At First Glance: Dissent at 30

At First Glance: Dissent at 30

The first issue of Dissent appeared 30 years ago this month. Some weeks after reading it, I went home from Brandeis University, where Irving Howe and Lewis Coser were then teaching, and told my parents that I didn’t want to be a lawyer, I wanted to be an intellectual. I don’t think that I told them that what I really wanted was to be a left-wing intellectual. For some of us, at least, those were heady days.

The image of the ’50s as a nonpolitical time is only partially accurate. It was not a time of mass movements or of visible social unrest, but in the history of political ideas and ideologies the years that stretch from the debate over McCarthyism to the North Carolina sit-ins were both important and exciting. What is today called neoconservatism has its authentic origins in those years. Faced with the New Frontier and the Great Society, the conservatives went into hiding, went underground—at a time when the symbolism of the underground was seized and exploited, inappropriately, by the left— only to emerge, somewhat soured and occasionally rancorous, after the ’68 elections. But the deep structure of conservative thought in a liberal society, market ideology at home and hardline anti- communism abroad, was first put together in the ’50s.

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