The Emergence of a Pioneer Conservative: George S. Benson and the Politics of America’s ‘Great Interior’ in the 1930s and 1940s.

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  • Author(s): Maxwell, Robbie
  • Source:
    Journal of Contemporary History. Oct2018, Vol. 53 Issue 4, p714-739. 26p.
  • Additional Information
    • Subject Terms:
    • Abstract:
      This article examines George Benson’s early career as a political activist. By the early 1940s, with assistance from prominent businessmen, Benson reached millions of Americans in the non-metropolitan Midwest, West, and South in an effort to combat New Deal liberalism. Benson, who also served as President of the Church of Christ-affiliated Harding College in Arkansas, contradicts conventional wisdom regarding two distinguishing features of modern conservatism: its affinity with populist discourse and ‘western’ cultural precepts, and its incorporation of religious and economic conservatism. Historians portray these facets of conservatism as the product of the 1960s and 1970s or the postwar Sunbelt. Drawing on his experiences on the Oklahoma frontier, Benson re-orientated regional cultural tropes to create a populist critique of ‘big government’ as an affront to individualism and localism, and to suggest that corporate, consumer capitalism was the heir to self-reliant frontier traditions. Benson’s fusion of economic and religious conservatism departed from religious traditions that celebrated agrarian living and harbored reservations about modern capitalism. Benson demonstrates that the right’s subsequent successes in the Midwest, South and West necessitated a greater degree of cultural readjustment than has been recognized and that this readjustment derived from a generational adaptation to economic modernity. [ABSTRACT FROM AUTHOR]
    • Abstract:
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