by Richard A. Viguerie
This is an excerpt from Chapter 3 (“The Recipe for Creating a New Mass Movement”) of America’s Right Turn: How Conservatives Used New and Alternative Media to Take Power, by Richard A. Viguerie and David Franke.
In this chapter we ask: How can a grassroots political movement emerge and succeed in our media-dominated world? For answers, we use the revolutions of 1517 and 1776 (Chapters 1 and 2) as laboratory examples. Then, in coming chapters, we will show how these factors resulted in the emergence, growth, and success of the conservative movement in the second half of the 20th century.
In this first excerpt from the chapter, we consider two factors in creating a new mass movement—“Issues that motivate” and “A dedicated vanguard.”
As you read the excerpts from this chapter, ask yourself these questions: Did these same factors contribute to the Trump Revolution of 2016? Indeed, did his election in 2016 signify the emergence of a new mass movement, or was it rather the evolving of the conservative movement? I invite you to share your thoughts in the comments section that follows this article.
Chapter 3: The Recipe for Creating a New Mass Movement
The media revolutions of 1517 and 1776 were the precursors of our modern world of mass communications and ever-faster communications. And this ongoing revolution in media technology has made possible mass political and social movements on the scale we take for granted today.
No man or woman has ever been less of an island than they are today. Our political ideas, our social practices, our religious beliefs – all are shaped and influenced by information and misinformation we get from around the nation and across the globe.
Not that mass movements didn’t exist before 1517. Military movements have always been with us, it seems, spreading change through physical violence. The Christian revolution that overtook the Roman Empire spread almost entirely on a person-to-person basis. What has changed since 1517 and 1776 are the multiplying forms of communication, their growing geographical scope, and their increasing speed in spreading news and views. Those factors are the result of the revolution in media technology.
At the same time, this means there is ever-increasing competition for your attention among potential mass movements. If you were a cobbler in Altenburg, Germany, in 1520, chances were that the Lutheran Reformation was pretty much the only exciting new trend you and your friends talked about. Today a thousand movements and causes – political, social, religious – vie for your attention.
How, then, does a potential new political movement emerge and succeed in this media-dominated world? That’s what will concern us in this chapter. Obviously many factors contribute to the formation of something as complex as a mass political movement, so we will attempt to identify the major factors and concoct a “recipe” of how they work together. We will use the revolutions of 1517 and 1776 as laboratory examples of this recipe. Then, in succeeding chapters, we will show how this recipe resulted in the emergence, growth, and success of the conservative movement in the middle of the 20th century – the era of our personal political experience.
Issues that motivate
Any cause that hopes to become a mass movement must have at its core burning issues that motivate people into action. Lukewarm issues – “my copyright reform bill is better than yours” – won’t do. Political inertia is the normal state for most people, and it takes a sledgehammer of an issue to distract them from their football games, shopping sprees, and daily work preoccupations.
What kinds of issues have this power?
- A perceived crisis that is not being managed by the ruling establishment – for example, a national security threat that politicians are ignoring.
- Threats to a way of life, or to the economic security of a large number of people, such as onerous taxation or regulations that are grinding the economy to a halt. An economic threat to a few people isn’t likely to motivate you into action unless you’re one of those few people, and even then, we’re no longer talking about a “mass” movement.
- Idealistic revulsion against corruption or power grabs by people in a position of power.
- Idealistic projections of a better life once the “bad guys” have been overthrown.
The Lutheran Reformation had two red-hot issues – doctrinal disputes and church corruption – that motivated the German clergy into rebellion, the merchant class into supporting them (partly out of revulsion against the begging orders), and parishioners to “support their local monk.” Another hot issue aiding the revolution was political and ecclesiastical control from far beyond Germany’s borders, in this case, Rome. Sending money to Rome and getting a pittance back was about as popular as sending money to Washington (and getting a pittance back) is today with the American people.
The American Revolution, as we’ve seen, had a much broader litany of burning issues – political and economic control from abroad, taxation without representation, the Stamp Act, royal corruption and arrogance, the quartering of soldiers in Boston. See the Declaration of Independence for a more complete list of grievances.
A dedicated vanguard
A mass movement doesn’t start out as such. It begins with the soapbox gripes of a small group of people, most often composed primarily of intellectuals, young people, and those we today call “the chattering class” – people whose business or profession is talk and advice (whether you want their advice or not). Disaffected economic groups are often another part of the early mix of combustibles.
The intellectuals are always there because they, above all others, understand that “ideas have consequences,” to appropriate the title of Richard Weaver’s seminal 1959 book. Ideas are intellectuals’ path to power and influence, whether their motivations are idealistic or pecuniary – or both. Youth always seem to be more idealistic, in general, than their world-weary elders, who know all the reasons why something can’t be done. Young people also have the energy (and time) to devote long hours to nitty-gritty organizational tasks. The chattering class thrives on talk, of course, if not always action. And there’s nothing like the feeling that you’re being robbed to motivate you into action, and to seek redress in a new movement.
In the Lutheran Reformation, the clergy were both the intellectual class (running the monasteries, seminaries, and universities) and the chattering class – just think of the pulpit as their forum. “Youth” were not a distinct constituency. Life was short back then, compared to now, so there was no time for a prolonged adolescence – you went directly to adulthood from childhood in short order. And among the economically motivated there was the emerging merchant class, chafing at medieval social and religious restrictions.
The American Revolution was largely a product of the finest assemblage of practical intellectuals (as opposed to ivy-towered intellectuals) in the history of our civilization. They were aided significantly by a fully emerged merchant class, with a particular role for the printers of the new continent. The chatterers – think of the hundreds of pamphleteers – were not a separate group, but were drawn from the ranks of the practical intellectuals and merchant/businessmen. Youth still had not emerged as a distinct class – that’s a modern phenomenon – but it certainly helped to be relatively young in order to have the energy to pursue revolution in this tough new land (think of Paul Revere and his arduous rides).
America’s Right Turn serialization:
To order American’s Right Turn from Amazon please click this link.
“Media Monopolies Declare War on Conservatives” (introduction to this serialization)
“What Conservatives Can Learn from the West’s First Media Revolution” (Chapter 1)
“What Conservatives Can Learn from America’s First Media Revolution” (Chapter 2)