It’s almost like completing a circle. Dissent marks its 25th Anniversary with an issue featuring articles on the swing to the right in American politics and intellectual life. When we started in 1954, we were polemicizing against a similar trend. There are differences, of course. We have no McCarthyism today, and that is good. But the intellectual level of present-day conservatism is decidedly lower than that of its ’50s predecessor, and politically the current rightward trend is deadlier, nastier, and more dangerous than what we had in the ‘SOs. “Ikeism” meant stagnation but not a serious effort to dismantle the welfare state, such as we witness today.
How strong is the rightward trend? It would be foolish to delude, or console, ourselves with mere scannings of public-opinion polls and even electoral results. Albert Shanker, an intelligent man, has recently written that the polls indicate many of the people who have yielded to the “anti- spending” furor also favor continuation, perhaps even expansion of social services. He sees this as evidence that the rightward trend is rather superficial, not deep-going. He may be right, but the evidence to which he points doesn’t persuade. For the question to be asked is: which of the conflicting sociopolitical impulses (“anti- spending”/”more social services” in shorthand) is the stronger now? for which can more public energy be summoned? A skilled worker who has to make his mortgage payments on his own home may still favor national health insurance, but if he is swept along by the current demagogy—to say nothing of the reality of his skewed local taxes, which makes life hard for him—then, in behalf of political realism, it must be acknowledged that there is a significant turn to the right
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