- Further into the Right:The Ever-Expanding Historiography of the U.S. New Right
While scholars have chronicled the New Right since it first emerged as a political movement in the U.S., an interpretive shift signaled by Lisa McGirr's Suburban Warriors (2001) has seen social history methods steadily replacing traditional political history as the dominant framework for understanding the modern conservatism that supplanted postwar liberalism beginning in the 1960s.1 A steady proliferation of books and articles in the years since McGirr's work have clearly rendered the New Right a "hot" topic of inquiry, as a new cast of grassroots-activist characters has joined political icons such as Nixon and Gold-water. Hand in hand with this shift has occurred a more concerted effort to meet conservatives on their own turf; just as social historians replaced the middle-class white men of the Progressive Era with a more diverse roster of participants in recent decades, so too have scholars of the New Right moved beyond the stereotypical "radical right," pathologized for its symbolic status politics and moralism that "represents a disguised form of repressed envy," as Daniel Bell put it several decades ago.2
The current, and still emerging, analysis of the New Right abandons knee-jerk condescension to recreate social and cultural worlds in their full complexity, [End Page 183] situating members of the New Right as historical agents rather than mere political automatons. But at its best, this new scholarship also acknowledges that the preservation of racial and gender hierarchies and norms figured prominently in the mobilization of the movement, the most important U.S. political movement in the final third of the 20th century. The five books selected here for review do not encompass the continuously expanding historical literature of the New Right in its entirety, but they effectively convey the current cutting edge, their diverse angles of approach showing just how deep the roots and far the tentacles of the movement extend. From women's suffrage to serial killers, these books cover a vast terrain, but collectively they reflect the powerful allure of a movement whose seeming unity, simplicity, and coherence have spoken to the needs, desires, and fears of millions of Americans in recent decades.
Catherine Rymph begins somewhat earlier, at the dawn of women's suffrage in 1920. Since then, she contends, Republican women have faced the classic institutional outsider's dilemma: integrate into the party and risk having their influence diluted by the dominant men, or organize separately and consign themselves to perpetual marginalization. Republican Women charts the divergent responses of its titular characters: party women, who joined the GOP and strove for power from within, and independent clubwomen, who sought to exercise political power in large part through the implied threat of withholding their votes if the party platform ignored their agendas. Because the clubwomen dramatically outnumbered the party women, Rymph directs her primary focus on them, arguing that the party's careful cultivation of their support "unwittingly nurtured" a right wing it could no longer control (11). In the author's persuasive analysis, this fringe ultimately shifted the center of Republican gravity to the right, playing as significant a role in the coalescence of the New Right as other groups that have drawn more notice from historians, such as the California Republican Assembly, the Young Republicans, and the Young Americans for Freedom.3
Clubwomen first organized primarily as social...