Hard Right Styles, Frames, & Narratives


Out
past the Republicans are a whole series of social and political
movements sometimes called the Hard Right. This category includes
everyone from the most zealous members of the Christian Right, through
members of the armed militias and patriot groups like the John Birch
Society, to the Ultra Right neo-Nazis and race hate groups. These
are very different movements and it is not fair to lump them together
as identical or even cooperative. Yet there are some commonalities
in the styles, frames, and narratives they use. 

When
sociologists look at social movements, they look at how organizers
mobilize and recruit people using different tools such as a particular
rhetorical “style.” The term “frame” refers
to a frame of reference that highlights particular aspects of reality
to explain and move forward an ideological goal. A narrative is
simply a story with a plot, a hero, a villain, and a moral or political
lesson. 

The
Hard Right is not going to simply vanish, so understanding how they
mobilize support for their ideologies is useful. The basic building
blocks for Hard Right styles, frames, and narratives are listed
below. Different organizations put different emphasis on different
elements in the list but in any Hard Right campaign, it should be
possible to identity several specific texts and subtexts from this
list. 


Individualism

SOCIAL
DARWINISM: as in rugged individualism; the mythopoetic wet dream
of libertarians. People who need government laws and regulations
to protect them are (in Arnold-speak) girlymen—a mascu-
linist worldview. Rugged individualism values individual liberty
over any collective or community obligation. The strong rise and
the weak fall; it’s the law of nature. Optimism trumps systemic
oppression and institutional hierarchies. Search the Internet for
“Horatio Alger” to see a historic narrative cast from
this moldy myth of bootstrapping yourself from rags to riches while
riding the rails with the Little Engine that Could. 


Capitalism

ECONOMIC
DARWINISM: laissez faire

capitalism
(or neoliberalism) should really be called market fundamentalism,
says linguist George Lakoff. According to the economic theology
of market fundamentalism, capitalism’s unseen hand strokes
the engine of production and wealth. Neoliberal capitalism is often
seen by Rightists as synonymous with (or at least a necessary element
of) “liberty” and “democracy.” 


Calvinism

CULTURAL
DARWINISM: the influence of Calvinism is felt in a series of ideas
that were planted by Puritan settlers in the colonial period and
grew into the public consciousness. This popularized version of
the theology (which is bad enough) has nurtured several beliefs.
Only certain people blessed by God go to heaven. People are born
bad (in sin) and if they refuse to behave properly through love,
then a slap upside the head in the form of punishment, shame, and
discipline will set them straight. The undeserving poor, the weak,
the sick, the disabled, have been damned by God, so wasting tax
dollars on them is pointless. Material success is evidence of God’s
grace. 


Dualism

DUALISM
is a form of binary thinking
that divides the world into good versus evil with no middle ground
tolerated. There is no acknowledgment of complexity, nuance, or
ambiguity in debates. Calls for pluralism, coexistence, toleration,
pragmatism, compromise, or mediation are met with hostility. Dualism
(or Manicheaism) generates demonization and scape- goating. When
Samuel P. Huntington writes about a “clash of civilizations,”
he employs a form of dualism that demonizes Islam. 


Apocalypticism

The
word APOCALYPSE refers to
the idea that a huge approaching confrontation or transformation
will dramatically change society. This can have positive outcomes;
and, in a sense, all social change organizers are somewhat apocalyptic.
Apocalyptic (or millennialist or millenarian) social movements on
the Right, however, often combine their apocalypticism with dualistic
demonization and scapegoating in a way that promotes hatred and
violence directed at an “Other.” Some in the Christian
Right employ apocalyptic frames and narratives drawn from the Bible’s
book of “Revelations” to justify hostility toward the
“sin” of gay marriage or support for the most aggressive
policies of the Israeli government toward Palestinians. 

Conspiracism

CONSPIRACISM
is a particular narrative form of apocalyptic scapegoating that
frames demonized individuals as part of a vast, insidious, omniscient,
timeless plot against the common good. At the same time, conspiracism
valorizes the conspiracy-mongering scape- goater as a hero for sounding
the alarm, even as people go running off in the wrong direction
chasing individual villains rather than confronting structural barriers
to equality and justice. Conspiracism should not be confused with
power structure research or investigative journalism that exposes
actual conspiracies. Conspiracism across the Hard Right is a masculinist
narrative that engenders confrontation. Conspira- cism is also used
by the Bush administration to create fears of a vast terrorist web
and subversive underground apparatus. 


Populism

POPULISM
is a rhetorical style that
seeks to mobilize “the people” as a social or political
force and it is generally a response to e
conomic,
social, or cultural stress. Left-wing populism has a long history
of challenging institutional unfairness and prompting substantial
social reforms. Right-wing movements often use populist anti-elitist
rhetoric to claim the current regime as indifferent, corrupt, or
traitorous. Instead of seeking to reform or change institutions,
though, right-wing populism individualizes the problems and proposes
the solution is to, “Throw the bums out.” The growing
population of angry, alienated people is mobilized into a cross-class
revolt through demagogic framing that portrays hard-working producers
in the middle being squeezed by a conspiracy involving secret elites
above and lazy, sinful, and subversive parasites below. This frame
is called producerism. Arnold Schwarzenegger “terminated”
his opponents in the 2003 California governor’s race using
populist producerism as his mantra. 


Authoritarianism

AUTHORITARIANISM
appears as an assertion of
dominance—the relative perceived need for authoritarian enforcement
of top-down total control over social, cultural, and political relations.
Dominance involves political and economic power along with the entitlements
of privilege. The people who hold dominant power need not be the
numerical majority in a population; White control over colonial
India or South Africa are examples. Groups that lack dominance can
still see it as their ultimate goal. The justification for asserting
dominance is frequently based on the self-perceived supremacy of
the group making the assertion and this can be articulated in biological
or cultural terms. 


We’ve Been Framed

All
of these styles, frames, and narratives reinforce each other throughout
our society. Linda Kintz notes the “linkage between God, the
Constitution, and masculinity provides a powerful foundation of
emotion.” This makes it difficult for Left activists to even
find a common language with which to start discussions about progressive
social change. 

When
the Hard Right is strong, it pulls the Republicans further to the
right as skillful right-wing political operatives try to find some
way to capture the energy and steer it into the voting booth. Learning
how right-wing frames are assembled is the first step in learning
how to reframe the debate and challenge the political Right.
 


Chip Berlet is
an analyst at Political Research Associates. This article was adapted
from “Mapping the Political Right” in
Home-Grown
Hate: Gender and Organized Racism, edited by Abby Ferber.