April 5, 2008
Audacity’s Children: The American Left has a long history of utopianism : a review of A Conservative History of the American Left, by Daniel J. Flynn (Fred Siegel, City Journal)
Another panelist was Paul Goodman, who had come of age in the 1930s and was now a guru to the sixties generation. His 1960 book, Growing Up Absurd, had taught baby boomers that winos offered “a wise philosophical resignation plus an informed and radical critique of society.” But Goodman became uneasy about what he had helped create. First, he compared the Living Theater and the symposium’s audience with the Anabaptists, a fanatical sixteenth-century antinomian religious cult that anticipated twentieth-century totalitarianism by promising its followers a transformation that would break with the world’s wicked ways. Then he told the enraged audience: “I’ve lived through moments like this before, and I’m always struck by the poverty of ideas. In the last 2,000 years, there hasn’t been a single new revolutionary idea.”
Goodman was overstating the case, but his point holds and is a kind of leitmotif of Daniel Flynn’s engaging new book, A Conservative History of the American Left. Flynn’s well-written narrative describes how the history of the American Left is marked, with some exceptions, by utopianism and a recurring hostility to middle-class American life. For the Left, a bright new future has always beckoned—if we can only break with our outmoded conventions.
Actually, there are plenty of revolutionary ones, just no useful ones, since the revolt is against the truths we've known for at least 2,000 years.
Posted by Orrin Judd at April 5, 2008 6:50 AM