Cover image for Suburban warriors : the origins of the new American Right
Suburban warriors : the origins of the new American Right
McGirr, Lisa, 1962-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Princeton, N.J. : Princeton University Press, [2001]

Physical Description:
xiii, 395 pages : illustrations, maps ; 25 cm.
Introduction -- The setting -- "A sleeping giant is awakening": right-wing mobilization, 1960-1963 -- The grassroots Goldwater campaign -- The conservative worldview at the grass roots -- The birth of Populist Conservatism -- New social issues and resurgent evangelicalism -- Epilogue.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
E839.5 .M32 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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In the early 1960s, American conservatives seemed to have fallen on hard times. McCarthyism was on the run, and movements on the political left were grabbing headlines. The media lampooned John Birchers's accusations that Dwight Eisenhower was a communist puppet. Mainstream America snickered at warnings by California Congressman James B. Utt that "barefooted Africans" were training in Georgia to help the United Nations take over the country. Yet, in Utt's home district of Orange County, thousands of middle-class suburbanites proceeded to organize a powerful conservative movement that would land Ronald Reagan in the White House and redefine the spectrum of acceptable politics into the next century.

Suburban Warriors introduces us to these people: women hosting coffee klatches for Barry Goldwater in their tract houses; members of anticommunist reading groups organizing against sex education; pro-life Democrats gradually drawn into conservative circles; and new arrivals finding work in defense companies and a sense of community in Orange County's mushrooming evangelical churches. We learn what motivated them and how they interpreted their political activity. Lisa McGirr shows that their movement was not one of marginal people suffering from status anxiety, but rather one formed by successful entrepreneurial types with modern lifestyles and bright futures. She describes how these suburban pioneers created new political and social philosophies anchored in a fusion of Christian fundamentalism, xenophobic nationalism, and western libertarianism.

While introducing these rank-and-file activists, McGirr chronicles Orange County's rise from "nut country" to political vanguard. Through this history, she traces the evolution of the New Right from a virulent anticommunist, anti-establishment fringe to a broad national movement nourished by evangelical Protestantism. Her original contribution to the social history of politics broadens--and often upsets--our understanding of the deep and tenacious roots of popular conservatism in America.

Author Notes

Lisa McGirr is Associate Professor of History at Harvard University

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

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. (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

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 (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

List of Illustrationsp. ix
Acknowledgmentsp. xi
Introductionp. 3
Chapter 1 The Settingp. 20
Chapter 2 "A Sleeping Giant Is Awakening": Right-Wing Mobilization, 1960-1963p. 54
Chapter 3 The Grassroots Goldwater Campaignp. 111
Chapter 4 The Conservative Worldview at the Grass Rootsp. 147
Chapter 5 The Birth of Populist Conservatismp. 187
Chapter 6 New Social Issues and Resurgent Evangelicalismp. 217
Epiloguep. 262
Notesp. 275
Bibliographyp. 351
Indexp. 379