Exit Right: The People Who Left the Left and Reshaped the American Century

Exit Right: The People Who Left the Left and Reshaped the American Century

Daniel Oppenheimer

Language: English

Pages: 416

ISBN: 1416589708

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


A provocative, intimate look at the evolution of America’s political soul through the lives of six political figures—from Whittaker Chambers to Christopher Hitchens—who abandoned the left and joined the right.

In Exit Right, Daniel Oppenheimer tells the stories of six major political figures whose journeys away from the left reshaped the contours of American politics in the twentieth century. By going deep into the minds of six apostates—Whittaker Chambers, James Burnham, Ronald Reagan, Norman Podhoretz, David Horowitz, and Christopher Hitchens—Oppenheimer offers an unusually intimate history of the American left, and the right’s reaction.

Oppenheimer is a brilliant new voice in political history who has woven together the past century’s most important movements into a single book that reveals the roots of American politics. Through the eyes of his six subjects, we see America grow, stumble, and forge ahead—from World War I up through the Great Depression and World War II, from the Red Scare up through the Civil Rights Movement, and from the birth of neoconservatism up through 9/11 and the dawn of the Iraq War.

At its core, Exit Right is a book that asks profound questions about why and how we come to believe politically at all—on the left or the right. Each of these six lives challenges us to ask where our own beliefs come from, and what it might take to change them. At a time of sky-high partisanship, Oppenheimer breaks down the boundaries that divide us and investigates the deeper origins of our politics. This is a book that will resonate with readers on the left and the right—as well as those stuck somewhere in the middle.

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determined that she’d died by a blow to the head. The murder would never officially be solved, but Horowitz quickly would come to believe—and later evidence would support this belief—that the Panthers had done it.11 And if that were the case, Horowitz realized, then he was to blame as well, for putting Van Patter in harm’s way. “What had I seen, yet somehow forgotten?” he later wrote. “What should I have noticed before that might have saved Betty, but did not? As soon as I was able to focus my

Berlin, 11, 36, 369n Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation, 277 Black, George Frazier, 24 black Americans: Horowitz on, 266–68, 280–81, 285–87, 300 Podhoretz on, 236–42, 247, 250, 261, 266 Reagan on, 164–65, 186 relations between Jews and, 266–67, 286–87 relations between white Americans and, 237, 240–41, 280–81, 286–87, 292–93 violence against, 269, 286 see also civil rights and race, racism black nationalism, 256, 286 Black Panther Party, 270, 281, 292 Hitchens and, 305, 322 Horowitz

organically. And with that, the old scaffolding crumbled to dust and a new truth suddenly snapped into place. Burnham wasn’t a Marxist anymore. On May 21, 1940, Burnham gave his letter of resignation to the Workers Party. It was a much softer document than anything he’d written in a long time. There was a sadness in it, at the friendships he was surely ending and the life he would be leaving behind, as well as a touch of embarrassment over abandoning his comrades so soon after the brutal split

the neighborhood. At Columbia University, where he’d been a scholarship boy, he’d learned from men like Lionel Trilling that his intellect could be the repository of all the learning of Western civilization. At the Jewish Theological Seminary, where he’d earned a simultaneous undergraduate degree, he’d supped on the ancient wisdom of Jerusalem. Then followed a fellowship at Cambridge, a few years in the service in West Germany, and finally the job at Commentary—a political and cultural journal

Trilling, who’d last appeared in Commentary in 1956, was back with a moving tribute to his friend Elliot Cohen. Irving Kristol reviewed a book on Mark Twain and southern humor. Arthur Koestler wrote about an Indian holy man. Notably absent was Norman Mailer, whom Podhoretz couldn’t quite bring himself to publish yet (it would be another two years). But Mailer’s latest book was reviewed affectionately by F. W. Dupee, an old ex-Trotskyist who’d been laying it down in New York intellectual circles

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