UMich 'History of the American Right' course ponders if we're seeing 'new face of fascism'
The University of Michigan is offering a course on the “History of the American Right,” which will discuss “white nationalists,” “Nazi sympathizers,” and Donald Trump’s association with the far right.
The fall 2019 course purports to discuss the nuances of the American political right. The description emphasizes “the need to recognize a far Right not as a foreign extremism outside the main currents of American life but rather as a long-running element of the American political tradition.”
Students will go through movements and moments within the right including the Ku Klux Klan, the John Birch Society, militias, and the 2017 Charlottesville rally.
“We begin with the early nineteenth-century defense of slavery and the political mobilization of nativism; move on to the ideas of race behind immigration restriction and through the twentieth-century ‘red scares’; continue by studying the revival of an anti-labor, anti-welfare-state business ideology of laissez-faire absolutism since the 1980s; and arrive at the 'MAGA' rallies of our time,” a flyer promoting the course explains.
“Only with a sense of history can we try to answer the question that has stirred great anxiety in some quarters: Are we seeing what one scholar has called a ‘new face of fascism’?”
The class description also emphasizes the need to “distinguish this history of the Right from a discussion of ‘conservatism’ (as a political philosophy), we will touch on the ways such political tendencies as those listed above have related to the rightward edge of the ‘mainstream’ Republican Party since the late twentieth century.”
Students in the class are required to read several books including The Second Coming of the KKK : The Ku Klux Klan of the 1920s and the American Political Tradition by Linda Gordon and ALT-AMERICA : The Rise of the Radical Right in the Age of Trump by David Neiwert.
The history course is being taught by UMich professor Howard Brick, a UMich alum who has published research on capitalism, the American right, and liberalism. According to Brick’s faculty bio, the professor studies 20th Century U.S. History, Social Theory, and American Intellectual History, as well as American History of Social Movements and Politics.
Brick, when asked to comment on the contents of the course, supplied Campus Reform with a copy of the course syllabus from 2017. The description within the syllabus explains:
Over the last thirty years, it has become common in the everyday language of the press to refer to “left” and “right” as if they describe the Democrats and the Republicans, on “either side of the aisle” in Congress—a practice that responds, perhaps, to the apparently dogmatic “ideological” differences that have arisen between the two. This course, however, adheres to the older discourse where Left and Right referred to “radical” or “extremely conservative” (reactionary) currents, respectively.]
Brick explained that inspiration for the course on the American right spawned from a class he was teaching several years ago on the radical American left. That course title, according to Brick, is "History of American Radicalism."
When asked how the course benefits students, Brick answered with a question of his own: “Isn't more thorough historical understanding always a benefit?”
Brick also spoke on his role and responsibility to create an environment for students of all political beliefs “by showing the respect a teacher should always show to his/her students, as I do; and by being frank about my own views while insisting that I respect other views and expect all the participating students to do likewise.”
Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @Grace_Gotcha