Sara Diamond,. Not By Politics Alone. The Enduring Influence of the Christian Right. New York: The Guilford Press, 1998, 280 pp. $US 23.95 cloth.

Not By Politics Alone examines the subcultural roots and organizational structures underpinning the Christian Right in the United States. Specifically, the text examines the movement’s ability to sustain itself during periods of apparent political defeat, to adapt to the changing political and social environment, and to formulate new plans of action which will result in its desired goals.

Not By Politics Alone mines material familiar to Diamond, right-wing movements in the United States. Whereas a previous book, Roads to Dominion (1995), dealt with the variegated roots of neo-conservatism as a whole, Not By Politics Alone returns to an examination of a single, spiritual branch.

The book is more empirical than theoretical. Nonetheless, the author’s approach (as stated in chapter 1) is guided by previous theory and research into social movements, and emphasizes three factors. These factors are “(1) the political opportunities afforded by both long-term trends and short-term features of the prevailing political-economic system; (2) the effectiveness of all the organizations and informal networks through which social movements mobilize and sustain activism; and (3) the ways in which groups interpret the meaning of their grievances and their possibilities for action, all toward the end of continually readjusting their strategies” (p. 5). The result is an understated, but quite successful, bridging ideas drawn from political process theory, resource mobilization theory, and new social movements theory.

Chapter 2 examines religious broadcasting in the United States. Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network and Dr. James Dobson’s organization, Focus on the Family, are selected for particular study. Chapter 3 follows with an examination of the political culture found in popular evangelical fiction, magazines, and music. Chapters 4 and 5 deal with the Christian Right’s explicit efforts to shape American politics through support for the Republican party. Chapters 6 through 9 deal with a series of “family values” issues: parental rights, abortion, homosexuality, and public (secular) schooling. A connecting thread throughout these chapters is the idea held by movement followers that “government is persecuting Christians by siding with immoral enemies” (p. 15). Chapter 10 examines more broadly the world view of Christian Right followers, with an emphasis upon end-times prophecy, the injunction to perform missionary work, and religious practices designed to sustain the faith, even in the midst of apparent defeat. Chapter 11 - which Diamond herself admits may be her most controversial chapter - examines changes occurring within the Christian Right, particularly on matters of race and gender. The final chapter re-emphasizes the importance of these changes. The author concludes that while the Christian Right has not - and probably cannot - obtain all that it seeks, it has adapted successfully to past defeats and is today positioned to remain an influential political movement into the next century.

This is a well written and detailed book. While one senses that Diamond is not in accord with Christian Right adherents, the author provides a generally even-handed and fair depiction of their motivations and beliefs. The result is that one is able to genuinely glimpse a view of the world as seen through the eyes of movement followers themselves. The sections detailing the Christian Right’s attempts at appropriating or mimicking “pop culture,” through music, novels, etc., are particularly fascinating. At the same time, Diamond provides some very telling insights into the limitations - or “blind spots” - of Christian Right followers, especially regarding the capitalist economy and globalization.

Not By Politics Alone is one of those rare academic books, one with potential appeal both to academics - especially political scientists and sociologists - interested in social movements, and members of the lay public trying to understand the current American political scene. Further, while one may not agree with the specific values of the Christian Right, the ideas given voice in this text provide a useful starting point for assessing the connection (if any) between values and politics in the post-modern United States. Àpres Lewinsky le déluge?

If Not By Politics Alone has a fault it is that the text does not stand entirely alone, but rather must be read as an extension of previous works by the author. In consequence, casual outside observers of the United States, wishing for a fuller explanation of the historical, ideological, and social roots of the “peculiar” institution of American evangelicalism and its broader links to American exceptionalism, will be compelled to extend their search elsewhere.

This is a relatively minor quibble, however. In the main, Not By Politics Alone provides a very worthwhile, detailed, and incisive look into an enduring and influential American phenomenon.

Trevor W. Harrison
Dept. of Sociology
University of Alberta

May 1999
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