Journalists were equally contemptuous. In 1962 a writer in the The Nation suggested that conservatives were more interested in thinking up "frivolous and simple-minded" slogans than in developing intelligent proposals to meet the complexities of post-Second World War America. The Washington Post described members of one conservative group as people who liked to "complain about the twentieth century." And even a sympathetic commentator in Commonweal wondered whether a right-wing student group was a new political voice or "merely a new political organization out to repeal the twentieth century?"
More than three decades later Americans are still struggling to understand the rise of modern American conservatism. Much of this is the fault of scholars and journalists. Very little has been written about the rise of the right in the 1960s. From today's vantage point, this is arguably the most significant development of that decade, yet scholars and journalists have focused almost exclusively on the new left, civil rights, and the decline of American liberalism.
Allen Matusow's The Unraveling of America (1984) is a case in point. The author explains that the book is "a history of domestic liberalism in the 1960s," telling "the story of how liberals attained political power and attempted to use it for extending the blessings of American life to excluded citizens." He also examines the "great uprising against liberalism in the decade's waning years by hippies, new leftists, black nationalists, and the antiwar movement--an uprising that convulsed the nation and assured the repudiation of the Democrats in the 1968 election." Matusow writes, "Thus, in a few short years, optimism vanished, fundamental differences in values emerged to divide the country, social cohesion rapidly declined, and the unraveling of America began." John Morton Blum's book on the 1960s, Years of Discord, is dedicated to the "liberal spirit" and is essentially "a reexamination of American liberalism." And The Sixties (1987), by the sociologist Todd Gitlin (note the definitive title), focuses on the hopes, dreams, and disappointments of the new left and the counterculture. "What," Gitlin asks, "did 'the Sixties'--the movement, the spirit--accomplish?"
These studies have greatly enriched our understanding of America after the Second World War. But by neglecting the rise of the right they have left us with an incomplete and one-sided view of the 1960s.
That view is about to change. Mary Brennan's Turning Right in the Sixties is the first on what will most likely be a lengthening and important list of detailed studies of the rise of American conservatism. (In recent years a handful of books have been written about the right, but these have tended to be sweeping accounts offering few insights into the nuts and bolts of the conservative movement.) Brennan, an assistant professor of history at Southwest Texas State University, chronicles the conservative capture of the Republican Party from 1960 to 1968. In doing so, she not only advances our understanding of the rise of the right; she also offers a more balanced and, ultimately, more accurate view than we have had before of the most tumultuous decade of the century.
BRENNAN effectively addresses one of the central questions in modern American politics: how conservatism transformed itself from an obscure fringe movement into one of the most powerful political forces in the country. She argues that the Trilling-Hofstadter analysis of the right was deeply flawed. By the late 1950s conservatives had established a strong base of support in the growing Southwest. For much of the century wealthy easterners had controlled the Republican Party, but in the postwar years a growing number of businessmen and political leaders from the Sunbelt, many of whom had prospered in the postwar industrial boom, began playing a greater role in national politics. Stressing individual initiative, free enterprise, and a militant anti-communism, conservatives formed a variety of single-interest groups to challenge the ideas and programs of the liberal eastern establishment.