Cowboy progressives

Daniel J Herman in Aeon:

In her recent book How the South Won the Civil War: Oligarchy, Democracy, and the Continuing Fight for the Soul of America (2020) – currently, Amazon’s top seller in the political history category – the historian Heather Cox Richardson expands and modifies Brown’s observation, arguing that Goldwater’s ‘Movement Conservatism’ – meaning vehement opposition to civil rights bills, communism, labour unions and social spending – solidified a neo-Confederate alliance between West and South that permanently transformed the Republican Party.

In Richardson’s telling, the Reagan/Goldwater cowboy persona evolved out of literary myths manufactured in the late 19th century specifically to counter Reconstruction era racial reforms, myths that 20th-century reactionaries used in their battle against civil rights. The anti-civil rights, anti-government alliance between South and West that began in the late 19th century, she argues, continued with early 20th-century opposition to anti-lynching bills before spawning Movement Conservatism in the 1960s.

What I’d like to offer here is a counter-history. To the degree that progressives formed successful constituencies in the 20th century – in economic, gender, racial and even foreign policy matters – the West was key.

More here.