restricted access Suburban Warriors: The Origins of the New American Right ed. by Lisa McGirr (review)
In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Reviewed by
Suburban Warriors: The Origins of the New American Right. 2 nded. By Lisa McGirr. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2015. 432 pages. Softbound, $27.95.

This book outlines the growth of the political Right in Southern California from the late 1950s into the 1970s. Lisa McGirr traces the Right's growth roughly chronologically, beginning with its roots in anti-Communism and grassroots activism, followed by its defeat—and accusations of extremism—under the national banner of presidential candidate Barry Goldwater; Ronald Reagan's victory as California governor in 1966 and the shift in conservative ideology toward an antiliberal, antiwelfare, small-government, and anticrime agenda; and finally the Right's affinity with Southern California evangelical churches and their conservative social concerns in reaction to the women's movement, secular humanism, and homosexuality in the 1960s into the 1970s. This conservative philosophical movement is not a phenomenon particular to Southern California, the author argues, nor are the phases of development only Californian. But that these phenomena did happen in a distinct location and timeframe makes them worthy of study. So, too, does the fact that the Right in Southern California prefigures the movement in other locations in the United States, such as the American South. "Orange County," writes McGirr, "might be best understood as a prototype: the first functional form of a new conservative milieu that appeared less distinctly elsewhere" (13).

The book succeeds as an engrossing philosophical treatment of the post-World War II American Right as that ideology progressed through particular decades. It should be noted that, with the hindsight of the decade and a half since [End Page 422]the first edition, McGirr admits that she would deepen her exploration of the moral issues and anticrime philosophies of the Right that had their roots in Orange County and that would play such crucial roles in defining the Right in its current iterations. That said, her exploration of these and other ideological underpinnings is nevertheless quite fruitful for the reader. McGirr situates the early ideological foundations of the movement in suburban Orange County, especially its anti-Communist roots and its mixture of grassroots political strategy, traditionalism, and upward social mobility. The book weaves a careful balance between more extreme conservatism, such as was found in the leadership of the John Birch Society, and those with less extreme beliefs, even within the membership of the John Birch Society itself. As the decade progressed and the political perspectives began to move away from anti-Communism and through several phases to ultimately turn a critical eye toward the evils of a seemingly chaotic world (and to attempt to provide the answers through faith movements), the growing power of the Right itself brought it into increasing dissonance with the liberal values of the 1960s and 1970s protest movements at home, instead of with distant foreign ideological enemies.

McGirr does make use of oral history interviews in her study. The bibliography of Suburban Warriorslists over twenty interviews done by the author, conducted between 1992 and 1999, none of which appears to be archived. There are also a handful of interviews (and perhaps other texts) drawn from the Oral History Program at Cal State Fullerton; a few from the Regional Oral History Program of the Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkley; and a few others from the Oral History Program at the University of California, Los Angeles. The materials drawn from these archives primarily seem to have been created in the 1980s, and are likely about Ronald Reagan and the people who worked for his gubernatorial campaign. Over half of the oral history work in this volume, then, consists of the author's own interviews. This set of interviews is with the grassroots organizers and participants in local movements in Southern California. Suburban Warriorsis not primarily a book about oral history, nor does oral history form the largest or most frequently used body of the book's source material. Since Suburban Warriors, however, is a historical origin story, and since many of the participants, especially in the earliest beginnings of this story, are ordinary citizens, oral history does nevertheless play a key part in McGirr's research...