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date: 20 January 2018

Right-Wing Literature in America

This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Literature. Please check back later for the full article.

Examining the production and reception of fiction and nonfiction written explicitly by and for members of right-wing movements provides a deeper understanding of points of affinity as well as the contention among apparently increasingly partisan groups in the United States. Primary materials include fiction penned by conservative politicians and pundits, fiction written by right-wing agitators, and nonfiction movement literature such as periodicals, advice books, and tactical instruction guides. Since the middle of the 20th century, right-wing literature has sustained and motivated an increasingly formidable political force that undermines democratic ideals and encourages reformatory or revolutionary action.

Comparing and contrasting fiction with movement nonfiction written by conservatives of the Cold War era illuminates how right-wing politics has shifted away from pessimistic accounts of the supposed decline of Western civilization. In the 1960s, conservative book clubs advertised fiction in which heroes typically were ordinary white businessmen whose love of country led them to fight “un-American” foes, often depicted as sexual deviants, racialized immigrants, or a combination of the two. The fiction, then, presented a means of transcending abstract, erudite discussions of the presumed “suicide of the West” that preoccupied conservative intellectuals. Likewise, more radical nonfiction offered a hopeful, less fatalistic sense of right-wing plight. While an urgent tone characterized both fiction and nonfiction in the Cold War era, the fiction and some smaller political publications illuminated a difference between using doomsday rhetoric and deploying an apocalyptic narrative, in which readers could see themselves taking action in social dramas and political conflicts. This rejection of fatalistic passivity corresponded with the rise of the New Right, which de-emphasized economic imperatives to thwart the supposed anticommunist evil that plagued America.

Instead of economic concerns, the New Right began politicizing social issues to inaugurate a cultural conservatism that went beyond conserving and defending a right-wing version of the American way of life and went on the offensive in the 1970s and 1980s. Right-wing fiction of the Culture Wars not only reflected this shift but also ushered it in. In the midst of and after the Reagan Revolution, male protagonists in right-wing fiction were more socially outcast and persecuted than their Cold War counterparts and therefore were more action-oriented from the start. Macho serial fiction and novels penned by right-wing agitators in the antiabortion and white supremacist movements fomented militant insurgency and revolution.

Meanwhile, mainstream publishers created imprints specifically designed to cater to conservative readership, especially women. An industry boom in conservative Christian fiction emerged, with orchestrated efforts to challenge educational curricula and with increased popularity in homeschooling. The trajectory of influential conservative women’s writing went from atheistic free-market novels, and prim advice books on how to negotiate assertiveness and subservience in holy matrimony, to political conspiracy books, and increasingly vicious attacks on particular liberals presumed to be agents (not just dupes) of the antichrist. In recent years, women and right-wing pundits have published commercially successful young adult and children’s literature expressly with conservative themes.