THE ODYSSEY OF THE AMERICAN RIGHT by Michael W. Miles

THE ODYSSEY OF THE AMERICAN RIGHT

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KIRKUS REVIEW

This survey of 50 years of the American Right is a case of a good idea caught in an untenable structure. The good idea is Miles' characterization of the Right in question--mostly the right-wing Republicans--as ""true liberals"" rather than the easier ""conservatives."" Miles emphasizes that this Right must be understood as an American variant of European liberalism, advocating laissez-faire but willing to tolerate limited government assistance to the market, and tied to ""traditional"" American values of thrift, patriotism, etc. Miles thereby takes a step toward resolving the recurrent question of whether or not there is a true American conservatism; his formulation, of course, leads to a no vote. What is unfortunate is Miles' plot peg: in his view, the focal point of the American Right has been its opposition to FDR's New Deal, which it charged with socialism, communism (fascism too, during Roosevelt's first term), and general conspiracy. The Right, however, was utilizing a vocabulary developed during 15 years of denouncing ""Bolshevism""--and, moreover, the New Deal's opponents included many strains (like the crypto-fascism of Joe McCarthy) excluded, by definition, from the ""true liberal"" label. So, while Miles competently rehashes the struggles over New Deal agencies, FDR's efforts to pack the Supreme Court, the conflict over American entry into World War II, the China Lobby, McCarthyism, and much else, he gets hopelessly lost conceptually. And it remains a question, still, whether or not the Right actually did attempt to subvert the New Deal. Miles ends his ""odyssey"" with Richard Nixon, whom he sees as an anti-New Dealer foiled only by Watergate, but ignores Gerald Ford, who fits the ""true liberal"" mold far better and actually did try to roll back social legislation. Similarly, there is no discussion of the ""new right,"" although their ancestors were part of the anti-New Deal coalition, or of such figures as Ronald Reagan. All of this, together with the self-destruction of both the New Deal and the New Deal coalition within the Democratic Party, goes unnoticed because Miles' framework has no place for it. A hint of a good idea caught up in the wrong book.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1980
Publisher: Oxford Univ. Press