A New History of the Old Right

The Right: American Conservatism’s Hundred-Year War, Matthew Continetti Basic Books 480 pages $32

Matthew Continetti has a unique perspective on the American conservative movement. You are rightIt all began in 1920s when two Republican presidents brought the country back to normalcy following World War I. These ideals were similar to those held by Donald Trump’s predecessor: The Republicans of the 1920s believed in cutting taxes and restricting immigration. They also advocated protecting American industry with tariffs. There was one major difference. Presidents Warren Harding, Calvin Coolidge, and others rejected the populism that was prevalent in their time. They were determined to save American institutions. Trump is more William Jennings Bryan riding on the backs of discontent. Continetti argues that Trump is a sign of a time when an increasingly apocalyptic, conservative movement “no more regarded core American institutions as worthy defending.”

Continetti was a member of many top conservative institutions. He should be applauded for his willingness to address the dark side of his movement that so many conservatives are hesitant about. Continetti places the tension between populism, elitism as the core of the struggle over conservatism. It is an excellent portrait of American rights that is more complex and satisfying than what is being offered by historians or journalists. 

Trump’s discontent has been an asset to his rise to the White House. It is always present in the American right. When Sen. Joseph McCarthy (R–Wis.) began his crusade against “the hidden Communists in America and their liberal Democratic protectors,” for example, he found support in the Republican Party and in the few conservative publications that existed at the time—The American Mercury, People EventsEven the libertarian-leaning Freeman. McCarthy’s claims grew and became “more outrageous, more gallingly and more disconnected with reality,” Continetti writes. Conservatives like William F. Buckley Jr. supported his crusade despite McCarthy’s repeated accusations. The way that Sen. Robert Taft was treated (R) has similarities.Ohio) responded in kind to McCarthy’s conspiracy theories.Ky.) have responded to Trump’s. McCarthy’s outrageous claims against President Dwight D. Eisenhower were ultimately a fallacy. But Continetti shows just how long conservatives have been tempted by aggressive demagogues to lambaste liberals.

Traditional conservative elites tried to channel populist sentiments towards a respected and successful movement. Buckley was the founding father of National Review. According to the conservative narrative, Buckley was a gatekeeper who legitimized conservatism. He kept the conspiracy of Ayn Rand and the radical individualism that characterized the John Birch Society at arms length so that it was less likely that conservatives would become extremists. Buckley, who wrote “The Question of Robert Welch”, a 5-page essay condemning the founder of the John Birch Society. He argued that “resignation would be the best thing Mr. Welch can do for the cause of Anticommunism in America.” Buckley purges have been portrayed as an enormous success. But the fact is, Welch never resigned and the John Birch Society remained influential.

Although Buckley originally aligned his magazine in an attempt to support segregationists from the South, which has tarnished the movement’s image ever since, he was determined in opposition to the Alabama governor. George Wallace was a populist. Of course Wallace was an outspoken proponent for segregation during the 1960s. The candidate heavily used anti-elitist rhetoric during his second presidential run, which he did on a third party ticket in 1968. “As he attacked the federal government’s know-it-all politicians, bureaucrats and officials,” Continetti writes that “his support from conservatives grew.” Buckley called Wallace Mr. Buckley called Wallace “Mr. His general popularity was explained by his “uncouthness,” he said.

Others joined in the denunciations. Frank Meyer, one of Wallace’s supporters, wrote that there are “other dangers to conservatism” and the civilisation that conservatives defend than the liberal Establishment. He also warned that if we continue to support liberalism, it could lead to a worse situation. The modern expression is: Don’t support a man such as Wallace for the libs.

Ultimately, movement conservatives did not embrace Wallace. Ronald Reagan declined to share his ticket with Wallace (though the idea was floated by conservative activists), and Wallace eventually gave way to Jimmy Carter, a Southern Democrat who Wallace endorsed in 1976 and 1980. However, it is interesting to note that he was able to achieve so many victories.

Continetti spends very little time on Reagan. This is deliberate. Reagan’s history of conservatism often dominates, even though it was only one of several important historical players. However, he is essential in understanding American right. While his presidential campaigns appealed strongly to populist sentiments in the 1970s, they managed to do so optimistically, channeling discontent from voters into constructive legislative action. He was both an exemplar and an exception for this.

Continetti is a major contributor to explaining the changes in conservatism since the Cold War. This is where he describes the clash between neoconservatives (such as Bill Kristol) and paleoconservatives (such as Pat Buchanan). Trump’s election success was predicted by the paleoconservatives because of their commitment to culture war and opposition to immigration and foreign intervention.

These paleocons won the political fights in 2000s-2000s. The War on Terror discredit the Neoconservatives and opened the doors for populist discontent to take over the Republican Party. This was first manifested in the Tea Party movement. Continetti draws a line between this and Trump’s election. However, the Tea Party was actually a mix of several strands (all populist) of conservatism with differing ideas about what 21st-century conservatism should entail. Sens. Senators.12, and all had very different visions for the future of the nation—and very different visions from Trump’s. Trump was ultimately elected to office by the anti-establishment politics created in response to the Iraq War.

Continetti believed that “the populist American Right” was at its peak during the period 2010-2016. [became]It is more important to destroy institutions than it is to preserve them. Trump could be a more effective instrument to accomplish this goal than any other. Trump spoke out against illegal immigration and trade deals with China and called for an end to Muslim entry into America. He also announced his support for banning Muslim entry and re-aligned American politics around the principle of national identity. He was initially denounced by many conservatives. National ReviewEven a special issue was published titled “Trump is being rebuffed.” According to one of their contributors, Trump was “a philosophically unmoored politician opportunist that would discredit the wide conservative ideological consensus within GOP and favor a loose-floating populism with strong man overtones.” Trump still won.

A new group of right-wing writers are attempting to denigrate the American founding and redefine American conservatism. Continetti refuses to accept their proposal, insisting “one can’t be an American patriot unless one reveres the nation’s enabling documents” as well as “one cannot become an American conservative without respecting the American tradition and liberty that charters were inaugurated.” The task for conservatives, he writes, is to preserve “the American idea of liberty and the familial, communal, religious, and political institutions that incarnate and sustain it—that is what makes American conservatism distinctly American.”

Many Americans were stunned when Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton 2016. Continetti’s book might have been published before 2016, so perhaps it wouldn’t have surprised us. You are rightThis demonstrates the fact that populism seen in the United States right these past five years isn’t an anomaly. It’s always there, in shadows, sometimes plain view, just waiting to be tapped. Reagan was one of the few statesmen who were able tame this beast and redirect it to something more productive. But for most, the rest, the movement simply pushed it to its fringes. It’s unlikely to be pushed back to the fringes again anytime soon.