New York: The Free Press, 1988, 354 pp., $30.75
It is fashionable in some circles (notably among academics, intellectuals, and some clergymen) to look back to the period of the late sixties and early seventies with a certain amount of nostalgia. A willingness to acknowledge that there was some naivete and excess in the radical social and political movements of that era is usually overshadowed by a sadness that the passion and commitment to social change has evaporated into middle-class comfortableness, yuppiedom and Reaganomics. The New Left, campus revolts, student power, civil rights demonstrations, the anti-war movement, not to mention urban riots, are all seen through the haze of a romantic wistfulness—those were the days!
This collection of essays is a salutary antidote to any romantic or nostalgic appreciation of the late sixties and early seventies. Twelve active participants in the tumultuous events of that period (including Michael Novak, David Horowitz and Peter Collier) engage in serious and self-critical reflection on their pilgrimages during and after. Most admit to being “mugged by reality”—the reality of the radical left proved to be neither as moral, as democratic, as good, as redemptive as they hoped and the actual state of American society and its institutions increasingly looked so much better than the critics of the left were willing to allow.
It became clear to them that the radical left was contemptuous of genuine open dialogue (John Bunzel’s account of the takeover by radicals of his political science class at San Francisco State College in 1969, in Chapter 5, “Liberal in the Middle,” is chilling), that the good intentions of socialism pave a political road leading to hell, that the left justifies the most blatant forms of coercion and violence against alleged “enemies” of the people, that the “objects” of liberation often suffer more after they have been liberated, and that disagreement in the left only leads to excommunication and ostracism. The radical left, they conclude, was truly destructive. Wistful nostalgia is thus hardly the appropriate attitude.
This book does for the radical movements of our age what Richard Crossman’s collection, The God That Failed (1950) did for the generation of the thirties and forties who worshiped at the feet of communism and were mugged by its reality. I cannot recommend it highly enough as a most helpful assessment of destructive tendencies which are still present in our society, tendencies which continue to seduce even Christians who ought to know better. After this book, any excuse for such naivete is gone.