Andrew Ross says that “the left is temporarily enjoying its first real foothold within the North American academy.” That claim reminds me of E.P. Thompson’s remark that the Althusserians thought themselves “the first white Marxists” to arrive on British soil. Britain, Thompson protested, “is an old socialist country.” So, I protest, is the United States. There has been a busy and useful left in the North American academy for most of this century.
Although most long-time readers of Dissent will probably agree with me on this point, most of my younger leftist colleagues in the academy will probably agree with Ross. There is a fairly sharp generational difference here. The new generation does not count the presence of such people as John R. Commons, Lionel Trilling, John Dewey, Paul Goodman, Sidney Hook, and Daniel Bell in the North American academy as a leftist presence. They would sympathize with the tone of Ross’s discussion of what he calls “the Old Left,” in the last chapter of his No Respect. There he suggests that those who refused to put “Western freedoms” in quotation marks during the cold war cannot count as “really” left at all. The further fact that the Old Left said little about the oppression of women, gays, and lesbians is enough to suggest to many younger academics that the Old Left was only a “left” in quotation marks....
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