THE RISE AND FALL OF THE AMERICAN LEFT by John Patrick Diggins

THE RISE AND FALL OF THE AMERICAN LEFT

KIRKUS REVIEW

 A brief cultural history, written by a mainstream liberal, that describes radicalism, home-grown style, over the last hundred years. Expanding his The American Left in the Twentieth Century (1973), Diggins (History/CUNY Graduate Center; The Proud Decades, 1988, etc.) focuses on the resemblances and differences among four movements that have characterized the American left: the ``Lyrical Left,'' centered around Greenwich Village in the WW I era; the ``Old Left'' of the Depression; the ``New Left'' of the Sixties; and the latter's strange afterlife as the ``Academic Left'' of today. Although the first three movements were marked by generational discontinuities from those preceding or following them, each ``erupted in a fury of radical innocence and wounded idealism so peculiar to American intellectual history.'' Ironically, Diggins points out, now that it has succeeded in entrenching itself into the universities it once scorned, the Academic Left has become enamored of such approaches as deconstructionism--leaving it impotent, he believes, in the one area from which it traditionally gained strength: knowledge. As a result, it is left with ``no political significance but considerable educational significance, no power to affect immediate events but considerable authority to shape the minds of the young.'' It is no accident that this discussion lacks the liveliness of Diggins's earlier ones, which rely heavily on seminal histories of American Communism and the New Left written by Theodore Draper, Daniel Aaron, Todd Gitlin, and James Miller. There, on more comfortable ground, Diggins indulges his gift for pungent, pithy description (e.g., Michael Harrington, whose The Other America sparked the War on Poverty, was a ``Catholic with a bad conscience and a good heart''), while sketching vivid profiles of Eugene V. Debs, John Reed, Sidney Hook, C. Wright Mills, Herbert Marcuse, and the philosopher who inspired all four movements, John Dewey. A concise analysis of what has animated the American radical impulse. (B&w illustrations--not seen.)

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1992
ISBN: 0-393-03075-X
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Norton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1st, 1991




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