New Right (United States)

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For the extreme-right movements in Europe and the U.K., see New Right (Europe). No, they're not the same.

The New Right (a.k.a. Movement Conservativism or Reagan Conservatism) refers to a conservative movement that brought key elements of the American Right under the banner of red-baiting anti-communism. The movement was so named because it set itself apart from the isolationist and laissez-faire "Old" Right.

The New Right had its roots in the post-WWII era, beginning with the McCarthyite scare of the early 50s and the death of Ohio Senator Robert Taft. Its origins are often traced to William F. Buckley and his National Review magazine, founded in 1955. The term "New" Right was coined in 1962 in an article for "Young Americans for Freedom" and became a popular descriptor for them in 1975.[1]:53 Other writers also cite such New Deal opponents of the 1950s as Clarence Manion and L. Brent Bozell, Jr. (who first attempted what later became the Southern Strategy),[2] Peter Viereck, who may have been one of the immediate intellectual forebears of the New Right (but would soon denounce what it became),[3] and Friedrich Hayek.

Some commentators have called it the "Three Legged Stool": big biz, the Christian Right, and foreign policy hawks.


Modern conservative thought began in the '50s as a reaction to what many considered the consensus liberalism of post-WWII America and the onset of the Cold War. F.A. Hayek's The Road to Serfdom (1944), William F. Buckley's God & Man at Yale (1951), an early critique of liberal academia, and Russell Kirk's The Conservative Mind (1953) were important texts, along with the founding of National Review. Throughout the mid to late 1950s, this new-model conservatism gained momentum among college students and twenty-somethings; M. Stanton Evans documented this trend in his 1961 book Revolt on the Campus, which prematurely proclaimed the '60s a conservative decade.

Manion and Bozell first attempted to build a coalition fusing anti-New Deal fiscal conservatism with an inherently anti-civil rights "states rights" platform and discussed forming a third political party during the late 1950s. The 1956 independent presidential campaign of T. Coleman Andrews running on such a platform went nowhere, carrying only one county each in Virginia and Tennessee and 0.17% of the nationwide popular vote.[4] Under the influence of Buckley, they soon dropped the third party talk and set out to draft Barry Goldwater to run as a Republican.[2] Another meeting was sponsored in 1959 by Kent Courtney and endorsed by several others on the right (Utah governor J. Bracken Lee, Dan Smoot, Thomas J. Anderson), also calling for a new conservative party; Courtney would also soon get on the Goldwater bandwagon but continue advocating for a new third party on the far-right.[5]

1960 proved a banner year for the New Right. In September, Buckley, Bozell, Evans, and several other conservatives issued the Sharon Statement, setting down a series of principles for the conservative movement.[6] These conservatives also founded Young Americans for Freedom (YAF), a student organization that remained a powerful national organization through the mid-'70s.[7] The same year saw the publication of Barry Goldwater's book, The Conscience of a Conservative. Actually ghostwritten by Bozell, it became a best-seller and introduced conservative ideology to a broader audience.

The nascent New Right coalesced around the 1964 presidential campaign of Barry Goldwater. William F. Buckley got to work purging elements such as Ayn Rand and her followers, Willis Carto and his supporters, and the John Birch Society from the pages of National Review, effectively reading them out of the New Right (while modifying their ideas). Meanwhile, a new batch of personalities came out of the Goldwater campaign. They included:

  • Phyllis Schlafly, whose book A Choice, Not An Echo was widely distributed to promote Goldwater
  • Ronald Reagan, whose last-minute "TV for Goldwater-Miller" ad[8] established him as an up-and-coming conservative politician
  • Richard Viguerie, pioneer of political direct mail


Apparently, the rich had had it. They weren't going to take the likes of us anymore. They also were in no mood to respect their former president, Eisenhower, who was nearly booed down until the crowd finally got a look at his scarlet face and raging eyes. One furious look from the ancient lion shut them all up. He said something and then turned his back on a people he'd never much cared for.
Gore Vidal on the 1964 Republican National Convention, Point to Point Navigation

After Goldwater lost in a landslide, some of the New Right again flirted with third-party strategies, most notably the American Independent Party. This turned out to be a sideshow. Most of the New Right set out to take over the Republican Party and remake it from the bottom up, bringing in new allies as part of the conservative coalition. Although the New Left got much of the attention on college campuses, William F. Buckley's youth group, Young Americans for Freedom, was also very active.[9] After the social changes of the 1960s, the Religious Right and neoconservatism formed in reaction and were both added to the mix. Supply-side economics was also influential. Several groups were founded during this period, such as:

The movement got a big boost when a tax revolt in the 1970s culminated in California Proposition 13 in 1978, rolling back property taxes.[10] Viguerie asserted that the biggest boost, even more than the late 1970s tax revolt, was public opposition to the Panama Canal treaties and the New Right's ability to mobilize that opposition.[1]:65-72 He also cited as another big boost the influence of the Religious Right in flipping evangelical voters, a key constituency, from voting overwhelmingly for Jimmy Carter in 1976 to overwhelmingly for Reagan just four years later.[1]:123-128 The New Right soon had its biggest success when one of its own was elected president in 1980.


Gingrich assumed that when he became speaker, he could co-opt the radical outsiders he brought with him to Washington. It never happened. Their disdain for Washington, government, and Congress continued, even during their majority status. And, as Sean Theriault writes in The Gingrich Senators, many of them migrated to the Senate, making its culture more partisan and combative.
—Norm Ornstein[11]

The break with Reagan-Bushism has been in the offing for a long time. After the fall of the Berlin Wall and the effective end of the Cold War, the New Right coalition turned on each other. The Old Right was revived (under the paleoconservatism label) by people such as Pat Buchanan; a new populism fed into movements such as the Reform Party, whose members included a young Donald Trump; the Goldwater Republicans were effectively supplanted by a newer, some would say nastier, brand of conservatism typified by conservative talk radio, Pat Robertson's Christian Coalition, and in 1994 by the Newt Gingrich-led Republican takeover of the United States House of Representatives. This brand of conservatism influenced the George W. Bush administration.

Ronald Reagan is no longer relevant to anybody apart from Christian Dominionists like Cruz and Palin or tax-cut maniacs like the staff of the National Review. Note how those forces insisted on fealty to "Reaganism" during the primary, while Trump scarcely namechecked Reagan at all. This indicated that the "3-legged stool" was coming apart, which not many people saw coming. (Remember how bullish so many liberal writers were on Rubio winning the 2016 primary?)

One of the lingering successes of the New Right was to make "liberal" a snarl word as it drove the center of American politics away from the left. The New Right's style once got them far but has not aged well. One reason for this is its fondness for creationism, anti-gay bigotry, and continuing to use Cold War-style red-baiting two decades after the fall of Communism — things even many conservatives today consider embarrassments. Groups continuing to hearken back to the New Right style come across today as possible parodies; examples might include the AIM website, the Tea Party, and anything coming out of the mouth of Rick Santorum. Recently the alt-right has been the incarnation of paleoconservatism fused with identitarianism, nationalism, racialism, men's rights activism from the manosphere, the European New Right, monarchism, right-wing authoritarian libertarianism, anti-modernism, and deep ecology.[12][13][14][15]

External links[edit]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Viguerie, Richard. The New Right: We're Ready to Lead. Caroline House, 1981. ISBN 0960481427.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Perlstein, Rick. Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus. 2001, Hill and Wang.
  3. Viereck Revisited, The American Conservative
  4. 1956 Presidential General Election Results, David Leip's Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections
  5. Kent Courtney, Our Campaigns
  6. The Sharon Statement
  7. There was a major split in YAF in the late '60s, due to the rise of the libertarian movement within its ranks and disillusionment over Vietnam and Watergate. YAF still exists today, but in a much-diminished capacity.
  8. "A Time for Choosing Poorly" by Ronald Reagan
  9. For all the details see Rebecca Klatch, A Generation Divided: The New Left, the New Right, and the 1960s, University of California Press, 1999
  10. "Proposition 13, Then, Now and Forever", Cato Institute
  11. Ornstein, Norm, "The 8 Causes of Trumpism", 1.4.16.
  12. "What Is The Alt Right?"
  13. "The Fight for the Alt-Right: The Rising Tide of Ideological Autism Against Big Tent-Supremacy"
  14. "Vox Popoli: What the Alt Right is - Vox Day"
  15. "The Alt Right and the Impossibility of Conservatism"