SUBURBAN WARRIORS: The Origins of the New American Right

Lisa McGirr, Author WHY OUR DRUG LAWS HAVE FAILED AND WHAT WE CAN DO ABOUT IT: $29.95 (416p) ISBN 978-0-691-05903-7

Prototypical rather than typical, suburban Orange County, Calif., provides Harvard historian McGirr with an illuminating microcosm of the historical transformations that took conservative activism from the conspiracy-obsessed fringes of the John Birch Society to the election of Ronald Reagan, first as governor of California and then as president. Drawing heavily on interviews with grassroots activists as well as a wide range of primary documents, McGirr paints a complex picture exploring the apparent contradiction of powerfully antimodern social, political and religious philosophies thriving in a modern, technological environment and translating into sustained political activity. Federal spending, beginning in WWII and continuing with massive Cold War defense contracts and military bases, was the driving force behind Orange County's booming economy. A frontier-era mythos of rugged individualism, nurtured on hatred of eastern elites who funded western growth before Uncle Sam conveniently hid this dependency. The local dominance of unfettered private development—chaotically disorganized in the county's northwest, corporately planned elsewhere—destroyed existing communities, producing an impoverished public sphere, a vacuum conservative churches and political activism helped fill. Migrants primarily from nonindustrial regions became more conservative in reaction to the stresses of suburban modernity, while selectively assimilating benefits. Racial and class homogeneity nurtured a comforting conformity consciously defended against outside threats. United by enemies, libertarian and social conservatives rarely confronted their differences. Against this complex, contradictory background, McGirr charts the evolution of a movement culture through various stages, issues and forms of organizing. Incisive yet fair, this represents an important landmark in advancing a nuanced understanding of how antimodernist ideologies continue to thrive. 12 illus. (Apr.)

Reviewed on: 03/26/2001
Release date: 01/01/2001
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 416 pages - 978-0-691-09611-7
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