The Political Atmosphere

Irving Howe asks the question, “a new political atmosphere in America?” in the Winter 1959 DISSENT.

The responses of the other editors (save perhaps Plastrik) are not encouraging. Mailer didn’t vote, Rosenberg “could care less but with some difficulty.” Most of the comments are surprisingly “antipolitical.”

In 1940 I was touring Norman Thomas thru Iowa. Following a broadcast over a local station the sympathetic manager told us he had voted for Thomas three times —in 1928, 1932, and in 1936 when he didn’t vote. At that time a “plague on both your houses” attitude didn’t seem anti-political per se since there seemed to be a third one; but it has little relevance in this decade. Political activity means a lot more than voting, but among other things it does mean party organization, campaigns and candidates, programs and platforms, elections and voting. Howe’s suggestion that the Democratic party sometimes offers a sort of meaningful arena is encountered by Mailer’s apocalyptic vision of a movement “which may be in its origins hostile to politics itself,” and Rosenberg’s observation that “American politics has become the art of the impossible.”

I am alarmed by Mailer’s apparent hope that a non- or anti-political deus ex machina is the only way of rescuing the radical from his ...