ustxtxb_obs_1985_08_02_50_00019-00000_000.pdf

Page 5

by

said, were like a “fluid stream which moves constantly, wherever it is permitted to move” until “it has filled every nook and cranny available to it in the basin of world power.” Having thoroughly renounced Marxism, and having \(in their preoccupation ity to dogmatic creeds and mass movements, liberals became celebrants of American pluralism in the early 1950s. They announced “the end of ideology,” although as Pells points out, at that very moment “they had become the ideologues of the American Way.” They also, Pells reminds us, had set the framework for McCarthyism for the loyalty tests, the blacklists, and the witch hunts by the House Unamerican Activities Committee. “McCarthyism was an extension, however distorted, of the liberals’ own militant anti-Communism . .” according to Pells. “Whatever the original merits of their geopolitical conceptions, they developed and refined the theories the Right then simplified for its own purposes.” And what a depressing portrait of “liberalism” Pells creates, even though he counsels that those who collaborated with McCarthy “should not be too facilely judged or condemned.” \(“Until we ourselves have passed the test more nobly than our predecessors, we ought to have compassion for both the informLiberals actually took seriously the question of whether they should accept some constraints on civil liberties and academic freedom in the name of “national security.” Diana Trilling, just to take one example, proclaimed that “the Communist idea must be judged as a Communist act.” She advocated the prosecution of Party leaders and questioned a communist’s right to hold office. “This view, in its most extreme form,” Pells says, “carried the implication that Communists should not be allowed to either publicize their philosophy or engage in political activity. Though Trilling stopped short of such a conclusion, her analysis indicated how diminished were the conceptions of freedom among those intellectuals who spoke fervently in its name.” The most sensible words on the whole sorry mess are those of I. F. Stone, who in 1951 denounced the national “tendency to turn a whole generation of Americans into stool-pigeons.” Stone pointed out that the government was in the business of prosecuting political views. A “true libertarian” would always “fear the greater danger in allowing the state to police men’s thoughts. To inform under such circum stances is as much a violation of conscience and moral obligation as it once was to return an escaped slave to his master. The task of tracking radicals is for dogs, not men.” THE ANTI-COMMUNIST hysteria of the 1950s only slightly resembles anything we have seen in the 1980s, although once again intellectuals and liberal politicians are joining hands with a conservative President in a Cold War against an “evil empire.” In other ways, the resemblance between that “conservative age” and this one is more than slight. Both periods have been presided over by an elderly two-term Republican President, and both periods are marked by a lack of a significant challenge from the Left. Much of Pells’s description of the 1950s is pertinent to the 1980s. “After 1945,” he writes, “there seemed to be no one in America to blame or to champion, no arch-enemies to denounce and no movements to join.” By 1950 “The writers of the 1950s became the prophets of rebellion and the sires of the New Left.” the prospects for social change had “virtually disappeared.” Culturally, according to Daniel Bell, America was “compartmentalized, superficial in personal relations, anonymous, transitory, specialized, utilitarian, competitive, acquisitive, mobile, and status-hungry.” It was an age of conformity. In Dwight Macdonald’s wonderful words, it was a time when the individual citizen had “almost the same chance of determining his own fate as a hog dangling by one foot from the conveyor belt of a Chicago packing plant.” The middle class was seen as afraid of controversy, and preoccupied with personal gain. The schools were, in Pells’s words a “breeding ground for tomorrow’s respectable suburbanities,” and for “embryonic bureaucrats.” The whitecollar worker put submission to the dictates of the organization above all else. If we suspect that Pells is trying to shed light on the 1980s, there is no question that he is also concerned with explaining the 1960s \(which, for a historian, may still qualify as “the interesting part of the book, he details the stirrings of social criticism that eventually erupted into the political convulsions of the 1960s. While some liberals were celebrating the American Way and bolstering the Cold War, it turns out some recalcitrant intellectuals sensed something disturbing about the direction of the culture. The historians Richard Hofstadter and Louis Hartz challenged postwar pluralist assumptions, Hartz making the argument that the United States was one of the most rigidly doctrinaire countries on earth. John Kenneth Galbraith in The Affluent Society American productivity ethic and the “disparity between private opulence and social austerity.” Rather than focusing on the problems of the working class and the masses, in the style of 1930s reformers, critics instead concentrated on the ills of affluence. Middle-class life was attacked as impersonal, bureaucratic, inhumane, hollow. The Harvard sociologist David Riesman made no apologies for focusing on the “malaise of the privileged.” His book, The Lonely Crowd William Whyte’s The Organization Man critiques of American society.” Paul Goodman, in Growing Up Absurd rebellion and the reasons for it. But the most influential work was that of C. Wright Mills, who with White Collar in 1951 and The Power Elite in 1956 finally began to make the connections between the social order and the discontent that other writers portrayed. Mills’s attention to the dynamics of power and the structure of America’s institutions had a direct effect on the New Left radicals of the next generation. “Indeed,” says Pells, “most of the moral and cultural quandaries depicted in the articles and books of the postwar intellectuals were transmitted intact to 1950s became \(whether they wished to sires of the New Left.” One gets the feeling that Pells liked the 1960s, approved of the “rejuvenated radicalism,” and has less admiration for the turn the culture has taken since then. His book is even-handed, almost to a fault, but in a short epilogue he hurls a few darts at the middle-class culture of the 1970s and 1980s. “Retreating once more to those areas of life over which they might exercise some real control, people jogged, squabbled over zoning ordinances, crusaded on behalf of parks and lakes and bicycle paths, ate lots of yogurt and sprouts, took refuge in pseudo-religions and quack mind-cures, forgot where they stored their ash trays, and limited themselves THE TEXAS OBSERVER 19