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Sara Diamond's <i>Roads To Dominion: U.S. Right-Wing Movements</i>

Anonymous Comrade writes

Roads to Dominion:

Right-Wing Movements and Political Power in the United States

By Sara Diamond

Reviewed by Michael Handelman

While left-wing social movements have been extensively analyzed, right-wing movements have been inadequately analyzed. Thus, frequently, liberal interpretations suggesting that right-wing movements are “fanatical” have become the dominant ideology. This is why Sara Diamond’s book “Roads to Dominion: Right-Wing movements and Political Power in the United States” is so vitally important for leftists. This review is an attempt to outline the contents of this excellent book.

She starts off with the early phase of right-wing social movements. She argues that right-wing social movements have changed quite dramatically over time. The 30s Right, was very much a proto-fascist movement. It was filled with racist, anti-semitic and anti-New Deal ideology. However, as a result of the Holocaust, the racist and anti-semitic ideology had been totally discredited. This is why the post WWII “Respectable Right” distanced itself from the racist and anti-semitic ideologies that were so prevalent during the time of the Great Depression. The unifying ideology, surrounding the post WWII Right, was anti-communism. That the commie threat was everywhere, and one had to be extremely aggressive in “rooting it out”, by any means necessary. Such a position obviously lead to the Right supporting militarist operations and right-wing dictatorships, outside of the United States, and inside the United States, it would lead to modern day witch-hunts (eg McCarthyism).

The Racist Right, as a movement fully developed during the post WWII period. It was in many respects a reaction to the growing Civil Rights movement. Many of the movements that can be seen as part of the Racist Right, the John Birch Society, Liberty Lobby, and Citizens Council, are very interesting because of their class basis. They’re class basis is not of the stereotypical racist (white working class individuals), that one perceives in the media. Generally speaking member of these groups tended to be “professionals” (doctors, lawyers etc) and tended to be upper middle class.

The Christian Right was in its early phase, not a political movement. In the first half of the 20th century “evangelicals took action to protect and promote their own interests especially in winning access to the nation’s broadcast airwaves. Unlike the anti-communist and segregationist movement of the same era, the evangelical movement was not yet directly linked to state-policy making, nor to a quest for state-power”. It was more of a cultural movement, than a political movement.

After outlining the origins of the “Old Right”, Part II, discusses the rise of the “New Right” (1965-1979): After Goldwater’s disastrous presidential run, the Right did a major re-trenchment. There was the growth of right-wing think-tanks, and mags and a growing number of right-wing activists. The pragmatism of the Republican candidates also enraged the right-wing activists, so they were devoted to shifting the Republican Party to the right. As well, on many social issues the “New Right” linked themselves up with the Christian Right.

The Racist Right, would often resort to a more populist overtones than it had in the past, as a way to attract farmers hit by the early 1980s farm crisis. Americanist ideology was also an important aspect of the Racist Right. Unlike, the New Right which was internationalist, the Racist Right, remained quite isolationist and xenophobic.

In the 1970s, the Christian Right became politicized. In many respects, this political mobilization can be seen as a result of the new “social movements” undermining traditional morality. The Christian Right, thought the undermining of patriarchical authority would mean America was going to hell. They felt as well, that they were being persecuted, and that they must take up political action to ensure their survival. Just as the New Right emphasized economic inequality, and the Racist Right emphasized racial inequality, the Christian Right emphasized sexual inequality. Hence their biggest concern was women’s and gay liberation movement.

Chapter 8, is probably Diamond’s best chapter. In it, she describes the rise of “neoconservatism”. It is fascinating, because unlike other elements of the Right, neoconservatism is not well known at all. The reason, is that neoconservatism is not a social movement, but rather a way of thinking about the world and that neoconservatives are a small band of intellectuals, not the same type of mass mobilization that the other sectors of the Right are. Neoconservatism has its origins in Cold War liberalism. Cold War liberalism was about a militant anti-communism abroad, but support for the welfare state at home. Many of these Cold War liberals denounced the excesses of the 60s social movements thinking that they undermined the power of the centrist elites. In the 1970s, these cold war liberals shifted to the right, and finally in the 80s, they allied themselves with the New Right. The unifying ideology surrounding these apparently disparate elements was anti-communism.

Prior to the 80s, the various sectors of the Right, had not fully formed an alliance. In the 80s, we see the various sectors of the Right (New Right, Racist Right, Christian Right, neoconservatism) working together. These alliances were fraught with difficulties, especially after the fall of the Soviet Union, when an important unifying ideology: anti-communism could no longer be used. The Reagan era was characterized, by social conservatism, militarism, right-wing economic policies, and an undermining of civil rights.

The Christian Right in the 80s, saw major growth. They developed into a major ideological force, by the growth of various evangelical television stations. However, disappointment with the Reagan administration’s social policies, we find the Christian Right became much more fanatical in the 1980s (eg blowing up Abortion clinics). After Pat Robertson’s failed presidential run, the Christian Right retrenched, they shifted to build a growing grassroots movement.

The Racist Right, has fortunately become less of an influence in the 80s and 90s, because as a result of anti-racist struggles, and desegregation has resulted in weakening influence of the racist right. However, at the same, the growing economic frustration of the lower middle and working class, has also resulted in growing amount of racist violence.

The Post Cold War era, has resulted in a great deal of fracturing among the Right. The disagreement between the paleoconservatives (eg Pat Buchanan) and neoconservatives (eg Podhoretz) became extreme. The paleoconservatives tend to promote a racialist, anti-semitic ideology, which the neocons are very much opposed to those ideologies. The Christian Right, had a much shakier relationship with George Bush, compared to their relationship they had with Ronald Reagan. The Racist Right, has becoming increasingly violent, with the Oklahoma Bombing being the archetypical example.

This book despite it’s undeniable strengths, does have certain weaknesses. The lack of analysis of the anti-environmental “Wise-Use” movement is quite striking. As well, there is a bit too much focus on individual actors, and not enough emphasis on economic factors explaining the rise of the Right. There is no discussion on the links between the dramatic fall in the rate of profit by the early 1970s, and the rise of the Right as a method to re-assert a high rate of profit. Despite, these flaws, this book is an excellent introduction to right-wing social movements, and I would highly recommend that leftists read this book to understand their opponents.