Rightward Bound

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Rightward Bound: Making America Conservative in the 1970s. Eds. Bruce J. Schulman and Julian E. Zelizer. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2008. x, 373 pp. Cloth, $49.95, ISBN 978-0-674-02757-2. Paper, $19.95, ISBN 978-0-674-02758-9.



This collection of fourteen essays come together to argue that the 1970s was a decade of significance, when the "Right coalesced into a full-scale political movement and forged durable connections between state and society only in the 1970s" (3). This concentrated look at the 1970s seeks to show how the conservative movement came together not as a reflexive backlash against the 1960s, but as the culmination of grassroots and institutional work against a seemingly dominant liberalism.

The volume is organized into two halves: the disparate efforts and issues around which the movement coalesced, and the important political fights that established the Right as a political and cultural force. In the first half, the essays cover a wide range of topics including business, gender, civil rights, evangelicalism, music and culture, and localism. The second half examines how the Nixon and Carter administrations dealt with currying support from white ethnic groups, the energy crisis, unions, and foreign policy. The latter topic is covered over three essays dealing with d├ętente, Nicaragua, and the Carter administration's foreign policy troubles. Running through the book is the tension between the emergence of a consolidated conservative movement and the endurance of liberalism. Rather than recasting the decade as one in which the conservative movement rose untroubled to register significant political victories, the essays demonstrate the conservatives' inconsistent gains, which the editors argue continue to frame the contests between conservatism and liberal social change in the twenty-first century.


Celeste Sharpe, Spring 2013

The primary strength of the book is the diversity of topics covered by a number of prominent scholars. The spread of topics reinforces the sense of the disparate groups and interests that came together to form a viable political challenge to liberal Democratic policies and politicians. The essays effectively argue that the 1970s was not a period of unthinking backlash to the perceived excesses of the 1960s, but a space in which evangelicals, business interests, and family-values advocates, among others, made significant gains in forging alliances and agitating for their positions.

The most compelling essays are the ones that address themselves to a well-defined location and/or topic. Matthew Lassiter's essay on the refinement of a family values ideal and Paul Boyer's piece on the resurgence of evangelicalism are perhaps the most broadly synthetic. Boyer especially is concerned with the sweeping rise of evangelical religion, and fails to give a sharp sense of which denominations and groups were at the center of this movement. More successful at conveying a sense of the issues at stake and the venues in which conservatives made their challenges are Marjorie Spruill's analysis of the face-off between feminists and anti-feminists at the 1975 International Women's Year conferences, and Joseph Crespino's examination of the fight between the IRS and private religious schools over tax exemptions and desegregation. Suleiman Osman look at "neighborhoodism" takes a different approach than that of the other scholars, in that he argues that "rather than a shift rightward, the 1970s marked a shift inward. Neither exclusively Left nor Right, the politics of the 1970s was militantly local" (115). Moving away from the back and forth between liberalism and conservatism, Osman grounds his analysis in the local priorities and an "urban insurgency" that encompassed African American challenges to black political machines and national civil rights organizations (111). This, along with Thomas Sugrue and John Skrentny's essay, are the only two treatments of race and ethnic minorities—a space that could have included more attention. Similarly, Spruill's look at the IWY conferences is the primary discussion of gender, and even that basically equates gender with women's history. Overall, this book serves as a solid resource for understanding conservatism and as a corrective to studies that overlook the social developments and pressures in the 1970s.

Kirk Johnson, Spring 2013

This book is a readable and wide-ranging summary of much current scholarship on the rise of American conservatism in the 1970s--as well as a collective claim that, as the editors note, the decade was a crucial era in modern American history and not merely a stopgap between the 1960s and the 1980s. (10). Each essay recounts a particular avenue of study and is around 20 pages in length, and as such serves more as a summary of recent scholarship than an in-depth analysis.

The book is divided into two parts; Part I, "Mobilizing the Movement", analyzes the development of various institutions and constituencies which provided the voters, activists, and increasingly broad public support for the conservative movement. Part II, "The Battle over Policies and Politics", focuses on institutional and political battles waged by conservative leaders who were able to benefit from both a growing conservative movement and various missteps by liberals and Democrats.

The essays cover everything from religious conservatism to gender to Jimmy Carter's Nicaraguan policy. Despite the wide variety of topics by a number of different writers, there is a considerable consensus on certain fundamental themes, particularly in the importance of deliberate activity by both political and cultural leaders as well as grass-roots activists. The rise of American conservatism was not an organic product of a general "backlash" to real or perceived liberal excesses and societal decline.

Some essays are more successful than others. On the one hand, Jeremi Suri's "Detente and its Discontents" is fascinating in how it quickly sketches the path by which the realpolitik of Henry Kissinger paved the way for the triumphalism of Reagan's foreign policy (and, by extension, the neoconservatism which followed), and illustrates how American conservatism itself changed as it slowly displaced (but never completely obliterated) the liberal consensus. On the other hand, Bethany E. Moreton's "Make Payroll Not War" is an interesting study of the role of big business in facilitating the rise of business schools and business majors in American colleges at the expense of the humanities, and some of her conclusions about the social effects of this campaign (including the embrace of the capitalist entrepreneur as anti-establishment hero) are interesting, the brevity of her piece prevents her from making a stronger argument that this was a key factor in the rise of American conservatism. However, even the less-convincing entries bring the reader into a dialogue with the editors and their collaborators. This is a very accessible work.

Megan Brett, Spring 2014

This book works well as an accompaniment to McGirr's Suburban Warriors, building from her focus on California conservatives in the 1960s to expand to a national look at conservatives the 1970s. The role of religion, in particular evangelical protestant Christianity, discussed by McGirr is the subject of two essays, on by Paul Boyer and the other by Joseph Crespino. Boyer looks at the rise of evangelicalism nationwide, focusing on the marketing strategies and media savvy used by evangelical leaders to expand their churches. Boyer seems to be focusing on white, non-liturgical protestant churches, but race is almost entirely absent from his discussion, which is frustrating given his discussion of "the evangelical reaction against liberal Protestantism's social activism" - an activism which had included race. Crespino, on the other hand, examines the relationship between civil rights legislation (Brown) and the religious right's response regarding education. Threatened by school desegregation and a general suspicion of educational trends, white conservative Protestants increasingly established their own schools, in a movement which in timing at least matched white flight. Crespino explores the ways in which the movement for separate schools was and was not part of a racially motivated response, which allows him to reconstruct the worldview of these conservatives.

Anne Ladyem McDivitt, Spring 2015

As has been noted, Rightward Bound is a collection of essays that dispels the notion that the 1970s was "frozen" between the 1960s and 1980s, but instead argues that the conflicts and trends of the decade were crucial in the defining the public even today, explaining that the 1970s moved the US from New Deal and Cold War policies into a new era of conservatism. (4, 2) The collection of essays examines different aspects of American life during the 1970s, demonstrating religion, family values, gender business, foreign policy, and race were all significant to the conservative shift beginning in the 1970s.

The book is split into two sections--the first examines the cultural development of the conservative movement, why it took hold in the 1970s, and the organizational methods of creating this movement, rather than the traditional view of reactionary conservatism. (7) The second focuses on politics of the 1970s. (9) With a large range of topics and the strength of the essays, the collection effectively proves that the 1970s were culturally and politically important.

Bradford Martin's "Cultural Politics and the Singer/Songwriters of the 1970s" particularly struck me, as it demonstrated a cultural turn of media figures to look inward and to seek their own self-discovery rather than an outward, social and political theme. Martin argues that the music was not un-political, as it both accommodated the conservative turn while engaging in its own suspicious critique of it. (130) It also shows the racial divide of music in popular culture, stating that emerging music genres such as heavy metal and glam rock almost exclusively appealed to white audiences.

Andrew Salamone, Spring 2016

Rightward Bound is a collection of essays that explores the increasing power of the conservative movement in the United States during the 1970s. As with authors such as Jefferson Cowie and Lisa McGirr, the authors of this work argue that the decade saw some of the more profound political changes the nation has ever witnessed; changes that not only reshaped governing institutions, but, more significantly, transformed the relationship between people and government. The articles in this volume trace the impact this growing conservatism had on domestic government, international relations, and political culture. While each one highlights the role of this rightward shift in politics played across a variety of areas, the authors agree, perhaps a bit ironically, that the shift in political orientation did not result in a wholesale effort to jetison the nation's accomplishments under more liberal leaders such as FDR. They noted that the accomplishments of rising conservative leaders, embodied best by Ronald Reagan, occurred against a "backdrop where liberal achievements still mattered." Paul Boyer discussed the rise of evangelicalism in his essay, arguing that the movement had long played an important part in the nation's politics. As a result, evangelical leaders had established what he termed a "dense web of institutions" capable of mobilizing followers when conditions were right. The combination of social upheaval and economic decline in the late 60s and early 70s provided the impetus for that mobilization. Boyer also contended that evangelicals made great use of marketing techniques and other strategies to appeal to a broad audience, resulting in what he termed the "melding of sacred and secular in the mass culture." Marjorie J. Spruill examined the growing fight between conservatives and liberals over the effort to champion women's rights. As feminists and antifeminists sparred over these issues, she argued, it pushed American politics further to the right as conservatives began to "rally around gender issues." She noted that Reagan's victory in 1980 solidified conservative voices in women's issues and resulted in protracted battles over equal opportunity and similar issues. Finally, Julian E. Zelizer investigated the impact this conservative shift had on U.S. foreign policy following the Carter Administration. Zelizer contended that Carter maintained a centrist foreign policy that attempted to "moderate the military aspects" of foreign policy by making human rights issues a top concern. Carter's defeat, however, in the presidential election of 1980, allowed "hawkish Republicans to ally with the conservative movement," resulting in a more assertive U.S. foreign policy. Zelizer argued that this marked an important shift in foreign policy because conservatives would continue to dominate this arena for the next two decades, largely shaping the country's interaction with the world.

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