Tracing the Rise of Right: Suburban Warriors and the Origins of American Conservatism
While liberalism was ascendant during the tumultuous 1960s, the American suburbs witnessed a silent revolution: the emergence of a grassroots conservative movement.
As the legacy of the New Deal welfare state became entrenched with the construction of a warfare state during the Second World War and early in the Cold War, the triumph of liberalism seemed an uncontested reality for several decades. The 1950s and 1960s saw the inexorable march of liberal America with epochal changes in modern society, social norms, and legal rights, while formerly disenfranchised groups like Black people, women, and minorities gained wider representation in the political system and public service. The progressive march of history led many thinkers and what was then called ‘consensus’ scholars of the era to view conservatism as a bygone relic of the past, locked in a losing battle against the overwhelming forces of the modern industrial age.
Richard Hofstadter, one of the consensus historians, dismissed conservatism as a paranoid style, even phrasing it as a “pseudo-conservatism.” The historian describes it as a “product of the rootlessness and heterogeneity of American life and, above all, of its peculiar scramble for status and its peculiar search for secure identity.”¹ In his view, conservatives suffered from “status anxiety.” Conservatism was considered agrarian-based, steeped in deep-seated racism, conspiratorial and irrational worldview, and anti-modernist ideology. A Fortune magazine article in 1968 even called Orange County America’s “nut country.”²
While some of the conservative leaders did indeed espouse wild conspiracy theories and peddle outlandish claims with little regard for factual accuracy,³ it did not reflect the entire segments of the conservative movement. Such stereotypes and dismissive treatment of conservative thought proved misplaced as the Right did not consign into the dustbin of history, but showed a remarkable resurgence later in the 20th century. In her book Suburban Warriors, the Origins of the New American Right, which came out in 2001, Harvard historian Lisa McGirr…