University of Sussex
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How to be an American: community anticommunism and the grassroots right, 1948-1956

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posted on 2023-06-08, 15:09 authored by Matthew Glazebrook
This thesis explores the political and cultural impact of community-level conservative activists during the early Cold War red scare in America. It provides a comprehensive overview of the hitherto overlooked aspect of the so-called McCarthy-era - amateur counter-subversives who contributed to the national mood of anticommunism in obscure but meaningful ways. It also establishes significant philosophical and practical connections between disparate groups - some nakedly right-wing, others more vaguely 'patriotic' - that demonstrate the existence of a loose but genuine grassroots anticommunist network. In the broader historical sense, by contextualising the achievements of the embryonic conservative movement, this thesis builds upon the challenges the body of literature that posits the 1960s as the essential decade in the emergence of the modern, socially conservative Republican right. In the last years of the 1940s, factions within the political and legal establishment used red scare rhetoric and new loyalty regulations to visit brief but potent misery upon their liberal and leftist enemies. At the same time, less well-connected Americans signed up for the ideological struggle. Some were members of influential civic organizations - such as the American Legion - whose long-held enmity towards left-wing politics found fresh urgency in the Cold War age; Others joined newly formed pressure groups with the expressed aim of defending their towns and suburbs from Soviet-inspired subversion. Veterans groups, school board campaigns, religious bodies, and women's patriotic societies: all provided forums for local-level attacks on perceived un-Americanism. This thesis utilizes the literature, letters and ephemera of such organizations, as well as local newspaper reports, legal and political investigations, and the personal recollections of activists, to document and analyze the most significant actions carried out in the name of community anticommunism. It examines how grassroots campaigners worked to reshape what it meant to be American, and finds ways in which their efforts - scorned as absurdly reactionary by contemporary observers - pointed towards a shifting American political landscape.


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  • American Studies Theses

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  • doctoral

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  • phd


  • eng


University of Sussex

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