The Rise And Fall Of The American Left

Overview

“Informative and useful. . . . A balanced history of leftist American politics in the 20th century. . . . Admirably nonpartisan.” —Jonathan Yardley, Washington Post
Born in America, 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. Nor is the American Left a single ...

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Overview

“Informative and useful. . . . A balanced history of leftist American politics in the 20th century. . . . Admirably nonpartisan.” —Jonathan Yardley, Washington Post
Born in America, 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. Nor is the American Left a single phenomenon but four surprising eruptions throughout the past century: The Lyrical Left, of the First World War years; the Old Left, driven by the legacy of World War I, the promise of socialism, and the Great Depression; the New Left of the 1960s, combining a revolt against the banalities of middle-class life with civil rights fervor and protest against the war in Vietnam; and now contemporary Academic Left, seeking both to question the traditional values of the West and to embrace the causes of women and minorities.

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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: 9780393309171
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 10/1/1992
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 436
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

John Patrick Diggins is the author of The Rise and Fall of the American Left and The Proud Decades: 1941–1960, in addition to biographies of John Adams and Max Weber. He is a distinguished professor of history at the City University of New York Graduate Center. He lives in New York City.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments 13
Preface: "A Fearful Monument" 15
1 Theory 25
1 The Left as a Theoretical Problem 27
The Problem of Definition 27
Historical Roles 39
Ally of the Working Class? 45
2 The New Intellectuals 49
Marxism and the Intellectuals 49
"Hail to the New Intellectuals!" 53
The Historical Consciousness of the Left 57
3 Strangers in the Land: The Proletariat and Marxism 62
Farmers and Industrial Workers 62
The Utopian Tradition 72
The Marxist Background 76
Three Leaders in American Socialism 84
2 History 91
4 The Lyrical Left 93
The Greenwich Village Rebellion 93
War and the State 101
The Bolshevik Revolution 106
The Odyssyes of Reed and Eastman 113
Feminists and Black Intellectuals 124
Intermezzo: The Lost Generation 138
5 The Old Left 145
The Depression and the Image of the Soviet Union 146
The Lefts Compared 154
Sidney Hook and the Americanization of Marxism 158
The Popular Front 165
The Spanish Civil War and the Moscow Trials 175
The Dewey-Trotsky Debates: "A Veritable Pharos" as "A Fearful Monument" 179
The Critique of Marxism: Legacy of the Old Left 187
A Tenuous Continuity 201
Marxism, Modernism, McCarthyism: The New York Intellectuals 210
6 The New Left 218
From Alienation to Activism 218
Ideological Origins 222
The Lefts Compared 231
The Civil Rights Movement and the Antiwar Resistance 238
The Counterculture 242
1968: A Year That Shook the World 248
Factionalism and Suicidal Extremism 256
Failures and Achievements 265
The "New Consciousness" and Herbert Marcuse 268
3 Anomaly 277
7 The Academic Left 279
Post-Vietnam America 279
The Left Academy 288
The Feminist Left 298
8 Poetry of the Past: The Rewriting of American History 307
The Old and the New in New Left Historiography 307
Hegel's "Lordship and Bondage" 315
The New Labor History 326
Tocqueville's Shadow 335
9 Power, Freedom, and the Failure of Theory 342
Hegemony, Critical Theory, Deconstruction 342
The World Turned Upside Down, 1989-1990 356
From Poststructuralism to Pragmatism 364
Power and Suspicion: The Enduring Relevance of the Enlightenment 370
Notes 385
Index 421
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