one frequently hears these days that socialists cling to a stereotyped picture of American life. Failing to see the subtle and even gross changes that have taken place during the past few decades, they focus on an abstraction called “capitalism” and thereby neglect the variety, the complexity, the rich substance of American life.
Perhaps. Like everyone else, radicals are mortal, and like everyone else they suffer from the shell-shocks of modern history. But let me abandon the impersonal “they” and speak in the uncomfortable “we.” Often enough we do treat such abstract—yet useful because abstract—categories as “capitalism” and “class struggle” as if they were real objects or persons rather than tools for analysis. And in doing so we may fail to notice the many changes that have taken place in the structure, as in the quality, of American life, changes that do not, I think, add up to the removal of capitalism as a functioning system or of “capitalism” as a fluid category for social analysis, but which nonetheless merit some attention and study.
The criticism would, however, be much easier for us to accept if the liberals who advance it were not themselves so susceptible to it. One of the curiosities of our intellectual life at the present moment is the thoroughness with which the dominant school of liberalism—the school for which Sidney Hook is philosopher-politician, David Riesman sociologist and Lionel Trilling literary moralist —exempts itself from its own analysis and recommendations. Few things are more dogmatic today than the anti-dogmatism of the liberal intellectual, few things more closed than his famous open mind. The image of “America” that emerges from the writings of this school is as thoroughly abstract, reified, and unhistorical as any that may be charged against the ‘most dogmatic radicals.