by Don Queen, OLLI member

In view of the forthcoming elections, OLLI has scheduled a very timely class this June. Entitled “History of Right Wing Movements in the U.S.," the course will be taught by Lawrence Rosenthal, Executive Director of the Center for Right-Wing Studies at UC Berkeley.

Perhaps you have been amused, alarmed, or persuaded by the gaffs and numerous faux pas of a Sarah Palin, the rants of a Rush Limbaugh, or the extremist statements by members of the emerging Tea Party. While this rhetoric has resonated with many voters and the movement has grown, the sound bites and confrontational interchanges of the news media have failed to clarify the issues and adequately inform the public.

In 2009, as the Tea Party was emerging, Dr. Rosenthal identified this issue and decided to do something about it. He noted that millions of dollars had been spent on the establishment of research institutes to study the Left, but there was no such institution studying the Right. After a year's effort, he was able to obtain a grant and form the Center for the Comparative Study of Right-Wing Movements as an affiliate of UC Berkeley’s Institute for the Study of Social Change. Today, the Center for Right-Wing Studies (as it is called today) sponsors lectures, conferences, and colloquia, offers fellowships for undergraduate and graduate students, and publishes papers.

Dr. Rosenthal was a visiting scholar at the Institute for the Study of Social Change a dozen years before he founded the right wing study center. He taught at UC Berkeley in the sociology and Italian studies departments as well as at San Francisco State University and was a Fulbright scholar at the University of Naples in Italy. He has studied the Right in the United States and Italy and is currently working on a study of the contemporary American Right.

Dr. Rosenthal states that there was no field of study of right wing movements until he founded the Center three years ago. He believes his interest in the subject began as an undergraduate sociology major at Stony Brook University. He reports that it was during his stay in Italy as a UC Berkeley student to write his Ph.D. dissertation on the rise of fascism that he developed his lifetime interest in the study of right wing movements. He also acquired a longstanding love of Italy and its culture. He has returned to Italy many times in addition to his Fulbright professorship. He is proud of the fact that he recently, while in Italy, gave a lecture speaking only Italian.

In describing the course, Dr. Rosenthal plans to devote the first session to the currently important Tea Party, its role in American politics, and its constituency and ideology. Class two deals with how the New Right came to power with Ronald Regan in 1980 to challenge the New Deal liberalism consensus. Class three will study ideas which drove the New Right as well as the role of nationalism in right wing movements. The final class will explore the nature of Conservatism as a historical phenomenon compared to American right wing movements.


Read a newer interview with Lawrence Rosenthal from May 2018 here: