A Tale of Two Utopias: The Political Journey of the Generation of 1968

Overview

"A deeply moving and delightfully readable account of the political journey [Berman's] generation has taken."—Isaac Kramnick, New York Observer
The ideological passions that, along with critical acclaim, greeted the publication of Paul Berman's A Tale of Two Utopias showed how persistent are some of the battle lines drawn in the tumultuous years around 1968.A Tale of Two Utopias recounts "in clean, clear, often funny style" (Washington Post) four episodes in the history of a generation: the worldwide student ...

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Overview

"A deeply moving and delightfully readable account of the political journey [Berman's] generation has taken."—Isaac Kramnick, New York Observer
The ideological passions that, along with critical acclaim, greeted the publication of Paul Berman's A Tale of Two Utopias showed how persistent are some of the battle lines drawn in the tumultuous years around 1968.A Tale of Two Utopias recounts "in clean, clear, often funny style" (Washington Post) four episodes in the history of a generation: the worldwide student radicalism of the years around 1968; the birth of gay liberation and modern identity politics; the anti-Communist trajectory of the '68ers in the Eastern bloc; and the ideals and self-criticism of thinkers in America and in France who lived through these events and debated their meaning.
Praised for both "sheer intellectual high-spiritedness" (Houston Chronicle) and "the same sensitivity to the moral needs of the participants, and the same lucid evaluative balance, as Edmund Wilson's accounts of earlier periods" (philosopher Richard Rorty), A Tale of Two Utopias firmly establishes Berman as "one of America's leading social critics" (New Leader) and "one of our most gifted essayists" (Boston Globe).

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Editorial Reviews

New York Times Book Review - Nathan Glazer
“Paul Berman is a wonderfully lucid presenter and analyzer of recent intellectual history.”
Nathan Glazer - New York Times Book Review
“Paul Berman is a wonderfully lucid presenter and analyzer of recent intellectual history.”
Philip Leggiere

There's certainly no dearth of accounts of the 1960s, written from wildy diverse perspectives, grinding a host of ideological axes. Like a television re-run in endless syndication -- melodrama, comedy, farce or tragedy, take your pick -- the '60s live on, their legacy fodder for very '90s-style culture wars.

Most of these accounts are content to recycle stock images from collective memory. Rare is the history that views the '60s in exacting relation to what came before and what has followed. Rarer still is one that can critically reconstruct the consciousness of the time. In his new book A Tale of Two Utopias, social critic Paul Berman attempts to fill that gap by delivering an eclectic and often absorbing analysis of the international student New Left. Prolix and often unwieldy in its ambitiousness, A Tale of Two Utopias is not the place to go if you're looking for a light and lively narrative history, a 1960s complement to, say, David Halberstam's The Fifties. Despite its focus on the white youth rebellions of the era, it's not really the place to find a comprehensive treatment of the anti-war movement, rock culture or "sexual revolution" either.

What Berman does offer is a probing, if occasionally ponderous, meditation on the intellectual zeitgeist behind the insurgencies and near revolutions of 1968 (utopian moment number 1). And he speculates on that moment's influence on the wave of real revolutions (utopian moment number 2) in Eastern Europe in 1989. The ferment of 1968 was, according to Berman, the product of "a revolutionary exhilaration," inimical in spirit to "settled doctrinal orthodoxies and national boundaries." Berman attempts to evoke this evanescent spirit and to analyze its later manifestations in such phenomena as the Gay Liberation movement, the "New Social History," the Sandinistas, the works of Francis (The End of History) Fukuyama, French "post-Marxist" philosopher Andre Glucksman and the political alliance of Frank Zappa and Vaclav Havel.

Berman's literary gifts, however, are rarely as impressive as his talents as a historian and theorist. A Tale of Utopias is an intermittently brilliant work -- the critique of Fukuyama's work is particularly fine -- that forces readers to wade through some unnecessarily choppy and academic prose. -- Salon

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Long identified with the left, Berman (editor of Debating P.C.) writes with ambition and savvy about an impossibly broad subject: the left's journey from its multiple 1968 revolutionsnot merely the student and cultural uprisings, but the world attack on Western imperialism and the counterattack, within the communist bloc, against the entrenched dictatorships. Though he does not take on topics like feminism or race, Berman's global reachhe discusses generational splits in left-wing movements from Mexico to Francemakes his book intriguing and provocative. He then assays "the gay awakening," charting the Stonewall-era assumption of group identity to the rise of world gay consciousness. Next, he shifts to discuss Vaclav Havel, who he argues exemplified a movement not for socialist reconstruction but for personal integrity and became influenced by the French "'68er" Andr Glucksmann, who scored Western peaceniks for underestimating the oppression and expansionism of the Soviet Union. Finally, in the wake of the 1989 revolutions against communism, Berman tests Glucksmann's pessimism about progress with conservative Francis Fukuyama's "end of history" thesis about the inevitable success of Western democracy. Thanks to his biographical exegesis of Glucksmann's thought, Berman finds the Frenchman more convincing and, somewhat chastened, suggests the route from 1968 to 1989 should leave the world "humble, skeptical, anxious, afraid, shaken." Author tour. (July)
Kirkus Reviews
A provocative but desultory history, ultimately adding up to little, in which Berman (ed., Blacks and Jews, 1994, etc.) compares the radical political movements in 1968 with the liberal democratic revolution of 1989 in Europe.

Assassinations, riots, and the Vietnam War marred American public life in 1968; it was also a year of creative tension in public affairs, politics, and the arts, and saw the rise of radical student movements from Paris to Berkeley, aimed at transforming society. Berman traces several of the more distinctive movements (Tom Hayden's Students for a Democratic Society, the gay liberation movement, and the Paris Maoists) and contrasts them with the peaceful anti-Communist "revolution" of 1989 that resulted in the collapse of pro-Soviet regimes throughout Europe. While conceding the infinite variety of the radical impulse, Berman categorizes the movements of 1968 into four groups: (1) the "New Left" insurrections against institutionalized racism and sexism, and against middle-class values, originating in universities and driven by students and academics; (2) the development of a new, liberated spiritual sensibility, composed of insights derived from various Eastern religious traditions and other sources; (3) revolutions against right-wing dictatorships (e.g., Vietnam, Latin America); and (4) revolutions against left-wing dictatorships (e.g., Czechoslovakia). The period's upheavals had a lasting impact on Western societies, resulting in greater freedom for women, minorities, and gays, and liberalizing fashions and lifestyles. In the East (to which Berman devotes less attention), the legacy of the suppressed Prague Spring and decades of backwardness was a yearning for Western democracy and a market economy. In tantalizing but tangential essays, Berman throws in the Stonewall Riot, the 1990 visit of Frank Zappa to Czechoslovakia, and Francis Fukuyama's musings on the "end of history," with nebulous results.

An intelligent and well-reasoned effort, but Berman tries to cover too much ground; there are enough ideas here for five books and too little development for one.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393316759
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 10/28/1997
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 1,448,977
  • Product dimensions: 4.50 (w) x 7.40 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Paul Berman writes about politics and literature for The New Republic, the New York Times Book Review, and other magazines. His books have been translated into thirteen languages. He lives in New York City.

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Table of Contents

The Dream of a New Society 7
The Moral History of the Baby Boom Generation 21
The Gay Awakening 123
Zappa and Havel 195
Backward Glance at the End of History 254
Note on Sources 341
Index 345
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