Modern Conservatism and the Burden of Joe McCarthy

Many political experts have attempted to explain the rise of the right in recent years. At the close of World War II there was no unified, articulate conservative movement in the United States. Forty years later, Ronald Reagan was serving his second term in the White House, scores of conservative organizations were wealthy and growing, conservative publications flourished, and the GOP was making a serious bid to become the nation's most popular political party. By the mid-1980's, the Democratic coalition forged by Franklin D. Roosevelt during the Depression was clearly defunct. The left seemed increasingly out of touch with public opinion.

There is no simple explanation for the swift emergence of the right. In the most useful examination of the phenomenon, The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America Since 1945, George H. Nash distinguished three components of the intellectual right: the "classical liberals" or "libertarians" like Hayek and Mises; the "new conservatives" like Weaver, Kirk, and Nisbet; and the militant anti-Communists who founded National Review. These categories are not necessarily exclusive; some conservatives could claim to belong to all three. But they are helpful ways to point to the diversity of the right in recent years.

Many of the militant anti-Communists were ex-radicals and former Communists. Some were content to rail about Communist...

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