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Suburban Warriors: The Origins of the New American Right (Politics and Society in Twentieth-Century America) Paperback – February 10, 2002

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Prototypical rather than typical, suburban Orange County, Calif., provides Harvard historian McGirr with an illuminating microcosm of the historical transformations that took conservative activism from the conspiracy-obsessed fringes of the John Birch Society to the election of Ronald Reagan, first as governor of California and then as president. Drawing heavily on interviews with grassroots activists as well as a wide range of primary documents, McGirr paints a complex picture exploring the apparent contradiction of powerfully antimodern social, political and religious philosophies thriving in a modern, technological environment and translating into sustained political activity. Federal spending, beginning in WWII and continuing with massive Cold War defense contracts and military bases, was the driving force behind Orange County's booming economy. A frontier-era mythos of rugged individualism, nurtured on hatred of eastern elites who funded western growth before Uncle Sam conveniently hid this dependency. The local dominance of unfettered private development chaotically disorganized in the county's northwest, corporately planned elsewhere destroyed existing communities, producing an impoverished public sphere, a vacuum conservative churches and political activism helped fill. Migrants primarily from nonindustrial regions became more conservative in reaction to the stresses of suburban modernity, while selectively assimilating benefits. Racial and class homogeneity nurtured a comforting conformity consciously defended against outside threats. United by enemies, libertarian and social conservatives rarely confronted their differences. Against this complex, contradictory background, McGirr charts the evolution of a movement culture through various stages, issues and forms of organizing. Incisive yet fair, this represents an important landmark in advancing a nuanced understanding of how antimodernist ideologies continue to thrive. 12 illus.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Orange County, CA, has been the home of anti-Communist John Birchers, apocalypse-prophesying evangelists, "cowboy capitalists" who demanded free enterprise and an unregulated economy, libertarians opposed to a centralized government and taxes, and thousands of voters angered by liberals. McGirr (history, Harvard) presents a deft investigation of how these citizens mastered grass-roots politics to shift the conservative movement from discredited clusters of extremists to respectability and dominant party status through the 1964 Republican presidential nomination of Barry Goldwater and the election of Ronald Reagan as California's governor in 1966. Although Orange County was arguably the most conservative county in America, it was, as the author concludes, mostly populated by middle- and upper-middle-class Republican professionals trying to protect their homes from what they viewed as a morally corrupt society. McGirr has not written the sweeping, spirited narrative that Rick Perlstein presented in his Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus (LJ 2/15/01), but she presents a focused, stimulating account that demonstrates that many of the best contemporary works on the Sixties are about the rise of the Right. Strongly recommended for academic libraries and recommended for larger public libraries. Karl Helicher, Upper Merion Township Lib., King of Prussia, PA
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Series: Politics and Society in Twentieth-Century America
  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (February 10, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691096112
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691096117
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.1 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #513,661 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

35 of 42 people found the following review helpful By Panopticonman on March 12, 2001
Format: Hardcover
A marvelous cultural history of conservative political and religious activism in Orange County, CA circa 1960 to 1980, Suburban Warriors evocatively renders the rise of New Right and the SunBelt, and argues persuasively that Orange County, CA was at the epicenter of the conservative revolution of the late 20th Century. Combining interviews with activists with larger demographic analsyses of the immigrants who came to populate the area during the post-WWII economic boom, along with an economic history of the growth of the area, McGirr deftly points a portrait of a time and a place and a people who were uniquely ready to create a new post-modern, politically conservative future. But it is her description of how it was done that makes for the most compelling reading.
McGirr is particularly good at pointing out certain ironies that undercut the Conservative agenda. For instance, she notes that Orange Country was and is anti-tax (anti-egalitarian, anti-collectivist, anti-communist, anti-Federal government interference, anti-fair housing), but that the boom it enjoyed in the 60s was fueled primarily by federal defense spending. The Rugged Individualist, Boot-Stapping Entreprenuerial Businessman was in many ways beholden for his economic success on government expenditures. More recently, Orange County, following it's own free-market, low/anti-tax philosophy went backrupt due to investments in esoteric stock market products, investments the County felt forced to make because of budget shortfalls.
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76 of 100 people found the following review helpful By on April 17, 2001
Format: Hardcover
The best part of McGirr's book about Orange County conservatism and the rise of the New American right is the first chapter on the setting. She discusses how Orange Country boomed under the post-war military buildup. One of the wealthiest counties in the country, thoroughly dependent on federal largesse, anti-communist ideology conveniently covered up that embarrassing fact in endless cant about individualism and the corrupting effects of the welfare state. In particular this homogenous county was peculiarly dispersed in its geography, encouraging an atomization and emphasis on consumerism that limiteed the development of a real community feeling. Into this vacuum the paranoia of the John Birch Society and a revived Fundamentalism rushed in. Instead of the rural communities of the South, or the anglophobic minorities of the Midwest, the banner of the radical right would be held by unequivocally modern upper middle class technicians and entrepreneurs of the warfare state. One could go, as McGirr does not, about how this wealthy stratum got government subsidized highways and tax deductions for their mortgages, while their racial exclusivity was backed up by Federal and State Housing authorities. Meanwhile a new Southern elite was subsidized by the state as it shucked off its black tenants. After getting so much power and wealth from the New Deal State, the radical right indignantly denounced it the minute the government tried to make a few measures to help the poor its plight it had helped to worsen.
The flaw in McGirr's book is that it does not really emphasize the essential selfishness of this posture. There is the occasional ironical mention of the role of the state and how evangelicalism never really faced the innate radicalism of the free market.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By M. P. Procter Sr. VINE VOICE on July 18, 2007
Format: Paperback
Lisa McGirr's book, Suburban Warriors: The Origins of the New American Right, chronicles the birth of the modern conservative movement from its beginnings in Orange County, California in the late 1950s through the election of Ronald Reagan as President of the United States in 1980. Though conservatism grew from one issue, namely anticommunism, the movement came to encompass much more. Suburban Warriors' six chapters begin with "The Setting," describing demographics and economics in Orange County. Next, "`A Sleeping Giant Is Awakening': Right-Wing Mobilization, 1960-1963," describes the beginnings of the conservative movement; "The Grassroots Goldwater Campaign" highlights the involvement of Orange County residents in the 1964 presidential election; and "The Conservative Worldview at the Grassroots" defines and analyzes the conservative ideology. Finally, "The Birth of Popular Conservatism" introduces Ronald Reagan as the conservative standard bearer and "New Social Issues and Resurgent Evangelicalism" describing new social issues and a renaissance of the evangelical movement. McGirr concludes the text with an epilogue which brings the reader forward to the twenty-first century. Though Suburban Warriors' implications affect the entire country, McGirr uses "...Orange County as the lens through which to explore the social base and ideological waters..." to explore conservatism, and does so with the use of first person testimonials and statistical data.

Appropriately, the first chapter, entitled "The Setting," describes Orange County, California, through the use of statistical and census data. One could surmise early on in this chapter that the author gets the reader lost in numbers at times, like the list of defense contractors and the number of employees in each company for example.
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