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Social Forces 79.3 (2001) 1199-1201
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A Generation Divided:
The New Left, the New Right, and the 1960s.
A Generation Divided: The New Left, the New Right, and the 1960s. By Rebecca E. Klatch. University of California Press, 1999. 430 pp. Cloth, $55.00; paper, $22.95.
Put simply, this is a terrific book. It begins with a overlooked fact: that the two groups most emblematic of the "new left" and the "new right" -- the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) -- started in 1960. In Rebecca Klatch's excellent work, it is clear that this is more than a [End Page 1199] historical coincidence. To a surprising degree, new right and new left activists of the 1960s were political siblings, moved to disparate political beliefs and activities but marked by their common generation. Shared historical events and cohort experiences shaped them in some similar ways, although in dramatically different directions. They were a political generation that changed the conservative and progressive politics for decades after.
A Generation Divided is based primarily on life history interviews with 74 former activists from SDS and YAF, supplemented with group documents. Among the latter, the most interesting is Klatch's comparison of the well-known "Port Huron Statement" setting out the ideas of SDS in a 1962 meeting in Port Huron, Michigan with the much less studied "Sharon Statement" that established the basis of a new conservative movement in a 1960 meeting at the Sharon, Connecticut estate of William F. Buckley. If the documents present statements of political unity, the dynamics behind the scenes in Port Huron and Sharon reviewed the factionalism and conflicts that would plague both groups.
By casting the 1960s as a time of ferment for the right as well as the left, Klatch reshapes our understanding of this decade. After reading this work, it is clear that the new right was not just a backlash against a decade-defining new left. Rather, the new right was a social movement with its own history and evolution. The YAF of the 1960s established the foundation for conservative politics in the subsequent decades, shaping an ideological climate favorable to conservative ideas and molding its leadership. Indeed, many leaders of the 1980s right-wing, like Connie Marshner of the Family Protection Report and Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, a Jesse Helms' ally against funding for the National Endowment for the Humanities, were members of YAF in their earlier years.
The life histories of former members of YAF and SDS suggest common causes of their activism. Many were the products of politically active or interested families. Parents molded the antiracism and anti-capitalism of "red diaper babies" and the anticommunism and support for individual freedom of "cradle conservatives." Members of SDS and YAF also shared historical experiences that shaped the populism and distrust of large-scale organizations that ran through both groups. Both felt a disparity between the ideals they were taught and the reality they found around them in the experience of the Cold War and, for SDS'ers, the African American civil rights movement.
In the 1960s, members of SDS and the libertarians within YAF were further radicalized by their increasing disillusionment with the Vietnam War, the draft, and government repression, and the insularity of socializing and working with those with similar outlooks. Other major social movements of the decade played a part as well. Differing stances toward the counterculture, especially the use of drugs, created splits within SDS and YAF but brought parts of the new left and new right together. Feminism too had a lasting impact. The sexualization of women and the dynamics of male dominance that characterized both organizations led to conflict [End Page 1200] between and among men and women. Here, Klatch's analysis is particularly productive, teasing out the generally neglected views of some former SDS women who reject the standard story that the new left collapsed in part because of the sexist practices of its leaders and introducing the accounts of new right women who reacted...