A provocative, intimate look at the evolution of America’s political soul through the lives of six political figures—from Whittaker Chambers to Christopher Hitchens—who abandoned the left and joined the right.
In Exit Right, Daniel Oppenheimer tells the stories of six major political figures whose journeys away from the left reshaped the contours of American politics in the twentieth century. By going deep into the minds of six apostates—Whittaker Chambers, James Burnham, Ronald Reagan, Norman Podhoretz, David Horowitz, and Christopher Hitchens—Oppenheimer offers an unusually intimate history of the American left, and the right’s reaction.
Oppenheimer is a brilliant new voice in political history who has woven together the past century’s most important movements into a single book that reveals the roots of American politics. Through the eyes of his six subjects, we see America grow, stumble, and forge ahead—from World War I up through the Great Depression and World War II, from the Red Scare up through the Civil Rights Movement, and from the birth of neoconservatism up through 9/11 and the dawn of the Iraq War.
At its core, Exit Right is a book that asks profound questions about why and how we come to believe politically at all—on the left or the right. Each of these six lives challenges us to ask where our own beliefs come from, and what it might take to change them. At a time of sky-high partisanship, Oppenheimer breaks down the boundaries that divide us and investigates the deeper origins of our politics. This is a book that will resonate with readers on the left and the right—as well as those stuck somewhere in the middle.Oppenheimer’s book Exit Right is a deep, thought-provoking book about human character. What is it about character that makes a person a conservative, liberal or fence sitter?
As Oppenheimer delves into the lives of the following: Whittaker Chambers, James Burnham, Ronald Reagan, Norman Podhoretz, David Horowitz, and Christopher Hitchens, he gives us a unique perspective of six humane Americans who adopted the tenants of the progressive movement as young men. However, later in life. these same individuals did an abrupt about-face, adopting not a moderated progressivism but instead a conservatism as robust as their liberalism had once been. They were able to do this without losing any of the humane instincts that had initially drawn them into the progressive cause.
This is a fascinating phenomenon. Although the six individuals’ erstwhile friends turned on them with venom and their newfound allies hailed them as heroes, Oppenheimer’s evenhanded narrative clearly depicts them as men whose basic characters had barely changed. It is hard to escape the conclusion that there are some fundamental aspects of progressivism and conservatism as alike at their core as they are dissimilar in their program. Both attracted the minds of six geniuses as principal spokesmen in the 20th century – the same six.
This is a book to be read and re-read by every spectator or participant in American politics who has ever wondered whether their core beliefs – left or right – are grounded in reason or are perhaps just a little bit arbitrary. That class of readers would be all of us who are thoughtful and honest with ourselves.
I received this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.