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The Return of the Middle American Radical

By John Judis, National Journal - October 3, 2015

In 1976, Don­ald War­ren—a so­ci­olo­gist from Oak­land Uni­versity in Michigan who would die two dec­ades later without ever at­tain­ing the rank of full pro­fess­or—pub­lished a book called The Rad­ic­al Cen­ter: Middle Amer­ic­ans and the Polit­ics of Ali­en­a­tion. Few people have read or heard of it—I learned of it about 30 years ago from the late, very ec­cent­ric pa­leo­con­ser­vat­ive Samuel Fran­cis—but it is, in my opin­ion, one of the three or four books that best ex­plain Amer­ic­an polit­ics over the past half-cen­tury.

While con­duct­ing ex­tens­ive sur­veys of white voters in 1971 and again in 1975, War­ren iden­ti­fied a group who de­fied the usu­al par­tis­an and ideo­lo­gic­al di­vi­sions. These voters were not col­lege edu­cated; their in­come fell some­where in the middle or lower-middle range; and they primar­ily held skilled and semi-skilled blue-col­lar jobs or sales and cler­ic­al white-col­lar jobs. At the time, they made up about a quarter of the elect­or­ate. What dis­tin­guished them was their ideo­logy: It was neither con­ven­tion­ally lib­er­al nor con­ven­tion­ally con­ser­vat­ive, but in­stead re­volved around an in­tense con­vic­tion that the middle class was un­der siege from above and be­low.

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