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Destructive Generation By: David Horowitz and Peter Collier
FrontPageMagazine.com | Friday, January 06, 2006

[When Destructive Generation: Second Thoughts About the Sixties was first published in 1989, authors Peter Collier and David Horowitz, were compared to Whittaker Chambers for their unflinching look backward at the "treason of the heart" they and other hard core leftists had committed during the radical Sixties. Part memoir, part political analysis, Destructive Generation is the compelling story of their intellectual journey through the trenches of a radical era.  Including stories of the New Left's most famous (and infamous) personalities and events, Collier and Horowitz reveal the destructive legacy of the Movement and its long half life in America's politics and culture.

The book was republished in 1990, 1992, and again in 1996.  Encounter Books has just released an expanded edition of this work that the Washington Times has called a "classic."  The authors have added new material that brings the story of the Sixties into the present.   In the following excerpt from the introduction to the new edition, they talk about how the 60s are still with us--the ghost in the machine of our politics; the airborne toxic event that still spews toxins into our culture; the era that will not die. -- The Editors] 

We wrote Destructive Generation in the mid-Eighties because of the way that Sixties radicalism was continuing to influence how America thought and felt twenty years after the fact. Today, another twenty years further on, the Sixties is still the undead decade. Far from being yesterday’s news, as it should be, it is still the white sound of our intellectual life, decanting its poisonous old wine into new bottles, fomenting our culture wars, and picking the scabs off the angry social wounds that have been with us now for a generation. A new edition of this book, which some commentators have been kind enough to refer to as a “classic,” seems entirely appropriate.

How deeply are we still haunted by this radical decade and all its clanking ghosts? Consider the 2004 elections, when America seemed to be time-warped in a grotesque Sixties encore. The country was once again involved in a controversial war. Radical armies of the night—less puissant, perhaps, than those forty years earlier, but more open in their anti-Americanism—were in the streets again. The old Marxoid vulgarities about American policy being dominated by American economic interests had returned with a new and stricter formulation: No Blood for Oil. The flip side of the Sixties Left’s heroization of tyrants such as Mao and Ho Chi Minh had reappeared in the assertions that George W. Bush represented a greater danger to humanity than the genocidal Saddam Hussein. Sixties veterans such as Noam Chomsky recycled the intellectual nihilism of the prior era when they charged that 9/11 was just payback for America’s historical crimes. Sixties wannabes such as Michael Moore rediscovered the moral imbecility of the era when they compared Iraqi beheaders to the Minutemen of the American Revolution.


But it was when the Democrats’ presidential nominee, John Kerry, mounted the podium at his party’s convention, gave a military salute and announced that he was “reporting for duty” that the Sixties suddenly went from subtext to text. At this moment, the past was not only prologue to the present, it was the present. Attempting through a clumsy gestural politics to be both for and against the war, having the cake of the Sixties without having to eat it, Kerry discovered that Vietnam, far from being forgotten or assimilated or having acquired a settled meaning, was still a toxic subject. His political bipolarism on the issue led the country into another quagmire—this time about the meaning of the war and service in it and about patriotism itself. As Kerry’s campaign devolved into an invisible referendum on the Sixties, the question became less whether he should be judged as a war hero or an antiwar hero than whether America, in its past and present, was a good or a blameworthy country, not only in its efforts in Vietnam, but in the burdens it had undertaken in Iraq. Blue states versus Red states was presented by the media as a new phenomenon, but in fact it was just the latest incarnation of a struggle that had been going on for forty years. The postmortem on the Kerry campaign was simple and brief: it was the Sixties, stupid!



This book was necessary, we thought back in the mid-1980s, because our old comrades, instead of allowing the time of their lives to fade into the national historical newsreel, were intent on mythologizing the Sixties (and themselves) in a way that not only evaded but intentionally clouded the truth. This was more than a narcissistic desire to make the era into a left-wing version of Camelot; these mythmakers and nostalgia artists wanted to make the Movement’s “principles”—loathing for America’s power and revisionist contempt for its history—into a blueprint, an intellectual template that could be forced onto the country in the future even though their own brief moment on America’s center stage had ended in failure. We wanted to show what the era had really been all about—how those (including ourselves) who had dictated the agenda of the New Left had slid into an easy contempt for America some time during the Sixties and how this contempt had become the torch that lit their way into the future. We also wanted to show how, under the sway of a utopian fantasy of “social justice,” they (we) had laid siege to the values, institutions, styles and traditions that had made up the natural order of things in America for their parents and their parents’ parents.


We continued to write about the Sixties decade after Destructive Generation was published —largely out of self-defense because the book had occasioned a furious response on the part of our old comrades, a response that became especially bitter as the creeds that had once defined the New Left unraveled. We were attacked as apostates and worse. We replied to these attacks with essays that continued to point out the malicious effect of the Sixties on our national life. In one piece, “A Decade Overrated and Unmourned” (included in this edition for the first time), we showed how one of the Left’s efforts was to replace the lesson of Munich, which held that appeasement emboldened tyranny, with the “lessons of Vietnam,” chief among them that anti-Communism led inexorably to quagmires; that democracy’s vigilance always resulted in “abuses of power”; and that what seemed to be Communist movements in the Third World were actually manifestations of admirable nationalism. The battle cry of the Eighties and its effect on policy—“No Vietnam in Central America”—showed these “lessons” in action. The attempt to resurrect the Vietnam metaphor in the first Iraq war and especially in the War Against Terror shows its staying power.


We had completed the manuscript of this book before the tsunami of radical failure washed over Europe to topple the Berlin Wall, bringing down along with it the intellectual sandcastles that progressives had built during more than a century of malicious construction. When Communism collapsed, freeing millions of socialist captives (whose freedom had been purchased in large part by the steadfastness of Cold Warriors such as Ronald Reagan, who refused to allow the “lessons of Vietnam” to become a national curriculum), the Left boycotted the celebrations.


The fall of the Wall triggered no shock of self-recognition; no remorse for the long affair that American Communists had with Moscow; no flashing insight into the catastrophe of progressive intentions, described by Polish ex-Leftist Leszek Kolakowski as “the self-deification of mankind.” Progressives—self-defined prophets of social justice—had killed more than a hundred million people in the U.S.S.R., the People’s Republic of China, and other workers’ paradises in the twentieth century to make their fantasies come true. But these social engineers and their pep clubs in the West did not have the vaguest idea how to create the material prosperity or political freedom that much-loathed capitalism had accomplished, let alone the perfect world they had so extravagantly promised. Instead of the commune they created the gulag; instead of cornucopias of plenty, a desert of human deprivation and want. Never in history had so many people been made so poor or seen their lives reduced to such miserable parodies of a human existence as when progressives took command of their destinies.


Yet this disaster created no epiphany for the Left, which during the Sixties had seen epiphanies everywhere in America’s confusion. The vast architecture of evil that collapsed in the Nineties wasn’t “true” socialism at all, the Left shrugged; it was merely “actually existing” socialism, an ineffectual warm-up whose failure did not mean that the great game of Marx was not worth playing some time in the future.  


If one of the themes of Destructive Generation is that the Sixties brought anti-Americanism into the world with all its woe, transforming it from a fleeting impulse into a perdurable commitment, another is that the era was also a time when “the System”—that collection of values that provides guidelines for societies as well as individuals—was assaulted and maimed. We likened this inchoate attack to an assault on our culture’s immune system and pointed out how opportunistic diseases of crime and drugs and lawlessness had flourished in the Seventies and afterward. We chose not to address the issue of AIDS directly, but we had already written one of the first reports on the political nature of the epidemic and its roots in the radical culture we knew so well. We include it in this new edition because it has value as a case history on how the ideas of the era had consequences for the future.


In ascribing political roots to the AIDS epidemic in this article, we intended to draw attention to the way in which a political culture of “sexual liberation,” one of those Sixties attempts to “break on through to the other side” (in the words of one of the era’s anthems), created both a breeding ground for the actual contagion and also a political rationale for the subversion of a public health system that had been able to contain other epidemics, including those like polio or tuberculosis that were far less easily controlled than a virus that had to be passed directly into the bloodstream to thrive.


We were not the only ones who pointed out the connection. “Everyone who preached free love in the Sixties is responsible for AIDS,” Camille Paglia observed in a piece written after ours; “this idea that it was somehow an accident, a microbe that sort of fell from heaven—absurd. We must face what we did.” But facing up was not one of the strengths of the Sixties Left; walking away from the disasters it created was what it did best.


A lead story that appeared on the twentieth anniversary of the AIDS epidemic in the Health section of the Los Angeles Times showed the residue of this mentality. It viewed the history of the epidemic through the lens of the same political correctness that, as we had shown seventeen years earlier, had distorted and then crippled the public health response in the first place. The Times health writer conveys “information” that is brazenly ignorant and factually incorrect, beginning with the account of origins:


It was a sheer accident that AIDS first struck a relatively cohesive group: young homosexuals in cities such as New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco, many of whom had honed their organizational and political skills during the gay rights movements of the 1970s. This was extraordinary: Terminal illnesses don’t discriminate, hitting rich and poor alike without regard to ethnicity, geography or sexual orientation.


But of course terminal illnesses do discriminate. In the world of modern medicine and sanitation (unless one is a heroin addict or an AIDS sufferer), tuberculosis almost exclusively afflicts the poor, to cite one instance that refutes the author’s claim; and polio is now found only in parts of the Third World that have rejected or not been given the vaccine. In fact, the AIDS epidemic is more accurately described as a very specific product of the radicalized gay rights movement that began in the late 1960s and bloomed like a fleur de mal over the next ten years.


One of the people we interviewed in our article was the late Michael Callen, creator of the organization “People With AIDS” and a pioneer of candor in the midst of these lies. Callen described how he had come to New York as a young man from the hinterlands and heard radicals like the writer Edmund White address audiences in the gay community on the subject of sexual liberation. “Gay men should wear their sexually transmitted diseases like red badges of courage in a war against a sex-negative society,” Callen remembered White telling a gathering he attended. As a young romantic listening to this siren song of the Left, Callen’s response was to think enthusiastically: “Every time I get the clap I’m striking a blow for the sexual revolution!”


It was not just syphilis. Throughout the 1970s, gay communities were swept by epidemics of amoebiasis, rectal gonorrhea, syphilis, hepatitis B and other sexually transmitted diseases, producing astronomical infection rates and depleted immune systems among its victims. Public health officials were powerless to intervene to protect these communities because their leaders had stigmatized such intrusion as an attempt to repress a liberation movement. So persuasive was the power of the radical idea that public health officials finally surrendered to the delusion. As one prominent epidemiologist from the Centers for Disease Control explained to us, “We didn’t intervene because we felt it would be interfering with an alternative lifestyle.”


Thus did the gay liberation Left, feeding on Sixties clichés, successfully prevent the reporting of cases, the testing of the infected, the tracing of contacts and other public health methods that had proven effective in combating epidemic diseases in the past. Thus did it block government prevention programs from targeting at-risk communities and insist that government officials focus instead on expensive and ineffective “education” campaigns, which were crippled at the outset by a political correctness that kept warnings from being addressed to those who were specifically at risk. Warning everyone was, in effect, warning no one.


Our article appeared in roughly the third year of the contagion. It came at a time when preventive measures still could have been taken if the public health bureaucracy had not capitulated to gay radicals who were more interested in the survival of the bath-house culture than in the well-being of their brothers. We were denounced for having written it and picketed in public appearances by our old Sixties comrades, who were still trying to defend their old ideas—as always, at the expense of human life.



The Left that the Sixties created tends to lose the battles: whether it is the push to erase the differences between the sexes, or to take away Everyman’s SUV, or to define down the terrorism of those who would bring their war into the heartland of this country. When they have the opportunity, the American people usually reject such ideas. But the Left wages a permanent war, and therefore often seems to be winning in the midst of its losses. Its survivorship comes from the fact that even as radicals were losing the decade-long referendum on their radical plans in the Sixties, they seized cultural citadels that allowed them to continue a stealth fight later on.


One of these citadels was the “elite” media, whose commitment to leftish ideas is so complete that it has become a series of scandals: Dan Rather’s bogus “exposé” about George W. Bush’s National Guard service, for instance, or Newsweek’s fraudulent report that Americans guarding al-Qaeda soldiers at Guantanamo desecrated the Koran—a story whose retraction did not keep sister publications such as the New York Times, the Minneapolis Star Tribune and the Los Angeles Times from editorializing, in essence, that Newsweek was right even though it was wrong or from continuing to pursue the Gitmo story like a vendetta.


Another citadel is commanded by the big foundations, notably Ford and Rockefeller, which have invested vast sums in movements carrying more than a whiff of the Sixties—a separatist Hispanic movement with an ethnic agenda rather than an assimilative one; and groups such as Catholics for Free Choice, created out of whole cloth to oppose the Catholic Church on abortion and other issues.


But nowhere is the entrenchment of the Sixties mentality more complete or more destructive than in the university. That the Left should now dominate the academy involves a savage irony, of course. It was only after failing in their intent to burn down the university in the Sixties that radicals decided to get on the tenure track in the Seventies. Unimpeded in their long march through these institutions by fair-minded centrists of the sort they themselves now refuse to hire, these Leftists have brought a postmodern Dark Age to higher education—“deconstructing” objective truths to pave the way for chic academic nihilism; creating a curriculum of contempt for American history and culture; and transforming many classrooms into chambers of inquisition and indoctrination. Some of them now profess to be embarrassed by the “excess” of a Ward Churchill, and no wonder: his sin is to reveal by his blatancy the agenda they try to disguise through stealth and subtle misdirection.


Former SDS president Todd Gitlin, currently a professor of sociology and journalism at Columbia whose academic work has centered on mythologizing the Sixties, candidly acknowledged the Left’s academic coup in a recent essay he called “Varieties of Patriotic Experience.” Writing about the failure of his—and our—former comrades to produce a revolution in the streets during the Sixties, Gitlin comments:


My generation of the New Left—a generation that grew as the [Vietnam] war went on—relinquished any title to patriotism without much sense of loss … . All that was left to the Left was to unearth righteous traditions and cultivate them in universities. The much-mocked “political correctness” of the next academic generations was a consolation prize. We lost—we squandered the politics—but won the textbooks.[1]


Gitlin is as wrong in implying that the New Left, even in its earliest moments, ever had a “righteous” plan as he is in suggesting that establishing an atmosphere of political intimidation in the universities is simply a trivial pursuit. The “consolation” offered by the takeover is revolution by other means. And not least among the Left’s objectives now that the university is under its thumb is consolidating its fantasy of the Sixties as the Last Good Time. There are literally hundreds of college courses devoted to the history of the decade, but the growing literature of second thoughts—along with other dissident views—is virtually absent from the course lists.


Our book is no exception. Running for President in 2000, George W. Bush said that Destructive Generation was one of the three books that had formed his worldview on how America veered off course in the postwar era. But university professors have consigned this book to the memory hole, along with other books of second thoughts like Commies: My Journey Through the Old Left, the New Left and the Leftover Left, by Ronald Radosh, and Professing Feminism: Indoctrination and Education in Women’s Studies, by Daphne Patai and Noretta Koertge, former professors of women’s studies.


The erasure of an entire side of a critical argument calls to mind Stalin’s famous trick of airbrushing opponents out of photos so that they simply ceased to be part of history. The consequences can be measured by what is now the conventional treatment of two groups we wrote about in Destructive Generation, the Black Panther Party and the Weather Underground. Both were central to the meaning of the Sixties; both are now treated by the academy in a way that reverses novelist Milan Kundera’s famous formulation about the power of memory over forgetting. Forgetting—an induced amnesia—is exactly the point of the current pedagogy.



We were close to the Black Panther Party when it was hailed by New Left leaders as “the vanguard of the revolution” and “America’s Vietcong.” We too extolled figures like Huey Newton and Eldridge Cleaver as moral exemplars and degraded Martin Luther King Jr. as an “Uncle Tom.” But unlike others on the Left who mouthed these clichés, we eventually came to see that the Panthers, under the guise of “serving the people,” had always been a criminal gang that had killed more than a dozen innocent individuals. After what we wrote in Destructive Generation (and David Horowitz wrote in Radical Son), we believed that it would no longer be possible to regard the Panthers simply as victims of “police brutality” and “fascist repression,” persecuted because they dared to challenge the “power structure” and defend members of the black community against official racism.


This lie was present in the Panthers’ foundation myth, largely forged by the Left and the journalists it influenced during the 1967 trial of the Panthers’ maximum leader Huey Newton for shooting an Oakland policeman in the back. Establishing a pattern that would later be repeated in the defenses of another cop killer, Mumia Abu Jamal, and countless other “political prisoners,” Newton was portrayed by his Leftist lawyer Charles Garry as having been victimized by police persecution because he stood up for black manhood and self-defense. Racist America was the real culprit.


Newton was convicted but then given a new trial on a technicality, and he went on to become the Left’s Dreyfus. His image as a symbol of American injustice stuck through his “exile” in Cuba, his vicious gang wars with his former partner Cleaver, and his eventual murder in 1989 near an Oakland crack house by a drug dealer he had burned.


The alleged victimization of Newton and the Panthers was political oxygen not only for left-wing radicals but also for the arbiters of the culture who assimilated their views in an effort to attain what Tom Wolfe later called radical chic. (The New York Times, for instance, once favorably compared Newton to Martin Luther and Mahatma Gandhi.) The myth of Panther innocence was one of the principal bludgeons that the New Left used to deconstruct America’s effort, through the civil rights movement, to live up to its promise. More practically, it helped hamstring the FBI and local police in their efforts to rein in the terror that radical groups like the Panthers inflicted.


Despite Destructive Generation and other of our writings about Newton and the Panthers and The Shadow of the Panther by black journalist Hugh Pearson, which appeared in 1995 and confirmed our picture of the organization as a black left-wing version of Murder Inc., the Panther myth has survived into the present time along with other key elements of the Left’s indictment of the American past. Its survival has been possible in large part because of the radical takeover of the university.


In 1993, Stanford University paid $1 million for the “papers” of “Dr.” Huey P. Newton. (Newton had indeed received a Ph.D., essentially by intimidating professors who first refused to credit the thesis he plagiarized; it was awarded by one of the first sham academic programs the Left created, this one called the “History of Consciousness” at the University of California, Santa Cruz.) The money was used to fund the Dr. Huey P. Newton Foundation, a political base for remnants of his former gang, allowing them to tour college campuses as guest speakers and receive handsome fees for their lecture-rants against “Amerikkkan” racism and injustice.


Stanford is not alone. In 2003, forty “scholarly” papers were delivered at an academic conference on the Black Panther Party at Wheelock College, each without exception sustaining the myth of the Panthers as a “civil rights” organization. In 2004, the Oxford University Press published a massive reference work, African American Lives, edited by the foremost black intellectual in America, Henry Louis Gates, director of Harvard’s W. E. B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research. The “scholar” whom Gates chose to write the biographical entry for Huey Newton was Kathleen Cleaver, wife of Eldridge Cleaver—Newton’s homicidal partner and eventual antagonist. Ms. Cleaver is currently a professor of law, having made her own long march through the institutions without ever having second thoughts about the Panthers’ criminal past or her own role in it.


Her contribution to the Oxford book of African American Lives portrays Newton exactly as he was seen by his deluded followers in his own time: as a champion of the oppressed, a victim of government injustice and law enforcement racism. Needless to say, his crimes—arson, robbery, armed battery, murder and rape—are not mentioned. Nor does Cleaver provide unsuspecting students a clue that there might be another side to the story. The “bibliography” she appends to her text is as fraudulent as the text itself. Neither Destructive Generation nor Radical Son nor The Shadow of the Panther is mentioned. Instead, Cleaver lists a preposterous and wholly fictitious Hollywood “B” movie called Panther; an early political tract called Free Huey, written to defend the guilty Newton at the time of his first murder trial; a memoir by Panther “Field Marshal” David Hilliard; a political mash note, Huey Newton: The Radical Theorist; and Newton’s own exercise in autobiographical self-aggrandizement, Revolutionary Suicide.


The academic imprimaturs on this travesty are Oxford and Harvard. In other words, this publication is not the product of an academic fringe but of institutions and scholars who represent the pinnacle of academic achievement. This tells us more than we would probably like to know about what takes place in the liberal arts faculties of a system now occupied by the veterans of the Sixties Left.



The other defining episode of the Sixties that we documented in Destructive Generation was the disturbing career of America’s first terrorist political cult, the Weather Underground, itself a faction of Students for a Democratic Society, the largest and most important radical organization of the era. Unlike the Black Panthers, who for the most part have died, been killed, or faded into self-promoting hustles, the Weathermen are still very much with us.


This was brought home to readers of the New York Times on the morning of 9/11, when they opened its pages, printed the night before the tragedy, and saw a color photo of a middle-aged couple holding hands and affecting a defiant look at the camera. The article was headlined in an irony that events of the morning soon made breathtaking: “No Regrets for a Love of Explosives.” The couple pictured were Bill Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn, both professors now but in the 1960s leaders of the Weather Underground, America’s first terrorist cult. One of the bombing targets in those glory days of which they were so proud was the Pentagon, which, along with the World Trade Center, had been Mohammed Atta’s target too. “I don’t regret setting bombs,” Ayers told the Times; “I feel we didn’t do enough.”


To tell our story of Weatherman (“Do It!”) we interviewed thirty members of the Weather Underground including Ayers and roughly half the leadership of the organization (the “Weather Bureau”), and did so within three or four years of their having emerged from their bunkers. Using their own words, we revealed that the famous townhouse explosion that killed three of their members had been triggered by an antipersonnel bomb they were manufacturing, which was meant to kill American soldiers at a dance at Fort Dix. This information was provided to us by a then regretful Mark Rudd, one of their most media-visible leaders, who had been purged by his comrades for refusing to go along with this and other acts of senseless violence they were planning.


Since the appearance of Destructive Generation, several academic books have appeared on the subject of the Weathermen, most of them thinly veiled apologies for this terrorist group. In 2004, the University of California Press published what became the most widely praised and academically respectable of these books. Written by Professor Jeremy Varon, it was hailed as “a turning point in the scholarship of the Sixties” by Professor Jeffrey Herf, himself a former Weatherman. Varon’s book was titled Bringing the War Home: The Red Army Faction, the Weather Underground and Revolutionary Violence in the Sixties and Seventies.


Unlike us, Varon interviewed only a handful of Weathermen, and only those from one faction of Weatherman’s internal disputes (it might be called the celebrity faction since it included Dohrn and Ayers but not their critics). Yet the conclusions of our work are not dealt with in his text, nor does Destructive Generation appear in his twelve-page bibliography, which cites over one hundred works. But we do get a mention in one of Varon’s footnotes, in these significant tones: “The former Ramparts editors David Horowitz and Peter Collier profiled [Terry] Robbins in a largely vituperative piece for Rolling Stone, written while they were converting to neo-conservatism.”[2] Vituperative? Only in comparison with Varon’s apologia for a group that wanted to blow America up. (And actually, we weren’t converting to anything then, nor have we since.)


Varon’s own overheated ideological perspective is on display throughout his text, which wackily sees the U.S. government as the villain of the piece and Weatherman’s violence deplorable only for tactical reasons—it was bad public relations and might have triggered a backlash of violence by the always hydrophobic U.S. government: “The bombing might have inspired some small number of Weathermen and others to commit similar acts. The government, which often disregarded civil liberties in pursuing dissidents . . . might have abandoned all restraints in its efforts to destroy Weatherman. Mass arrests or even murders of suspects might have . . . followed.”


Bill Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn return from an underground life as bombers and become well-paid and respectable members of the academy, with scarcely any acknowledgement of what they had done (unless Ayers’ blithe admission that they got away with murder counts). None of this makes an impression on Professor Varon or finds its way into his account. The Weatherman violence cult may have planned a campaign of murder and mayhem, but America is still the guilty party. This is a reprise on the bottom-line logic of all Sixties politics: The devil made us do it. The political criminals of Weatherman who live, after all, in a democracy (and a very forgiving one at that) are described as “dissidents,” which debases a term coined to describe protesters in a totalitarian state. Varon ignores utterly the fact that there were no “mass arrests of suspects” at any time in the Sixties, nor were any “suspects” murdered by the U.S. government. The same cannot be said for the Sixties Left itself, which rallied to the support of the New Haven Black Panthers who tortured and then sanctioned the execution of “suspect” Alex Rackley, a Panther accused of informing to the police; and looked away as Huey Newton pursued his reign of terror; and ignored the fact that the townhouse Weathermen would happily have murdered dozens of U.S. soldiers if its bombers hadn’t providentially blown themselves up instead.



How could we have changed and given up such politics? This is the odd question we are sometimes asked by the handful of our old comrades who still speak to us. The question has many layers. On the surface they are asking how we could have gone from being, like them, bitter critics of America to being defenders of its promise and advocates of its power to do good in the world. At a deeper level, though, they are wondering how we could have turned our back on the Sixties, those good old days when we were all so bad. The answer we give is not one that they like: at some point it is time to grow up and construct a profit-and-loss statement of one’s commitments and their consequences.


Someone once said that lapsed radicals like ourselves are condemned always to regard their former beliefs as their Great White Whale. There is probably some truth in that. This book is a log of our sightings of this Sixties beast. We may not have set the final harpoon, but we have given chase.



[1] Gitlin, “Varieties of Patriotic Experience,” in The Fight Is for Democracy: Winning the War of Ideas in America and the World, ed. George Packer (New York: Perennial, 2003).

[2] Jeremy Varon, Bringing the War Home (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004), p. 337.


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