One of the most interesting and exciting developments in the historiography of the United States in the 20th century has been the “discovery” of conservatism as a subject worthy of historical study. For many years the “consensus” school of historians—including scholars such as Louis Hartz, Daniel Bell, and Richard Hofstadter—saw the American Right as little more than a cranky reaction against progressive change, or, in Hofstadter’s words, an expression of the “paranoid style” he observed in American politics. Ultimately, therefore, they were of negligible interest to historians—mere speed bumps in the highway of progress.
In the April 1994 issue of the American Historical Review Alan Brinkley lamented that “while historians have displayed impressive powers of imagination in creating empathetic accounts of the past, they have seldom done so in considering the character of conservative lives and ideas.” He admitted that part of the reason for this myopia was that most academics today are not conservatives; nevertheless, Brinkley challenged them to stretch their “historical imagination” in giving fair consideration to this important tradition.
Historians have in recent years risen to Brinkley’s challenge, and the result has been a new wave of scholarship on the American Right—some of the best of which, it should be added, has been written by non-conservatives. Of particular interest has been the origins of the so-called “New Right” that asserted itself in the presidential nomination of Barry Goldwater in 1964, and in the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980. It is the spirit of this conservative movement that continues to animate large sections of the American electorate today.
To capitalize on this development—and in recognition of the 200th anniversary of Ohio statehood and the 125th anniversary of Ashland University—the AU Department of History and Political Science held a conference, in partnership with Ashland University’s John M. Ashbrook Center, dedicated to the historical evolution of the modern Right.
John Moser (Ph.D. University of Illinois, 1995) is an assistant professor of history at Ashland University. He is author of Twisting the Lion’s Tail: American Anglophobia between the World Wars (New York University Press, 1999) and Presidents from Hoover through Truman, 1929-1953 (Greenwood Press, 2001). He is currently working on a biography of the liberal-turned-McCarthyite journalist John T. Flynn.
Michael W. Flamm (Ph.D., Columbia University) is an assistant professor of history at Ohio Wesleyan University. He is the author of ’Law and Order’: Street Crime, Civil Disorder, and the Crisis of Liberalism. (Columbia University Press, forthcoming). He has also written numerous articles and reviews on the political culture of the 1960s.
Jeff Roche (Ph.D. University of New Mexico, 2001) is an assistant professor of history at the College of Wooster. He is author of two books, Restructured Resistance: The Sibley Commission and the Politics of Desegregation in Georgia (University of Georgia Press, 1998), and Cowboy Conservatism (forthcoming). He is also the co-editor of The Conservative Sixties (Peter Lang, 2003), which features original essays by some of the leading scholars of recent political history.
This conference is co-sponsored by:The Ashland University Department of History and Political Science
The John M. Ashbrook Center for Public Affairs at Ashland University
With generous support from the Earhart Foundation, Ann Arbor, Michigan