The New Left and the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s: A Reevaluation
Pub Date: January 01, 1995
Product Format: Essay
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The New Left and the cultural revolution of the 1960s and early 1970s is still widely remembered with nostalgia by someespecially by former participants. The youth culture of the period made a profound impression on the United States, Western Europe, and Japan. The youth culture also had strong echoes in what was then the communist world. Youthful revolutionaries, mostly middle class and college educated (a minority within the youthful age cohorts as a whole), meant to build a new utopia. The youth culture gained strength at a time when massive cohorts of baby boomers seemed to overwhelm the campuses.
The cultural revolution failed in the short term. No Western government was ever in the slightest danger of being overthrown. Most student revolutionaries were reabsorbed by the "system" that they had professed to hate. But indirectly the effects of the cultural revolution were immenseboth in a cultural and political sense. (The cultural revolution profoundly affected the peace movement and helped therefore to get the United States out of Vietnam.) Yet overall, the cultural revolution did far more harm than good by glamorizing drugs, by denigrating traditional values, by defaming "formal democracy" both in the United States and elsewhere. The cultural revolution moreover produced no artistic or literary masterpieces. A romantic cult of self-indulgence, self-adulation, and self-pity impeded true creativity. But a number of important movements were spawned by the New Left: ethnic studies, multiculturalism, relativism and political correctness, radical feminism, and gay and liberated youth.
Of these, "political correctness" was most destructive of American institutions and values. The New Left's disastrous legacy was a crusading determination to reduce the humanities to a "politically correct" agenda, to smash the shackles of traditional sexual morality, to liberate youth from their elders, and to entrench entitlements and affirmative action into the American way of life.