Old Right (United States)

Old Right (United States)

The Old Right was a conservative faction in the United States that opposed both New Deal domestic programs and U.S. entry into World War II. Many members of this faction were associated with the Republicans of the interwar years led by Robert Taft, but some were Democrats. They were called the "Old Right" to distinguish them from their New Right successors, such as Barry Goldwater, who favored an interventionist foreign policy to battle international communism. Many members of the Old Right favored laissez faire classical liberalism; some were business-oriented conservatives; others were ex-radicals who moved sharply to the right, like John Dos Passos; still others, like the Southern Agrarians, were traditionalists who dreamed of restoring a premodern communal society.[1]



The Old Right emerged in opposition to the New Deal of Franklin D. Roosevelt. By 1937 they formed a Conservative coalition that controlled Congress until 1964.[2] They were consistently non-interventionist and opposed entering WWII, a position exemplified by the America First Committee. Later, most opposed U.S. entry into NATO and intervention in the Korean War. "In addition to being staunch opponents of war and militarism, the Old Right of the postwar period had a rugged and near-libertarian honesty in domestic affairs as well."[3]

This anti–New Deal movement was a coalition of multiple groups:

Jeff Riggenbach argues that some members of the Old Right were actually classical liberals and "were accepted members of the 'Left' before 1933. Yet, without changing any of their fundamental views, all of them, over the next decade, came to be thought of as exemplars of the political 'Right.'"[12]


Other influential members of the Old Right included:

Southern Agrarians

The Southern Agrarian wing drew on some of the values and anxieties being articulated on the anti-modern right, including the desire to retain the social authority and defend the autonomy of the American states and regions, especially the South.[13] Donald Davidson was one of the most politically active of the agrarians, especially in his criticisms of the TVA in his native Tennessee. As Murphy (2001) shows, the Southern Agrarians articulated old values of Jeffersonian Democracy:

Rejected industrial capitalism and the culture it produced. In I'll Take My Stand they called for a return to the small-scale economy of rural America as a means to preserve the cultural amenities of the society they knew. Ransom and Tate believed that only by arresting the progress of industrial capitalism and its imperatives of science and efficiency could a social order capable of fostering and validating humane values and traditional religious faith be preserved. Skeptical and unorthodox themselves, they admired the capacity of orthodox religion to provide surety in life.[14]


Paleoconservatives and paleolibertarians are often considered the successors and torchbearers of the Old Right view in the late 20th century and current era. Both of these groups often rally behind Old Right slogans such as "America First" while sharing similar views to the Old Right opposition to the New Deal. Recently, the ideas of the Old Right have seen a resurgence due to the presidential campaign of Ron Paul.[15]


  1. ^ Allitt, Patrick. The Conservatives: Ideas and Personalities Throughout American History (2009), chapter 6
  2. ^ James T. Patterson, "A Conservative Coalition Forms in Congress, 1933–1939," The Journal of American History, Vol. 52, No. 4. (Mar., 1966), pp. 757–772. in JSTOR
  3. ^ Rothbard, Murray. Swan Song of the Old Right, Mises Institute[dead link]
  4. ^ Garet Garrett and Bruce Ramsey, Defend America First: The Antiwar Editorials of the Saturday Evening Post, 1939-1942 (2003) excerpt and text search
  5. ^ Harry C. McPherson, Jr., "Walter Lippmann and the American century" Foreign Affairs Fall 1980
  6. ^ By Troy L. Kickler, "The Conservative Manifesto" North Carolina History Project
  7. ^ George Wolfskill, The Revolt of the Conservatives: A History of the American Liberty League 1934-1940 (1962)
  8. ^ David Nasaw, The Chief: The Life of William Randolph Hearst (2001)
  9. ^ Richard Norton Smith, The Colonel: The Life and Legend of Robert R. McCormick, 1880-1955 (2003)
  10. ^ For others see Gary Dean Best, The Critical Press and the New Deal: The Press versus Presidential Power, 1933-1938 (1993)
  11. ^ Alan Brinkley, Voices of Protest: Huey Long, Father Coughlin, & the Great Depression (1983)
  12. ^ Riggenbach, Jeff. "The Mighty Flynn," Liberty January 2006 p. 34
  13. ^ Murphy p. 124
  14. ^ Paul V. Murphy, The Rebuke of History: The Southern Agrarians and American Conservative Thought (2001) pp. 5, 24
  15. ^ W. James Antle III (2007-10-15). "Making the Old Right New". The American Spectator. http://www.amspec.org/dsp_article.asp?art_id=12164. Retrieved 2008-09-22. 


  • Robert Morse Crunden (1999). The superfluous men. Isi Books. ISBN 978-1-882926-30-5. 
  • Cole, Wayne S. America First; The Battle Against Intervention, 1940–41 (1953)
  • Doenecke, Justus D. "American Isolationism, 1939–1941," Journal of Libertarian Studies, Summer/Fall 1982, 6(3), pp. 201–216. online version
  • Doenecke, Justus D. "Literature of Isolationism, 1972–1983: A Bibliographic Guide" Journal of Libertarian Studies, Spring 1983, 7(1), pp. 157–184. online version
  • Frohnen, Bruce; Beer, Jeremy; and Nelson, Jeffery O., eds. American Conservatism: An Encyclopedia (2006)
  • Murphy, Paul V. The Rebuke of History: The Southern Agrarians and American Conservative Thought (2001)
  • Radosh, Ronald. Prophets on the right: Profiles of conservative critics of American globalism (1978)
  • Raimondo, Justin. An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard (2000)
  • Raimondo, Justin. Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement (1993)
  • Ribuffo, Leo. The Old Christian Right: The Protestant Far Right from the Great Depression to the Cold War. Temple University Press (1983)
  • Rothbard, Murray. The Betrayal of the American Right (2007)
  • Schneider, Gregory L. ed. Conservatism in America Since 1930: A Reader (2003)
  • Schneider, Gregory L. The Conservative Century: From Reaction to Revolution (2009) pp 1-38
  • Scotchie, Joseph,. The Paleoconservatives: New Voices of the Old Right (1999)

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