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1 Introduction: Why Go Back? The use of history . . . is to rescue from oblivion the lost causes of the past. History is especially important when those lost causes haunt us in the present as unfinished business. —Paul Goodman, Growing Up Absurd, 1960 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. Nearly one hundred years after he wrote, however, the words that best capture the state of the left in America are “dissolution” and “invisibility.” Hanging on in a dwindling labor movement —itself not entirely trusted by left-leaning intellectuals who have increasingly gravitated toward the ivory tower—and a handful of politicians, the left is not simply small in number but also marginalized. It lacks any significant voice in the Democratic Party, having been displaced by the centrist (if not downright conservative) Democratic Leadership Council, which helped elect Bill Clinton as president. As a journalist wrote about the presidential election of 2000, “On big bread-and-butter issues, the triumph of market economics and the fear of a loaded label have left the [left-liberal] movement with neither a clear national champion nor a coherent agenda.” This book hopes to address this deficit by examining a pivotal historical moment for the American left.1 I have confronted this political void in my personal life as well. I came of political age during the 1980s and worked within the remnants of organizations that had descended from the New Left of the 1960s, cutting my teeth in movements against the nuclear arms buildup and American foreign inter1 . John Harwood, “Left Out: No Leader, No Real Candidate, Liberals Just Languish,” Wall Street Journal, January 13, 2000 (I should note that I worked with an organization mentioned in this story); Werner Sombart, Why Is There No Socialism in the United States? (1906; reprint: White Plains, N.Y.: M. E. Sharpe, 1976). See also my own essays, “Where Are the Young Left Intellectuals?” Social Policy (Spring 1999): 53–58, and “Talking About My Generation (and the Left),” Dissent (Fall 1999): 58–63. 2 Intellectuals in Action vention in Central America, especially El Salvador and Nicaragua. These movements called for America to decrease military spending in order to tackle the problems of rising social inequality. Organizations on the left had numerous strategic and reflective discussions in which political debate merged with action. I listened and took part in deliberations about whether peace movement organizations should concentrate on nonviolent direct action or more “legitimate” means of protest (and in D.C., my hometown, that meant a big march from the Washington Monument to the Capitol). A group that I helped organize constantly debated whether we should get our message across through the mass media (while potentially jeopardizing control over our ideas). My experiences within these movements and the debates they engendered also exposed me to the thinking of numerous political organizers who had come out of the struggles of the New Left—challenging the notion that all 1960s activists, such as Jerry Rubin, had “sold out” to become yuppies. Along with others in my generation, I heard a great deal about the heyday of the New Left during the 1960s. History, as it often does, spoke to me through my elders.2 In addition to this political activism, I happened to work in a used bookstore . (Activism, after all, was not a lucrative career.) In the store’s back recesses, there were paperback copies of Growing Up Absurd, The Power Elite, The Tragedy of American Diplomacy—books I will discuss later. Reading these works confused me, because their assumptions and historical context seemed so terribly different from my own. It seemed that here was something completely off the map of my own time and era: public intellectuals on the left who addressed issues of political significance and who spoke to an active movement intent on changing America. Ideas seemed charged with political consequences rather than remaining purely academic. As a young activist growing up during the conservative decade of the 1980s, I did my best to reconstruct all of this; it seemed as though a different era haunted my own activism and political thinking. In becoming a historian, I believed that there was something to go back to in the New Left. The history that will unfold in these pages...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780271052625
Related ISBN
9780271022062
MARC Record
OCLC
73726750
Pages
320
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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