Political Science The New Right in American Political Thought
Brian Glenn, Leif Parsell, Yael Levin Hungerford, Bianca Wythe
  • LAST REVIEWED: 12 July 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 September 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756223-0133


The “New Right” is a political, cultural, and intellectual movement that arose following the Second World War. The previous movement on the American right had been damaged by a variety of events, including the failure of President Herbert Hoover, a Progressive Republican; the subsequent popularity of President Franklin D. Roosevelt; the fading interest in American political isolation; and the desire of elites to globalize both markets and political decision making. While there were a variety of reasons and actors, especially given its ties to previous movements, the New Right arose in response to two primary causes. First, the Supreme Court’s various rulings in favor of the New Deal, especially West Coast Hotel Co. v. Parrish (1937) and Wickard v. Filburn (1942), which had reversed more than a century of precedents and jurisprudence regarding the ability of the federal government to expand beyond its enumerated powers. Political actors who wished to see government activity restrained could no longer necessarily rely on the Constitution’s defined limits. Second, threats posed by left-wing ideologies, both physical and philosophical, forced many intellectuals and political actors into a more active defense of the American regime and culture. Starting in the 1930s, the two political parties began to diverge on a number of key questions. At first, these were economic, but by the 1960s, they had spread to cultural issues as well. As the two parties sorted themselves, removing Progressives from the Republican Party, and Conservatives from the Democratic, these divergences grew. As this sorting continued, a variety of political actors would join the New Right in the mid-to-late 20th century. These included what, in the early 21st century, is referred to as the “Neo-Conservatives,” who reacted against the progressive changes and policies of the 1960s and 1970s—whether the expanded welfare guarantees for the poor or the feminist revolution—for failing to produce its promised results, and moreover, for its many unintended consequences. In addition to government expansion heralded by the New Deal, and “Great Society,” another mid-1960s piece of legislation, the 1965 Immigration and Naturalization Act, which resumed mass immigration after a thirty-year hiatus, reopened a variety of issues in American politics regarding immigration, culture, civil society, Americanization, and the underclass. As a full-fledged political and cultural movement, the New Right has produced scholarship on a variety of issues and has disagreed on some, such as immigration, foreign policy, and trade. This article seeks to introduce a scholar to the key texts and articles of the movement that have been produced both in the United States and internationally. While many of these texts play on the intellectual work of the late Enlightenment—including Adam Smith, John Locke, Frederic Bastiat, Baruch Spinoza, Edmund Burke, and others—we have attempted to stay within the bounds of the New Right, and therefore these foundational texts are excluded.

Key Foundational Texts

The New Right, as first a philosophical and then political movement, has a variety of texts that can be considered “foundational.” This category is divided into those written before the advent of the New Right, c. 1950, those written in the formative years of 1950–1980, and finally those written in the modern era.

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