferson Cowie’s Staying Alive: The 1970s and the Last Days of the Working Class (2010), the family in Natasha Zaretsky’s No Direction Home: The American Family and the Fear of National Decline (2007), and white ethnics in Matthew Frye Jacobson’s Roots Too: White Ethnic Revival in the Post-Civil Rights America (2006) all revealed a feeling of victimization among whites by an outside force that galvanized their activism.[41]

            Cowie’s investigation of the economic foundation and cultural manifestations of 1970s industrial production in Staying Alive directly challenged Phillips’ race reductionist conclusion. Cowie believed that it was “workers’ belief that they were not respected and that society had focused its attention and resources on other, noisier groups,” not race, that drove northern blue collar support for Wallace and Nixon.[42] Durr also moved beyond race as the primary catalyst for white backlash to forefront the concerns of urban workers in Baltimore who fought to protect key institutions that they felt were under attack by liberalism. He argued, “Behind the cultural, social and political events that made up the white backlash were motivations and concerns far too complex to be explained by invocations of whiteness or racism in disguise.”[43] He claimed that the suburban exodus, chronicled by Lassiter, Kruse and McGirr, left a much deeper appreciation of neighborhood for those who stayed in urban areas.[44] Urban whites in Durr’s narrative questioned what obligations over opportunity did they owe to their community and who had the right to be part of that community. Lizabeth Cohen made a similar argument in A Consumer’s Republic: The Politics of Mass Consumption in Postwar America (2003), albeit in a suburban setting, that white working class residents were vigilantly opposed to any social change because they were not very upwardly mobile and unable to move to the suburbs.[45] Durr and Cowie’s white urban narratives, as well as the suburban narratives, revealed a New Right grassroots movement that aspired to restore the way they thought their neighborhood institutions used to be. Cowie noted that the defensive posture of the New Right drove the nation from a republic of security to a republic of anxiety, which dissolved the cultural and political spaces for the collective concerns of working people.[46]

            Scholars have approached the economic dimensions of the conservative revolt from a variety of perspectives. Bethany Moreton’s To Serve God and Walmart: The Making of Christian Free Enterprise (2009) and Darren Dochuk’s From Bible Belt to Sunbelt: Plain-Folk Religion, Grassroots Politics, and the Rise of Evangelical Conservatism (2011) investigated the relationship between corporate America and religious institutions. Joseph McCartin’s A Collision Course: Ronald Reagan, the Air Traffic Controllers, and the Strike that Change America (2011) focused on the anti-Union strategies of Reagan-era government.[47] Moreton’s history of Walmart drew attention to a new focus among scholars on the intersection of grassroots mobilization, religion and the free market. This recent work on Christian conservatism is closely aligned with scholarship on the political economy of the Sun Belt. Dochuk’s text provided a particularly insightful look at southern evangelical migrants lured to the Los Angeles area by jobs in the defense industry following World War II who soon inhabited America’s first major “sprawl.”[48]

            The effective grassroots mobilization of conservative evangelicals at Christian institutions of higher education imparted faith in free market economics by linking spiritual health and material wealth. Steven Graham’s Billy Graham and the Rise of the Republican South (2009) investigated a similar narrative of the relationship between evangelical Christianity and socio-political change. Instead of seeing the rise of the Christian Right in the 1970s as a grassroots movement from below that was motivated by material wealth concerns like Moreton, Graham focused on how Billy Graham set in motion the historical forces that led to the emergence of the Christian Right.

            New Right literature reveals an uneasy alliance among Christian evangelists, secular free marketers, libertarians, right-wing internationalists and right-wing isolationists, blue-collar workers, and Sunbelt suburbanites among others under the Republican Party banner, which is nothing short of miraculous. Scholars are beginning to consider additional intersections of the New Right with broader trends in national and transnational cultural, legal, political and social life. Whatever new questions that are asked of new and archived sources, the pendulum swing in New Right scholarship continues to move away from race reductionist conclusions to suburban, middle class and urban, working class anxieties. The attention devoted to the New Left over the past 40 years forced New Right scholarship to play catch up. However, as Alan Brinkley noted in his 2011 reevaluation of the state of American conservative literature, the problem of scholars is no longer a lack of scholarship; rather, “the challenge (is) synthesizing the extraordinary amount of scholarship that is now before us.”[49] Drawing additional connections between the vast New Right and New Left scholarship is one urgent project, as well as drawing transnational connections between the New Right in America and Great Britain. Further, by putting conservatism into conversation with liberalism, scholars reveal a more nuanced, diverse American political culture. 


[1] Peter Beinart, “The New Liberal Order,” Time, November 24, 2008, 30.

[2] Barrack Obama defeated former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney by an Electoral College margin of 332 to 206.

[3] Beinart, 32.

[4] Lyndon Baines Johnson defeated Barry Goldwater by margin of 486 to 52 in the Electoral College. Ronald Reagan defeated incumbent President Jimmy Carter by a similar margin of 489 to 49 only 16 years later.

[5] Important texts written by the first generation of post-World War II conservatives included Russell Kirk, The Conservative Mind: From Burke to Santayana (New York: Henry Regnery Co., 1953); Peter Viereck, Conservatism Revisited (New York: Collier Books, 1949); Richard M. Weaver, Ideas Have Consequences (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1948).

[6] George H. Nash, in The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America Since 1945 (New York, 1976); Allen Guttmann, The Conservative Tradition in America (New York, 1967); Ronald Lora, Conservative Minds in America (Chicago, 1971). Guttmann and Lora charter important connections between twentieth-century conservatives and nineteenth-century conservatives. Their work challenges the periodization of the conservative movement.

[7] William Rusher, The Rise of the New Right (New York: William Morrow and CO., 1984); John Judis, William F. Buckley Jr. (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1988).

[8] See John A. Andrew III, The Other Side of the Sixties: Young Americans for Freedom and the Rise of Conservative Politics (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1997), Chapter 5, “Divisions in Conservative Ranks,” for a concise summary of conflicts between “Birchers” and the Young Americans for Freedom members.

[9] For a critical interpretation of William F. Buckley’s arguments see Charles L. Markmann, The Buckleys: A Family Examined (New York: William Morrow & Co., 1973).

[10] Gillian Peele, Revival and Reaction: The Right in Contemporary America (Oxford: Clarendon, 1984), 54; Richard J. Meagher, “Remembering the New Right: Political Strategy and the Building of the GOP Coalition,” Public Eye 24 (2009).

[11] Daniel T. Rodgers, Age of Fracture (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2011), 3.

[12] Alan Brinkley, “The Problem of American Conservatism,” American Historical Review 2, (April 1994): 412.

[13] See David Farber, Chicago ’68 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998) for a New Left movement history of liberal activism.

[14] Leo P Ribuffo, “Why is there so much Conservatism in the United States and why do so few Historians know Anything about it?” American Historical Review Forum 2, (April 1994): 438.

[15] Mary Brennan, Turning Right in the Sixties: The Conservative Capture of the GOP (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1995).

[16] Rick Perlstein, Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of an American Consensus (New York: Nation Books, 2001) xiii.

[17] Klatch, 1.

[18] Rick Perlstein, Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America (New York: Scribner, 2008).

[19] Steve Macek, Urban Nightmares: The Media, the Right, and the Moral Panic over the City (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2006).

[20] Kevin P. Phillips, The Emerging Republican Majority (New Rochelle: Arlington, 1969), 23.

[21] Robert Mason, Richard Nixon and the Quest for a New Majority (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004), 1-4.

[22] Thomas B. Edsall, Building Red America: The New Conservative Coalition and the Drive for Permanent Power (NY: Basic Books, 2006), 9.

[23] Daniel Patrick Moynihan, “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action,” (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Labor, 1965).

[24] A review of New Right primary texts reveals a common argument against government social welfare programs based on the belief that blacks are responsible for their own poverty. See Barry Goldwater, The Conscience of a Conservative (New York: Hillman House, 1960); Phyllis Schlafly, A Choice Not an Echo (Alton, IL: Pere Marquette, 1964); Richard Viguerie, The New Right: We’re Ready to Lead (Fall Church: The Viguerie Company, 1981).

[25] Dan T. Carter, The Politics of Rage: George Wallace, the Origins of the New Conservatism, and the Transformation of American Politics (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995), 12. Carter added that the radicalism of the New Left in the 1960s opened a wedge among southerners and the Democratic Party that the New Right could exploit by appealing to the sanctity of traditional family, the centrality of overt religious beliefs, the importance of hard work and self-restraint and a celebration of autonomy of local community.

[26] Kari Frederickson, The Dixiecrat Revolt: And the End of the Solid South (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001).

[27] Earl Black and Merle Black, The Rise of Southern Republicans (Cambridge: Belknap Press, 2002), 4.

[28] The Blacks argue that the “switch” was predicated on Reagan and the GOP’s reliance on anecdote over analysis, which was most apparent when Reagan began his post-convention election campaign at the Neshoba County Fair in Philadelphia, MS, where four civil rights workers died in 1964.

[29] Schafly’s A Choice Not an Echo serves as an important primary document for scholars of the New Right. In it, she challenges the eastern establishment of the GOP’s inordinate influence on who was nominated as a presidential nominee every four years. The text serves as a grassroots activist how-to guide in building coalitions around non-establishment candidates, such as Barry Goldwater.

[30] Catherine Rymph, Republican Women: Feminism and Conservatism from Suffrage through the Rise of the New Right (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2006), 127.

[31] Newsweek, July 27, 1964, p. 18.

[32] Matthew Dallek, The Right Moment: Ronald Reagan’s First Victory and the Decisive Turning Point in American Politics (NY: The Free Press, 2000).

[33] Dallek, ix.

[34] Matthew Lassiter, The Silent Majority: Suburban Politics in the Sunbelt South (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2006).

[35] Kevin M Kruse, White Flight: Atlanta and the Making of Modern Conservatism (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005), 10.

[36] Lassiter, 4.

[37] Ronald P. Formisano, Boston Against Busing: Race, Class, and Ethnicity in the 1960s and 1970s (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1991).

[38] Lisa McGirr, Suburban Warriors: The Origins of the New American Right (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001).

[39] McGirr, 270.

[40] David Lublin, The Republican South: Democratization and Partisan Change (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005), 181.

[41] Jefferson Cowie, Staying Alive: The 1970s and the Last Days of the Working Class (New York: The New Press, 2010); Kenneth D. Durr, Behind the Backlash: White Working-Class Politics in Baltimore, 1940-1980 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003); Matthew Frye Jacobson, Roots Too: White Ethnic Revival in Post-Civil Rights America (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2006); Natasha Zaretsky, No Direction Home: The American Family and the Fear of National Decline (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2007).

[42] Cowie, 132.

[43] Durr, 2.

[44] Durr, 69.

[45] Lizabeth Cohen, A Consumers Republic: The Politics of Mass Consumption in Postwar America (NY, Knopf, 2003).

[46] Cowie, 368.

[47] Joseph A. McCartin, Collision Course: Ronald Reagan, the Air Traffic Controllers, and the Strike that changed America (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011).

[48] Darren Douchuk, From Bible Belt to Sunbelt: Plain-Folk Religion, Grassroots Politics, and the Rise of Evangelical Conservatism  (New York: W.W. Norton, 2011).

[49] Alan Brinkley, “Conservatism as a Growing Field of Scholarship,” The Journal of American History 4, (December 2011); 751.