THE LONG DARK NIGHT OF THE SOUL: The United States Intellectual Left and the Vietnam War by Sandy Vogelgesang

THE LONG DARK NIGHT OF THE SOUL: The United States Intellectual Left and the Vietnam War

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Vogelgesang focuses on the opposition of four publications to U.S. Vietnam policies: The New Republic (""progressive liberalism""), Partisan Review (""literary anti-Stalinism""), Studies on the Left (""radical scholarship""), and the New York Review of Books (""political chic""). She distinguishes three progressive stages in their perception of the war: skepticism, exemplified by I.F. Stone and Paul Goodman in the Gulf of Tonkin incident; a decision that the war was immoral, precipitated by the retaliatory bombing for the Pleiku raid; and resistance, manifested by the New York Review's ""Call to Resist Illegitimate Authority."" Intellectual opposition, she writes, was characterized by assertion of moral conscience, obsession with its own identity and concern with its relationship to power. This led to moralism, depoliticization, and political impotence because, she argues, moral purity became more important than political reality. The literary Left's active dissociation from the government prevented them from exercising their political responsibility, from achieving their ends. Vogelgesang is astute, legitimately rebuking the intelligentsia's endemic elitism. But she does not shed much light on the central dilemma -- morality vs. politics, ideal vs. real. These are thorny questions, and her second guessing seems to spring from bias, rather than historical analysis. Moreover, she fails to allow for the possibility that a public moral position is itself a political act -- perhaps the only one viable in certain circumstances. The book poses a provocative problem, but fails to come to grips with it.

Pub Date: Aug. 21st, 1974
Publisher: Harper & Row