For most of my politically conscious life, the idea of social transformation has been the great taboo of American politics. From the smug 1950s to the post-Reagan era, in which a bloodied and cowed left has come to regard a kinder, gentler capitalism as its highest aspiration, this anti-utopian trend has been interrupted only by the brief but intense flare-up of visionary politics known as "the sixties." Yet that short-lived, anomalous upheaval has had a more profound effect on my thinking about the possibilities of politics than the following three decades of reaction. The reason is not (to summarize the conversation-stopping accusations routinely aimed at anyone who suggests that sixties political and cultural radicalism might offer other than negative lessons for the left) that I am stuck in a time warp, nursing a romantic attachment to my youth, and so determined to idealize a period that admittedly had its politically dicey moments. Rather, as I see it, the enduring interest of this piece of history lies precisely in its spectacular departure from the norm. It couldn't happen, according to the reigning intellectual currents of the fifties, but it did. Nor—in the sense of ceasing to cast a shadow over the present—can it really be said to be over, even in this age of "9/11 Changed Everything."


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pp. 87-91
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