POST-CONSERVATIVE AMERICA by Kevin P. Phillips
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POST-CONSERVATIVE AMERICA

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KIRKUS REVIEW

In some respects Phillips' Emerging Republic Majority (1964), with its discussion of the Sun Belt and New Right, has proved to be prophetic; but he did not conceive of Reagan playing Moses. His Republican majority was in place, he says, by 1972, when--had Watergate not intervened--Nixon would have won reelection on a far vaster scale than he did. And he wants nothing to do with the Reagan conglomeration of forces. For one thing, Phillips thinks that ""conservative"" may be the wrong way to think about what has been going on lately: he's not as concerned with ideology as with demographics and economics, and he sees the fundamentalist moral backlash as more a symptom than a cause of profound change. Phillips wants to subsume much that has taken place under the rubric of populism--the tax revolt, for example--and he makes the term expansive enough to accommodate swings to the left and right. Conservatives in the Republican party have mistakenly taken the tax revolt as a mandate to return to old-fashioned fat cat tax policies; but they are heading for trouble because of the volatility of the tax-revolt constituency. One of the paradoxes of the Sun Belt voters, Phillips thinks, is that they live in a world of rapid change (unlike the traditional conservative voters of the Midwest, for example); if the prosperity that has propped them up collapses, it is not clear what they might do. Phillips also points to the heavy vote for John Anderson's 1980 independent candidacy in California's ""Silicon Valley"" as evidence that the economy's transformations may not help the Republican right. But the past bankruptcy of liberalism means, to Phillips, that there's no going back to that, either. His view of the possible future is bleak: the right-wing revisionist interpretation of Vietnam as a stolen victory, similar to the German right's reaction to Versailles, could provide an outlet for right-wing radicalism; the failure of the Reagan administration to pay-off the religious right could lead to a fourth ""Great Awakening"" of religious revivalism on the right (Phillips downplays this); ""middle American radicalism"" of the kind associated with the KKK and paramilitary groups is on the rise, and a failure to restore prosperity or a hope in the future could make it worse; the exigencies of global economics are making things unstable enough to preclude a strong party realignment--paving the way for continued short-term coalitions, preventing institutional changes in our political structure, and paving the way for a communications-technology-based right-wing populism that is potentially authoritarian. This prognosis is made up of bits and pieces of impressions rather than a coherent theoretical perspective, but Phillips' dire warnings that the 1980s may be our Weimar can't be written off.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1982
Publisher: Random House