The right, rights and the culture wars in the United States, 1981-1989

Change log
Riddington, William 

This thesis explores how the American right fought the culture wars of the 1980s in the context of the rights revolution and the regulatory state. It does so by examining divisions over anti-abortion measures in Congress, controversies surrounding allegations of discriminatory withholding of medical care from disabled newborns, debates over the extent to which Title IX and other federal anti-discrimination regulations bound Christian colleges that rejected direct federal funding, and the interplay between rights and education during the AIDS crisis. In doing so, it contributes to the still-growing historiography on both American conservatism and the culture wars. Firstly, it adds shades of nuance to the literature on the American right, which has, until recently, posited the election of Ronald Reagan as the beginning of an era of untrammelled conservative ascendancy. However, these case studies reveal that despite Reagan’s resounding electoral success and the refiguring of the Republican party along conservative lines, the 1980s right was forced to fight many of its battles on terrain that remained structured by the liberal legacy. This finding also contributes to recent trends in the historiography of the culture wars, which have added a great depth of historical understanding to America’s interminable conflicts over abortion, evolution, equal marriage and other social issues. By examining how the right conceived of and reacted to the enduring influence of the rights revolution and the regulatory state in the culture wars of the 1980s, the centrality of the right to privacy becomes clear. Acknowledging the importance of this right leads to the conclusion that the fundamental restructuring of relations between the federal government and the states that had taken place during the 1960s gave rise to the culture wars of the 1980s.

Preston, Andrew
American political history, culture wars, american conservatism
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Awarding Institution
University of Cambridge