New Left Book Recommendations
by Matt Stoller, Sat Dec 23, 2006 at 11:59:10 AM EST
So I'm working on a research project on the white antiwar New Left, and I'm wondering if anyone has any books to suggest. You'll be able to tell from my summary just how little I know specifically about this period.
As far as I can tell, the general contours of the 1960s and early 1970s are as follows. A youth movement began in the early 1960s from the ferment of the early Civil Rights struggle and the complacency/affluence/nuclear fears of the 1950s. A comformist and crushing mass media society had mangled and deformed the country's cultural growth, and the shocking assassination of JFK in 1963 traumatized a whole set of leaders. The 1950s intellectual protests at a neo-Victorian middle class culture spawned a wave of student organizations, most prominently but not exclusively Students for a Democratic Society. The Vietnam War and the increasing heat of the Civil Rights battle pressured, radicalized, and enlarged the movement, leading to new music, film, and a drug culture that captured an experimental political age. The women's rights movement was spawned from the male-dominated atmosphere of the 1960s political left. Eventually, in 1968 and 1972, these trends turned electoral, but three major Presidential candidates of this movement died, one literally (RFK) and two at the polls.
The student and youth radical leaders of that generation were not institution-builders, as the rhetoric was hotly geared towards revolution and a sort of liberal rapture. It wasn't just that incremental change did not seem up to the challenge of the era, many of these leaders also thought that theirs was a genuinely revolutionary movement, that failure carried the cost of permanent exile from their society. The result of the cultural and political energy of the white liberal antiwar class was Nixon's crushing 1972 victory and a thorough national repudiation of liberal values. Still, antiwar activists were not repudiated individually, a confusing state of affairs that led to a turn inward in the 1970s.
One result was the disillusionment of the left activist class towards the electoral process, and a withdrawal into good government groups like Common Cause, Public Citizen, as well as single issue groups like NARAL and the initial media reform movement. Much talent also flowed into the media-industrial complex itself - two or three whole generations of journalists with liberal sympathies reflexively adopt a self-hating attitude about liberalism. Corporate law firms and Wall Street locked up liberal talent, as did the media business itself. Another piece of the puzzle is the labor movement, which saw an influx of radical organizers who eventually became the current leadership class.
Anyway, as far as I can tell, it was an emotional, depressing and turbulent time for liberals, with a key set of advances, most prominently the end of the segregation and the busting open of American cultural oppression. There was immense political trauma to liberalism, reinforced later by Jimmy Carter's failed Presidency, and Reagan's crushing victories in 1980 and 1984. After awhile and beginning in 1972, liberal activists basically gave up, first withdrawing from the electoral realm into process work, and then pulled out altogether into a mostly apolitical stance.
Does this sketch make sense? I'm not sure it does, and I'd welcome feedback.