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Intellectuals in Action

The Origins of the New Left and Radical Liberalism, 1945–1970

Kevin Mattson

Publication Year: 2002

Born in 1966‚ a generation removed from the counterculture‚ Kevin Mattson came of political age in the conservative Reagan era. In an effort to understand contemporary political ambivalence and the plight of radicalism today‚ Mattson looks back to the ideas that informed the protest‚ social movements‚ and activism of the 1960s. To accomplish its historical reconstruction‚ the book combines traditional intellectual biography—including thorough archival research—with social history to examine a group of intellectuals whose thinking was crucial in the formulation of New Left political theory. These include C. Wright Mills‚ the popular radical sociologist; Paul Goodman‚ a practicing Gestalt therapist and anarcho-pacifist; William Appleman Williams‚ the historian and famed critic of "American empire"; Arnold Kaufman‚ a "radical liberal" who deeply influenced the thinking of the SDS. The book discusses not only their ideas‚ but also their practices‚ from writing pamphlets and arranging television debates to forming left-leaning think tanks and organizing teach-ins protesting the Vietnam War. Mattson argues that it is this political engagement balanced with a commitment to truth-telling that is lacking in our own age of postmodern acquiescence. Challenging the standard interpretation of the New Left as inherently in conflict with liberalis‚ Mattson depicts their relationship as more complicated‚ pointing to possibilities for a radical liberalism today. Intellectual and social historians‚ as well as general readers either fascinated by the 1960s protest movements or actively seeking an alternative to our contemporary political malais‚ will embrace Mattson’s book and its promise to shed new light on a time period known for both its intriguing conflicts and its enduring consequences.

Published by: Penn State University Press

Front Cover

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Copyright Page

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

It is always a pleasure to thank those who helped along the way. In my case, there were many. Thanks first of all to Taylor Stoehr. I contacted Taylor because of his immense knowledge about Paul Goodman’s life, but he wound up giving more help than I deserved or expected ...

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Introduction: Why Go Back?

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pp. 1-22

Lamenting the lack of an effective left in American politics is a venerable tradition. The title of Werner Sombart’s classic work, Why Is There No Socialism in the United States? (1906), asked a formidable question—and Sombart did not need to justify asking it. ...

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1 A Preface to the politics of Intellectual Life in Postwar America: The Possibility of New Left Beginnings

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pp. 23-42

The 1940s are often taken as a decade of American triumph. In 1941, the famous and wealthy publisher of Life magazine, Henry Luce, wrote that the twentieth century “is ours not only in the sense that we happen to live in it but ours also because it is America’s first century as a dominant power in the world.” ...

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2 The Godfather, C. Wright Mills: The Intellectual as Agent

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pp. 43-96

When C. Wright Mills met Dwight Macdonald in 1942, the two men hit it off well, both enjoying the art of argument. In fact, as Macdonald’s biographer put it, “Dwight claimed that [Mills] could argue longer and louder about any subject than even he could.” While Mills lived outside of New York City ...

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3 Paul Goodman, Anarchist Reformer: The Politics of Decentralization

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pp. 97-144

In the last year of World War II, readers of politics witnessed C. Wright Mills exchange tough words with Paul Goodman. The matter at hand was the relationship between psychological theory and radical politics. In the context of a history of New Left intellectuals, the debate made clear the range of approaches ...

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4 William Appleman Williams, Republican Leftist: History as Political Lesson

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pp. 145-186

William Appleman Williams tried to show the importance of studying history to the New Left and was once called “the dean of America’s historical ‘left.’” Of the intellectuals examined here, he most identified with his professional discipline. It follows that he was more comfortable with academia, ...

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5 Arnold Kaufman, Radical Liberal: Liberalism Rediscovered

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pp. 187-228

Unlike the other intellectuals studied here, Arnold Kaufman is not always recognized as an intellectual who had significant influence on the New Left. Mention his name, and most historians of the New Left scratch their heads. And yet, more than others, Arnold Kaufman developed the idea of “participatory democracy” ...

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6 Studies on the Left and New University Thought: Lessons Learned and Disintegrations

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pp. 229-262

While C. Wright Mills, Paul Goodman, William Appleman Williams, and Arnold Kaufman wrote books and essays describing what a New Left should look like, a younger generation of activists and scholars was coming of age. Developing their own voices while relying upon a critical intellectual heritage, ...

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Conclusion: Lost Causes, Radical Liberalism, and the Future

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pp. 263-274

It might seem ironic that a book telling a tale of decline would wind up, in the end, arguing for something salvageable from that same story of decline. But so it is with this book. Writing about “lost causes,” as the historian Vernon Parrington called them, is not an easy task, either from the standpoint ...

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 275-296


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pp. 297-305

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780271052625
E-ISBN-10: 0271052627
Print-ISBN-13: 9780271022062
Print-ISBN-10: 027102206X

Page Count: 320
Publication Year: 2002

OCLC Number: 73726750
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Intellectuals in Action

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Subject Headings

  • Radicalism -- United States.
  • New Left -- United States.
  • Intellectuals -- Political activity -- United States.
  • United States -- Politics and government -- 1945-1989.
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