THE PARTY OF FEAR: From Nativist Movements to the New Right in American History by David H. Bennett

THE PARTY OF FEAR: From Nativist Movements to the New Right in American History

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Bennett (History/Syracuse Univ.; Demagogues in the Depression: American Radicals and the Union Party, 1932-1936) knows his territory, and in this survey of American right-wing extremist movements from Colonial times to the present, the fascination of his informed look at a politics based on fear and ignorance will pull readers through what is often graceless writing. Bennett sets the stage with the virulent anti-Catholicism of early America, which, with the impetus of immigration during the 1840's and 50's, became institutionalized in the Know Nothing Party. The nativist, anti-alien stance of the Know Nothings survived the demise of the party, eventually manifesting itself in a fashionable scientific racism applied to immigrant groups of the 1880's and 90's. This notion, accepted at all levels of society, lost currency after helping to fuel the Ku Klux Klan of the 1920's. Bennett shows that, since then, successful extremist movements have focused hate upon alien ideas rather than peoples. He offers rich material to support this: the Red Scare, the Fascists of the 30's and 40's, McCarthyism, the nco-Nazi groups of the 80's and the rise of Fundamentalism and the religious right. Along with the wealth of material, there are problems here--the narrative slows considerably when overviews are followed up with somewhat reiterative state-by-state surveys; phenomena that don't support Bennett's scheme (e.g., the violent response to Mormonism; the economic motivations for the suppression of the Wobblies) are almost entirely overlooked. Useful for its informational content, this one will serve until a more sophisticated treatment comes along.

Pub Date: June 13th, 1988
Publisher: Univ. of North Carolina Press