Diamonds book contains a great wealth of information about right wing movements and any one interested in the history of anti-communism, conservative Christianity or other related movements should read it. Even a casual glance at the book reveals the enormous amount of time and effort that went into the book.
In this review, Ill focus on more sociological issues. First, I see this book as a contribution to the sociology of social movements. One of the strengths of the book is that it shows the importance of mobilization and organization building, a theme
emphasized in recent social movements research.
However, one thing I found interesting is that the book doesnt draw much from the "social movement cycle" literature, which argues that movements reach a peak and then decline. Diamond depicts a set of movements that looks like they are on the road to world domination.
Since the publication of the book, we have a little more perspective on right wing movements. They did gain an enormous amount of power, but there were limits and the movements are now in decline. Consider these simple facts: no GOP presidenial candidate has beat 50% of the vote since Bush 88, the Senate has slid back into the Democrat column and the House will probably revert to the Dems. Tonight, conservative
gubernatorial candidates in Jersey and Virginia have gone down in defeat. Prayer has not been re-instituted in all American
public schools, creationism is still taught in few places and
women still have the right to choose.
We have not encountered a theocratic
pusch. What can be said is that right wing movements have
done very well considering that they are in the numerical
minority and that liberal politics dominated up until the
mid-1970s. They did so using organizational techniques
now copied by all sorts of movements (like PACS, mail lists,
etc.), a point hammered home by Diamonds book.
Another criticism of the book is that it too easily adopts the
left/right dichotomy. Should one really classify conservative
Christians with atheistic pro-capitalist Ayn Rand cyberlibertarians?
One lesson that weve learned from political sociology is that
left/right distinctions can really mask deep differences. For
example, it would be folly to lump together Green movements,
labor movements and student movements. Diamond does discuss
differences in right wing movements in detail, but insists on
retaining the "right/left" framework, much to my dismay. I really wish that she had reshaped the rhetoric of the book to fit the data that she produced.
Maybe instead of "right wing," she should work out a general sociological theory that would predict why Ayn Rand libertarians are frequently to be found with conservative christians. It is suggested at some points that christians are manipulated by big business, which is the "masses are duped by the oppressor" theory of social movements. Ive never bought this theory.
The real intellectual challenge is to explore how the cognitive
framework of these movements allowed for such divergent groups
to cooperate, and "theyre the pawns of big business" seems a
cop out. Maybe a network analysis will do the job, or
a David Snow style framing argument. Maybe everything does
boil down to "big business" rules the world, but there needs
to be some more testing of different theories. I feel that the level of detail allows the evasion of theory building
and hypothesis testing.
Diamond has the data and talent for this kind of
project, but can she move away from the activist audience,
which demands accusation, to a scientific audience, which demands
clear hypotheses and tests against data?
To summarize: great data, fantastically detailed research,
could use a better or more subtle sociological framework.