Monograph in Progress: Prefiguring the Past

Prefiguring the Past: Conservative Catholic and Protestant Coalition Building on the Right (1965-1985), monograph manuscript.

This monograph builds on my dissertation research to reevaluate how the New Right (an ostensibly secular radical conservative movement led by a group of traditionalist Catholics) and the mostly Protestant movement termed the Religious Right forged a successful coalition. The manuscript employs the perspectives of discursive institutionalism and critical theory to explore the puzzle of Catholic and Protestant political and socio-cultural convergence and their collective mobilization. I argue that the successful convergence of these groups was the result of Catholic New Right political entrepreneurs’ innovative policy-making and coalition-building strategies, and the instrumentalization of a narrative of victimization that produced a shared identity, which was used to stitch together a plurality of Right-wing single-issue groups. I further argue that this movement relied on the production of a proactive politics that was – and continues to be – dependent on the manufacturing of a prefigurative past and present for its success.

The manuscript explores the puzzle of Catholic and Protestant political and socio-cultural convergence and their collective mobilization by: 1) examining how these groups built an enduring and influential political coalition by instrumentalizing a shared identity of victimhood to stitch together a plurality of right-wing single-issue groups; and 2) interrogating their production of a proactive politics that was – and continues to be – dependent on a practice I term prefigurative traditionalism.  The practice of prefiguration is most commonly associated with Leftist political movements, as it seeks to advance a future-oriented emancipatory politics through the active embodiment of alternative forms of social relations and political practices. On its face, conservativism necessarily runs counter to prefiguration as it looks back in time to hew to the traditional. Understood in this way, conservative movements are viewed as reactionary while progressive or Leftist movements are credited with being generative and proactive. But superimposing this dichotomous understanding of Right and Left onto conservative movements only serves to obscure the radicality of the right and leads to a misrecognition of the capacities and capabilities of Right-wing movements. This work advances an understanding of the New Religious Right as not merely a backlash-driven movement; rather, it elucidates how the movement was propelled by the desire to construct a new political world. This new political world was both premised on an imagined return to the traditional and dependent on conservatives calling the traditional into being through their active embodiment of a particular set of conservative social relations. I identify the practice of prefigurative traditionalism in a range of settings, including battles over public school curricula (wherein religious conservatives sought to actively reject modernity) and in the STOP-ERA movement (which sought to construct status relations that bore little resemblance to the realities of the institution of marriage).