Studying the Right:

The New York Times reported this week on the creation of a new research center at the University of California at Berkeley's Institute for the Study of Social Change: the Center for the Comparative Study of Right-Wing Movements.

“This is unique,” said Paola Bacchetta, an associate professor at Berkeley and an editor of the collection “Right-Wing Women: From Conservatives to Extremists Around the World.” “There are no other centers that I know of.”

Scheduled to open in the fall, the new center, which Lawrence Rosenthal will oversee, is affiliated with Berkeley’s Institute for the Study of Social Change. “Part of the motivation is that it is an understudied area,” Mr. Rosenthal said. . . .

From which political direction the financing for this latest effort is coming is masked. The donor’s request for anonymity may be more to ward off requests for other contributions than for political reasons. The donation, $777,000, is relatively small, but enough, Mr. Rosenthal said, for the center to sponsor lectures, conferences and colloquiums; offer fellowships for undergraduate and graduate students; and publish papers.

The story claims that "little effort" has been made within the conservative movement to study its on history. I don't think this is true. In my experience, conservative institutions are intensely interested in understanding their history and studying the intellectual roots of their ideology. There are many books by conservatives writers and historians examining the growth and development of the conservative movement, most notably George H. Nash's The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America Since 1945. Among those sponsored by various conservative institutions are Jeffrey Hart's The Making of the American Conservative Mind, the American Conservatism encyclopedia, and Lee Edwards' The Conservative Revolution and Bringing Justice to the People. And then there are other recent works like Stephen Teles' The Rise of the Conservative Legal Movement, Ann Southworth's Lawyers of the Right, and Kim Phillips-Fein's Invisible Hands: The Making of the Conservative Movement from the New Deal to Reagan, as well as recent works on libertarianism, including Brian Doherty's Radicals for Capitalism and the Encyclopedia of Libertarianism.

From the story, it seems the real niche the new Center will fill is "comparative" studies of "right-wing" movements in various countries. I am skeptical of such work, particularly insofar as it tries to draw links between modern American conservatism and European fascism. The mainstream American conservative movement is grounded in the classical liberal tradition, and thus is quite distinct from "right-wing" or "conservative" movements in many other places.

The story also compares this center to those that already exist throughout academia to study left-wing political and social movements (e.g. labor, feminism, etc.). What the story omits, however, is that most academic efforts to study left-wing political movements are quite overtly sympathetic to the subjects of their study, and are often as engaged in activism as rigorous academic inquiry. It is unlikely the same could be said here, however, as I doubt those at Berkeley's Center will be particularly sympathetic to conservative and libertarian movements, nor particularly eager to advance their cause.