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Jon A. Shields


State of Protest

The counterculture and the Religious Right.

Thoughtful academics have long been sensitive to the liberal origins of the Reagan Revolution. In the bestselling Why Americans Hate Politics, E. J. Dionne emphasized just how easy it was for pot-smoking hippies to grow into espresso-sipping yuppies. The liberal heritage of the neoconservative hawks who have circled around Republican administrations since 1980 is even less disputed. These intellectuals, after all, hail from radical socialist and communist backgrounds, and they carried their youthful idealism with them in their various campaigns to spread democracy.

One significant faction of the modern Republican Party, however, is usually situated well outside what Louis Hartz famously described as the American liberal tradition. Indeed, the Religious Right routinely gets compared to the Taliban and the KKK. Even more sober observers regard the Religious Right as an illiberal reaction to the convulsions of the Sixties.

As its great title suggests, Hippies of the Religious Right sharply disagrees with the conventional wisdom. In Preston Shires' rendering, today's conservative evangelicals owe a great debt to the Sixties. Indeed, many of them participated in the counterculture. Like their radical counterparts, Shires contends, evangelical activists were marked by a "rebellious spirit," a deep anxiety over the dehumanizing effects of modern life, and a commitment to a kind of modern freedom that he calls "expressive individualism."

Shires deserves much credit for articulating such a bold and interesting thesis, and his discussion of "Jesus Freaks" is well worth the cover price. In general, though, his analysis of evangelicals feels underdeveloped. For example, he asserts that Focus of the Family "demonstrated the best melding of countercultural Christian ideals and traditional evangelicalism." Perhaps this is true, but I am not sure why Shires believes it. Likewise, he has almost nothing to say about the rescue movement—the largest campaign of civil disobedience since ...

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