“I’d like to burn you at the stake!” growled Betty Friedan at Phyllis Schlafly during a public debate over the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) at Illinois State University in 1973. Friedan and other feminists were unnerved by Schlafly. She was as sophisticated and accomplished as they were, but profoundly antifeminist. They tried everything to pass ERA and defeat Schlafly, from bribing state legislators to using witchcraft, but to no avail.
For decades, academic historians failed to take Schlafly, and other conservative Republican grassroots activists like her, seriously. They preferred to crank out works on their heroes of the grassroots left, whom they considered the vanguard of history. But when the right failed to follow its Communist nemesis onto the ash heap of history, and actually proceeded to elect a lasting congressional majority and another two-term president, liberal academics were compelled to notice.
In Phyllis Schlafly and Grassroots Conservatism, Donald T. Critchlow uses the career of the woman feminists love to hate as a lens through which to examine the neglected history of grassroots conservatism in postwar America. Critchlow combines scholarly rigor with fine prose to produce the best book ever written on this subject.
Critchlow’s study succeeds in part because he has no obvious antipathy toward his subject and avoids the methodological errors of other historians. He does not attribute the activities of grassroots conservatives to racism, status anxiety, or paranoia. He doesn’t conflate conservatism with the KKK or the militia movement. Rather, he takes the political beliefs that motivated Schlafly and her followers seriously, placing them in the tradition of the Midwestern Old Right: religious, suspicious of big government, and wary of entanglements abroad.
She and other conservative GOP activists, explains Critchlow, descend from the tradition of civic republicanism that dates back to the 18th century, a tradition that identifies the health of republican government with the virtue of private individuals and families, of which women are the special guardians.
Critchlow wisely admonishes students of the postwar right not to look at its political ascent as inevitable. There were many points at which the conservative movement could have slipped off its upward path. Critchlow reminds us that conservative intellectuals did not simply plant the seed from which the grassroots grew, as the story usually goes, but watched the grassroots sprout up simultaneously and independently.
The intellectuals and activists then came together. Schlafly was a central figure in uniting these two indispensable components of the movement. By writing, speaking, and organizing seminars, she brought ideas to the activists.
Most historians trace the shifting of the cultural divide in America among Protestants, Catholics, and Jews to the '60s revolution from which a new division between secularists and religious believers sprang. But Critchlow discovered that this realignment began much earlier in the grassroots anti-Communist movement. Like conservative intellectuals, grassroots conservatives were willing to look beyond their theological differences because of their shared commitment to fighting Communism. The intellectuals and activists of the right viewed the Cold War as a titanic struggle between good and evil through which all political events were interpreted.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?
H/T to National Review Online