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A Conspiratorial Life

Robert Welch, the John Birch Society, and the Revolution of American Conservatism

Edward H Miller



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Chicago University Press
23 February 2022
The first biography of Robert Welch, who founded the John Birch Society and planted some of modern conservatism's most insidious seeds.

Though you may not know his name, Robert Welch (1899-1985)-founder of the John Birch Society-is easily one of the most significant architects of our current political moment. In A Conspiratorial Life, the first biography of Welch, Edward H. Miller delves deep into the life of an overlooked figure whose ideas nevertheless reshaped the American right.

A child prodigy who entered college at age 12, Welch became an unlikely candy magnate, founding the company that created Sugar Daddies, Junior Mints, and other famed confections. In 1958, he funneled his wealth into establishing the organization that would define his legacy and change the face of American politics: the John Birch Society. Though the group's paranoiac right-wing nativism was dismissed by conservative thinkers like William F. Buckley, its ideas gradually moved from the far-right fringe into the mainstream. By exploring the development of Welch's political worldview, A Conspiratorial Life shows how the John Birch Society's rabid libertarianism-and their highly effective grassroots networking-became a profound, yet often ignored or derided influence on the modern Republican Party. Miller convincingly connects the accusatory conservatism of the midcentury John Birch Society to the inflammatory rhetoric of the Tea Party, the Trump administration, Q, and more. As this book makes clear, whether or not you know his name or what he accomplished, it's hard to deny that we're living in Robert Welch's America.
Imprint:   Chicago University Press
Country of Publication:   United States
Dimensions:   Height: 229mm,  Width: 152mm, 
ISBN:   9780226448862
ISBN 10:   022644886X
Pages:   456
Publication Date:  
Audience:   General/trade ,  ELT Advanced
Format:   Hardback
Publisher's Status:   Active

Edward H. Miller is associate teaching professor at Northeastern University and the author of Nut Country: Right-Wing Dallas and the Birth of the Southern Strategy, also published by the University of Chicago Press.

Reviews for A Conspiratorial Life: Robert Welch, the John Birch Society, and the Revolution of American Conservatism

The rise of Trump, Q-anon, and a Republican Party seemingly allergic to the ordinary canons of decency and expertise, has led historians to a reexamination of brands of American conservatism previously considered too extreme to be relevant to understanding the present. This work demands a rare combination of talents: an ability to empathize with ways of thinking from which reason recoils, and a moral sense that refuses to normalize it. Miller possesses both in abundance, which is what makes this groundbreaking biography of Robert Welch of the John Birch Society so very valuable. -- Rick Perlstein, author of Reaganland: America's Right Turn, 1976-1980 Miller has undertaken the definitive biography of John Birch Society founder Robert Welch, and he has succeeded. A Conspiratorial Life is incredibly thorough, carefully researched and written, and enlivened by energetic prose. -- Heather Hendershot, author of Open to Debate: How William F. Buckley Put Liberal America on the Firing Line

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