The first version of this article appeared in December 1992, and reviewed the role of Dominionism inside the Christian Right. To understand the Tea Party of today, it helps to see where the trend emerged.
As the United States slides toward the twenty-first century, the major mass movements challenging the bipartisan status quo are not found on the left of the political spectrum, but on the right. The resurgent right contains several strands woven together around common themes and goals. There is the electoral activism of the religious fundamentalist movements; the militant anti-government populism of the armed militia movement; and the murderous terrorism of the neonazi underground–from which those suspected of bombing the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City appear to have crept.
It is easy to see the dangers to democracy posed by far right forces such as armed militias, neonazis, and racist skinheads. However, hard right forces such as dogmatic religious movements, regressive populism, and White racial nationalism also are attacking democratic values in our country.
The best known sector of the hard right–dogmatic religious movements–is often called the “Religious Right” It substantially dominates the Republican Party in at least 10 (and perhaps as many as 30) of the 50 states. As part of an aggressive grassroots campaign, these groups have targeted electoral races from school boards to state legislatures to campaigns for the US Senate and House of Representatives. They helped elect dozens of hardline ultraconservatives to the House of Representatives in 1994. This successful social movement politically mobilizes a traditionalist mass base from a growing pious constituency of evangelical, fundamentalist, charismatic, pentacostal, and orthodox churchgoers.
The goal of many leaders of this ultraconservative religious movement is imposing a narrow theological agenda on secular society. The predominantly Christian leadership envisions a religiously-based authoritarian society; therefore we prefer to describe this movement as the “theocratic right.” A theocrat is someone who supports a form of government where the actions of leaders are seen as sanctioned by God–where the leaders claim they are carrying out God’s will. The central threat to democracy posed by the theocratic right is not that its leaders are religious, or fundamentalist, or right wing–but that they justify their political, legislative, and regulatory agenda as fulfilling God’s plan.
Along with the theocratic right, two other hard right political movements pose a grave threat to democracy: regressive populism, typified by diverse groups ranging from members of the John Birch Society out to members of the patriot and armed militia movements; and White racial nationalism, promoted by Pat Buchanan and his shadow, David Duke of Louisiana.
The theocratic right, regressive populism, and White racial nationalism make up a hard right political sector that is distinct from and sometimes in opposition to mainstream Republicanism and the internationalist wing of corporate conservatism.
Finally, there is the militant, overtly racist far right that includes the open White supremacists, Ku Klux Klan members, Christian Patriots, racist skinheads, neonazis, and right-wing revolutionaries. Although numerically smaller, the far right is a serious political factor in some rural areas, and its propaganda promoting violence reaches into major metropolitan centers where it encourages alienated young people to commit hate crimes against people of color, Jews, and gays and lesbians, among other targets. The electoral efforts of Buchanan and Duke serve as a bridge between the ultraconservative hard right and these far right movements. The armed milita movement is a confluence of regressive populism, White racial nationalism, and the racist and antisemitic far right.
All four of these hard right activist movements are antidemocratic in nature, promoting in various combinations and to varying degrees authoritarianism, xenophobia, conspiracy theories, nativism, racism, sexism, homophobia, antisemitism, demagoguery, and scapegoating. Each wing of the antidemocratic right has a slightly different vision of the ideal nation.
The theocratic right’s ideal is an authoritarian society where Christian men interpret God’s will as law. Women are helpmates, and children are the property of their parents. Earth must submit to the dominion of those to whom God has granted power. People are basically sinful, and must be restrained by harsh punitive laws. Social problems are caused by Satanic conspiracies aided and abetted by liberals, homosexuals, feminists, and secular humanists. These forces must be exposed and neutralized.
Newspaper columnist Cal Thomas, a long-standing activist in the theocratic right, recently suggested that churches and synagogues take over the welfare system “because these institutions would also deal with the hearts and souls of men and women.” The churches “could reach root causes of poverty”–a lack of personal responsibility, Thomas wrote, expressing a hardline Calvinist theology. “If government is always there to bail out people who have children out of wedlock, if there is no disincentive (like hunger) for doing for one’s self, then large numbers of people will feel no need to get themselves together and behave responsibly.”
For regressive populism, the ideal is America First ultra patriotism and xenophobia wedded to economic Darwinism, with no regulations restraining entrepreneurial capitalism. The collapsing society calls for a strong man in leadership, perhaps even a benevolent despot who rules by organically expressing the will of the people to stop lawlessness and immorality. Social problems are caused by corrupt and lazy government officials who are bleeding the common people dry in a conspiracy fostered by secret elites, which must be exposed and neutralized.
Linda Thompson, a latter-day Joan of Arc for the patriot movement, represents the most militant wing of regressive populism. She appointed herself “Acting Adjutant General” of the armed militias that have formed cells across the United States. Operating out of the American Justice Federation of Indianapolis, Thompson’s group warns of secret plots by “corrupt leaders” involving “Concentration Camps, Implantable Bio Chips, Mind Control, Laser Weapons,” and “neuro-linguistic programming” on behalf of bankers who “control the economy” and created the illegal income tax.
The racial nationalists’ ideal oscillates between brutish authoritarianism and vulgar fascism in service of White male supremacy. Unilateral militarism abroad and repression at home are utilized to force compliance. Social problems are caused by uncivilized people of color, lower-class foreigners, and dual-loyalist Jews, who must all be exposed and neutralized.
Samuel Francis, the prototypical racial nationalist, writes columns warning against attempts to “wipe out traditional White, American, Christian, and Western Culture,” which he blames on multiculturalism. Francis’s solutions: “Americans who want to conserve their civilization need to get rid of elites who want to wreck it, but they also need to kick out the vagrant savages who have wandered across the border, now claim our country as their own, and impose their cultures upon us. If there are any Americans left in San Jose, they might start taking back their country by taking back their own city….You don’t find statues to Quetzalcoatl in Vermont.”
For the far right, the ideal is White revolution to overthrow the corrupt regime and restore an idealized natural biological order. Social problems are caused by crafty Jews manipulating inferior people of color. They must be exposed and neutralized.
The Truth at Last is a racist far right tabloid that features such headlines as “Jews Demand Black Leaders Ostracize Farrakhan,” “Clinton Continues Massive Appointments of Minorities,” and “Adopting Blacks into White Families Does Not Raise Their IQ,” which concluded that “only the preservation of the White race can save civilization….Racial intermarriage produces a breed of lower-IQ mongrel people.”
There are constant differences and debates within the right, as well as considerable overlap along the edges. The relationships are complex: the Birchers feud with Perot on trade issues, even though their other basic themes are similar, and the theocratic right has much in common with regressive populism, though the demographics of their respective voting blocs appear to be remarkably distinct.
These antidemocratic sectors of the hard right are also distinct from traditional conservatism and political libertarianism, although they share some common roots and branches.
All of these antidemocratic tendencies are trying to build grassroots mass movements to support their agendas which vary in degrees of militancy and zealousness of ideology, yet all of which (consciously or unconsciously) promote varieties of White privilege and Christian dominion. These are activist movements that seek a mass base. Across the full spectrum of the right one hears calls for a new populist revolt.
Many people presume that all populist movements are naturally progressive and want to move society to the left, but history teaches us otherwise. In his book The Populist Persuasion, Michael Kazin explains how populism is a style of organizing. Populism can move to the left or right. It can be tolerant or intolerant. In her book Populism, Margaret Canovan defined two main branches of Populism: agrarian and political.
Agrarian populism worldwide has three categories: movements of commodity farmers, movements of subsistence peasants, and movements of intellectuals who wistfully romanticize the hard-working farmers and peasants. Political populism includes not only populist democracy, championed by progressives from the LaFollettes of Wisconsin to Jesse Jackson, but also politicians’ populism, reactionary populism, and populist dictatorship. The latter three antidemocratic forms of populism characterize the movements of Ross Perot, Pat Robertson, and Pat Buchanan, three straight White Christian men trying to ride the same horse.
Of the hundreds of hard right groups, the most influential is the Christian Coalition led by televangelist and corporate mogul Pat Robertson. Because of Robertson’s smooth style and easy access to power, most mainstream journalists routinely ignore his authoritarianism, bigotry, and paranoid dabbling in conspiracy theories.
Robertson’s gallery of conspirators parallels the roster of the John Birch Society, including the Freemasons, the Bavarian Illuminati, the Council on Foreign Relations, and the Trilateral Commission. In Robertson’s book The New World Order, he trumps the Birchers (their founder called Dwight Eisenhower a communist agent) by alluding to an anti Christian conspiracy that supposedly began in ancient Babylon–a theory that evokes historic anti-Jewish bigotry and resembles the notions of the fascist demagogue Lyndon LaRouche, who is routinely dismissed by the corporate media as a crackpot. Robertson’s homophobia is profound. He is also a religious bigot who has repeatedly said that Hindus and Muslims are not morally qualified to hold government posts. “If anybody understood what Hindus really believe,” says Robertson, “there would be no doubt that they have no business administering government policies in a country that favors freedom and equality.”
Robertson’s embrace of authoritarian theocracy is equally robust:
“There will never be world peace until God’s house and God’s people are given their rightful place of leadership at the top of the world. How can there be peace when drunkards, drug dealers, communists, atheists, New Age worshipers of Satan, secular humanists, oppressive dictators, greedy money changers, revolutionary assassins, adulterers, and homosexuals are on top?”
Mainstream pundits are uncertain about the magnitude of the threat posed by the theocratic right and the other hard right sectors. Sidney Blumenthal warned recently in The New Yorker that “Republican politics nationally, and particularly in Virginia, have advanced so swiftly toward the right in the past two years that [Oliver] North’s nomination [for the US Senate] was almost inevitable.” But just a few years ago, after George Bush was elected
President, Blumenthal dismissed the idea that the theocratic right was a continuing factor in national politics. “Journalists like Blumenthal are centrists who believe that America always fixes itself by returning to the center. They have the hardest time appreciating the danger the right represents because they see it as just another swing of the political pendulum,” says Jean Hardisty, a political scientist who has monitored the right for more than 20 years:
“As the McCarthy period showed, however, if you let a right-wing movement go long enough without serious challenge, it can become a real threat and cause real damage. Centrists missed the significance of the right-wing drive of the past fourteen years as it headed for success.”
The defeat of George Bush in 1992 did not deter the hard rightists as they increasingly turned toward state and local forums, where small numbers can transform communities. They learned from the humiliating defeat of Barry Goldwater in 1964 that to construct a conservative America would take strategic planning that spanned decades.
Now, after decades of organizing, the right has managed to shift the spectrum of political debate, making conservative politics look mainstream when compared with overt bigotry, and numbing the public to the racism and injustice in mainstream politics. When, for example, Vice President Dan Quayle was asked by ABC what he thought of David Duke, Quayle sanitized Duke’s thorough racism and said: “The message of David Duke is…anti-big-government, get out of my pocketbook, cut taxes, put welfare people back to work. That’s a very popular message. The problem is the messenger. David Duke, neonazi, ex-Klansman, basically a bad person.”
The pull of the antidemocratic hard right and its reliance on scapegoating, especially of people of color, is a major factor in the increased support among centrist politicians for draconian crime bills, restrictive immigration laws, and punitive welfare regulations. The Republican Party’s use of the race card, from Richard Nixon’s southern strategy to the Willie Horton ads of George Bush’s 1988 campaign, is made more acceptable by the overt racism of the far right. Racist stereotypes are used opportunistically to reach an angry White constituency of middle- and working-class people who have legitimate grievances caused by the failure of the bipartisan status quo to resolve issues of economic and social justice.
Scapegoating evokes a misdirected response to genuine unresolved grievances. The right has mobilized a mass base by focusing the legitimate anger of parents over inadequate resources for the public schools on the scapegoat of gay and lesbian curriculum, sex education, and AIDS-awareness programs; by focusing confusion over changing sex roles and the unfinished equalization of power between men and women on the scapegoats of the feminist movement and abortion rights; by focusing the desperation of unemployment and underemployment on the scapegoat of affirmative-action programs and other attempts to rectify racial injustice; by focusing resentment about taxes and the economy on the scapegoat of dark-skinned immigrants; by focusing anger over thoughtless and intrusive government policies on environmental activists; and by focusing anxiety about a failing criminal justice system on the scapegoat of early release, probation, and parole programs for prisoners who are disproportionately people of color.
Such scapegoating has been applied intensively in rural areas which see emerging social movements of “new patriots” and “armed militias” who are grafting together the conspiracy theories of the hard right John Birch Society with the ardor and armor of the paramilitary far right.
These hard right and far right forces are beginning to influence state and local politics, especially in the Pacific Northwest and Rocky Mountain states, through amorphous patriot and armed militia groups, sovereignty campaigns, and county autonomy movements as well as some portions of the anti-environmentalist “Wise Use” movement. The same regions have seen contests within the Republican Party on the state level between mainstream Republicans and the theocratic right. Some Republican candidates pander to the patriot and militia movements as a source of constituent votes. The political spectrum in some states now ranges from repressive corporate liberalism in the “center” through authoritarian theocracy to nascent fascism.
The Road to Backlash Politics
How did we get here? Despite the many differences, one goal has united the various sectors of the antidemocratic right in a series of amorphous coalitions since the 1960s: to roll back the limited gains achieved in the United States by a variety of social justice movements, including the civil rights, student rights, antiwar, feminist, ecology, gay and lesbian rights, disability rights, and antimilitarist movements.
Hard right nativists formed the core of Joseph McCarthy’s constituency after World War II. After McCarthy’s fall, they retreated until the late 1950s and early 1960s, when a network of anti-communists spread the gospel of the communist and secularist threats through such books as Dr. Fred Schwartz’s 1960 You Can Trust the Communists (to be Communists). At the 1964 Republican convention, the growth of hard right forces became apparent. Goldwater’s candidacy represented a reaction to the values of modernity. Unlike traditional conservative politics, which sought to preserve the status quo from the encroachments of the modern world, Goldwater’s politics sought to turn back the political clock. This reactionary stance remains a key component of the US hard right today. In 1961, Goldwater said, “My aim is not to pass laws but to repeal them.” Twenty years later, Paul Weyrich, chief architect of the New Right, said, “I believe in rollback.”
Hard right activists such as Phyllis Schlafly and John Stormer had helped engineer Goldwater’s nomination. Schlafly was a convention delegate in 1964, and went on to found the Eagle Forum, which fought the Equal Rights Amendment. Stormer wrote a book called None Dare Call It Treason. Their aggressive anti-communist militarism worried many conventional voters, and their conspiracy theories of secret collusion between corporate Republican leaders and the communists–Schlafly called them the “secret kingmakers” in her pro-Goldwater book A Choice Not an Echo–brought the hard right and far right out of the woodwork as Goldwater supporters, which cost votes when they began expounding on their byzantine conspiracy theories to the national news media.
Most influential Goldwater supporters were not marginal far right activists, as many liberal academics postulated at the time, but had been Republican Party regulars for years, representing a vocal reactionary wing far to the right of many persons who usually voted Republican. This hard right reactionary wing of the Republican Party had an image problem, which was amply demonstrated by the devastating defeat of Goldwater in the general election. The current right-wing avalanche began when a group of conservative strategists decided to brush off the flakes who had burdened the unsuccessful 1964 Goldwater presidential campaign. They decided it was time to build a “New Right” coalition that differentiated itself from the old, nativist right in two key ways: it embraced the idea of an expansionist government to enforce the hard right’s social policy goals, and it eschewed the old right’s explicitly racist rhetoric. Overt White supremacists and segregationists had to go, as did obvious anti-Jewish bigots. The wild-eyed conspiratorial rhetoric of the John Birch Society was unacceptable, even to William F. Buckley, Jr., whose National Review was the authoritative journal of the right.
While the old right’s image was being modernized, emerging technologies and techniques using computers, direct mail, and television were brought into play to build the New Right. After Goldwater’s defeat, Richard Viguerie painstakingly hand-copied information on Goldwater donors at the Library of Congress and used the results to launch his direct-mail fundraising empire, which led to the formation of the New Right coalition. And to reach the grassroots activists and voters, right-wing strategists openly adopted the successful organizing, research, and training methods that had been pioneered by the labor and civil rights movements.
When Richard Nixon was elected president in 1968, his campaign payoff to the emerging New Right included appointing such right-wing activists as Howard Phillips to government posts. Phillips was sent to the Office of Economic Opportunity with a mandate to dismantle social programs allegedly dominated by liberals and radicals. Conservatives and reactionaries joined in a “Defund the Left” campaign. As conservatives in Congress sought to gut social-welfare programs, corporate funders were urged to switch their charitable donations to build a network of conservative think tanks and other institutions to challenge what was seen as the intellectual dominance of Congress and society held by such liberal think tanks as the Brookings Institution.
Since the 1960s, the secular, corporate, and religious branches of the right have spent hundreds of millions of dollars to build a solid national right-wing infrastructure that provides training, conducts research, publishes studies, produces educational resources, engages in networking and coalition building, promotes a sense of solidarity and possible victory, shapes issues, provides legal advice, suggests tactics, and tests and defines specific rhetoric and slogans. Today, the vast majority of “experts” featured on television and radio talk shows, and many syndicated print columnists, have been groomed by the right-wing infrastructure, and some of these figures were first recruited and trained while they were still in college.
Refining rhetoric is key for the right because many of its ideas are based on narrow and nasty Biblical interpretations or are of benefit to only the wealthiest sector of society. The theocratic right seeks to breach the wall of separation between church and state by constructing persuasive secular arguments for enacting legislation and enforcing policies that take rights away from individuals perceived as sinful. Matters of money are interpreted to persuade the sinking middle class to cheer when the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Toward these ends, questionable statistics, pseudo-scientific studies, and biased reports flood the national debate through the sluice gates of the right-wing think tanks.
Thus, the right has persuaded many voters that condoms don’t work but trickle-down theories do. The success of the right in capturing the national debate over such issues as taxes, government spending, abortion, sexuality, childrearing, welfare, immigration, and crime is due, in part, to its national infrastructure, which refines and tests rhetoric by conducting marketing studies, including those based on financial response to direct-mail letters and televangelist pitches.
Corporate millionaires and zealous right-wing activists, however, can’t deliver votes without a grassroots constituency that responds to the rhetoric. Conveniently, the New Right’s need for foot soldiers arrived just as one branch of Christianity, Protestant evangelicalism, marched onward toward a renewed interest in the political process. Earlier in the century, Protestant evangelicals fought the teaching of evolution and launched a temperance campaign that led to Prohibition. But in the decades preceding the 1950s, most Protestant evangelicals avoided the secular arena. Their return was facilitated by the Reverend Billy Graham, perhaps the best known proponent of the idea that all Protestants should participate in the secular sphere to fight the influence of Godless communism at home and abroad, and others ranging from the international Moral ReArmament movement to local pastors who helped craft theological arguments urging all Christians to become active in politics in the 1950s and 1960s.
A more aggressive form of Protestant evangelicalism emerged in the 1970s, when such right-wing activists as Francis A. Schaeffer, founder of the L’Abri Fellowship in Switzerland and author of How Should We Then Live?, challenged Christians to take control of a sinful secular society. Schaeffer (and his son Franky) influenced many of today’s theocratic right activists, including Jerry Falwell, Tim LaHaye, and John W. Whitehead, who have gone off in several theological and political directions, but all adhere to the notion that the Scriptures have given dominion over the Earth to Christians, who thus owe it to God to seize the reins of secular society.
The most extreme interpretation of this “dominionism” is a movement called Reconstructionism, led by right-wing Presbyterians who argue that secular law is always secondary to Biblical law. While the Reconstructionists represent only a small minority within Protestant theological circles, they have had tremendous influence on the theocratic right (a situation not unlike the influence of Students for a Democratic Society or the Black Panthers on the New Left in the 1960s). Reconstructionism is a factor behind the increased violence in the anti-abortion movement, the nastiest of attacks on gays and lesbians, and the new wave of battles over alleged secular humanist influence in the public schools. Some militant Reconstructionists even support the death penalty for adulterers, homosexuals, and recalcitrant children.
One key theocratic group, the Coalition on Revival, has helped bring dominionism into the hard right political movement. Militant antiabortion activist Randall Terry writes for their magazine, Crosswinds, and has signed their Manifesto for the Christian Church, which proclaims that America should “function as a Christian nation” and that the “world will not know how to live or which direction to go without the Church’s Biblical influence on its theories, laws, actions, and institutions,” including opposition to such “social moral evils” as “abortion on demand, fornication, homosexuality, sexual entertainment, state usurpation of parental rights and God-given liberties, statist-collectivist theft from citizens through devaluation of their money and redistribution of their wealth, and evolutionism taught as a monopoly viewpoint in the public schools.” Taken as a whole, the manifesto is a call for clerical fascism in defense of wealth and patriarchy.
While dominionism spread, the number of persons identifying themselves as born-again Christians was growing, and by the mid-1970s, rightists were making a concerted effort to link Christian evangelicals to conservative ideology. Sara Diamond, author of Spiritual Warfare, assigns a seminal role to Bill Bright of the Campus Crusade for Christ, but traces the paternity of the New Right to 1979, when Robert Billings of the National Christian Action Council invited rising televangelist Jerry Falwell to a meeting with rightwing strategists Paul Weyrich, Howard Phillips, Richard Viguerie, and Ed McAteer. According to Diamond, “Weyrich proposed that if the Republican Party could be persuaded to take a firm stance against abortion, that would split the strong Catholic voting bloc within the Democratic Party.” Weyrich suggested building an organization with a name involving the idea of a “moral majority.”
While Falwell’s Moral Majority began hammering on the issue of abortion, the core founding partners of the New Right were joined in a broad coalition by the growing neoconservative movement of former liberals concerned over what they perceived as a growing communist threat and shrinking moral leadership. Reluctantly, the remnants of the old right hitched a ride on the only electoral wagon moving to the right. The New Right coalition was built around shared support for anti-communist militarism, moral orthodoxy, and economic conservatism, the themes adopted by 1980 presidential candidate Ronald Reagan.
The ardor and activism of the paranoid nativist and Americanist wing of the New Right made many mainstream Republicans nervous. Even Goldwater divorced himself from the more extreme New Right partisans, saying, “These people are not conservatives. They are revolutionaries.”
The Reagan Administration was masterful at buying the loyalty of the paranoid nativist wing of the New Right. While Reagan gave mainstream Republicans a green light for the lucrative trade with such communist countries as the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China, he gave the meager markets in Central America, Africa, and Afghanistan to the hard right as a testing ground for their plans to fight communism and terrorism through covert action. While he negotiated with the Soviet Union, he continued to celebrate Captive Nations Day.
Under Reagan, the nativist-Americanist rightists received appointments to executive agencies, where they served as watchdogs against secular humanism and subversion. For example, a Phyllis Schlafly protege in the Department of Education succeeded in blocking for several years all federal funds for the Boston-area Facing History and Ourselves project, which produces a curriculum on the Holocaust, genocide, and racism; the staffer denounced the program as secular humanist psychological manipulation.
The first attempt to build a broad theocratic right movement failed in part because Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority, with its Baptist roots and pragmatic fundamentalist Protestant aura, had only a limited constituency; it failed to mobilize either the more ethereal charismatic and Pentecostal wings of Christianity or the more moderate branches of denominational Protestantism. Apart from the abortion issue, its appeal to conservative Catholics was microscopic.
But as early as 1981, Falwell, Weyrich, and Robertson were working together to build a broader and more durable alliance of the theocratic right through such vehicles as the annual Family Forum national conferences, where members of the Reagan Administration could rub shoulders with leaders of dozens of Christian right groups and share ideas with rank-and-file activists. This coalition-building continued through the Reagan years.
Most Christian evangelical voters who had previously voted Democratic did not actually switch to Reagan in 1980, although other sectors of the New Right were certainly influential in mobilizing support for Reagan the candidate, and new Christian evangelical voters supported Republicans in significant numbers. But by 1984, the theocratic right had persuaded many traditionally Democratic but socially conservative Christians that support for prayer in the schools and opposition to abortion, sex education, and pornography could be delivered by the Republicans through the smiling visage of the Great Communicator. Reagan did try to push these issues in Congress, but many mainstream Republicans refused to go along.
Despite its successes, the hard right felt that Reagan lacked a true commitment to their ideology. In 1988, during Reagan’s second term, some key New Right leaders, including Weyrich, Viguerie, and Phillips, began denouncing Reagan as a “useful idiot” and dupe of the KGB, and even a traitor over his arms control negotiations with the Soviet Union.
Under the Bush Administration, this branch of the right wing had less influence. It was this perceived loss of influence within the Republican Party, among other factors, that led to the highly publicized schism in the late 1980s between the two factions of the New Right that came to be called the paleoconservatives and the neoconservatives.
Patrick Buchanan, who says proudly, “We are Old Right and Old Church,” emerged from this fracas as the leader of the paleoconservatives. (The term neoconservatives, once restricted to a small group of intellectuals centered around Commentary magazine, came within this context to refer to all conservatives to the left of the paleoconservatives, despite substantial differences among them. For example, traditional neoconservatives like Midge Decter were concerned with a perceived deterioration of US culture, while the conventional conservatives at the Heritage Foundation were concerned almost exclusively with the economy.)
The paleoconservatives’ America First policy supports isolationism or unilateralism in foreign affairs, coupled with a less reverent attitude toward an unregulated free market and support for an aggressive domestic policy to implement New Right social policies, such as the criminalization of sodomy and abortion.
The paleoconservatives are also more explicitly racialist and anti-democratic than the neoconservatives, who continue to support immigration, civil rights, and limited government.
The strongest glue that bound together the various sectors of the New Right’s pro-Reagan coalition was anti-communist militarism. Jewish neoconservatives were even willing to overlook the long-standing tolerance of racist and antisemitic sentiments among some paleoconservatives. This led to some strange silences, such as the failure to protest the well-documented presence of a network of emigre reactionaries and anti-Jewish bigots in the 1988 Bush campaign. The neocons could not be budged to action even when investigative writer Russ Bellant revealed that one aging Republican organizer proudly displayed photos of himself in his original Waffen SS uniform, and that Laszlo Pasztor, who had built the Republican emigre network, was a convicted Nazi collaborator who had belonged to the Hungarian Arrow Cross, which aided in the liquidation of Hungary’s Jews. (Pasztor is still a key adviser to Paul Weyrich.)
The hard right saw Bush as an Eastern elite intellectual, and even his selection of Dan Quayle as his running mate to pacify the theocratic right was not enough to offset what they perceived as Bush’s betrayal over social issues.
When the scandals of Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Bakker rocked televangelism and Pat Robertson failed in his 1988 presidential bid, some predicted the demise of the theocratic right. But they overlooked the huge grassroots constituency that remained connected through a Christian right infrastructure of conferences, publications, radio and television programs, and audiotapes. Robertson lost no time in taking the key contacts from his 1988 presidential campaign and training them as the core of the Christian Coalition, now the most influential grassroots movement controlled by the theocratic right.
Still, the theocratic right kept its ties to the Bush White House through chief of staff John H. Sununu, who worked closely with the Free Congress Foundation and even sent a letter on White House stationery in July 1989 thanking Weyrich for his help and adding, “If you have any observations regarding the priorities and initiatives of the first six months or for the Fall, I would like to hear them.” The Bush White House also staffed an outreach office to maintain liaison with evangelicals.
After the election of Clinton, the New Right alliance eventually collapsed. That became clear during the Gulf War, when Buchanan’s bigotry was suddenly discovered by his former allies in the neoconservative movement. Neoconservatives who championed the anti-Sandinista Nicaraguan contras were offered posts in the Clinton Administration. And Barry Goldwater, toast of the reactionaries in 1964, lambasted the narrow-minded bigotry of the theocratic right, which owes its birth to his failed presidential bid.
The 1992 Republican Party convention represented the ascendancy of hard right forces, primarily the theocratic right. The platform was the most conservative ever, and speakers called repeatedly for a cultural war against secular humanism.
The similarities between Goldwater’s 1964 campaign and the 1992 Republican convention were marked. Phyllis Schlafly was present at both, arguing that liberals were trying to destroy the American way of life. In 1964, Goldwater had targeted the deterioration of the family and moral values; in 1992, the Republicans targeted traditional values.
The genius of the long-term strategy implemented by Weyrich and Robertson was their method of expanding the base. First, they created a broader Protestant Christian right that cut across all evangelical and fundamentalist boundaries and issued a challenge to more moderate Protestants. Second, they created a true Christian right by reaching out to conservative and reactionary Catholics. Third, they created a theocratic right by recruiting and promoting their few reactionary allies in the Jewish and Muslim communities.
This base-broadening effort continued through the mid1990s, with Ralph Reed of the Christian Coalition writing in the Heritage Foundation’s Policy Review about the need for the right to move from such controversial topics as abortion and homosexuality toward bread-and-butter issues-a tactical move that did not reflect any change in the basic belief structure. Sex education, abortion, objections to lesbian and gay rights, resistance to pluralism and diversity, demonization of feminism and working mothers continued to be core values of the coalition being built by the theocratic right.
John C. Green is a political scientist and director of the Ray C. Bliss Institute at the University of Akron in Ohio. With a small group of colleagues, Green has studied the influence of Christian evangelicals on recent elections, and has found that, contrary to popular opinion, the nasty and divisive rhetoric of Pat Buchanan, Pat Robertson, and Marilyn Quayle at the 1992 Republican Convention was not as significant a factor in the defeat of Bush as were unemployment and the general state of the economy. On balance, he believes, the Republicans gained more votes than they lost in 1992 by embracing the theocratic right. “Christian evangelicals played a significant role in mobilizing voters and casting votes for the Bush-Quayle ticket,” says Green.
Green and his colleagues, James L. Guth and Kevin Hill, wrote a study entitled Faith and Election: The Christian Right in Congressional Campaigns 1978-1988. They found that the theocratic right was most active–and apparently successful–when three factors converged:
- The demand for Christian Right activism by discontented constituencies.
- Religious organizations that supplied resources for such activism.
- Appropriate choices in the deployment of such resources by movement leaders.
The authors see the Christian Right’s recent emphasis on grassroots organizing as a strategic choice, and conclude that “the conjunction of motivations, resources, and opportunities reveals the political character of the Christian right: much of its activity was a calculated response to real grievances by increasingly self-conscious and empowered traditionalists.”
The Roots of The Culture War
Spanning the breadth of the antidemocratic hard right is the banner of the Culture War. The idea of the Culture War was promoted by strategist Paul Weyrich of the Free Congress Foundation. In 1987, Weyrich commissioned a study, Cultural Conservatism: Toward a New National Agenda, which argued that cultural issues provided antiliberalism with a more unifying concept than economic conservatism. Cultural Conservatism: Theory and Practice followed in 1991.
Earlier, Weyrich had sponsored the 1982 book The Homosexual Agenda and the 1987 Gays, AIDS, and You, which helped spawn successive and successful waves of homophobia. The Free Congress Foundation, founded and funded with money from the Coors Beer family fortune, is the key strategic think tank backing Robertson’s Christian Coalition, which has built an effective grassroots movement to wage the Culture War. For Robertson, the Culture War opposes sinister forces wittingly or unwittingly doing the bidding of Satan. This struggle for the soul of America takes on metaphysical dimensions combining historic elements of the Crusades and the Inquisition. The Christian Coalition could conceivably evolve into a more mainstream conservative political movement, or–especially if the economy deteriorates–it could build a mass base for fascism similar to the clerical fascist movements of mid-century Europe.
For decades anti-communism was the glue that bound together the various tendencies on the right. Ironically, the collapse of communism in Europe allowed the US political right to shift its primary focus from an extreme and hyperbolic anti-communism, militarism, and aggressive foreign policy to domestic issues of culture and national identity. Multiculturalism, political correctness, and traditional values became the focus of this new struggle over culture. An early and influential jeremiad in the Culture War was Allan Bloom’s 1987 book The Closing of the American Mind. But neither the collapse of communism in the former Soviet Union, nor the publication of Bloom’s book accounts for the success of this Culture War in capturing the high ground in popular discourse. Instead, it resulted from the victory of hard-right forces within the New Right (which helped lead to its demise as a coalition), and the concomitant embrace by hard right activists of a nativist, theocratic ideology that challenged the very notion of a secular, pluralistic democracy.
At the heart of this Culture War, or kulturkampf, as Patrick Buchanan calls it, is a paranoid conspiratorial view of leftist secular humanism, dating to the turn of the century and dependent upon powerful but rarely stated presumptions of racial nationalism based on Eurocentric White supremacy, Christian theocracy, and subversive liberal treachery.
The nativist right at the turn of the century first popularized the idea that there was a secular humanist conspiracy trying to steer the US from a God-centered society to a socialist, atheistic society. The idea was linked from its beginnings to an extreme fear of communism, conceptualized as a “red menace.” The conspiracy became institutionalized in the American political scene and took on a metaphysical nature, according to analyst Frank Donner:
“The root anti-subversive impulse was fed by the [Communist] Menace. Its power strengthened with the passage of time, by the late twenties its influence had become more pervasive and folkish….A slightly secularized version, widely shared in rural and small-town America, postulated a doomsday conflict between decent upright folk and radicalism–alien, satanic, immorality incarnate.”
This conspiratorial world view continued to animate the hard right. According to contemporary conspiratorial myth, liberal treachery in service of Godless secular humanism has been “dumbing down” schoolchildren with the help of the National Education Association to prepare the country for totalitarian rule under a “One World Government” and “New World Order.” This became the source of an underlying theme of the armed militia movement.
This nativist-Americanist branch of the hard right (or the pseudo-conservative, paranoid right, as Richard Hofstadter termed it in his classic essay, “The Paranoid Style in American Politics”) came to dominate the right wing of the Republican Party, and included Patrick Buchanan, Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagle Forum, Pat Robertson’s Christian Coalition, the Rockford Institute, David Noebel’s Summit Ministries, and Paul Weyrich’s Free Congress Foundation and Institute for Cultural Conservatism. Of more historical importance are the John Birch Society, the Christian AntiCommunism Crusade, and Billy James Hargis’ Christian Crusade, although the John Birch Society’s membership doubled or tripled since the Gulf War in 1991 to over 40,000 members. Despite some overlap at the edges, reactionary hard right electoral activists should be distinguished from the extra-electoral right-wing survivalists, militia members, and armed White racists on their right, and from the Eastern establishment conservative branch of the right wing represented by George Bush on their left.
Secular humanism has been called the bogey-man of rightwing fundamentalism; it is a term of art, shorthand for all that is evil and opposed to God. While historically there has been an organized humanist movement in the United States since the mid-1800s, secular humanism as a large religious movement exists more in the right’s conspiracy theories than in actual fact. Secular humanism is a nontheistic philosophy with roots in the rationalist philosophies of the Enlightenment that bases its commitment to ethical behavior on the innate goodness of human beings, rather than on the commands of a deity.
The conspiracy that the right wing believes has resulted in secular humanism’s hegemony is both sweeping and specific. It is said to have begun in 1805, when the liberal Unitarians, who believed that evil was largely the result of such environmental factors as poverty and lack of education, wrested control of Harvard University from the conservative Calvinists, who knew that men were evil by nature. The Unitarian drive for free public schools was part of a conscious plan to convert the United States from capitalism to the newly postulated socialism of Robert Owen.
Later, according to the conspiracy theorists, John Dewey, a professor at Columbia University and head of the progressive education movement (seen as “the Lenin of the American socialist revolution”), helped to establish a secular, state run (and thus socialized) educational system in Massachusetts. To facilitate the communist takeover, Dewey promoted the look-say reading method, knowing it would lead to widespread illiteracy. As Samuel Blumenfeld argued in 1984, “[T]he goal was to produce inferior readers with inferior intelligence dependent on a socialist education elite for guidance, wisdom and control. Dewey knew it….”
For the hard right, it is entirely reasonable to claim both that John Dewey conspired to destroy the minds of American schoolchildren and that contemporary liberals carry on the conspiracy. As Rosemary Thompson, a respected pro-family activist, wrote in her 1981 book, Withstanding Humanism’s Challenge to Families (with a foreword by Phyllis Schlafly), “[H]umanism leads to feminism. Perhaps John Dewey will someday be recognized in the annals of history as the `father of women’s lib.’”
To these rightists, all of the evils of modern society can be traced to John Dewey and the secular humanists. A typical author argued:
“Most US citizens are not aware that hard-core pornography, humanistic sex education, the `gay’ rights movement, feminism, the Equal Rights Amendment, sensitivity training in schools and in industry, the promotion of drug abuse, the God-Is Dead movement, free abortion on demand, euthanasia as a national promotion…to mention a few, highly publicized movements…have been sparked by humanism.”
According to the right, by rejecting all notions of absolute authority and values, secular humanists deliberately attack traditional values in religion, the state, and the home.
The link between liberalism and treachery is key to the secular humanist conspiracy. In 1968, a typical book, endorsed by Billy James Hargis of the Christian Crusade, claimed, “The liberal, for reasons of his own, would dissolve the American Republic and crush the American dream so that our nation and our people might become another faceless number in an internationalist state.” Twenty-five years later, Allan Bloom, generally put forth as a moderate conservative, argued that all schoolteachers who inculcated moral relativism in school children “had either no interest in or were actively hostile to the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.”
The Culture War & Theocracy
Most analysts have looked at the Culture War and its foot soldiers in the traditional family values movement as displaying a constellation of discrete and topical beliefs. These include support for traditional, hierarchical sex roles and opposition to feminism, employed mothers, contraception, abortion, divorce, sex education, school-based health clinics, extramarital sex, and gay and lesbian sex, among other issues.
Traditional values also include an antipathy toward secular humanism, communism, liberalism, utopianism, modernism, globalism, multiculturalism, and other systems believed to undermine US nationalism. Beliefs in individualism, hard work, self-sufficiency, thrift, and social mobility form a uniquely American component of the movement. Some traditional values seem derived more immediately from Christianity: opposition to Satanism, witchcraft, the New Age, and the occult (including meditation and Halloween depictions of witches). Less often discussed but no less integral to the movement are a disdain for the values of egalitarianism and democracy (derived from the movement’s anti-modernist orientation), and support for Western European culture, private property, and laissez-faire capitalism.
This orthodox view of the traditional values movement as an aggregate of many discrete values, however, is misleading, for it makes it appear that Judeo-Christian theism is simply one value among many. Rather, Judeo Christian theism, and in particular Christianity, is the core value of the traditional values movement and the basis for the Crusades-like tone of those in the hard right calling for the Culture War.
Traditional values start from a recognition of the absolute, unchanging, hierarchical authority of God (as one commentator noted, “The Ten Commandments are not the Ten Suggestions”) and move from there to a belief in hierarchical arrangements in the home and state.
As Pat Robertson said at the Republican convention, “Since I have come to Houston, I have been asked repeatedly to define traditional values. I say very simply, to me and to most Republicans, traditional values start with faith in Almighty God.” Robertson has also said, “When President Jimmy Carter called for a ‘Conference on Families,’ many of us raised strenuous objections. To us, there was only one family, that ordained by the Bible, with husband, wife, and children.”
In part, the moral absolutism implicit in the Culture War derives from the heavy proportion of fundamentalist Christians in the traditional family values movement. Their belief in the literal existence of Satan leads to an apocalyptic tone: “The bottom line is that if you are not working for Jesus Christ, then you are working for someone else whose name is Satan. It is one or the other. There is no middle of the road.”
The hard right activist, as Richard Hofstadter noted, believes that all battles take place between forces of absolute good and absolute evil, and looks not to compromise but to crush the opposition.
A comment by Pat Robertson was typical:
“What is happening in America is not a debate, it is not a friendly disagreement between enlightened people. It is a vicious one-sided attack on our most cherished institutions.
“Suddenly the confrontation is growing hotter and it just may become all out civil war. It is a war against the family and against conservative and Christian values.”
Paul Weyrich sees the struggle today between those “who worship in churches and those who desecrate them.”
The root desire behind the Culture War is the imposition of a Christian theocracy in the United States. Some theocratic right activists have been quite open about this goal. Tim LaHaye, for example, argued in his book The Battle for the Mind that “we must remove all humanists from public office and replace them with promoral political leaders.”
Similarly, in Pat Robertson’s The New World Order: It Will Change the Way You Live (which argues that the conspiracy against Christians, dating back to Babylon, has included such traditional conspirators as John Dewey, the Illuminati, the Free Masons, the Council on Foreign Relations, and the Trilateral Commission), the question of who is fit to govern is discussed at length:
When I said during my presidential bid that I would only bring Christians and Jews into the government…the media challenged me, “How dare you maintain that those who believe the Judeo Christian values are better qualified to govern America than Hindus and Muslims?”
“My simple answer is, “Yes, they are.” If anybody understood what Hindus really believe, there would be no doubt that they have no business administering government policies in a country that favors freedom and equality….There will never be world peace until God’s house and God’s people are given their rightful place of leadership at the top of the world.
“How can there be peace when drunkards, drug dealers, communists, atheists, New Age worshipers of Satan, secular humanists, oppressive dictators, greedy moneychangers, revolutionary assassins, adulterers, and homosexuals are on top?”
The most extreme position in the Culture War is held by Christian Reconstructionists who seek the imposition of Biblical law throughout the United States. Other hard right activists, while less open or draconian, share an implicitly theocratic goal. While it denies any desire to impose a theocracy, the Center for Cultural Conservatism, which defines cultural conservatism as the “necessary, unbreakable, and causal relationship between traditional Western, Judeo-Christian values…and the secular success of Western societies,” breaks with conservative tradition to call upon government to play an active role in upholding the traditional culture which they see as rooted in specific theological values.
The Culture War & White Supremacy
The theory of widespread secular subversion spread by proponents of the Culture War was from the beginning a deeply racialized issue that supported the supremacy of White Anglo-Saxon Protestants. To the nativist right, in the 1920s as well as now, the synthesis of traditional values constituted “Americanism,” and opponents of this particular constellation of views represented dangerous, un-American forces.
As John Higham argued in Strangers in the Land: Patterns of American Nativism 1860-1925, subversion has always been identified with foreigners and anti-Americanism in the United States, and particularly with Jews and people of color. In the 1920s, subversion was linked to Jews, and the immigration of people of color was opposed in part because they were seen as easy targets for manipulation by Jews.
While antisemitism was never the primary ingredient in anti-radical nativism, the radical Jew was nevertheless a powerful stereotype in the “communist menace” movement. For example, some members of the coercive immigrant “Americanization” movement adopted the startling slogan, “Christianization and Americanization are one and the same thing.”
Virtually any movement to advance racial justice in the US was branded by the reactionary right as a manifestation of the secular humanist conspiracy. The National Education Association’s bibliography of “Negro authors,” foundation support for “Black revolutionaries,” and the enlistment of Gunnar Myrdal as an expert on the “American Negro” were all framed in this way. Similarly, the African American civil rights movement was from its beginning identified by the right wing as part of the secular humanist plot to impose communism on the United States.
In 1966, David Noebel (then of Billy James Hargis’ Christian Crusade, now head of the influential Summit Ministries) argued, “Anyone who will dig into the facts of the Communist involvement in the `civil rights’ strife will come to the conclusion that these forces have no stopping point short of complete destruction of the American way of life.” (In the preface, Noebel thanks Dr. R. P. Oliver, who is now perhaps best known as a director of the Institute for Historical Review, which denies that the Holocaust took place.)
In 1992, the civil rights movement is still seen in this light, as the rightist Catholic magazine Fidelity makes clear:
“It is no coincidence that the civil rights movement in the United States preceded the largest push for sexual liberation this country had seen since its inception….The Negro was the catalyst for the overturning of European values, which is to say, the most effective enculturation of Christianity.
“The civil rights movement was nothing more than the culmination of an attempt to transform the Negro into a paradigm of sexual liberation that had been the pet project of the cultural revolutionaries since the 1920s.”
The identification of sexual licentiousness and “primitive” music with subversion and people of color is an essential part of the secular humanist conspiracy theory, and one that has been remarkably consistent over time. The current attacks on rap music take place within this context.
In 1966, David Noebel argued that the communist conspiracy (“the most cunning, diabolical conspiracy in the annals of human history”) was using rock music, with its savage, tribal, orgiastic beat, to destroy “our youths’ ability to relax, reflect, study and meditate” and to prepare them “for riot, civil disobedience and revolution.” Twenty years later, these views were repeated practically verbatim by Allan Bloom, who wrote that rock music, with its “barbaric appeal to sexual desire,” “ruins the imagination of young people and makes it very difficult for them to have a passionate relationship to the arts and thought that are the substance of liberal education.”
The hard right’s attack on multiculturalism derives its strength from the right’s absolutism, as well as from its White racial nationalism. Samuel Blumenfeld was among the first to attack multiculturalism as a new form of secular humanism’s values relativism, writing in 1986 that multiculturalism legitimized different lifestyles and values systems, thereby legitimizing a moral diversity that “directly contradicts the Biblical concept of moral absolutes on which this nation was founded.”
Patrick Buchanan bases his opposition to multiculturalism on White racial nationalism. In one article, “Immigration Reform or Racial Purity?,” Buchanan himself was quite clear:
“The burning issue here has almost nothing to do with economics, almost everything to do with race and ethnicity. If British subjects, fleeing a depression, were pouring into this country through Canada, there would be few alarms.
“The central objection to the present flood of illegals is they are not English-speaking white people from Western Europe; they are Spanish speaking brown and black people from Mexico, Latin America and the Caribbean.”
Buchanan explicitly links the issue of non-White immigration with multiculturalism, quoting with approval the xenophobic and racist American Immigration Control Foundation, which said:
“The combined forces of open immigration and multi-culturalism constitute a mortal threat to American civilization. The US is receiving a never-ending mass immigration of non-Western peoples, leading inexorably to white-minority status in the coming decades [while] a race-based cultural-diversity is attacking, with almost effortless success, the legitimacy of our Western culture.”
The Free Congress Foundation’s Center for Cultural Conservatism disavows any racial nationalist intent while bluntly arguing that all non-White cultures are inferior to traditional Western cultures.
Race & Culture
The major split inside the right-wing crusaders for the Culture War is based on whether or not race and culture are inextricably linked. Buchanan and the authors of the Bell Curve argue for biological determinism and White supremacy, while Weyrich and Robertson argue that people of all races can embrace Americanism by adopting northern European, Christian, patriarchal, values–or, in their shorthand: traditional family values.
It’s important to state clearly that neoconservatives, for the most part, share Buchanan’s distaste for multiculturalism. The American Spectator, for example, has argued:
“The preservation of the existing ethnocultural character of the United States is not in itself an illegitimate goal. Shorn of Buchanan’s more unhygenic rhetoric, and with the emphasis on culture rather than ethnicity, it’s a goal many conservatives share. If anything, a concern that the ethnocultural character of the United States is being changed in unwholesome ways is the quality that distinguishes the conservatism of Commentary and the Public Interest from the more economically minded conservatism that pervades the Washington think tanks.”
In part, it is legitimate to argue that the distinction between the old and new conservatives on the issue of race is slim. At the same time, however, the distinction between the approaches the old and new conservatives take on race is the distinction between White racism and White racial nationalism. While systemic racism enforced by a hostile, repressive state is dangerous, the massed power of racial nationalism, as expressed in the activities of the racial nationalist, clerical fascist regimes in Eastern Europe during World War II, is vastly more dangerous.
The embrace of White racial nationalism by the paleo conservatives has been extensive. Chronicles magazine wrote in July 1990:
“What will it be like in the next century when, as Time magazine so cheerfully predicts, white people will be in the minority. Our survival depends on our willingness to look reality in the face. There are limits to elasticity, and these limits are defined in part by our historical connections with the rest of Europe and in part by the rate of immigrations. High rates of nonEuropean immigration, even if the immigrants come with the best of intentions in the world, will swamp us. Not all, I hasten to add, do come with the best intentions.”
In his distaste for democracy, Buchanan has explicitly embraced racial nationalism. In one column, titled “Worship Democracy? A Dissent,” Buchanan argued, “The world hails democracy in principle; in practice, most men believe there are things higher in the order of value-among them, tribe and nation, family and faith.” In April 1990, he made a similar statement: “It is not economics that sends men to the barricades; tribe and race, language and faith, history and culture, are more important than a nation’s GNP.”
Buchanan has also stated:
“The question we Americans need to address, before it is answered for us, is: Does this First World nation wish to become a Third World country? Because that is our destiny if we do not build a sea wall against the waves of immigration rolling over our shores….Who speaks for the Euro-Americans, who founded the USA?…Is it not time to take America back?”
The basic thesis of White racial nationalism is expressed by David Duke, who won 55 percent of the White vote in Louisiana while arguing:
“I think the basic culture of this country is European and Christian and I think that if we lose that, we lose America….I don’t think we should suppress other races, but I think if we lose that White–what’s the word for it–that White dominance in America, with it we lose America.”
It is difficult not to see the fascist undercurrents in these ideas.
The Hard Right’s Disdain for Democracy & Modernity
In the 1920s, at a time, not unlike today, of isolationism, anti-immigrant activism, and White racial nationalism, democracy was seriously challenged. With its anti-elitist, egalitarian assumptions, democracy did not appeal to the reactionary rightists of the 1920s, who insisted that the US was not a democracy but a representative republic. Today, Patrick Buchanan, Paul Weyrich, and the John Birch Society also insist on this distinction, which can more easily accommodate the anti egalitarian notion of governmental leadership by an elite aristocracy. As Hofstadter pointed out, the pseudo conservatives’ conspiratorial view of liberals leads them to impugn the patriotism of their opponents in the twoparty system, a position that undermines the political system itself.
While hard rightists claim to defend traditional US values, they exhibit a deep disdain for democracy. Dismissive references to “participatory democracy, a humanist goal,” are common; Patrick Buchanan titled one article, “Worship Democracy? A Dissent.” Like many hard rightists, Allan Bloom mixes distaste for humanism and democratic values with elitism when he argues:
“Humanism and cultural relativism are a means to avoid testing our own prejudices and asking, for example, whether men are really equal or whether that opinion is merely a democratic prejudice.”
More specific rejections of democracy are common currency on the hard right these days. Paul Weyrich, for example, called for the abolition of constitutional safeguards for people arrested in the drug war. Murray Rothbard called for more vigilante beatings by police of those in their custody. Patrick Buchanan has supported the use of death squads, writing, for example:
“Faced with rising urban terror in 1976, the Argentine military seized power and waged a war of counter-terror. With military and police and free lance operators, between 6,000 and 150,000 leftists disappeared. Brutal, yes; also successful. Today, peace reigns in Argentina; security has been restored.”
Perhaps the most disturbing manifestation of antidemocratic sentiment among the reactionary rightists has been their apparently deliberate embrace of a theory of racial nationalism that imbues much of the protofascist posturings of the European New Right’s Third Position politics. Third Position politics rejects both communism and democratic capitalism in favor of a third position that seems to be rooted historically in a Strasserite interpretation of National Socialism, although it claims to have also gone beyond Nazism.
Third Position politics blends a virulent racial nationalism (manifested in an isolationist, antiimmigrant stance) with a purported support for environmentalism, trade unionism, and the dignity of labor. Buchanan has endorsed the idea of antidemocratic racial nationalism in a number of very specific ways, arguing for instance, “Multi-ethnic states, of which we are one, are an endangered species” because “most men believe there are things higher in the order of value [than democracy]-among them, tribe and nation.” In support of this view, Buchanan even cites Tomislav Sunic, an academic who has allied himself with European Third Position politics.
Over the past several years, Third Position views have gained currency on the hard right. The Rockford Institute’s magazine Chronicles recently praised Jorg Haider’s racial nationalist Austrian Freedom Party, as well as the fascist Italian Lombardy League. In a sympathetic commentator’s description, the Third Position politics of Chronicles emerge with a distinctly volkish air:
“Chronicles is somewhat critical of free markets and spreading democracy. It looks back to agrarian society, small towns, religious values. It sees modern times as too secular, too democratic. There’s a distrust of cities and of cultural pluralism, which they find partly responsible for social decay in American life.”
Similarly, Paul Weyrich’s Center for Cultural Conservatism has praised corporatism as a social model and voiced a new concern for environmentalism and the dignity of labor.
In the wake of the schism within the right wing, the formation of coalitions is just beginning. Whether the US is indeed endangered because it is multicultural may depend on whether mainstream conservatives embrace a paranoid, conspiratorial world view that wants a White supremacist theocracy modeled on the volatile mix of racial nationalism and corporatism that escorted fascism to Europe in the mid-century.
Defending Democracy & Diversity
If the left of the current political spectrum is liberal corporatism and the right is neofascism, then the center is likely to be conservative authoritarianism. The value of the Culture War as the new principle of unity on the right is that, like anti-communism, it actively involves a grassroots constituency that perceives itself as fighting to defend home and family against a sinister threatening force.
Most Democratic Party strategists misunderstand the political power of the various antidemocratic right-wing social movements, and some go so far as to cheer the theocratic right’s disruptive assault on the Republican Party. Democrats and their liberal allies rely on short sighted campaign rhetoric that promotes a centrist analysis demonizing the “Radical Right” as “extremists” without addressing the legitimate anger, fear, and alienation of people who have been mobilized by the right because they see no other options for change.
That there is no organized left to offer an alternative vision to regimented soulless liberal corporatism is one of the tragic ironies of our time. The largest social movements with at least some core allegiance to a progressive agenda remain the environmental and feminist movements, with other pockets of resistance among persons uniting to fight racism, homophobia, and other social ills.
Organized labor, once the mass base for many progressive movements, continues to dwindle in significance as a national force. It was unable to block the North American Free Trade Agreement, and it has been unwilling to muster a respectable campaign to support nationalized health care. None of these progressive forces, even when combined, amount to a fraction of the size of the forces being mobilized on the right.
“It’s a struggle between virtual democracy and virulent demagoguery,” says author Holly Sklar, whose books on Trilateralism document the triumphant elitist corporate ideology implemented in the United States, Europe, and Japan. Trilateralist belt-tightening policies have caused material hardships and created angry backlash constituencies.
The right has directed these constituencies at convenient scapegoats rather than fostering a progressive systemic or economic analysis. Ironically, among the right-wing’s scapegoats is a conspiratorial caricature of the Trilateralists as a secret elite rather than the dominant wing of corporate capitalism that currently occupies the center and defends the status quo.
Suzanne Pharr, an organizer from Arkansas who moved to Oregon to help fight the homophobic initiative Measure Nine, is especially concerned that even in states where the theocratic right has lost battles over school curricula or homophobic initiatives, it leaves behind durable right-wing coalitions poised to launch another round of attacks. Pharr says:
“Progressives need to develop long-term strategies that move beyond short-term electoral victories. We have to develop an analysis that builds bridges to diverse communities and unites us all when the antidemocratic right attacks one of us.”
Obviously, individuals involved with the antidemocratic right have absolute constitutional rights to seek redress of their grievances through the political process and to speak their minds without government interference, so long as no laws are violated. At the same time, progressives must oppose attempts by any group to pass laws that take rights away from individuals on the basis of prejudice, myth, irrational belief, inaccurate information, and outright falsehood.
Unless progressives unite to fight the rightward drift, we will be stuck with a choice between the nonparticipatory system crafted by the corporate elites who dominate the Republican and Democratic parties and the stampeding social movements of the right, motivated by cynical leaders willing to blame the real problems in our society on such scapegoats as welfare mothers, immigrants, gays and lesbians, and people of color.
The only way to stop the antidemocratic right is to contest every inch of terrain. Politics is not a pendulum that automatically swings back and forth, left and right. The “center” is determined by various vectors of forces in an endless multidimensional tug of war involving ropes leading out in many directions. Whether or not our country moves toward democracy, equality, social justice, and freedom depends on how many hands grab those ropes and pull together.