Final Public Oral Exam: David Walsh

Final Public Oral Examination
Event date: 
May 18, 2020 - 3:00pm
Seminar Series: 
Final Public Oral Exam

The Right-wing Popular Front: The Far Right and the American Conservative Movement from the New Deal to the 1960s


Julian E. Zelizer, Adviser
Kevin M. Kruse
Leah Platt Boustan
Kimberly Phillips-Fein, New York University


What is the relationship between the far right and American conservatism in the 20th century? Although much of our historiography of the period has accepted the idea that the far right and mainstream conservatism separated in the early Cold War era and that these connections only reappeared in the early 21st century, this dissertation, “The Right-Wing Popular Front: The Far Right and the American Conservative Movement from the New Deal to the 1960s,” undermines this core assumption of the literature. Based on original archival research, this work demonstrates how figures from the far right always remained key players on the right throughout these decades— and how the American right was embedded in a broader international politics in the 20th century.

”The Right-Wing Popular Front” argues that the antisemitic far right, often tied to racism and nativism, and the mainstream conservative movement had a complex relationship, with fusionist conservatism evolving out of this broader alliance. Far-right figures could be found deep in conservative circles throughout subsequent decades. I show this by examining a deep and largely overlooked network of activists—ranging from Merwin K. Hart of the National Economic Council to Russell Maguire, an arms manufacturer who purchased the American Mercury in the 1950s, to Major General Charles A. Willoughby, a member of Douglas MacArthur’s staff in occupied Japan—all of whom held far-right and antisemitic politics and acted on them in various ways.

This dissertation is not a traditional political, intellectual, or social history. It is, rather, a hybrid approach, one which focuses on individual activists and their broader social and political networks—the texture of the right-wing popular front—in order to analyze how American right- wing politics were actually practiced in the formative years between the 1930s and 1960s, exploding the distinction between the “responsible” and “irresponsible” right.

A copy of the dissertation will be available for review two weeks before the exam. Contact Lee Horinko for a copy of the dissertation and the Zoom meeting link and password.

All are welcome and encouraged to attend.

United States