The Politics of Unreason: Right Wing Extremism in America, 1790-1970

By Seymour Martin Lipset; Earl Raab | Go to book overview

ceased after the 1936 election, and the organization dissolved in 1940. The League was never a political movement, its activities being confined largely to single-issue propaganda and pressure group tactics. It could scarcely qualify as an "extremist" group, since, at worst, it only gingerly embraced the pattern of monism. It did not call for the serious alteration of the democratic process; it evinced no nativism; it only hinted at conspiracy. The League was, of course, anti-Communist and anti-internationalist. In the course of its polemic, it was not averse to calling the New Deal a Marxist conspiracy. But the term was used as a vague epithet rather than as an explanatory theory. Statism itself, rather than the conspiracy of statism, was at the center of the League's concern. Many Liberty Leaguers, especially in its earlier years, denounced the New Deal as fascist, as imitating the policies of Mussolini.

The Liberty League was the first of a series of efforts by American right-wing conservatives, largely drawn from the ranks of businessmen and self-employed professionals, to resist the growth of what has come to be known as the "welfare state." Since 1933, those groups which identify with nineteenth-century economic values of laissez faire, rugged individualism, social Darwinism, have attempted in various ways to reverse the dominant trends. As George Wolfskill put it, the new situation which dates from 1933 has meant that the "group who had long been on the side protested against; now . . . [was] in the unaccustomed role of protester." 163

The League was, of course, preservatist, but its weakness was that it appealed only to the preservatism of the economically privileged. It made no appeal to the class interests of the less privileged--a difficult task for conservatism at any time, but especially during a depression. And it made no alternative appeal to the preservatist impulses among the less privileged. Conservative movements of the future were to try somewhat harder on that score.

In all, the essential dynamics of right-wing extremism had not altered during the 1930's, depression or not; but some of the appurtenances had changed. The burden of its thematic baggage had shifted from Protestant nativism to a more abstract nativism; in its most abstract, just a kind of nationalistic antiradicalism. It was this thread that Senator Joseph McCarthy picked up and tested in the first major preservatist movement of the postwar period.


Notes
1.
Ramley J. Glass, "Gentlemen, the Corn Belt!" Harper's, CLXVII ( July 1933), 200.
2.
New York Times, July 27, 1932, as reported in David A. Shannon, The Great Depression (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1960), p. 91.

-202-

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The Politics of Unreason: Right Wing Extremism in America, 1790-1970
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Tables ix
  • Preface xv
  • Notes xxiii
  • Chapter 1 Political Extremism 3
  • Notes 31
  • Chapter 2 Before the Civil War 34
  • Notes 67
  • Chapter 3 the Protestant Crusades from the Civil War to World War I 72
  • Notes 104
  • Chapter 4 the Bigoted Twenties 110
  • Notes 145
  • Chapter 5 the 1930's: Extremism of the Depression 150
  • Notes 202
  • Chapter 6 the 1950's: Mccarthyism 209
  • Notes 245
  • Chapter 7 the Era of the John Birch Society 248
  • Notes 282
  • Chapter 8 the Birch Society and Its Contemporaries: Social Base 288
  • Notes 333
  • Chapter 9 George Wallace and the New Nativism 338
  • Notes 373
  • Chapter 10 George Wallace: the Election and the Electorate 378
  • Notes 424
  • Chapter 11 Extremists and Extremism 428
  • Notes 482
  • Chapter 12 Political Extremism: Past and Future 484
  • Notes 515
  • Methodological Appendix to Chapter 11 517
  • Notes 522
  • General Index 525
  • Index of Proper Names 537
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