The New Right & The Secular Humanism Conspiracy Theory

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The reactionary New Right, a movement which emerged to help orchestrate the election of Ronald Reagan as president in 1980, contains an implicit conspiracy theory regarding subversion by secular humanism that is drawn from earlier right-wing political movements. Reactionary conservative opposition to racial equality, economic justice, and social change has long been the breeding ground for racial and cultural bigotry in America.

In the 1956 book Cross-Currents (sponsored by the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith before its conversion to neo-conservative analysis) authors Arnold Forster and Benjamin R. Epstein examined this phenomenon:

Three overlapping forces seem to be coalescing as we begin the presidential election year 1956--the hate groups, welded to one another by the anti-Semitism they all exploit; latter-day know-nothings who in their fear of communism oppose civil liberties as a weakness in our ramparts; extreme political reactionaries who are unable or unwilling to recognize the bigots among those joining their movement.

The three forces are unified on many issues, including opposition to the present programs and leadership of the Republican and Democratic parties, to the United Nations and its UNESCO, to modern education as we know it in the United States, and to the socio-economic changes that have come on the domestic scene over the last two decades.

...we have examined (those) in the field of professional bigotry, the mechanics of their operations, and the ugly substance of their propaganda. We have seen the panic created by the know-nothings and how they have hurt people. To complete the picture, we should direct our attention to the activities of the reactionary movement, probing for a moment its motivations, the character of its contribution to current events, and its impact on our nation.

The idea of a conscious and powerful secular humanist movement is surprisingly widespread on the political right. "How well can you answer the secular humanists?" asks a direct mail advertisement from the Conservative Book Club offering as selections "Major treatments of two modern scourges: atheism and feminism." While there are variations and debates, the central theme is promoted by groups such as the Heritage Foundation, Free Congress Foundation, Phyllis Schlafly's Eagle Forum, Concerned Women for America, Conservative Caucus, John Birch Society, Summit Ministries, Christian Anti-Communism Crusade, and the televangelist ministries of Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell.

Author Sara Diamond in her book Spiritual Warfare: the Politics of the Christian Right calls Secular Humanism the "Boogey-Man" of right-wing fundamentalism. According to Diamond, "Among Christian Right leaders, the primary advocate of war on secular humanism has been Tim LaHaye, one of the founders of the Moral Majority and head of the American Coalition for Traditional Values." Diamond says that in the 1970's LaHaye developed "an elaborate theory on the humanist conspiracy, linking the ACLU, the NAACP, the National Organization for Women, Hollywood movie producers and even Unitarianism to the impending downfall of modern civilization. The solution, LaHaye argues, is for Christian moralists to seize control of political and ideological institutions."

Another early example of this thesis was the 1976 Heritage Foundation tract titled Secular Humanism and the Schools: The Issue Whose Time Has Come, Author Onalee McGraw argues that advocates of humanist education such as John Dewey, Jean Piaget, and Abraham Maslow "have made `socialization' of the child the main purpose of American education." Humanistic education does not focus on "the traditional and generally accepted virtues" stressed by the "Judeo-Christian principles taught by most families at home," says McGraw, but on theories of "moral relativism and situation ethics" which are "based on predominantly materialistic values found only in man's nature itself" and "without regard for the Judeo-Christian moral order, which is based on the existence and fatherhood of a personal God."

According to McGraw, humanistic education has lead to the "precipitous deterioration of learning achievement in our schools" evidenced by declining SAT scores. Her solution was to advocate federal and state legislation barring role-playing, sensitivity training, values clarification, moral education, or the teaching of situation ethics. The tract included the text of the Secular Humanism Amendment submitted to Congress in 1976 which sought to ban federal funding of educational programs" involving any aspect of the religion of Secular Humanism."

Academics trace the roots of the secular humanist conspiracy phobia to a turn of the century movement called Nativism which fought the growth of labor unions and the arrival of ethnically-diverse immigrants. The movement coalesced during the turmoil of the Bolshevik revolution and World War I, and soon popularized the fear of the Red Menace and the idea that America was being destroyed from within by subversives. Author Frank Donner's 500-page book The Age of Surveillance is considered the definitive study of the theories underlying the fear of the "Red Menace" by the subversive-hunting nativists. According to Donner:

The root anti-subversive impulse was fed by the Menace. Its power strengthened with the passage of time, by the late twenties its influence had become more pervasive and folkish. Bolshevism came to be identified over wide areas of the country by God-fearing Americans as the Antichrist come to do eschatological battle with the children of light. A slightly secularized version, widely-shared in rural and small-town America, postulated a doomsday conflict between decent upright folk and radicalism--alien, satanic, immorality incarnate.

Professor Richard Hofstadter laid out the three basic elements of contemporary right-wing thought shared by many paranoid nativists and reactionaries:

First, there has been the now familiar sustained conspiracy, running over more than a generation, and reaching its climax in Roosevelt's New Deal, to undermine free capitalism, to bring the economy under the direction of the federal government, and to pave the way for socialism or communism. . . .

The second contention is that top government officialdom has been so infiltrated by Communists that American policy, at least since the days leading up to Pearl Harbor, has been dominated by sinister men who were shrewdly and consistently selling out American national interests.

The final contention is that the country is infused with a network of communist agents. . .so that the whole apparatus of education, religion, the press, and the mass media are engaged in a common effort to paralyze the resistance of loyal Americans.

For many years the decline of the west caused by liberalism as an ally of communism was a mainstay theory of the Old Right. It fed the Cold War and the witch-hunts of the McCarthy period. In the late 1950's and early 1960's a network of nativist anti-communists spread the gospel of the Red Menace through books, magazine articles and workshops. Perhaps the most influential leaders of this movement was Dr. Fred Schwartz and his California-based Christian Anti-communism Crusade. A tireless lecturer, Schwartz in 1960 authored You Can Trust the Communists (to be Communists) which sold over one million copies. It soon became the secular Bible of the nativists. Schwartz's newsletter once suggested that communists promote abortion, pornography, homosexuality, venereal disease and mass murder (his list) as a way to weaken the moral fiber of America and pave the way for a communist takeover.

The views on intractable godless communism expressed by Schwartz were central themes in three other widely distributed books which were used to mobilize support for the 1964 Goldwater campaign. The best known was Phyllis Schlafly's A Choice, Not an Echo which suggested a conspiracy theory in which the Republican Party was secretly controlled by elitist intellectuals dominated by members of the Bilderberger group, whose policies would usher in global communist conquest. Schlafly's husband Fred had been a lecturer at Schwartz's local Christian Anti-communism Crusade conferences.

Schlafly elaborate on the theme of the global communist conspiracy and its witting and unwitting domestic allies in a book on military preparedness tailored to and published in support of the Goldwater campaign, The Gravediggers, co-authored with retired Rear Admiral Chester Ward. Ward, a member of the National Strategy Committee of the American Security Council was also a lecturer at the Foreign Policy Research Institute which formulated many benchmark Cold War anti-communist strategies. The Gravediggers, showed how U.S. military strategy and tactics was actually designed to pave the way for global communist conquest.

Often overlooked because of the publicity surrounding "A Choice, Not an Echo" (the title became one of Goldwater's campaign slogans), was Stormer's, None Dare Call it Treason, which outlined how the equivocation of Washington insiders would pave the way for global communist conquest. None Dare Call it Treason sold over seven million copies, making it one of the largest-selling paperback books of the day. The back cover summarizes the text as detailing "the communist-socialist conspiracy to enslave America" and documenting "the concurrent decay in America's schools, churches, and press which has conditioned the American people to accept 20 years of retreat in the face of the communist enemy." Stormer recently updated his text to expand on his theory of how secular humanism played a key role in undermining America.

All of the above-mentioned books were primarily self-published and circulated through word of mouth. Their effect on the U.S. political scene, coupled with an aggressive grassroots organizing campaign, was virtually invisible until the 1964 Republican convention where delegates such as Schlafly and Stormer rallied the Goldwater supporters they had helped organize precinct by precinct. The Goldwater nomination was the high point for the resurgent nativists in the 1960's, but mainstream Republicans were not ready for the nativist political agenda, nor was the American electorate.

The overwhelming defeat of Goldwater in the general election was a disappointment to the nativists, but it was seen as a temporary setback. Starting with Goldwater contributor lists, a new generation of ultra-conservatives set out to build what became known as the New Right. Not all persons affiliated with the Old Right and New Right shared a high level of paranoid thinking--Goldwater himself rejected the more extreme views--yet paranoid conspiracy theories, much of it transplanted from the John Birch Society, infused much New Right thinking. With the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe, the New Right has shifted its focus from anti-communism to the perceived domestic brand of subversion by collectivist secularist elites with their calls for internationalist or globalist cooperation and their disdain for "traditional" family values.

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