A TALE OF TWO UTOPIAS by Paul Berman

A TALE OF TWO UTOPIAS

The Political Journey of the Generation of 1968

KIRKUS REVIEW

 A provocative but desultory history, ultimately adding up to little, in which Berman (ed., Blacks and Jews, 1994, etc.) compares the radical political movements in 1968 with the liberal democratic revolution of 1989 in Europe. Assassinations, riots, and the Vietnam War marred American public life in 1968; it was also a year of creative tension in public affairs, politics, and the arts, and saw the rise of radical student movements from Paris to Berkeley, aimed at transforming society. Berman traces several of the more distinctive movements (Tom Hayden's Students for a Democratic Society, the gay liberation movement, and the Paris Maoists) and contrasts them with the peaceful anti-Communist ``revolution'' of 1989 that resulted in the collapse of pro-Soviet regimes throughout Europe. While conceding the infinite variety of the radical impulse, Berman categorizes the movements of 1968 into four groups: (1) the ``New Left'' insurrections against institutionalized racism and sexism, and against middle-class values, originating in universities and driven by students and academics; (2) the development of a new, liberated spiritual sensibility, composed of insights derived from various Eastern religious traditions and other sources; (3) revolutions against right-wing dictatorships (e.g., Vietnam, Latin America); and (4) revolutions against left-wing dictatorships (e.g., Czechoslovakia). The period's upheavals had a lasting impact on Western societies, resulting in greater freedom for women, minorities, and gays, and liberalizing fashions and lifestyles. In the East (to which Berman devotes less attention), the legacy of the suppressed Prague Spring and decades of backwardness was a yearning for Western democracy and a market economy. In tantalizing but tangential essays, Berman throws in the Stonewall Riot, the 1990 visit of Frank Zappa to Czechoslovakia, and Francis Fukuyama's musings on the ``end of history,'' with nebulous results. An intelligent and well-reasoned effort, but Berman tries to cover too much ground; there are enough ideas here for five books and too little development for one. (Author tour)

Pub Date: July 8th, 1996
ISBN: 0-393-03927-7
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Norton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1st, 1996




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