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The Intellectuals and the Flag:
     

The Intellectuals and the Flag:

by Todd Gitlin
 

"The tragedy of the left is that, having achieved an unprecedented victory in helping stop an appalling war, it then proceeded to commit suicide." So writes Todd Gitlin about the aftermath of the Vietnam War in this collection of writings that calls upon intellectuals on the left to once again engage American public life and resist the trappings of knee-jerk

Overview

"The tragedy of the left is that, having achieved an unprecedented victory in helping stop an appalling war, it then proceeded to commit suicide." So writes Todd Gitlin about the aftermath of the Vietnam War in this collection of writings that calls upon intellectuals on the left to once again engage American public life and resist the trappings of knee-jerk negativism, intellectual fads, and political orthodoxy. Gitlin argues for a renewed sense of patriotism based on the ideals of sacrifice, tough-minded criticism, and a willingness to look anew at the global role of the United States in the aftermath of 9/11. Merely criticizing and resisting the Bush administration will not do—the left must also imagine and propose an America reformed.

Where then can the left turn? Gitlin celebrates the work of three prominent postwar intellectuals: David Riesman, C. Wright Mills, and Irving Howe. Their ambitious, assertive, and clearly written works serve as models for an intellectual engagement that forcefully addresses social issues and remains affirmative and comprehensive. Sharing many of the qualities of these thinkers' works, Todd Gitlin's blunt, frank analysis of the current state of the left and his willingness to challenge orthodoxies pave the way for a revival in leftist thought and a new liberal patriotism.

Editorial Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
Gitlin (Journalism and Sociology/Columbia Univ.) discusses modern politics, the media and activist intellectuals in seven disjointed essays. Besides two brief introductory chapters, there are few clues about how these pieces, all previously published in some form, fit together. Gitlin (Letters to a Young Activist, 2003, etc.) pines for a lost American era in which books guided the national dialogue and the media strived to report serious, objective news. That environment supported three of his intellectual heroes-David Riesman, C. Wright Mills and Irving Howe-and Gitlin argues that their insights improved American discourse in real time. He marvels at the popularity of The Lonely Crowd, Riesman's book about how America's obsession with consumption spawned a more selfish national character. Mills is portrayed as a pioneering and thoughtful leader of American radicalism, and Gitlin thinks the sociologist would be disappointed with the emotionalized and choreographed discourse in contemporary America. Gitlin sometimes offers opaque, grand declarations with little support. While arguing that stable politics can be boring, he declares that when politics respects limits, "it slides towards the tedious-which is why, by way of compensation, we require art." Later he announces, "The media have been in the habit of smuggling the habit of living with the media." The author concludes with the title essay, about patriotism and sacrifice after 9/11. Gitlin shares his feelings as a New Yorker and a liberal intellectual who dutifully hung his American flag, but who also recalled the anger he felt towards the same symbol during Vietnam. He criticizes "cowed" Democrats, the "fundamentalist left" andPresident Bush's "smug" ineptitude, and he calls for a new liberal approach to patriotism, marked by national sacrifice. But he gives far less attention to addressing this than he does to offering criticisms of existing methods. Spotty and derivative.
Choice
Gitlin is certainly a thoughtful, intelligent, and important critic... Recommended.

Cleveland Plain Dealer - Elbert Ventura
Gitlin's liberal patriotism is an affirmation of membership in our society and of participation in the American experiment.

New York Press - Tony Dokoupil
What else could Gitlin do but resemble the greats? He's a force.

Intervention Magazine - Stewart Nusbaumer
If you are tired of a left politics assigned to the margins... buy this book. And then get to work.

Jagnew.com - Jim Agnew
A blunt, frank analysis of the current state of the left.

New York Sun - Gerald Russello
Todd Gitlin's The Intellectuals and the Flag is illuminating.

Providence Journal - Sam Coale
His insights and perceptions strike me as succinct, on target, clear-eyed and revelatory.

Commonweal - Alan Wolfe
The Intellectuals and the Flag proves that social criticism of a high caliber has not completely disappeared from American public life.

Claremont Review of Books - Wilfred M. McClay
[A] valuable book, well worth reading and pondering.

Cleveland Plain Dealer
Gitlin's liberal patriotism is an affirmation of membership in our society and of participation in the American experiment.

— Elbert Ventura

New York Press
What else could Gitlin do but resemble the greats? He's a force.

— Tony Dokoupil

Intervention Magazine
If you are tired of a left politics assigned to the margins... buy this book. And then get to work.

— Stewart Nusbaumer

Jagnew.com
A blunt, frank analysis of the current state of the left.

— Jim Agnew

New York Sun
Todd Gitlin's The Intellectuals and the Flag is illuminating.

— Gerald Russello

Providence Journal
His insights and perceptions strike me as succinct, on target, clear-eyed and revelatory.

— Sam Coale

Commonweal
The Intellectuals and the Flag proves that social criticism of a high caliber has not completely disappeared from American public life.

— Alan Wolfe

Claremont Review of Books
[A] valuable book, well worth reading and pondering.

— Wilfred M. McClay

Chronicle of Higher Education
A particularly eloquent rendering of the inevitable and proper post-9/11 patriotism that affected the left no less than the right or center.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780231124928
Publisher:
Columbia University Press
Publication date:
12/06/2005
Pages:
192
Product dimensions:
5.60(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.90(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

Read an Excerpt

Liberal patriots would refuse to be satisfied with knee-jerk answers but would join the hard questions as members of a society do -- members who criticize on behalf of a community of mutual aid, not marginal scoffers who have painted themselves into a corner. Liberal patriots would not be satisfied to reply to consensus truculence with rejectionist truculence. They would not take pride in their marginality. They would take it as their obligation to illuminate a transformed world.

What People are Saying About This

E.J. Dionne Jr.
Todd Gitlin has joined Irving Howe, Michael Walzer, Michael Harrington, and Christopher Lasch in the ranks of our nation's most brilliant, important, and perceptive social critics. The Intellectuals and the Flag will confirm that reputation. Gitlin is fearless: he challenges the status quo and his own side. He insists that the Left has a moral obligation to stop marginalizing itself and to change the country by appealing to our traditions of democracy, equality and community. We need critics who are patriots — and patriots who are critics. Gitlin shows that patriotism need not be, and should not be, the last refuge of scoundrels.
Mark Lilla
Of all the voices to be heard since 9/11, Todd Gitlin's is among the most welcome. While others—on left and right—have lost their heads, Gitlin has used the occasion to rethink and reassert where he stands on questions of power, political authority, civic engagement, patriotism, and much else. This is a bracing and admirable book.

E. J. Dionne Jr.
Todd Gitlin has joined Irving Howe, Michael Walzer, Michael Harrington, and Christopher Lasch in the ranks of our nation's most brilliant, important, and perceptive social critics. The Intellectuals and the Flag will confirm that reputation. Gitlin is fearless: he challenges the status quo and his own side. He insists that the Left has a moral obligation to stop marginalizing itself and to change the country by appealing to our traditions of democracy, equality and community. We need critics who are patriots—and patriots who are critics. Gitlin shows that patriotism need not be, and should not be, the last refuge of scoundrels.

Richard Wolin
How might one reconcile patriotism with dissent? Love of country with the critical spirit? Grounded commitment with the Great Refusal? Have the events of September 11 changed the nature of our response? These are just some of the topical themes that Todd Gitlin addresses in his luminous new study, The Intellectuals and the Flag. Here is Gitlin at his best: lucid, insightful, thought-provoking, and broad-minded. A latter-day Tom Paine, Gitlin is quite simply the most informed voice writing in America today about the volatile interface between politics and culture.

Meet the Author

Todd Gitlin, professor of journalism and sociology at Columbia University, B.A., Harvard; M.A., Michigan; Ph.D., Berkeley. Former professor, Culture, Journalism and Sociology, New York University; professor, sociology and director of Mass Communications, University of California, Berkeley; lecturer, Board of Community Studies, Santa Cruz; lecturer, New College, San Jose State; visiting professor, Yale, Ecole Des Hautes Etudes En Sciences Sociales (Paris), Iowa, Oslo (Norway), Wesleyan. Author, Uptown: Poor Whites in Chicago (1970); Busy Being Born (1974); The Whole World Is Watching: Mass Media in the Making and Unmaking of the Left (1981); Inside Prime Time (1983); The Sixties: Years of Hope, Days of Rage (1987); Watching Television, editor (1987); The Murder of Albert Einstein (1992); The Twilight of Common Dreams: Why America Is Wracked by Culture Wars (1995); Sacrifice (1999); Media Unlimited: How the Torrent of Images and Sounds Overwhelms Our Lives (2002); Letters to a Young Activist (2003). Recipient, Harold U. Ribalow Prize, 2000; Bay Area Book Reviewers Association Nonfiction Award. Research grants: MacArthur Foundation, Institute for Global Conflict and Cooperation, University of California, National Endowment for the Humanities, Rockefeller Foundation Humanities Fellowship. Contributing writer, Mother Jones. Member editorial board, Dissent and The American Scholar.

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