Scholarly writers have not treated former member of Congress and US ambassador to Italy Clare Boothe Luce (1903–87) well. This may seem like a strange statement, in light of the numerous biographies written on her life and politics.[1] Yet, most scholars of US political and diplomatic history have not looked to Luce as a key figure. This is unfortunate, since her life and career tell us much about the history of American conservatism. Speaking in 1975, US Senator Barry Goldwater, often viewed as one of the founders of the modern American conservative movement, argued that Luce was “one of the most knowledgeable foreign policy experts that this country has ever produced.”[2] Still, in most works dealing with the history of the modern American conservative movement, Luce does not figure prominently.[3]

In examining the life and views of Clare Boothe Luce, I argue that Luce’s life trajectory reflected the changes in American conservatism from 1945 until her death in 1987. From the more “moderate,” “me-too” brand of conservatism,[4] centered in the Republican Party, until the rise of the “new right,” the changes in Clare Boothe Luce’s ideological views dovetailed with those of other prominent conservatives. Luce’s views straddled the line between the “moderate” or “liberal” conservatism of Dwight Eisenhower and the grassroots, “small government” conservatism of Barry Goldwater.[5] Using Jeff Taylor’s model of “populist, grassroots, and nationalist” conservatism, exemplified by such figures as Robert Taft and Barry Goldwater, Clare Boothe Luce stood between the more populist approach of these men and the elitist perspective symbolized by Nelson Rockefeller and John Lindsay, among others.[6] Similarly, George Nash has noted that modern American conservatism consisted of three fundamental groupings: radical libertarians who opposed the growth of the state and especially the state’s powers of taxation, traditionalists who wished to return to an earlier period in US history and to uphold the nuclear family, and militant anticommunists who endorsed increased American confrontation with communism and the Soviet Union.[7] Although it is difficult to place her in any one of these categories, Luce’s views borrowed from the traditionalist and militant anticommunist perspectives.

Indeed, as Luce moved toward “new right” socially conservative views during the late 1960s and 1970s, her political focus changed. Luce’s shift in focus—if not in her actual belief system, which remained fairly constant during the course of her life—reflected the increasing power of grassroots conservatism, as exemplified by public figures like George Wallace. Wallace supported the economically populist position of using the government, usually at the state level, to help the poor and working-class. Yet, Wallace’s brand of conservatism disdained social liberalism in the form of pornography and legalized abortion. Similarly, Wallace, and other conservative populists like Richard Viguerie and Paul Weyrich, opposed the intervention of the federal government in racial issues, condemned US assistance to Communist dictators, and ridiculed the educated intelligentsia.[8] As she aged, Luce’s political focus and public statements moved toward an endorsement of this grassroots conservative view. Thus, we chart a course from Luce’s early years as a member of Congress to her later-in-life shift in focus toward more socially conservative views. It is also worth asking the question: why have most writers on American conservatism—most notably George Nash, Russell Kirk, and Robert Nisbet in their canonical texts on American conservatism[9]—ignored or downplayed Luce’s contributions to the movement? An answer to this question will become clear as we examine the life and career of Clare Boothe Luce.

It is also worth considering the nature of the sources that this article uses. Many of the manuscripts cited here were never published. Thus, they represented Luce’s private considerations of various issues and not necessarily her publicly stated view. As a staunch “party woman,” that is, someone who endorsed the official Republican Party viewpoint, Luce would not have expressed a public position on any issue that went against the Republican Party’s official statements. In particular, her expression of support for George Wallace and, to a lesser extent, Robert Taft, would not have found favour with Republican Party power brokers. I suspect that many of the statements chronicled here were not meant for public consumption. This makes Luce’s private views all the more fascinating. Privately, even a staunch Republican like Clare Boothe Luce expressed scepticism at the official stance of her party and offered, cautious and tentative, support for a populist conservative ideology. This reading of Luce’s politics is somewhat at variance with other biographies of her life, which portray Luce as a Republican Party “insider” who did not express any doubt about the party’s direction. Clearly, Luce’s views evolved much more over time—and were more complex—than earlier biographers indicated.[10] It is interesting to see someone often thought of as an “establishment” political figure expressing doubts about her party’s direction.



Clare Boothe Luce was born Ann Clare Boothe in New York City on March 10, 1903. Her father, William Boothe, worked as a travelling salesman, and the family lived in poor economic circumstances for many years. Clare Boothe was a supporter of the women’s suffrage movement and worked for the National Women’s Party (NWP) in Washington, DC, and Seneca Falls, New York. Boothe married millionaire clothing heir George Tuttle Brokaw on August 10, 1923. The couple had one daughter—Ann Clare Brokaw, who died in a 1944 automobile accident. George Brokaw was an alcoholic and was abusive toward his wife, leading to their divorce in 1929. Clare Boothe served as associate editor and managing editor of Vanity Fair from 1932 to 1933, but she resigned to write for the Hearst newspaper chain.[11]

In November 1935, Clare Boothe married Henry Robinson Luce, who had gained fame as the publisher of Time, Life, and Fortune magazines. After their marriage, Clare Boothe became Clare Boothe Luce, the name that she would hold for the remainder of her life. The marriage was not an especially happy one. Henry Luce was unfaithful several times and, prior to her conversion to Catholicism, Clare Boothe Luce also had a number of male lovers. She attempted suicide on several occasions owing to her husband’s infidelity.[12] Her daughter’s death led Luce to convert to the Roman Catholic Church, which she joined in February 1946. The “radio priest,” Archbishop Fulton Sheen, provided Luce with grief counselling and influenced her conversion to Catholicism.[13]

In 1942, Luce won a Republican seat in the United States House of Representatives. From 1942 to 1947, she represented Connecticut’s Fourth Congressional District, Fairfield County, a normally Democratic, heavily Catholic, working-class area. Luce supported the American effort in the Second World War and received strong support from conservatives and isolationists in Congress.[14] She endorsed taxing the rich and cautiously favored African-American civil rights. She strongly supported Dwight Eisenhower during the 1952 presidential election campaign.[15] Eisenhower appointed Luce as US ambassador to Italy, a position she held from May 1953 to April 1956. Clare Boothe Luce was the first Republican woman to hold the post of ambassador.[16] “Ike” appointed her, in part, as a reward for Luce’s work in convincing Catholics to vote the Republican ticket; many had done this for the first time.[17] She was also the nominal US ambassador to Brazil from April 28 to May 1, 1959. She resigned in the face of opposition from a number of prominent Democratic senators, most notably Wayne Morse of Oregon, then the chair of the Senate Subcommittee on Latin American Affairs. Morse objected to the interventionist focus of Luce’s foreign policy views and did not believe that he could work with Luce, whom he perceived as overly partisan and conservative. She never went to Brazil to take up the position.[18]

Henry Luce and Clare Boothe Luce had close ties to the Republican Party establishment; indeed, Henry Luce was a key member of the Republican “Eastern Establishment” of bankers, media moguls, and business leaders.[19] In his famous editorial in the February 17, 1941 issue of Life magazine, Henry Luce endorsed “the American Century,” a call for the United States to spread its economic and cultural influence to all sectors of the world.[20] The Luces counted themselves as part of the bipartisan political and foreign policy establishment of the United States. Both were friends of Republican Allen Dulles, the first director of the Central Intelligence Agency, as well as Democratic president Lyndon B. Johnson.[21]

In 1964, Henry Luce retired as the editor-in-chief of Time, and the Luce family retired to Arizona, where Henry died in 1967.[22] Clare Boothe Luce then moved to Honolulu, Hawaii, and had an active life in Hawaiian society, participating in Republican Party fundraisers and attending parties for the Hawaiian elite. By 1977, she had relocated to Washington, DC, where she remained prominent in conservative circles. Ronald Reagan awarded Luce the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1983. Clare Boothe Luce died of brain cancer on October 9, 1987, at the age of 84, and was buried at Mepkin Abbey, South Carolina, a plantation that she and Henry had once owned. The Luce family later bequeathed Mepkin Abbey to a community of Trappist monks. Clare Boothe Luce’s grave stands next to those of her mother, her daughter, and her husband.[23]


Election to Congress and the Years of “Liberal” Conservatism

Like many mainstream Republicans, Clare Boothe Luce endorsed moderate ideologies during much of the 1940s and 1950s. Initially, at the beginning of the Second World War, Luce expressed some ambivalence about American entry into the war, perhaps reflecting the strength of isolationist sentiment in some sectors of the Republican Party. Conservative isolationists[24] like Senator Robert Taft and John T. Flynn mostly eschewed the mainline “me-too” ideology and opposed the growth of the welfare state. Taft and Flynn saw war as an aspect of the growth of state power. Isolationists linked the war to the statist measures introduced by President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “New Deal.” According to less “hawkish” conservatives, if American society could not be improved by the growth of the state at home, then it was unlikely that American interventionism abroad—an aspect of increased state power—would succeed in creating better societies elsewhere.[25] During the 1940s, however, Clare Boothe Luce felt differently. As she wrote in her 1940 memoir, Europe in the Spring, “when I decided to go to Europe, I didn’t know at all how I really felt about the war. . . . I had had whole days of feeling that it just might be our business.” By the conclusion of her memoir, however, Luce had decided that the United States had to fight against Nazi Germany, seeing Nazi views as “fundamentally pagan and undemocratic.” She saw the United States as being the embodiment of true freedom and “Christian democracy”; Luce argued that Nazism and fascism were the opposites of true freedom.[26]

Elsewhere, Luce expressed support for Dwight Eisenhower in his battle for the Republican Party nomination in 1952. In keeping with moderate conservative positions, she remarked that “Ike” “understands war from A to Z. He proposes peace based on strength: the military, economic, and spiritual strength of America.” Luce, like many Americans, admired Eisenhower’s military achievements and linked this to the Cold War, saying, “if Eisenhower were elected, all the free countries of the world would take heart. And Stalin, who is a shrewd man, would hesitate in his satanic trifling with the world’s peace.”[27]

Later, Luce identified her ideology more explicitly with the Cold War “vital center.” She argued that in domestic policy, Eisenhower was “a man of the center. He stands firmly midway between left and right. This is the very point of political balance which is necessary for our nation to maintain if we are not to tumble headlong into bankruptcy and socialism, or fall backwards into a depression.” This was the stuff that “vital center” liberalism was made of.[28] Perhaps surprisingly, for someone who had become part of the economic elite, Luce asserted that Eisenhower’s Republican Party would provide balance against far-right business leaders, and pro-Soviet ideologues. Eisenhower’s election would represent “a powerful blast at the power and wealth-hungry men who, at either extreme of our political wings, would use government to further their own selfish ends.” Luce suggested that Eisenhower, if elected, would “lift men’s hearts” and “give them courage and hope. He inspires them with a vision of what America means to itself, and can mean to all the world’s free men in this age of crisis.”[29] Luce was firmly part of the moderate, “me-too” Republican establishment during the 1950s in her support for the welfare state at home and interventionism abroad. In contrast, Senator Robert A. Taft—Eisenhower’s opposite among nonestablishment Republicans and his unsuccessful opponent in the 1952 Republican Party primaries—opposed the New Deal, battled against labor unions, and opposed overseas interventionism. Where Luce represented the establishment, Taft symbolized “Old Right” libertarian views, both at home and overseas.[30] Later, Luce would endorse some of Taft’s ideas.

Luce’s endorsement of overseas interventionism reflected the debate between “Old Right” isolationists like Frank Chodorov and Murray Rothbard and supporters of overseas interventionism like William F. Buckley, Jr. and William Schlamm. This debate commenced after 1945 and reached a climax in 1954 and 1955, with the pro-interventionist side winning victory. Where conservative libertarians like Chodorov and Rothbard argued that the true enemy of conservatives was the state—with communism being only one variant of the state—militant interventionists like Buckley and Schlamm suggested that conservatives had to accept “big government” and large federal budgets since communism represented a clear and existential threat to American values. Luce’s views came down on the interventionist side during the early 1950s.[31]


American Foreign Policy

Clare Boothe Luce supported anticommunist initiatives in the United States itself as well as overseas interventionism. These two aspects of American politics—the welfare state and international expansion—often went hand-in-glove for supporters of both major political parties in the United States. Both “liberal” and more conservative Democrats,[32] as well as moderate Republicans, endorsed the expansion of government domestically and internationally. The increase in welfare-state measures—often an expansion of “New Deal” policies such as increased pensions, rights for unions, and improvements in healthcare policy—were meant to blunt the ability of communist, socialist, and other leftist ideologues to criticize postwar capitalism. The Keynesian welfare state and the post-1945 economic boom in the United States challenged the notion, popular in some left-wing circles, that capitalism did not provide services, such as jobs, unemployment insurance, and mothers’ pensions, for citizens of capitalist nations. Similarly, overseas expansionism, in Korea and later Vietnam among other places, related to “containing” communism and socialism within limited boundaries. Thus, the welfare state and overseas expansionism were part of the same process of combatting communism and expanding American economic power. Historians and political scientists have labelled this the “welfare-warfare state.”[33]

Luce endorsed the “welfare-warfare state” and portrayed the Cold War in Manichean terms; the forces of the democratic, capitalist West faced a life-or-death struggle with the totalitarian Eastern bloc. Writing in 1954, Luce asserted that “for three decades, the Kremlin has relentlessly pursued its unlimited goal: the conquest of the world and its incorporation into the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.” The Cold War was being fought internationally and domestically. The Soviets, she argued, had a “tapeworm” political policy, the goal of which was to “wage a global ‘Cold War’ by the infiltration of Communist agents and parties into the political systems of all other nations.” Through American carelessness and neglect, the country had “unwittingly lost its atomic lead to the slow conquest of all of Asia.” Sounding the alarm, Luce reflected the views of other interventionist conservatives when she remarked that the Soviet Union “has been winning the political war (or as it is sometimes called, ‘the war for the minds of men’) for a very long time.”[34]

Luce argued that the United States needed a new kind of foreign policy. She suggested three causes of the decline in America’s power overseas: “loss of atomic monopoly, loss of China,” and “loss of our revolutionary posture in world politics.” The latter point implied that the United States should be supporting nationalist, right-wing, and anticommunist groups overseas. The US government, Luce stated, should also support better conditions for poor people in “Third World” nations.[35] This would lead to an increase in American prestige internationally. Luce suggested that the United States needed to attain or increase its economic supremacy over the world, “liberate” China from Communist control using South Korea and Taiwan as allies, and support anticommunist groups in Eastern Europe. In addition, the United States should lobby for increasing free trade, as opposed to protectionist policies, all over the world, and set up an anticommunist coalition, which would include the United States, France, Britain, and West Germany.

Echoing the views of Joseph McCarthy, Luce argued that the Democrats, as part of their “twenty years of treason,”[36] had helped to “lose” China to the Communists.[37] Unlike McCarthy, Luce was a strong internationalist and wanted to increase American trade with other nations, while maintaining and increasing American military power overseas. In contrast, conservative nationalists like Barry Goldwater, Robert Taft, and even McCarthy himself, emphasized eliminating domestic subversion in the United States. In his support for an isolationist foreign policy and in his attacks on the Democratic foreign policy elite of the United States, McCarthy’s views reflected “Old Right” concerns. In other ways, notably his aggressive attacks on all forms of communism and socialism, McCarthy’s views foreshadowed the “New Right,” with its push for a stronger stance against domestic and international communism. Clare Boothe Luce’s views were similar. Indeed, during the 1940s and 1950s, Luce’s perspective straddled the line between the conservative, populist nationalism of Taft and Goldwater and the internationalist focus of moderate, “me-too” Republicans.


Politics of the “New Right”: Transition to Social Conservatism

When American conservatism moved toward the New Right, Clare Boothe Luce’s views continued in the same vein. Some argue that Barry Goldwater’s presidential campaign in 1964 was the precursor to the New Right.[38] Yet, although the “Christian Right”—with its opposition to Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal policies—had antecedents going back to the 1930s, the “New Right” that pundits and scholars have discussed is a product of the late 1960s.[39] Thus, the New Right emerged from Richard Nixon’s election victories in 1968 and 1972. Nixon asserted that he represented the “silent majority” of Americans who opposed the excesses of the 1960s. “New Right” conservatives wanted to act as a counterweight to the claims of the African-American civil rights movement, the antiwar movement, and the move toward hedonism, pleasure, and consumption. Fear of crime, drugs, and the secularization of American society played important roles in pushing many toward conservatism.[40]

Clare Boothe Luce’s ideas from the mid-1960s until her death in 1987 reflected “New Right” values. Prior to the mid-1960s, much like other conservatives, Luce expressed no opinion on social issues like abortion, pornography, or crime.[41] During the early-1960s, and continuing into the 1970s, the focus of Luce’s political activism and public pronouncements began to change. Like other conservatives, her views seemed distant from young “New Left” activists.

In one particular instance, Luce offered a critique of what she portrayed as the Republican Party’s moderation. Here, her ideas reflected “Old Right” views; however, Luce also expressed “New Right” populist critiques of elites in both major parties. Specifically, Luce offered an assessment of George Wallace’s populist campaign. She argued that Wallace’s appeal to grassroots conservatives stemmed from the weakness of the Republican Party. Luce stated that Republican leaders stood for “nothing.” Populist conservatives often argued that both mainstream parties were infected with the “disease of liberalism.” Luce offered a regionalist variation on this theme. Liberalism in both the Democratic and Republican Parties came from “influential sections of the Eastern Seaboard media,” which saw “socialism, at home and abroad, as the ‘wave of the future.’” Like Wallace, Luce spoke out against the “intellectual liberal elite” whose “hearts’ desire” was “to create a great paternalistic government, which will control everything and everybody.”[42]

In opposition to elitists and corporate leaders who favored big government, Luce argued that the bulwark against liberalism came from “the congenial conservatism of the great vulgar low and middle-brow bourgeoisie, who still believe in God, family life, personal liberty, a sound dollar, and the American flag.” “Middle America” hated and “feared” big government and the welfare state.[43] This reflected “Old” and “New” Right populist themes. Both the Old and New Right claimed that elites in both major parties used the federal government to force upon the people a welfare state, racial integration, and a radical vision of feminism.

Luce linked these social concerns to economic and foreign policy. She argued that the country was spending far too much; this was putting the nation into a “disastrous inflation-depression-inflation spiral.” This was an implicit criticism of the Nixon administration, with its “liberal” economic policies and continuation of the welfare state. Internationally, the US defense establishment had “grown steadily weaker” in relation to the Soviet Union. Luce blamed the “loss” of the war in Vietnam on “liberals” in both parties in Congress, who had spent “20 million” dollars on a South Vietnamese ally that had let the United States down. Luce argued for the formation of a new conservative party that would stand for the “responsible, serious and well-seasoned socioeconomic brand of conservatism that Robert A. Taft’s GOP once stood for or that the small, young New York Conservative Party proudly stood for.” This new party would be modelled on George Wallace’s American Independent Party.[44] Luce asserted that the “anemic Grand Old Party” could not survive the populist appeal of a figure like George Wallace. Wallace would “drain” millions of votes from both major parties. Wallace represented “millions of hard-working, vulgar, gutsy, lower and middle-class Americans”: the “crippled working-class man.”[45]

This was a remarkable statement which, in some ways, prefigured later trends in the American conservative movement. At least rhetorically, Luce eschewed her previous tie to the Republican Party establishment. Luce called for a new kind of populist, antiestablishment conservative party that would represent the “average” American. This did not come to pass. Indeed, Luce had little contact with poor and working-class Americans of any racial or ethnic background, unlike George Wallace.[46] Her invocation of Robert Taft went against her previous expression of support for moderate conservatism and for overseas interventionism. This is a side of Luce’s views that previous writers have largely ignored: her rhetorical endorsement of populist conservatism. Robert Taft expressed noninterventionist views and represented Midwestern manufacturing interests, small businesses, and “Main Street” values.[47] Yet, in contrast, Luce’s transition to “New Right” views during the 1970s continued to reflect an interventionist foreign policy and a moralistic perspective on social policies, although she adopted a more populist tone on economics.[48] In this way, her views were similar to what evangelical conservatives argued for during the 1980s.[49]

Thus, while her focus on social and economic issues had changed, Luce’s foreign policy positions remained consistent. Even during the 1970s and 1980s, Luce argued for a more aggressive stance against communism. In an unpublished manuscript from 1976, Luce spoke out against Soviet sponsorship of left-wing revolts and revolutions. She argued that the Soviets sponsored the 1973 Arab oil embargo as a method of weakening the United States. “They have not been the slightest bit troubled by its devastating effect on the economy of the West,” she noted. Luce blamed the Soviets for funding the Palestinian Liberation Organization against Israel. She claimed that the Soviets had backed coup attempts in Portugal and had “trained and used Cuban mercenaries for the invasion of Angola.” Luce argued that the Soviets “make no secret that they intend to achieve naval supremacy on all the oceans.” Luce summed up her anticommunist views with this statement: the Soviets, she argued, intended to support with aid and arms “more Cubas, more Koreas, more Vietnams, more Portugals, more Angolas—and more Arab wars against Israel.”[50]

This reflected the heightened rhetoric of “New Right” conservatism during the 1970s. Implicit in Luce’s statement was a critique of the Nixon administration for pursuing détente with the Soviets, recognizing Communist China, and endorsing what many conservatives saw as a liberal domestic policy. This viewpoint typified populist, “New Right” ideology, which became prominent during the late 1960s and 1970s. Populist conservatives from more recent decades included such figures as Mary Davison, Gary Allen, and Charley Reese. Part of the conservative populist view was a sense that mainstream, establishment conservatives had been “soft” on Communist-ruled nations.[51] Clare Boothe Luce attempted to keep pace with prevailing trends in conservative ideology, even as she maintained a close tie with Republican Party power brokers.[52] Luce’s views, like those of other conservatives, attempted to combine traditionalist and militantly anticommunist values. Conservatives like Clare Boothe Luce endorsed big business, corporate mergers, and the military, which, arguably, destroyed small towns and rural areas, while claiming that they supported family and small-town values.


Conclusion: Whither Clare Boothe Luce?

What does all of this information tell us about the life of Clare Boothe Luce? Academic historians and scholars have often forgotten, or minimized, Luce’s contributions to the modern American conservative movement and to the Republican Party. Yet, her life has lessons for students of American political and diplomatic history. Luce’s views mirrored the changes in mainstream American conservatism from 1945 until the 1980s. Her perspective encompassed support for World War II, an endorsement of Eisenhower and “me-too” conservative values during the 1950s, strong support for Cold War–era anticommunism during the 1950s and 1960s, and a change to “New Right” populist viewpoints during the late 1960s and 1970s. As we have seen, Luce’s ideology stood between the more populist approaches of Robert Taft, Barry Goldwater, and George Wallace, and the elitist, moderate perspective symbolized by Nelson Rockefeller and John Lindsay.[53] An examination of Clare’s life demonstrates the pitfalls of having political categories. Human life does not always allow for categorizing the views of human beings into “neat” political positions.

Why, then, have many commentators and scholars of American conservatism ignored Clare Boothe Luce’s perspective and contributions? An answer to this question relates to Luce’s place within the conservative movement. Scholars like Russell Kirk and Robert Nisbet focused on the ideology of American conservatism and, in particular, on conservative thinkers who introduced new ideas to conservatism.[54] In spite of her many contributions to American conservatism, and to the Republican Party in particular, it is hard to say that Luce introduced any new ideas to American conservatism. Luce’s role was more as a popularizer of conservative views and as a public figure who disseminated conservative positions to the general public.

Similarly, we cannot say that Luce was part of any one of George Nash’s three “brands” of post-1945 conservatism: libertarianism, traditionalism, and anticommunism. Luce’s views borrowed from at least two of these brands. Her increasing social conservatism, and, in particular, her opposition to abortion and pornography, shows that she possessed traditionalist views. As we have seen, Luce strongly endorsed Cold War anticommunism. Nonetheless, given that she was not part of any one brand of American conservatism, scholars of conservatism have seemingly found it hard to place Luce on the continuum of conservative thought. Unlike other conservative women, such as Phyllis Schlafly, who could be more easily seen as a member of the traditionalist camp,[55] Luce did not subscribe to any one conservative viewpoint. Yet, the fact that she had a foot in at least two visions of conservatism—traditionalism and militant anticommunism—meant that she assisted in popularizing the conservative cause more than other, more explicitly ideological, conservatives.

It is instructive to compare Clare Boothe Luce with her close friend, William F. Buckley. Both held similar views that were a mix of traditionalist and anticommunist views, and both endorsed the “welfare-warfare” state. Both could not truly be placed in any one stream of American conservative thought, and both were “popularizers,” not originators, of conservative ideologies. Yet, because Buckley founded the flagship magazine of American conservatism, National Review, he possessed a public forum through which he became well-known to many groups of Americans.[56] Buckley brought other Catholic converts, notably L. Brent Bozell and Willmoore Kendall, to National Review. Although she had been a journalist during her younger days, Clare Boothe Luce possessed no such platform for her views.[57] In spite of this, Luce stood out as a strong advocate for conservative positions in American society, even if most scholars have not written about her or discussed her change in political focus.

Above all, Clare Boothe Luce was a political person. As Barry Goldwater noted at the outset, Luce was certainly a most “knowledgeable” woman on US domestic and foreign policy. Looking at the life of this fascinating and complex woman tells us much about American political history. With the recent election of Donald Trump to the American presidency, it is clear that different visions of conservatism remain important elements of American politics and culture. Thus, we still need examinations of conservative figures from the American past, such as Clare Boothe Luce.


Brian Thorn teaches English and History at Nipissing University in Ontario, Canada. His research interests centre on conservative and left-wing political movements in North America and gender studies. He is the author of From Left to Right: Maternalism and Women’s Political Activism in Postwar Canada (University of British Columbia Press, 2016). 

**This piece has been peer-reviewed


[1] The key biographies of Luce, excellent though they are, come mostly from popular authors. See, most notably, Daniel Alef, Clare Boothe Luce: Renaissance Woman (Santa Barbara, CA: Titans of Fortune Publishing, 2009); Faye Henle, Au Claire De Luce: Portrait of a Luminous Lady (New York: Stephen Daye, 1943); Sylvia Jukes Morris, Price of Fame: The Hon. Clare Boothe Luce (New York: Random House, 2014); Jukes Morris, Rage for Fame: The Ascent of Clare Boothe Luce (New York: Random House, 1997); Stephen Shadegg, Clare Boothe Luce: A Biography (New York: Simon and Shuster, 1970); Wilfred Sheen, Clare Boothe Luce (New York: Dutton, 1982).

[2] Barry Goldwater, “Reappraisal of U.S. Foreign Policy,” Congressional Record, July 14, 1975, papers of Clare Boothe Luce, box 309, file 9, Library of Congress.

[3] See, for example, Russell Kirk, The Conservative Mind: From Burke to Eliot, rev. ed. (Washington, DC: Regnery, 2001); George H. Nash, The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America since 1945, 30th anniversary ed. (Wilmington, DE: ISI Books, 2006); Robert Nisbet, Conservatism: Dream and Reality, rev. ed. (Piscataway, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 2001). George Hawley’s recent Right-Wing Critics of American Conservatism (Emporia: University of Kansas Press, 2016) also fails to mention Luce. To be fair, Hawley’s work focuses on groups and individuals who stood outside of the mainstream conservative movement, while Luce was clearly an “insider” in terms of her relationship to the movement. Luce is mentioned, but only briefly, in Allan J. Lichtman, White Protestant Nation: The Rise of the American Conservative Movement (New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2008), 130–32, 162–63, 296–97.

[4] This paper defines “liberal” or “moderate” conservatism as support for using the federal government to foster welfare programs at home and to increase the military budget to support an anticommunist foreign policy. This will also be referred to as “me-too” conservatism. Supporters of this branch of conservatism were often pro-choice on the issue of abortion and endorsed government measures to help African-Americans and the poor. Thus, these conservatives held similar views to liberal and moderate Democrats on many issues. William Scranton, Thomas Dewey, Nelson Rockefeller, John Lindsay, and even Richard Nixon, are examples of “me-too” Republicans. The paper defines “grassroots” or “small government” conservatism as consisting of support for balanced budgets, maintaining a limited welfare state, a cautious, even noninterventionist, foreign policy, and support for small businesses and small-town manufacturers. Some of these grassroots conservatives expressed opposition to abortion and support for what they saw as traditional “family values.” Robert Taft, H. R. Gross, Eugene Siler, Rose Wilder Lane, and, more recently, Jesse Helms and Pat Buchanan are examples of what some have termed the “Old Right.” See Justin Raimondo, Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement, 2nd ed. (Wilmington, DE: ISI Books, 2008); Jeff Taylor, Politics on a Human Scale: The American Tradition of Decentralism (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2013), 293–405.

[5] I see the conservatism of the mainstream Republican Party—focused on winning elections and on appearing “mainstream” to attract large groups of American voters—as distinct from the broader conservative intellectual movement and from conservative activists who existed outside of the Republican Party. See Hawley, Right-Wing Critics; Nash, Conservative Intellectual Movement.

[6] Taylor, Politics on a Human Scale.

[7] Nash, Conservative Intellectual Movement, xiii, 131. For an analysis that mirrors Nash’s, see Hawley, Right-Wing Critics, 5–13.

[8] Jeff Taylor sees Goldwater and Wallace as the first wave of the trend toward grassroots conservatism, which later took shape in some sectors of the “New Right” and continued with figures like Ronald Reagan, Pat Buchanan, and, much more recently, Ron Paul. Robert Taft, Sr., was arguably an antecedent to these figures, although, unlike Goldwater and Wallace, Taft did not focus on social or racial issues. See Taylor, Politics on a Human Scale, 538–44. Both Viguerie and Weyrich entered conservative politics during the mid-1970s and continued as key players in American conservatism for many years. Viguerie is still involved in grassroots conservative politics today, while Weyrich died in 2008. Their grassroots populist views stood at variance with wealthy, “country club” conservatives. Thus, populist conservatives became marginalized within the conservative movement. On Viguerie, see Taylor, Politics on a Human Scale, 483–84. On Weyrich, see Lichtman, White Protestant Nation, 310–12. Many populist conservatives argued that American and Western political leaders connived with the Soviet Union and did not do enough to combat international communism. See Carroll Quigley, Tragedy and Hope: A History of the World in Our Time (New York: MacMillan, 1966); Anthony C. Sutton, Wall Street and the Bolshevik Revolution: The Remarkable True Story of the American Capitalists Who Financed the Russian Communists (Forest Row, UK: Clareview Books, 2011).

[9] See note 4 above.

[10] For example, in the authorized biographies by Sylvia Jukes Morris, Price of Fame and Rage for Fame, the author portrays Clare as an unyielding supporter of the Republican Party.

[11] Jukes Morris, Rage for Fame, 110–14, 120–21, 130–31, 146–48.

[12] Sherryl Connelly, “The Luces: A Study of their Power Marriage,” Daily Press, August 25, 1991; Ariel Gonzalez, “There’s No Happy Ending in the Second Biography of Clare Boothe Luce,” Miami Herald, June 29, 2014.

[13] Fanny Sedgwick Colby, “Monsignor Sheen and Mrs. Luce,” The American Scholar 17, no. 1 (1947–48): 35–44; Sylvia Jukes Morris, “Clare, in Love and War,” Vanity Fair, June 19, 2014.

[14] Lichtman, White Protestant Nation, 130–33, 162–63.

[15] Jukes Morris, “Clare, in Love and War.”

[16] Liberal Democrat Eugenie M. Anderson became the first woman to hold the post of ambassador, when Harry Truman appointed her ambassador to Denmark in 1949. Anderson held that position until 1953 and was later the US ambassador to Bulgaria from 1962 to 1964. See Philip Nash, “Ambassador Eugenie Anderson,” Minnesota History 59, no. 6 (Summer 2005): 249–62.

[17] Alden Hatch, Ambassador Extraordinary: Clare Boothe Luce (New York: Henry Holt, 1955); Joseph Lyons, Clare Boothe Luce: Author and Diplomat (New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1989).

[18] Larry Ceplair, “The Foreign Policy of Senator Wayne L. Morse,” Oregon Historical Quarterly 113, no. 1 (2012): 6–35; Mason Drukman, Wayne Morse: A Political Biography (Portland: Oregon Historical Press, 1984), 182, 317–25.

[19] Lichtman, White Protestant Nation, 133–35, 252.

[20] Stephen J. Whitfield, “The American Century of Henry R. Luce,” in Americanism: New Perspectives on the History of an Ideal, ed. Michael Kazin and Joseph A. McCartin (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2006), 90–107.

[21] Stephen Kinzer, The Brothers: John Foster Dulles, Allen Dulles, and Their Secret World War (New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2013), 79–80, 211; David Talbot, The Devil’s Chessboard: Allen Dulles, the CIA, and the Rise of America’s Secret Government (New York: HarperCollins, 2015), 236, 447–49, 490. Kinzer suggests that Clare had an affair with Allen Dulles (The Brothers, 202), and Talbot confirms this assertion (The Devil’s Chessboard, 236, 454).

[22] Both Henry Luce and Clare Boothe Luce famously took LSD during the 1960s after being introduced to the drug by British-born novelist and philosopher Gerald Heard. See Talbot, The Devil’s Chessboard, 454; Eckard V. Toy, “The Conservative Connection: The Chairman of the Board Took LSD before Timothy Leary,” American Studies 21, no. 2 (1980): 65–77. On Henry Luce, see also James L. Baughman, Henry R. Luce and the Rise of the American News Media (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001); Alan Brinkley, The Publisher: Henry Luce and the American Century (New York: Vintage Books, 2011).

[23] Albin Krebs, “Clare Boothe Luce Dies at 84: Playwright, Politician, Envoy,” New York Times, October 10, 1987; Marie Brenner, “Fast and Luce,” Vanity Fair, May 28, 2014.

[24] The term “isolationist” is problematic, but I have used it here since most historians of American political and international history still use it. Isolationists did not believe that the United States should have no contact of any kind with other nations. Rather, isolationists from the pre- and post-World War II era argued that the United States should stay out of European wars, as well as wars in Asia in some cases, while maintaining strong military preparations and endorsing American independence in the field of foreign policy. “Isolationism” does not refer to a strict antiwar or pacifist position. See Justus D. Doenecke, Not to the Swift: The Old Isolationists in the Cold War Era (Cranbury, NJ: Associated University Presses, 1979), 11–13, 19–32.

[25] Ronald Radosh, Prophets on the Right: Profiles of Conservative Critics of American Globalism (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1975), 119–45, 197–229. Radosh argues that we can see Taft, Flynn, and other isolationist conservatives as old-line “liberals”—borrowing from nineteenth-century classical liberal ideology—who endorsed a small state and equality for all. They were not strict “conservatives.” The main point, however, is clear: isolationists in Congress, and in American society, held different views from Luce during the 1940s and 1950s.

[26] Clare Boothe, Europe in the Spring (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1941), 5–6, 321, 324.

[27] Clare Boothe Luce, “Editorial,” The Loomis Log, September 26, 1952, Luce Papers, box 312, file 33. The Loomis School was a private school in Windsor, Connecticut.

[28] The term is from Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., The Vital Center: The Politics of Freedom, rev. ed. (New York: Transaction Books, 1997). Schlesinger argued that moderate, centrist leadership, which would stand between the extremes of “laissez-faire” capitalism and communism, represented the way forward for humanity. Other “consensus historians” expressed similar views, further arguing that American democratic capitalism represented the best form of government. Some of these scholars characterized American government as “non-ideological” and beyond the binaries of left and right. See, in particular, Daniel Bell, The End of Ideology: On the Exhaustion of Political Ideas in the Fifties, 2nd ed. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000); Daniel Boorstin, The Genius of American Politics (1953; repr., Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1958).

[29] Boothe Luce, “Editorial.”

[30] Indeed, some nonestablishment conservatives argued that Eisenhower and his campaign team, assisted by New York bankers, stole the nomination from Taft at the 1952 Republican Convention in Chicago. See Jennifer Burns, Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009), 145; Phyllis Schlafly, A Choice, Not An Echo, 50th anniversary ed. (1964; repr., Washington, DC: Regnery, 2014), 59–71.

[31] Nash, Conservative Intellectual Movement, 123–30. Schlamm had worked for Henry Luce on Life Magazine during the 1940s.

[32] “Liberal” is in quotation marks because many liberals in Cold War America did not subscribe to the views of nineteenth-century classical liberals like John Stuart Mill or Herbert Spencer. Liberal Democrats like Senator Hubert Humphrey and Arthur Schlesinger endorsed an increased bureaucracy as well as overseas interventionism in the name of “humanitarian principles.” More conservative Democrats like President Lyndon Johnson, Representative Sam Rayburn, and Senator Richard Russell endorsed many of the same viewpoints. The same was true of moderate Republicans like Nelson Rockefeller and John Lindsay. See Francis Fox Piven and Richard Cloward, Regulating the Poor: The Functions of Public Welfare, rev. ed. (New York: Vintage Books, 1993).

[33] See, for example, William Blum, Killing Hope: U.S. Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II, 2nd ed. (London: Zed Books, 2014); Murray N. Rothbard, The Betrayal of the American Right, rev. ed. (Auburn, AL: Ludwig Von Mises Institute, 2007).

[34] Clare Boothe Luce, “Russian Atomic Power and the Lost American Revolution,” August 12, 1954, Luce Papers, Box 308, File 17.

[35] This was, in fact, a major part of American foreign policy during the post-1945 period. See Blum, Killing Hope.

[36] Senator Joseph McCarthy (R-Wisc.) was in the Senate from 1947–57 and famously made his name with accusations that there were Communist Party members and spies in positions of power in the US government, State Department, and military. McCarthy died in 1957. Joseph McCarthy made this specific accusation in a series of speeches arranged by the Republican National Committee in early 1954. In his comment on “twenty years of treason,” he referred to 1932–52: the Roosevelt and Truman administrations. See Arthur Herman, Joseph McCarthy: Reexamining the Life and Legacy of America’s Most Hated Senator (New York: Free Press, 2000), 131.

[37] Clare Boothe Luce, “Russian Atomic Power and the Lost American Revolution,” 12 August 1954, Luce Papers, Box 308, File 17.

[38] Many supporters of “Old Right” presidential candidate Senator Robert A. Taft in 1952 endorsed Goldwater in 1964. This is, in part, why some commentators see Goldwater as a throwback to “Old Right” values. See the texts cited in note 2 above, as well as Taylor, Politics on a Human Scale, 553–56. Luce likely endorsed Goldwater in 1964 because she was a staunch Republican who felt obligated to support her party’s officially nominated candidate.

[39] Kevin M. Kruse, One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America (New York: Basic Books, 2015); Leo Ribuffo, The Old Christian Right: The Protestant Far Right from the Great Depression to the Cold War (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1988).

[40] The literature on the “New Right” is vast. See, in particular, Donald T. Critchlow, The Conservative Ascendency: How the Republican Right Rose to Power in the Modern Era, 2nd ed. (Emporia: University Press of Kansas, 2011); Darren Dochuk, From Bible Belt to Sunbelt: Plain Folk Religion, Grassroots Politics, and the Rise of Evangelical Conservatism (New York: Norton, 2012), 326–37; Rebecca E. Klatch, A Generation Divided: The New Left, the New Right, and the 1960s (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999); Lichtman, White Protestant Nation, 281–435.

[41] The Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision was not until 1973, and the increase in the visibility of pornography was a product of the late 1960s and 1970s counterculture. Very few conservatives expressed opinions on social issues until the late 1960s. Indeed, abortion and birth control were largely important issues to elite, population control supporters prior to the late 1960s. The mainstream feminist movement did not view abortion as a key issue until the late 1960s. See Erika Dyck, Facing Eugenics: Reproduction, Sterilization, and the Politics of Choice (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2013).

[42] Clare Boothe Luce, “Letter to the Editor,” Baton Rouge (La.) State Times, July 2, 1975.

[43] Ibid. Luce picked up on arguments later expressed in Christopher Lasch, The True and Only Heaven: Progress and Its Critics (New York: Norton, 1991). For another vision of this, see the well-known perspective presented in Donald I. Warren, The Radical Center: Middle Americans and the Politics of Alienation (South Bend, IN: Notre Dame University Press, 1976).

[44] Bill Shearer and Eileen Knowland Shearer established the American Independent Party in 1967. It nominated George Wallace for president and Curtis LeMay for vice-president in the 1968 election. The ticket carried five Deep South states and forty-six electoral votes. See James Aho, Far-Right Fantasy: A Sociology of American Religion and Politics (London: Routledge, 2015), 15.

[45] Luce, “Letter to the Editor.”

[46] Wallace saw himself as representing working-class and poor white Americans who felt disenfranchised from elitist liberalism. Wallace held cheap or free political fundraisers that he encouraged working people to attend. See Dan T. Carter, The Politics of Rage: George Wallace, the Origins of the New Conservatism, and the Transformation of American Politics, 2nd ed. (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2002); Taylor, Politics on a Human Scale, 538–44.

[47] James T. Patterson, Mr. Republican: A Biography of Robert A. Taft (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1972); Radosh, Prophets on the Right, 147–95.

[48] See Taylor, Politics on a Human Scale, for a breakdown of various conservative political positions.

[49] Although conservatives from the 1980s and later endorsed mostly “neoliberal” economic policies. “Neoliberalism” refers to cutting back the welfare state, using the state to support big business, attacking unions and workers, and endorsing “cheap labor” by bringing in undocumented immigrants. See Alexander Cockburn, A Colossal Wreck: A Road Trip through Political Scandal, Corruption, and American Culture (New York: Verso, 2013); Lichtman, White Protestant Nation. See also Rebecca E. Klatch, Women of the New Right (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1987).

[50] Clare Boothe Luce, “The Semantics of Détente,” March 1976, Luce Papers, Box 310, File 1.

[51] For examples of populist right-wing views see Gary Allen with Larry Abraham, None Dare Call It Conspiracy (1971; repr., San Diego: Dauphin Publications, 2014); Kerry Bolton, Revolution from Above (London: Arktos, 2011).

[52] For example, Clare’s address book in 1986 shows that she had the personal contact information for President Ronald Reagan, Vice President George H. W. Bush, and a number of prominent members of Congress from both major parties. See Clare Boothe Luce, Address Book, 1986, Luce Papers, box 28, file 18.

[53] Taylor, Politics on a Human Scale.

[54] Kirk, The Conservative Mind; Nisbet, Conservatism: Dream or Reality?

[55] On Schlafly, see Donald. T. Critchlow, Phyllis Schlafly and Grassroots Conservatism: A Woman’s Crusade (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2008). Schlafly will be discussed in more detail in another essay dealing with Clare Boothe Luce, which will be published by ANAMNESIS in a forthcoming online edition.

[56] John B. Judis, William F. Buckley, Jr.: Patron Saint of the Conservatives, rev. ed. (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2001).

[57] Nash, Conservative Intellectual Movement, 148–51, 316–17, 335–40.