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Right-Wing Populism in America: Too Close for Comfort 1st Edition

3 out of 5 stars 16 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-1572305625
ISBN-10: 1572305622
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Editorial Reviews


"This book shines brilliant light on right-wing populist movements that have undermined democracy throughout U.S. history--and are still influencing politics and policies today. The book shows how populist rhetoric has been used by far-right and mainstream politicians alike to divide people with scapegoating and deflect them from achieving greater social and economic equity." --Holly Sklar, author of Chaos or Community?: Seeking Solutions, Not Scapegoats for Bad Economics

"This long-awaited history and critical analysis has arrived right on time. The increased presence of the Right in this country has confused many people with its varied shapes and forms. This book gives the context needed for students and monitors of the Right to understand why these antidemocratic forces continue to thrive in our society." --Suzanne Pharr, author of In the Time of the Right: Reflections on Liberation, and Homophobia: A Weapon of Sexism

"This book makes significant strides toward a greater understanding of right-wing social movements in the United States. Berlet and Lyons present a holistic sociopolitical history that avoids many common theoretical pitfalls and oversimplifications. Instead of separating right-wing organizations into 'mainstream' and 'extremist' groups, these authors examine shades of populist ideologies that lead to both convergence and contradiction on the American political landscape. Their timely and compelling arguments lead us to reevaluate our definitions of these social movements and call for a reexamination of ineffective social policies aimed at containing right-wing groups. This accessible and engaging book is appropriate for use in undergraduate and graduate classes and will also be useful for a more general readership." --Stephanie Shanks-Meile, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Indiana University Northwest

"Chip Berlet has been a valuable resource for many years to everyone concerned about the potentially dangerous right-wing ideological strains that operate in this country. His work with Political Research Associates has been a most important source of data and analysis. Now he and Matthew Lyons have made yet another major contribution. Right Wing Populism in America builds on their years of expertise to provide a sweeping historical account of the tradition of such tendencies in American politics....This is an important analysis for everyone--scholars and nonspecialists alike--who wishes to understand the complex, sometimes ugly forces that have participated in shaping the American political landscape." --Adolph Reed, Jr., author of Class Notes

About the Author

Chip Berlet has written about right-wing movements for over 20 years, with bylines in The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Progressive, and scores of other publications. He is senior analyst at Political Research Associates in Somerville, MA, and editor of Eyes Right! Challenging the Right Wing Backlash. He has contributed articles and chapters to several scholarly books and journals and his media appearances and citations as an expert include Newsweek, National Public Radio, and Nightline.

Matthew N. Lyons is a historian, activist, and writer whose work has focused on systems of oppression and social movements. He is research associate for the Hansberry-Nemiroff Archival, Educational, and Cultural Fund, and author of The Grassroots Network: Radical Nonviolence in the Federal Republic of Germany, 1972-1985.

Product Details

  • Series: Critical Perspectives (Paperback)
  • Paperback: 499 pages
  • Publisher: The Guilford Press; 1 edition (November 1, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1572305622
  • ISBN-13: 978-1572305625
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.2 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #285,805 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
A balanced historical account of a skein of American political thought that the authors argue persuasively is far more mainstream than most observers would want to believe.

It's interesting to read down some of the other contributions in the "Reader Reviews" and see how defensive some of the responses are. The reason this type of reaction is surprising is that there is nothing accusatory or inflammatory in this book's rhetoric and it is exhaustively and accurately researched. Demagogues of the left like the "populist" Andrew Jackson (here debunked as a genocidal Indian fighter and tool of private banking interests) and Louisiana's Depression era Kingfish Huey Long share page space with more recent anti-government bogies of the modern American right like David Duke and Pat Buchanan, and the co-opting of themes sounded by Right Wing populists like (Democrat) George Wallace by modern Republican presidents like Richard Nixon is honestly depicted.

What this book does not do is paint all people on the Republican side of the ledger as extremists. But when its chronology reaches contemporary times, it does recognize that the Republican Party has become a haven for or at least a tolerant silent partner in many of the ideas -- hatred of government, immigrant-bashing, the elevation of business interests at the expense of individual liberties, apocalyptic Christianity that seeks to impose a religious ideal on secular American society -- that have fueled anti-democratic Right Wing populist movements since the 1830s. Not to recognize this would be less than honest, since the whole point of this book is to demonstrate the continuity of Right-Wing Populism as an organizing principle of American political discourse.
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Format: Paperback
'If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear' - Orwell.
Defensive and reactionary negative reviews of this book do not take away from the very relevant and necessary content of it. The fact that it hits a little close to home for some actually validates it, as the a authors argue (and rightly so) that dangerous right-wing populism doesn't just exist in so-called extremist neo-fascist groups such as the KKK (the KKK can hardly be considered a threat to anything anymore, mind you) and skinheads, but also in the back yards of suburban North America. It is now the American norm. Extremism as a mainstream ideology.
Read this book.
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Format: Paperback
The schematic that Berlet and Lyons propose to categorize various right wing populist movements throughout American history in the beginning of this exhaustive and exhausting survey is a fairly reasonable analytical tool. The problem is that it tends to constrain the historical analysis because each group, introduced in sequence, must be fitted into it's proper place within the scheme. It wears thin pretty fast.
They've done their research, they cite the right authors, they dig deeply into the past, but soon it's all merely additive, not insightful. It works like this: first a description of this movement, then this one, both of which shared some traits, then this one which developed a new means of expressing their xenophobia, etc. What it all adds up to is that any insights about these groups, or their proliferation, tend to be located within a fairly narrow range of observation.
Still it's a good reference work, and, if you're interested in the learning some of the tactics used by these groups to destroy the last vestiges of the neoliberal orthodoxy, to draw boundaries around groups who are not white, not male, not Christian, not true Americans, this book is a good place to start.
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Format: Paperback
As a sympathetic reader, I was somewhat disappointed by this book. The first 8 chapters, which are a historical outline of right-wing populist movements, attempt to cover so much material that many controversial assertions are unsupported by examples or documentation. Lyons seems to find evidence for right wing movements among any group that ever expressed a racist thought (which includes most groups in earlier American history).
The second half of the book, dealing with modern developments, is much better, partly because Berlet has a more narrow focus and more space to develop his ideas. Still, he goes too far occasionally when he implies that everyone who holds traditional American Christian beliefs (such as traditional, heterosexual families, the return of Christ to the earth, divine inspiration in the writing of the Constitution) is part of this right-wing movement. It is important to distinguish between people whose Christian values lead them to oppose abortion, reform welfare and decry the degeneration of popular culture,while supportive of our nation,and those who are out to eliminate our pluralistic society and replace it with much more theocratic leadership.
In spite or these reservations, this book should frighten anyone who follows American politics today. These authors persuasively argue that the anti-democratic ideas we normally associate with extremists have integrated themselves into the mainstream, and have a suprisingly large influence in our politics. Hillary Clinton's comment about a 'vast, right-wing conspiracy' may have been overstated, but readers of this book will see that she wasn't that far off the mark.
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