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E.J. Dionne's New Book about Radical Conservatives (REVIEW ESSAY)

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Duluth, Minnesota (OpEdNews) February 10, 2016: After President Harry Truman dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the English novelist George Orwell wrote his dark dystopian novel Nineteenth Eighty-Four (1948) -- a kind of dark sequel to the English novelist Aldous Huxley's dystopian novel Brave New World (1935).

Huxley's dystopian novel involves a satirical view of the consumerism that Pope Francis critiques in his recent eco-encyclical.

Orwell's dark dystopian novel contained his critique of English socialism and Soviet communism. Orwell based his fictional figure of Big Brother, at least in part, on Stalin.

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After World War II ended, most Americans were anti-communist. All Republican and all Democratic politicians were anti-communist. Because the Soviet Union had officially outlawed religion, most American religionists were anticommunists. As a result, many Americans read Orwell's dark dystopian novel and relished his critique of communism.

In the spirit of the Cold War, Republican politicians tended to characterize Democrats as soft on communism, despite their official anti-communist rhetoric.

Moreover, the radical forces in the Republican Party had long railed against President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal. Furthermore, they tended to reject President Dwight D. Eisenhower's as a moderate Republican, because he did not work feverishly against FDR's New Deal and Social Security -- as the radicals wanted to.

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In their radical conservative imagination, so-called Big Government was as ominous as Big Brother in Orwell's dark dystopian novel.

As a result, in due time, the radical conservatives in the Republican Party supported Senator Barry Goldwater from Arizona for president in 1964. One of Goldwater's star supporters in 1964 was Ronald Reagan, who at a later time led the radical conservatives in the Republican Party to victory, when he was elected president in 1980.

The liberal American journalist E. J. (Eugene Joseph) Dionne, Jr. (born in 1952; D.Phil. in sociology, Oxford University, 1982), who grew up as a conservative in a conservative family, recounts the ups and downs of the radical conservatives in the Republican Party in his new book Why the Right Went Wrong: Conservatism -- From Goldwater to the Tea Party and Beyond (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2016).

Dionne says that the right went wrong by following the radical conservatives such as William F. Buckley, Jr., Goldwater, and Reagan, instead of following the moderate Republican President Eisenhower.

Dionne says, "Goldwater's victory [in the 1964 Republican presidential primary] was built on the conviction that the Republican Party's establishment had betrayed its conservative loyalists for a generation" -- by repeatedly not handing the Republican presidential nomination to the conservative Senator Robert A. Taft (page 16). According to Dionne, Goldwater's spirit of rebellion against the Republican Party's establishment has survived over the decades up to the present time in the Republican Party.

In the book A Nation of Outsiders: How the White Middle Class Fell in Love with Rebellion in Postwar America (Oxford University Press, 2011), Grace Elizabeth Hale details how white middle-class Americans fell in love with imagining themselves as cultural outsiders, as the radical conservatives discussed by Dionne did as they saw themselves as standing over against the Republican establishment.

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In the book Decade of Nightmares: The End of the Sixties and the Making of Eighties America (Oxford University Press, 2006), Philip Jenkins details how radical conservatives have capitalized on anti-60s rhetoric to promote radical conservative candidates and causes. Unfortunately, Dionne does not mention Hale's and Jenkins' books.

Nevertheless, it should please Rob Kall that Dionne explicitly refers to bottom-up change, which he explicitly differentiates from top-down change. Let me explain.

Dionne says, "The civil rights, and moral revolutions of the 1960s created the [anti-60s] backlash that helped the conservative movement grow between 1964 and 1988, prompting the shift of white southerners to the GOP, the rise of Reagan Democrats, and the birth of the religious right" (page 7).

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Thomas James Farrell is professor emeritus of writing studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). He started teaching at UMD in Fall 1987, and he retired from UMD at the end of May 2009. He was born in 1944. He holds three degrees from Saint Louis University (SLU): B.A. in English, 1966; M.A.(T) in English 1968; Ph.D.in higher education, 1974. On May 16, 1969, the editors of the SLU student newspaper named him Man of the Year, an honor customarily conferred on an administrator or a faculty member, not on a graduate student -- nor on a woman up to that time. He is the proud author of the book (more...)
 

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