A RADICAL’S AMERICA, by Harvey Swados. Atlantic—Little, Brown, 1962, xvii + 347 pp.
In his introduction to this collection of essays, Harvey Swados writes that he has “attempted to maintain a a tension between skepticism and idealism.” The skepticism is, however, informed by compassion, and the idealism enriched by passion. Together, they offer not alone a point of of view, but a moral intervention into what concerns us, or should concern us.
It is not so much a matter of political line, or critical agreement, as it is of attitude. In this respect, Swados can be taken as a spokesman for the kind of radicalism which I consider to be mine, which I know to be that of many of my friends, and which I would like to think has adherents in different generations, occupations, and locales.
The topical range of these essays is wide—starting with a consideration of the present relevance of Upton Sinclair’s Jungle, and ending with “Why Resign from the Human Race?” (which provoked more letters on its appearance in Esquire in 1959 than any article in the magazine’s history). Between them are considerations of such diverse subjects as “Robinson Crusoe—the Man Alone,” “The Myth of the Happy Worker” (another of Swados’ essays which, on its appearance in The Nation in 1957, provoked wide response). “Exurbia Revisited,” “West Coast Waterfront” (debated in the last issue of DISSENT), “Certain Jewish Writers” (he discusses his own identity as a Jew in the Introduction), “The Dilemma of the Educated Woman,” and a great deal more.
Much of this is radical journalism at its very best. I’d consider that praise enough if there weren’t as well a lot more to be said. There aren’t many people doing first-class reporting in such areas as “The Miners: Men Without Work.” Swados roams far behind the reporter, and, what is more important, adds to his journalism the insights of an artist as well as a socialist. He does not, in short, succumb to “objective” detachment. After all, these are people he is writing about, not ciphers or statistics. He has talked with them, met them, been moved or angered by them. He is, indeed, his “brother’s keeper.” But he tries also to be his brother’s conscience, and critic.