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New Left Review I/128, July-August 1981

Alan Wolfe

Sociology, Liberalism, and the Radical Right

Ronald Reagan is the first American president of the twentieth century whose political origins do not lie in the broad consensual centre of American politics. Only time will tell whether Reagan will remain true to his oft-expressed conservative beliefs or whether, for the sake of political peace, his administration will soften its revanchiste instincts. But whatever the course adopted after 1980, the fact that a man so recently defined as an ‘extremist’ could win the presidency—especially after the defeats of Barry Goldwater in 1964 and George McGovern in 1972 seemed to confirm those who argued that only a ‘moderate’ could be elected president—compels a re-examination of what was once called ‘the radical right’. Reagan’s ability to make a popular case for conservative themes, combined with the visible role played in both his campaign and his administration by right-wing activists, does not lend much credence to the view expressed by Richard Rovere in 1962 that radical right organizations symbolize ‘frantic efforts to prevent ultra-conservatism from dying out’ [1] Cited in Daniel Bell, ‘The Dispossessed’, in Daniel Bell (ed.), The Radical Right, Garden City 1964, p. 44. or S. M. Lipset’s prediction that ‘it is extremely doubtful that the radical right will grow beyond the peak of 1953–54.’ [2] Seymour Martin Lipset, ‘The Sources of the Radical Right’, in ibid, p. 369.

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