Lisa McGirr. Suburban Warriors: The Origins of the New American Right. Princeton University Press, 2015.

McGirr disposes of the Richanrd Bell/Daniel Hofstadter theses which saw (or dismisses) right-wing growth in the 1950s and 1960s as a “psychologically paranoid” protest against modernity. On the contrary, focusing on Orange County, McGirr shows that the “suburban warriors” a highly educated and thoroughly modern group of men and women successfully working in defense industries in Southern California which linked them to modernity and the wider world. Additionally, she goes to great lengths to comprehend rather than condemn their rise, avoiding calling them radical, extreme, far, or even racist by citing their lackluster support for George Wallace in 1968. Orange County conservatism had the dual effect of connecting modern middle-class professionals with the evils of communism that they were fighting , constitutionally she always adds, while providing outlets for their greed in a rapidly suburbanizing Orange County.


The growth of defense industries in the area created a strong emphasis on private development and growth with little regard for public and community space. These workers often migrated from the Bible Bet of the Midwest, where their conservatism felt at home in the Christian evangelism which was native to the region. The number of Baptist churches in the cities of Orange County, for instance, grew from 6 in 1950 to 57 in 1960, many of which were associated with the theologically conservative Southern Baptist Convention. Local activists used informal coffees and anticommunist study groups to attract neighbors, co-workers, and friends to their cause. They then turned their attention to local (school board elections; school curricula) and state politics (tax referenda and passing of the anti-communist Francis amendment to Proposition 24) in an attempt to wrest control of the GOP from liberal Republicans.


But as “unfanatical” as these individuals were, the rise of these Orange County conservatives was stilted the early 1960s by the existence of genuine extremists in the country, such as those who supported the John Birch organization and the Fred Schwarz School of AntiCommunism, their refusal to compromise with moderate Republicans (usually on the East Coast like Nelson Rockefeller and William Scranton), the reelection of congressman James B. Utt and the general tenor of the 1964 Goldwater campaign. All of these hide conservatism’s lasting appeal under a thin coating of ‘extremism.’


However, Orange County conservatives learned from their mistakes they made in 1964 and reemerged with a new “populist conservatism.” Republican conservatives and moderates reached across the divide, no longer caring much about anticommunism, but instead on “liberal humanists” who implemented higher taxes and forced bussing. The dramatic triumph in 1980 of a powerful new conservatism over the politics of postwar liberalism was the direct result of a decades-long process of building a grassroots movement of the Right thanks to the long-standing devotion to unique referendum procedures in California which can help bypass established political elite. Although leading business figures such as Walter Knott, owner of the successful tourist attraction Knott’s Berry Farm, were among the leaders, this grassroots movement began around the kitchen tables, in the community centers, and at the local school of America’s upwardly mobile middle-class. She tells a “bottom up” style of history, usually reserved for telling stories of ordinary individuals rebelling against American conservatism, to American conservatives.