Exit Right: The People Who Left the Left and Reshaped the American Century
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.
world, I felt she was fortunate to have avoided her fate as long as she had,” he wrote. “A similar idea about myself had entered my mind: Given what I had done and with whom I had become involved, I was lucky to be alive. . . . It now seemed obvious to me that both Ellen and I were destined to some kind of grief. We hadn’t understood the way in which our good intentions could be dangerous, either to us or to others. It was as if there was a flaw in our DNA that deprived us of sensors that would
browsing the shelves one night at Moe’s Books in Berkeley, he had a kind of epiphany, or a bottoming out: “Visiting Moe’s, I would sometimes get a headache just trying to take in the multiplicity of works and put them into some order in my mind. There were so many titles competing for others’ attention, so many competing with mine. That evening, my difficulties were unusually intense. I envisioned not only the universe of authors, but the universe of audiences as well. Audiences that did not
from which he once drew his energy—wasn’t a metamorphosis but simply the consequence of the application of his principles against the unspooling of history. The truth, and the tragedy, of Christopher Hitchens isn’t as pure as either his enemies or Hitchens himself would have it. It exists, instead, somewhere inside the confluence of his family, his past, his radical yearning for truth, his charisma, his narcissism, his dangerous brilliance, his self-deception, and the zigzag of history, which
spokesman: What was good for General Electric was good for its employees was good for America. Reagan often had to step quickly, during his tours of the plants, to keep that equation clean. He might be asked to commiserate in the morning, with workers, about how the boss was always demanding more work for no more pay, while later that afternoon, in meetings with executives, he’d have to be impressed by the means with which they’d extracted greater productivity from the workers. But he’d always
There was even a company college, with its own campus, that enrolled thousands of employees in its courses every year. Underlying it all, knitting it all together in subtle and not-so-subtle ways, was Boulware’s astoundingly pure belief in the virtue and decency of private enterprise. Also in the corruption of anything—unions, progressive taxation, social welfare programs—that would violate the sanctity of the body corporate. “One of the top marvels of all the world’s history,” Boulware would