JOURNAL: Previous | Next | Current | Index

04 November 2001

More Excerpts from The Age of Reagan

McNamara's Signals (from The Age of Reagan)
The Age of Reagan, 1964-1980: The Fall of the Old Liberal Order

As promised, more excerpts from Steve Hayward's fine book, The Age of Reagan:

[The] standard interpretation of the origins of 1960s student radicalism is not wrong, but does not go deep enough. That the predominant attack on the liberal establishment found more strength on the Left than the Right should not have come as a surprise. If one takes a wide-angle view, it is possible to see that the 1960s began in the 1930s or earlier. All of the intellectual antecedents to the 1960s' radical critique of middle-class American life were present and spreading rapidly in the 1920s and 1930s, including the literature of "alienation" and, most importantly, the deep affinity for the Soviet Union among leftist intellectuals. The ideological Left has never been happy with the moderate liberal consensus that has characterized American politics practically since the Founding.

The Great Depression seemed momentarily to be an opportunity to shift America's political consensus to the Left, but one thing stopped the momentum of radical thought and prevented its wider acceptance: World War II and its aftermath. In addition to rallying the great mass of middle-class people to the cause of western democracy and inoculating them from the superficial charms of radicalism, at the same time a great number of the radical intellectuals of that earlier generation were severely disillusioned about Communism by the Soviet purge trails and the Hitler-Stalin pact that began the war. These jarring events caused thoughtful people on the Left to reevaluate their critique of democracy and the United States. Although remaining on the Left, many intellectuals surprised themselves with their newfound patriotism; Mary McCarthy remarked that she began to set aside her contempt for "bourgeois society" when she realized that she cared about the outcome of the war, and hoped the Allies would win. (65)

And turning to 1968:

The reigning myth about 1968 . . . is that it represented a last chance for the politics of "hope," as though intentions alone are sufficient to assure success. Especially among liberals 1968 has become, in the title words of Jules Witcover's book, "the year the dream died." Nixon and Agnew, in the words of Ted Kennedy, "appealed to the darker side and what changed the political dialogue was this change to the darker side." Because Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy were said to have appealed to "the nobler side of human nature," they would have been able to "bring the people together" and appeal to the "vital center." But what does this imply about the liberal bona fides of Hubert Humphrey, who had been one of the Democratic Party's early stalwarts for civil rights, long before anyone in the Kennedy family embraced the issue? The trashing of the real in favor of the imaginary belies the fact that the liberal dream was already a shambles before 1968. The evens of 1968 foreclosed an era in American political life, but liberals have been in denial ever since.

Abiding faiths die hard, and the cause of Great Society liberalism would be able to persist in its denial because it would have the benefit of what modern psychobabble calls "an enabler" -- Nixon. To liberals Nixon was the Prince of Darkness. Chester, Hodgson, and Page observed in their election chronicle that "there is no doubt that there exists in America a durable reservoir of hostility toward Richard Nixon." (223)

I haven't spent much time with this book lately, but I will continue to post interesting excerpts as I find them. It's been a fine read so far.

[Posted @ 09:23 PM CST]

Powered By Greymatter

If you can read this, your browser does not fully comply with standards. You can still view the site via the navigation bar below.

Reductio (old) | Journal | Glossary | Search | Bio | Photos | Disclaimer