The Young Radicals: A Symposium

The Young Radicals: A Symposium

1.) The radical tradition has left us three things worth preserving. First, a complex of values related to the ideal of a democratic community of free and equal individuals. These values are by no means the exclusive property of the radical tradition, obviously, but they have received a distinctive formulation at the hands of the prophets of democratic socialism—see, for example, Professor Tawney’s Equality. Second, a sociology of power which provides the basis for a realistic critique of modern industrial society. The concepts of radical sociology—”class,” the “state,” “the means of production,” “ideology,”—were first developed in order to attack nineteenth-century capitalist society, and were used to expose the contradiction between liberal capitalist rhetoric and the actuality of coercive, exploitative social relations. These conceptions, democratic radicals in our century have shown, are equally potent in giving the lie to the ideology of totalitarian regimes which have appropriated the language of the socialist tradition to support new and more terrible forms of exploitation and tyranny. Finally, our predecessors outlined a rough program, suggesting a variety of means by which to democratize the economy, abolish class distinctions, and humanize society.

I would surrender none of these. The precise weight I give to the competing values within this tradition is my own—I am somewhat more drawn to cultural pluralism, somewhat more doubtful about the implications of a “common culture” than William Morris, Tawney, and Raymond Williams, for instance—but this is a difference of emphasis, not of principle. The radical sociology, I believe, still provides the most useful point of departure for analyzing contemporary society, although we need to do more actual departing than our predecessors found necessary. “Hard” conceptions like “exploitation” and “ruling class” remain useful in appraising the Soviet system, but for the advanced capitalist countries we need to turn more to theories of “alienation” and “mass society.” To shift the terms of analysis in this way, of course, raises questions about the ability of the classic socialist program to alleviate “alienation,” but I doubt that these questions are as paralyzing as they have been made out to be. “Under socialism,” man won’t be ten feet tall… The Demon Television will not necessarily vanish, nor will dope addiction, Billy Graham, or the Reader’s Digest. But many of the ugliest and most frustrating features of American life today are demonstrably the product of our present social and economic arrangements, and I think that a change in these arrangements will significantly modify them. There have been exciting gains from recent socialist experiments in England, Norway, and Sweden; Israel’s efforts to extend w...


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