The Rise and Fall of the American Left

The Rise and Fall of the American Left

by John Patrick Diggins
     
 

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The American Left was born in America--not, as some would have it, in Europe or the Third World, and the American Left was nurtured by intellectuals and activists who read Jefferson and Whitman before they read Marx or Mao. One lesson this brilliant history teaches us is that the fury of radical innocence and wounded idealism so peculiar to American intellectual… See more details below

Overview

The American Left was born in America--not, as some would have it, in Europe or the Third World, and the American Left was nurtured by intellectuals and activists who read Jefferson and Whitman before they read Marx or Mao. One lesson this brilliant history teaches us is that the fury of radical innocence and wounded idealism so peculiar to American intellectual history springs from native soil. The American Left is not a single phenomenon but four surprising eruptions throughout the past century:. The Lyrical Left, of the First World War years. Sometimes known as "the New Intellectuals," its leaders, born and educated in the United States, were uniformly mindful of America's roots. The Old Left, as it came to be known, wrote its agenda driven by the legacy of World War I, the hopes that had sprung from the promise of socialism, and the clear failure of American capitalism so manifest in the Great Depression. The New Left of the 1960s combined a revolt against the banalities of middleclass life with civil rights fervor and, finally, protest against America's longest war, Vietnam. The result was one of the most unsettled and incoherent decades in American history. And now, much embattled by twelve years of Republican rule, we have the contemporary Academic Left building on unfirm ground, seeking on the one hand to question the traditional values of the West and on the other to embrace the causes of women and minorities long shut out of that tradition whose future may well depend upon Western values. The American Left is no dry-as-dust subject. Its leaders, men and women strong in rhetoric and actions, are among the most riveting personalities of our time--Max and Crystal Eastman, Emma Goldman, Walter Lippmann, Eugene Debs, Norman Thomas, Reinhold Niebuhr, Herbert Marcuse, Mario Savio, Eldridge Cleaver, Sidney Hook, Irving Howe. These lives, so skillfully interwoven into so important an American story, make this book the best available history of its subject.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
About halfway through his thorough and often engaging look at the American left, Diggins ( Mussolini and Fascism ) refers to his subject as ``what never happens twice.'' This brings to mind lightning, which strikes quickly and never in the same place twice. And so it seems with the history of the American left, which Diggins divides here into four periods, or generations--the Lyrical Left, the Old Left, the New Left and the Academic Left. Each phase was relatively brief, and ``there was little historical continuity and even less political sympathy'' among the generations. Diggins is admirably comprehensive; he discusses the left as an ally of the working class and assesses the role of blacks, women and artists in the movement. He also points to the ``values of the American Enlightenment,'' liberalism and the pragmatism of John Dewey, as possibly halting ``the decline and fall'' of the left, a conclusion potentially surprising to some while comforting to others. Photos not seen by PW. (Jan.)
Library Journal
In this expanded version of Diggins's The American Left in the Twentieth Century (HBJ, 1973), Diggins retains his basic premises: that the American Left was based on native radicalism and only came to Marxism later and that its intellectual history can be discussed in terms of generations--Lyrical, Old, New, and Academic. His interpretation of the first three remains substantially the same, while he describes the Academic Left as being composed of New Left students who became academics in the 1970s and now form the ``most significant ideological presence on the American campus.'' Readers looking for a more comprehensive history should go to The Encyclopedia of the American Left (LJ 6/15/90). Diggins's discussion of the Academic Left makes this more up-to-date than James Weinstein's Ambiguous Legacy (LJ 11/15/75), which ends with the New Left. It also makes it relevant to the contemporary controversy about ``political correctness.'' For all political and intellectual history collections.-- Jonathan Miller, Rochester Inst. of Technology, N.Y.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780393030754
Publisher:
Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date:
03/01/1992
Pages:
432
Product dimensions:
5.82(w) x 8.48(h) x 1.38(d)

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