(Page 2 of 2)
Enduring even longer was the Oneida Community, a throwback to the religious socialism of an earlier era. Oneida persisted for 32 years under founder John Humphrey Noyes’s system of “Bible Communism.” Life at Oneida previewed much of the Marxist totalitarianism to come in the next century. Noyes established the practice of “mutual criticism” — later adopted by Chinese Maoists — a “formal, public procedure involv[ing] a single community member facing a gauntlet of criticism,” Flynn reports. “Everything from reading novels excessively to spending too much time on artistic pursuits to wearing hair beyond acceptable lengths was fair game.” And although Noyes coined the term “free love,” even sex at Oneida was “obligatory, directed, monitored — everything but free.”
Flynn’s chapters on these antebellum communards are his most enjoyable, in part because this is little-reviewed history and in part because, noxious as these sects may have been, they did little harm to themselves or their country. The Lefts that arose in the late 19th and early 20th centuries were another matter. In Europe, Karl Marx displaced Charles Fourier as the leading socialist theorist, while his intellectual followers seized the First International Workingmen’s Association from actual workingmen. In the U.S., labor unions, Prohibitionists, populists, and Progressives demanded concessions from society at large rather than retreating into communities of their own. The Left was getting into politics. Taxes and bloodshed would follow.
A CONSERVATIVE HISTORY of the American Left is a book of admirably concise chapters and pithy prose. Suffragettes, Single-Taxers, labor-union agitators, and Temperance “hatchetators” like Carry Nation all receive just enough space and not a line more. Only Flynn’s penultimate chapter bites off too much, trying to cover every left-wing fad from the Vietnam War to 9/11 in under 20 pages. Otherwise, Flynn’s volume is as well planned as it is well written.
Four chapters on Communist subversion in the United States from the time of the Russian Revolution to the 1950s drive home one of Flynn’s key themes, that the American Left only prospers when it grounds itself in American history and identity. The Communists enjoyed much success with their espionage programs, but as agents of an alien ideology, they never captured the hearts and minds of the American people.
Neither did the 1960s New Left, though it had greater success transforming American culture. Rage against the Vietnam conflict fueled the New Left, though until Nixon the war had only been prosecuted by liberals. “The original commitment in Vietnam was made by President Truman, a mainstream liberal,” Flynn quotes Students for a Democratic Society president Carl Oglesby reminding an antiwar march in 1965. “It was seconded by President Eisenhower, a moderate liberal. It was intensified by the late President Kennedy, a flaming liberal. Think of the men who now engineer that war…Bundy, McNamara, Rusk, Lodge, Goldberg, the President himself….They are all liberals.” The Vietnam era might well be considered the Left’s civil war.
The period abounded with ironies. The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee segued into the very violent Black Panthers. Students for a Democratic Society increasingly admired nondemocratic societies in North Vietnam, Cuba, and Communist China. Radicals who started out opposing the Vietnam War ended the decade by convening a “War Council” in Flint, Michigan and launching a terror-bombing campaign against their own countrymen — though the inept Weathermen, a violent offshoot of SDS, wound up detonating three of their own comrades instead.
COMING DOWN FROM the 1960s was a nightmare for the Left. Black Panthers Eldridge Cleaver and Huey Newton became addicted to crack, with Newton getting blown away by a dealer in 1989. Depressed and irrelevant, Abbie Hoffman, “the New Left’s clown prince,” killed himself with an overdose of barbiturates that same year. Not that all the '60s radicals met with such fates, though: “Mark Rudd, Bernardine Dohrn, and Bill Ayers, three of the most visible Weathermen, landed faculty positions,” Flynn reminds us. Thousands of other '60s leftists, and society at large, were not so lucky. “Only the most sentimental ex-hippie could fail to recognize the prices paid on the road to the new freedoms,” Flynn quotes ex-SDS president Todd Gitlin as saying. “The booming teenage pregnancy rate; the dread diseases that accompanied the surge in promiscuity; the damage done by drugs; the undermining of family commitment…” Those lessons went unlearned well into the 1980s, as homosexual-rights activists responded to the AIDS crisis by demanding that gay bathhouses not be shut down and the Lambda Defense Fund and National Gay Task Force sued to prevent the release of the first AIDS test in 1985.
“Nobody learns,” an older and disillusioned Carl Oglesby tells Flynn. “Nobody learns anything from anybody. All the mistakes that are made have to be made all over again, in a new key, in a new tempo. What can I say?” As elegantly written and compelling as it is, the greatest virtue of A Conservative History of the American Life is that it may prove Oglesby wrong by allowing the Right to learn from the Left’s mistakes, so that the country does not have to repeat them.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?