Winning and Losing: The New Left Democratizes America
Why didn’t the New Left put down lasting roots? This question has been asked many times, but it rests upon a flawed premise—that the only tangible long-term success for the New Left would have been a new political party, and a corresponding set of established institutions. Clearly, that did not happen. Better questions would be: what permanent presence did the New Left achieve in U.S. society? Which parts of it were most successful, and why? To what extent did it change America permanently, and in what ways did it fail? To frame answers to these questions, we need to step back and look at the New Left’s overall evolution from the late 1960s through the mid-1970s, at “the Movement” as a whole.
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A Selected Bibliography
- Books that help one get at the under-studied late years of the New Left includeGoogle Scholar
- Sandra Levinson and Carol Brightman Venceremos Brigade: Young Americans Sharing the Life and Work of Revolutionary Cuba (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1971) andGoogle Scholar
- Eric Cummins, The Rise and Fall of California’s Radical Prison Movement (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1994).Google Scholar
- Max Elbaum, Revolution in the Air: Sixties Radicals Turn to Lenin, Mao and Che (London: Verso, 2002) is a brilliant excavation of a radicalism outside the pale for many radicals.Google Scholar
- Peter Braunstein and Michael William Doyle, eds., Imagine Nation: The American Counterculture of the 1960s and’ 70s (New York: Routledge, 2002) is the best single volume on that chaotic topic. A recent article by Gael Graham, “Flaunting the Freak Flag: Karr v. Schmidt and the Great Hair Debate in American High Schools, 1965–1975, Journal of American History (2004): 522–543, is crucial to opening up the larger history of what we mean by the “counter-culture,” and its actual relationship to politi-cal dissent. In terms of what comes after 1975, and a continuity from the late 1960s stretching into the Reagan years, any serious reader should consultGoogle Scholar
- Barbara Epstein, Political Protest and Cultural Revolution: Nonviolent Direct Action in the 1970s and 1980s (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991).Google Scholar
- Other than hostile polemics by neoconservative renegades from the New Left, like David Horowitz and Ronald Radosh, or dystopians convinced that the New Left signally failed, like Todd Gitlin, Jim Sleeper, and Michael Tomasky, there is remarkably little actual scholarship that exam-ines the long-term impact of the radical social movements post-1945. Most unfortunate is that the voices of white men have dominated this argument, all arguing from one or another vantage point the failures and excesses of radicalism and “identity politics,” so-called. The World the Sixties Made is an effort to move beyond diatribes and unquestioned premises about a conserva-tive ascendance. In an introductory essay, “Post-Modern America: A New Democratic Order in a Second Gilded Age,” I argue that the unending trench warfare of the past three decades signals both the continuing centrality of the movements of the New Left to our political life. Writing this at a moment when the New Right exercises a sweeping, if to me very precarious, hold over all branches of the federal government, it remains to be seen whether this assessment of the century’s last quarter is an exercise in unwarranted optimism, or a more sober assessment than others.Google Scholar