I grew up in the Fifties. If you were White and your family had made it into the middle class, as mine had [my father was a high school teacher and my mother was a secretary], it was a comfortable time. But if you had leftie leanings [which I inherited from my socialist grandfather], there was one problem: a serious shortage of role models. By an accident of history, most of the young American leftwing intellectuals from the Thirties had taken a sharp turn to the right by the time I was paying serious attention to politics. Despite the excitement of the Spanish Civil War and the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, world events had soured American radicals on communism, and by extension, on Marx, socialism, and all that other good stuff.
If it wasn't the Moscow Show Trials, it was the Molotov/Ribbentrop Pact, and if it wasn't the Molotov/Ribbentrop Pact, it was the Cold War, and if it wasn't the Cold War, it was Israel. Whatever the reason, by the time I came along, there were precious few grown-up mature seriously adult radicals on whom young people like me could model ourselves. Even Sidney Hook, who had sat with my father, my uncle Bob, and Ernest Nagel at the Norman Thomas socialist table in the CCNY lunchroom, had turned hard right. [Each fraction of the left had its own table in the lunchroom. Since the tables were small, it was fortunate that the Left had splintered into innumerable tiny mutually antagonistic fragments.]
Oh, there was William Appleman Williams, way out in the Midwest, and a Canadian, C. B. Macpherson, and there were of course the editors of the Monthly Review, Paul Sweezy and Leo Huberman, who for some reason did not inspire young wannabes like me. But there seemed to be a genetically encoded law of nature that to grow old was to move to the political Right. Like graying hair and sagging pecs.
That is why Herbert Marcuse was such a big bit in the Sixties. Nobody actually had any idea what he was talking about, but he just smelled intractably radical, and he was undeniably old -- ancient, even. It gave us something to aim for.
By the time the Sixties really got started, I was a tenured senior professor at Columbia, a member of the older generation by rank if not by age. I conceived it as my generational obligation to demonstrate to young people, by my personal example, that it really was possible to grow old while keeping faith with the rebellions of one's youth.
Nowadays, there are lots of us aging lefties -- one of them is even running for President. We crop up in commune-like gatherings in Berkeley or Hyde Park or Greenwich Village, or in such unlikely places as Madison, Wisconsin, Carrboro, North Carolina, and Austin, Texas. The men wear what remains of their hair in ponytails and the women eschew makeup. There have even been TV Sitcoms about aging hippies with embarrassed conservative children.
Why do I blog? Well, one reason is to reassure those just coming up that it really is possible to grow old without finking out.
I have to say one of my biggest fears is waking up one day and finding I'm a theist and a supporter of the political right. And this fear stems specifically from the history and figures you outlined!
Thank you for your service!
If anything, I find myself moving to the left as I grow older. I don't think it has anything to do with the process of aging per se. Rather, I feel radicalized by the persistent, systematic attack on public schools carried out by wealthy elites operating through the philanthropic colonialism of non-profits and through office holders in both the Republican and Democratic Parties. Maybe that's what it has taken, but better late than never.
You'll never know just how important your example, and the wisdom you impart, have truly been for me. I don't comment often but I've been a loyal reader for several years!
Ludwig, I agree I find as I age I become more and more left wing, but I also become more and more of a pessimist...
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