The Right Rides High

By Berlet, Chip | The Progressive, October 1994 | Go to article overview

The Right Rides High


Berlet, Chip, The Progressive


The Religious Right has come to dominate the Republican Party in at least ten of the fifty states. As part of its aggressive grass-roots campaign, the Religious Right is targeting electoral races from school boards to state legislatures, as well as campaigns for the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. It is a social movement that uses a pious and traditionalist constituency as its mass base to pursue the political goal of imposing a narrow theological agenda on secular society.

Along with the Religious Right, two other significant right-wing political movements threaten democracy: Regressive Populism, typified by diverse groups ranging from members of the John Birch Society to followers of Ross Perot, and Racial Nationalism, promoted by Pat Buchanan and his shadow, David Duke of Louisiana, and increasingly influential in conservative political circles closer to the mainstream.

Finally, there is the militant, overtly racist Far Right that includes the White Supremacists, Ku Klux Klan, skinheads, neo-Nazis, and armed 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 mainstream conservatives and these Far Right movements.

All four of the right-wing movements are antidemocratic in nature, promoting in various combinations and to varying degrees authoritarianism, xenophobia, conspiracy theories, nativism, racism, sexism, homophobia, demagoguery, and scapegoating. 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 Religious Right has much in common with Regressive Populism, though the demographics of their respective voting blocs appear to be remarkably distinct.

Despite the differences, however, 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 the civil-rights, antiwar, feminist, environmental, and gay-rights movements.

Each wing of the Right has a slightly different vision of the ideal nation:

[paragraph] The Religious Right's ideal is a theocracy in which Christian men interpret God's will as law in a hierarchy where women are helpmates, children are property of their parents, and the 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 longstanding activist in the Religious 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. "If government is always there to bail out people who have children out of wedlock, if there is no disincentive for doing for one's self, then large numbers of people will feel no need to get themselves together and behave responsibly."

[paragraph] For Regressive Populism, the ideal is economic Darwinism, with no regulations restraining entrepreneurial capitalism. The benevolent despot rules by organically expressing the will of the people. 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. …

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