The Young Radicals: A Symposium

The Young Radicals: A Symposium

What makes me identify as a radical is the conviction that something new must be added to the American calculus of goods and bads, rights and wrongs. I have an uneasy sense of a whole nation skating lightly over a cracking shell of rationalization and denial, even when there really is a firmer ground to stand on. To the extent that Americans have achieved a good society, they have done so in a curiously inarticulate fashion, celebrating what is trivial and even negative, and missing what really makes this country more livable than any other on earth. America is like the inarticulate, mumbling hero of its modern drama, tragically unable to discover its own saving qualities in time to avoid a meaningless and wasteful end. As a student of history I look for the sources of the hopeful developments, trying to figure out what became of them and why practically no one undertook to give them a place in the American self-image. As an actor in the present I try to cut through the fraud and locate the authentically life-giving dimensions of this society. In this I feel myself to be racing not only against hot war but against the Cold War as well, for the latter drives the country to a retrenchment which will close off all experimentation in humane liberalism.

The purpose of both activities—the purpose of any new radicalism with which I can identify—is to revive hope. A secondary purpose is to make genuine liberalism possible in American politics. I am critical of liberals, but there is no one else near power who can avert war in the next few years, so I should like to make more secure the position of such as Fulbright. Keeping in mind what else I should like to see begun, the best way to aid liberals seems to be the development of an audible and numerically significant Left which could place them closer to the revered center. The lesson of the 1904-1916 and 1930-1938 periods seems clear enough: genuine progressives and liberals achieved most when there was an active Left beyond them. If the few liberals in Washington can save us from holocaust by promising to save the country from the radicals, I shall be delighted to serve, even if it comes to dressing up like a woolly anarchist for a while. That is one reason why I have begun to march in demonstrations. Of course we move on many fronts at once, and need not give up our efforts to supplant or sophisticate the liberal world view even while being grateful to liberals.