The Troubles: A Jaundiced Glance Back at the Movement of the Sixties

The Troubles: A Jaundiced Glance Back at the Movement of the Sixties

The Troubles: A Jaundiced Glance Back at the Movement of the Sixties

The Troubles: A Jaundiced Glance Back at the Movement of the Sixties

Excerpt

This book had its beginnings about ten years ago when I thought I might write a history of the American left in the twentieth century. I began to research that project, since abandoned without perceptibly disconsoling the American Historical Association, at both ends of the period. The idea was to sketch out unifying themes at the outset.

But I soon found myself preoccupied with the Movement of the 1960s, then lately deceased, and with rather more to say on the subject than would gracefully fit into the final chapter of a book of reasonable size. Moreover, rather than discovering the unifying themes, I realized that the various organizations of the New Left, not to mention the antiorganizational Counterculture, did not belong in a book that was also about the Socialist and Communist parties and the interests and attitudes they represented. That is, they did not all belong together unless I was also going to include some of my mother's favorite recipes, a little physics, and foldout street plans of the major towns of Lombardy. Old Left and New Left had scarcely more in common.

I was not, of course, quite the first to observe a break in the history of American dissent. The New Left was self- consciously new from the day in 1960 that sociologist C. Wright Mills called for its creation, in "A Letter to the New Left." Movement activists never doubted that they were novel -- unique in history! -- and a good many thoughtful writers have agreed at least in part. Kirkpatrick Sale, the author of an excellent narrative history of SDS (Students for a Democratic Society) published about the time I was fiddling with my own research, played this theme when he wrote that the New Left was "the first really homegrown left in America, taking its impulses not from European ideologies and practices (at least not until the end), but from dissatisfactions and distortions in the American experience."

My distinction is somewhat different. Homegrown? Yes. But, as I see it, the New Left was not at all "new" as human . . .

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