As a lifelong lefty I have gone through waves where I would read a ton on the right wing and then through periods where I would ignore it completely. Since Trump’s election I have been in a “reading a ton” cycle. Below I want to highlight everything I have read in recent years that have helped me understand the rightwing and rightwing movements. This is a personal, idiosyncratic list that is not meant to be exhaustive. I don’t pretend to be an expert on the rightwing but only someone who is concerned about creeping authoritarianism.
American Carnage: On the Front Lines of the Republican Civil War and the Rise of President Trump – Tim Alberta. Comprehensive overview of how Trump came to win the Republican nomination and how the GOP became more and more extreme. One highlight for me was the role immigration played in driving Republican extremism
Eichmann in Jerusalem – Hannah Arendt. This book obviously needs no introduction from me. I will just say that I don’t really know much about the controversy around the “banality of evil” etc but Arendt clearly makes the case the Eichmann was a willing Nazi.
Bring the War Home – Kathleen Belew. Excellent book that describes the emergence of the militia movements and white power movements in the U.S. Belew argues that soldiers returning from Vietnam turned the white power movement to view the federal government as the enemy. This culminates in tragedies such as the Oklahoma City bombing. Belew also describes in detail the Greensboro Massacre which I was totally ignorant of. The Greensboro Massacre was were 5 members of the Communist Workers Party were murdered by members of the American Nazi Party at a death to the klan march. Its always amazing to me how many incidents of political violence in the U.S. just slip down the collective memory hole.
Counterrevolution: The Global Rise of the Far Right – Walden Bello. A slim volume by a great sociologist/activist that puts the contemporary rise of the global far right in comparative perspective. Bello focuses on the middle classes role in supporting the rise of the far right in India, the Phillipines, Thailand, and other places. I wrote a little about it here.
Bitter Harvest – James Corcoran. I actually read this many years ago but the incident it discusses is one I know well. The book discusses Gordan Kahl, his Posse Comitatus organization and the murder of two U.S. Marshals in North Dakota in 1983. I know this well because I grew up in North Dakota and I remember well my dad and his uncles discussing this especially because my uncle Gary lived close to where this happened and he would mention his occasional run-ins with these lunatics.
The Politics of Resentment – Katherine J. Cramer. A rare political science book that breaks through into the broader popular conversation. Cramer documents Wisconsin’s descent into Scott Walker hell. Her primary methodology is visiting “coffee klatches” where she listens and engages her subjects in political conversations. She identifies a deep resentment by the rural people in Wisconsin that lead to the rise of Walker and the GOP taking over the state legislature. This book also resonates with me because as someone who grew up in rural North Dakota I am very familiar with “coffee klatches” and resentment. Also I happened to be living in Wisconsin at the time and was shocked to witness Wisconsin disowning its progressive heritage for the likes of Scott Walker and Ron Johnson.
Why Liberalism Failed – Patrick J. Deneen. Deneen is an anti-liberal, integralist, Catholic political theorist at Notre Dame, and friend of autocrats . Deneen argues the liberalism has failed, as the title suggests, because it has no core and is just parasitic on pre-liberal traditions and culture. Good view into what one version of the right wants
Let Them Eat Tweets – Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson. I’ve already written about this book but it’s central point that the GOP is trying to resolve the “conservative dilemma” by doubling down on racism and the culture wars is as good of diagnosis of the last 40 years of American politics as I know of.
Shadowlands: Fear and Freedom at the Oregon Standoff– Anthony McCann. This is an interesting book documenting the Bundy occupation of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge. Many interesting scenes in this book but two that stood out to me is McCann’s investigation of Ammon Bundy’s esoteric reading of the Constitution, and the acquittal of the occupiers in Federal Court which was according to McCann a result of the prosecutors overcharging the defendants.
Polarized America 2ndEd – Nolan McCarty, Keith T. Poole, and Howard Rosenthal. This is not a book about the right wing but the authors identify one of the driving forces for polarization among the GOP as an anti-immigration sentiment. I don’t think one can understate how anti-immigrant the base of the GOP is
The Far Right Today – Cas Mudde. This is a great short volume by one of the prominent scholars of the right wing. There are a lot of useful analytical points made in this book but the one that I find most useful is Mudde’s differential between the two divisions of the “far right”. Mudde differentiates between the “radical right” who do not dismiss the essence of democracy outright and some of the radical right support an exclusive echo-democracy. while the “extreme right” outright reject democracy completely and argue for an authoritarian hierarchical government and society.
Report On The Investigation Into Russian Interference In The 2016 Presidential Election Volume I and II – Robert Mueller. I think Jeffrey Toobin’s point that Mueller botched it by not saying Trump and his minions obstructed justice is accurate but I also think the the full Mueller Report is still very damning. The Mueller report showed the Trump campaign tripping all over themselves trying to accept help from Russia during the campaign something the Senate Intelligence reports confirm
Nut Country: Right-Wing Dallas and the Birth of the Southern Strategy – Edward Miller. Miller’s book is an interesting examination of the emergence of the hard core right in the GOP through the case study of Dallas, TX. As the subtitle states, the devolution of the Dallas GOP represented a test case of the southern strategy that has taken over the national GOP and brought the country on the edge of autocracy
Kill All Normies – Andrea Nagle. Examination of the emergence of the online alt-right. Nagle I believe is trained as an anthropologist which is useful to disentangling all the various strands emerging from the many online rightwing communities.
Anatomy of Fascism – Robert O. Paxon. I actually read this back in the day in graduate school. Its a tremendous book and the one I would recommend to anyone who wanted to know what Fascism entails. Two elements that have always struck me from the book are the necessity of submitting the communities will to the will of the leader, meaning fascism is inherently totalitarian and almost requires a charismatic leader. Also, that fascists see violence as an end in itself and not simply as a means to an end. I have always see these two elements as useful in distinguishing fascist from authoritarian movements.
American Zealots– Arie Perliger. The most recent book I have read in this list. The book is a short comprehensive accounting of contemporary right wing terrorism in the U.S. today. Chapter 2 is a comprehensive historical overview of the emergence of right wing terrorism in the U.S. and also the division of groups and causes that fall under the right wing umbrella. The empirical section finds that right wing terrorism is motivated by political empowerment (tacit and sometimes explicit support from mainstream GOP figures) and changing demographics.
Audience of One: Donald Trump, Television, and the Fracturing of America – James Poniewozik. I’ve already written about this book but I don’t think you can understand Trump without understanding the role television has played in shaping his worldview
The Reactionary Mind 2nd Ed– Corey Robin. I actually read both versions of this book and I think the 2nd edition is a big improvement on the first. Robin’s main thesis, which I think is right, is that conservatism as a political philosophy is inherently reactionary. This means that whenever some lower order group seeks equality “conservatives” try to repress those movements and violently if necessary. In other words, the paeans to Burkean wisdom of institutions spouted by conservatives is pretty much bullshit, it’s all about keeping others down.
On Tyranny – Timothy Snyder. A short book that came out right after Trump’s election. I generally read it as a checklist on what to lookout for over the next few years
Rural Radicals: Righteous Rage in the American – Catherine McNicol Stock. This book details the rural rebellions throughout American history. These have not all been right wing phenomenon but the book highlights that restiveness and even violence have been a prominent part of rural America for a long time
How Fascism Works – Jason Stanley. Similar to the “On Tyranny” book but better analysis in my opinion
Taking America Back for God – Andrew L. Whitehead and Samuel L. Perry. I very much enjoyed this book and wrote a previous post about it. One thing I keep remembering from the book is to separate Christian nationalists from conservative Christians. The former being a primarily political identity while the latter primarily a religious one.
“Confronting the International Political Sociology of the New Right” Abrahamsen et.al., International Political Sociology. Focuses on the international dimensions of the New Right
“The Unbearable: Toward an antifascist Aesthetic.” – Jon Baskin, New York Review of Books. Very interesting essay that covers Leni Riefenstahl, Karl Ove Knausgaard, and Terrance Malik’s film, A Hidden Life. The article as the title says is to develop an antifascist aesthetic which he thinks Knausgaard and Malick have (or at least the start of one).
Joseph de Maistre and the Origins of Fascism parts 1-3 – Isaiah Berlin, New York Review of Books. Three lengthy articles about Joseph de Maistre the ur-reactionary who Berlin argues served as an intellectual source for fascists.
“American Fascism: It Has Happened Here” – Sarah Churchwell, New York Review of Books. Great short article highlighting homegrown American fascism from the early 1900s onward. In other words, the fascism of the 1920s and 1930s was not just a European phenomenon. Just because fascists didn’t take power in the U.S. didn’t mean they weren’t a part of American politics
“Why There Are So Few Moderate Republicans Left” – Lee Drutman, FiveThirtyEight. Good deep dive into the changes to the Republican Party over the last few decades that have expelled most of the moderates
“Ur-Fascism” – Umberto Eco, New York Review of Books. This piece along with Robert Paxton’s Anatomy of Fascism are my go to pieces when trying to understand the core of fascism. Eco outlines 14 elements of fascism which he cautions us to keep on the look out for because it can come back in the most innocent of disguises.
“The Christian Withdrawal Experiment” – Emma Green, The Atlantic. A sympathetic, or at least non condescending, look at a renegade conservative Catholic group who have basically withdrawn to a small town in Kansas. One of the more memorable parts of the piece for me was the interviews with some of the towns folk who are not part of this religious group and the uneasiness they feel about their future intentions.
“Explaining Ethnoreligious Minority Targeting: Variation in U.S. Anti-Semitic Incidents” – Ayal Feinberg, Perspectives on Politics. Study on the increase in anti-Semitic hate crimes in the U.S. Among many findings the author finds the presence of hate groups in a state largely explains the prevalence of anti-Semitic hate crimes
“The Fascist Game: Transnational Political Transmission and the Genesis of the U.S. Modern Right.” Joseph Fronczak, The Journal of American History. I learned so much from this article. Much like the Sarah Churchwell article above this piece goes through the history of fascism in the U.S. The purpose is to show that the U.S. was not immune to the fascist virus of the 20s and 30s. Fronczak uncovers so much history that I was ignorant of. One small piece was how many “shirt color” groups there were in the U.S. Truly terrifying stuff
Among the Post Liberals – Daniel Luban, Dissent. Interesting article on some of the post-liberals reactionaries such as Patrick Deenan (see above) and Adrian Vermeule (see below), who argue for some type of integralist post-liberal Catholic theocracy, but who are also so vague on what they want as to maintain some plausible deniability that they are not full throated authoritarians.
“Contentious Federalism” Sheriffs, State Legislatures, and Political Violence in the American West.” – Zoe Nemerever, Political Behavior. Very interesting study. From the abstract:
I use a federalism perspective to consider how subnational governments can decrease the perceived costs of high-risk political violence against the state. This paper introduces three novel datasets to substantiate my theories: political violence against Bureau of Land Management employees, land transfer legislation in state legislatures, and a roster of constitutionalist sheriffs. As emblems of the contentious relationship between rural land users and the federal government, employees of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) routinely deal with threats, harassment, and physical violence from civilians who are incensed by restrictions on the use of federal land. Counties with constitutionalist sheriffs are 50% more likely to have violence against BLM employees than other counties, even when controlling for other factors. Additionally, levels of political violence are higher in years following the passage of land transfer legislation in the state legislature. Elected officials’ legislative activity, campaign promises, and law enforcement decisions all may promote political violence against federal employees.
“The Making of an American Nazi” – Luke O’Brien, The Atlantic. Profile of the American Nazi Andrew Anglin who as the subtitle states went from an antiracist vegan to a nazi.
“How Greenwich Republicans Learned to Love Trump” – Evan Osnos, New Yorker. Interesting look at how the country club Republicans have come to embrace Trump mostly because he gives them the plutocratic policies they want.
“‘Queer Eye’, Jordan Peterson and the battle for depressed men.” – Adam Ramsay, Opendemocracy.net. Part personal, part political and part cultural analysis, this piece ranges through a lot of topics but fundamentally comes down to the authors notion that a lot of the young men that are attracted to the new right or alt right are just simply depressed and looking for meaning in their lives.
“Fascinating Fascism” – Susan Sontag, New York Review of Books. Mostly a book review of Leni Riefenstahl’s “The Last of the Nuba.” Sontang outlines what the fascist aesthetic is/was and also is not having any of the attempted rehabilitation of Riefenstahl that was happening at the time (in the mid-1970s)
“White Supremacist Groups Are Thriving on Facebook.” Tech Transparency Project. Short study outlining all the ways Facebook is falling short in expunging white supremacist hate groups from its pages despite the many promises that it is doing so. At this point I think its clear that Facebook is objectively right wing
“Who Goes Nazi” – Dorothy Thompson, Harpers Magazine. A tremendous piece! The author uses the classic dinner party as a means of determining who would go Nazi all the while unearthing all the psychological elements and personal ambitions that lead otherwise “normal” people into evil. For a few weeks after I read it I was sizing up a lot of people I knew to see if they would go Nazi. Sadly, some people I know would gladly go Nazi
“Beyond Originalism” – Adrian Vermeule, The Atlantic. Like Deenan, Vermeule is an integralist Catholic who in this essay states that the judicial philosophy of “originalism” did what conservatives needed it too (reduce regulations, increase inequality, etc) but now it should be abandoned for a judicial philosophy that allows the courts to impose the theocratic government Vermeule desires. Its an interesting piece in that its clear that for the post-liberals an authoritarian system is their desire
Marc-André Argentino on twitter @_MAArgentino. Argentino is a Computer Science grad student who watches and documents online trends of the alt right
Roy Edroso Breaks it Down – Roy Edroso, also on twitter @edroso. Focuses mainly on making fun of “mainstream” conservatives
The Informant – Nick Martin, also on twitter @nickmartin. Lots of legal coverage of the radical right
JJ MacNab on twitter @jjmacnab. Focus on right wing violence
Orcinus – Dave Neiwart , also on twitter @DavidNeiwert. Long time chronicler of the right wing and how the more violent and reactionary elements of the right have filtered into the more mainstream right
Right Richter – Will Sommer, also on twitter @willsommer. Documents a lot of the online right, very useful in decoding many of the weird subcultures and themes that occupy them