Exit Right: The People Who Left the Left and Reshaped the American Century offers a provocative, intimate, and fresh look at the evolution of American politics through the lives of six prominent figures — Whittaker Chambers, James Burnham, Ronald Reagan, Norman Podhoretz, David Horowitz, and Christopher Hitchens — who did just that: they abandoned the left and joined the right. And in doing so, they reshaped the contours of American politics in the twentieth century. Weaving together the past century’s most important historical moments to reveal the roots of American politics — with a focus on the left and the right — Daniel Oppenheimer asks profound questions about why and how we come to believe what we do.
Exit Right is the latest in a series of recent works from American intellectuals that have transformed our understanding of the roots of modern American conservatism. These include Sam Tanenhaus’s biography of Whittaker Chambers; Rick Perlstein’s trilogy of histories on the movements behind the rise of Goldwater, Nixon, and Reagan; Corey Robin’s The Reactionary Mind; and Kimberly Phillips-Fein’s Invisible Hands: The Making of the Conservative Movement from the New Deal to Reagan.
Beginning with Whittaker Chambers and concluding with Christopher Hitchens, Exit Right encourages readers to question the degree to which their political beliefs are the product not only of pure reason and deliberation but also of birth, accident, family, community, history, emotion — all the messier things in life. If the six figures that Oppenheimer profiles, all of whom believed in their politics intensely and thoroughly, could change their minds so radically, what it does say about our beliefs? What does it say about the distance that really lies between those of us on the left and the right?