Joseph Scotchie’s Revolt from the Heartland is not, as some readers might guess from the title, about the terrorism of right-wing militias in the Midwestern United States, although some readers might also say that guess was close enough. In fact, Revolt from the Heartland deals with the emergence of “paleoconservatism,” a species of conservative thought that despite its name (“paleo” is a Greek prefix meaning “old”) is a fairly recent twist in the cunningly knotted mind of the American Right. While paleos sometimes like to characterize their beliefs as merely the continuation of the conservative thought of the 1950s and ’60s, and while in fact many of them do have their personal and intellectual roots in the conservatism of that era, the truth is that what is now called paleoconservatism is at least as new as the neoconservatism at which many paleos like to sniff as a newcomer.
Paleoconservatism is largely the invention of a single magazine, the Rockford Institute’s Chronicles, as it has been edited since the mid-1980s by Thomas Fleming, and Scotchie’s book is essentially an account of what Fleming and his major colleagues at Chronicles mainly, historian Paul Gottfried, book review editor Chilton Williamson Jr., professor Clyde Wilson, and I believe, and what the differences are between our brand of conservatism and others.
Scotchie’s first three chapters are a survey of the history of American conservatism up until the advent of Chronicles, including an account of the “Old Right” of the pre-World-War-II, pre-Depression eras (for once, an account not confined to the libertarian “isolationists” but encompassing also the Southern Agrarians), as well as the emergence of the “Cold War conservatism” of National Review and the neoconservatism of the Reagan era and after. Scotchie’s overview of these different shades of the Right is useful in itself and necessary to clarify the differences between these colorations and the paleos who constitute his main subject, though he may underestimate the differentiation between the current, paleo “Old Right” and earlier “Old Rights.”
Although Scotchie does not put it quite this way, contemporary paleoconservatism developed as a reaction against three trends in the American Right during the Reagan administration. First, it reacted against the bid for dominance by the neoconservatives, former liberals who insisted not only that their version of conservative ideology and rhetoric prevail over those of older conservatives, but also that their team should get the rewards of office and patronage and that the other team of the older Right receive virtually nothing.