The Intellectuals and the Flag

The Intellectuals and the Flag

Todd Gitlin
Copyright Date: 2006
DOI: 10.7312/gitl12492
Pages: 192
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  • Book Info
    The Intellectuals and the Flag
    Book Description:

    "The tragedy of the left is that, having achieved an unprecedented victory in helping stop an appalling war, it then proceeded to commit suicide." So writes Todd Gitlin about the aftermath of the Vietnam War in this collection of writings that calls upon intellectuals on the left to once again engage American public life and resist the trappings of knee-jerk negativism, intellectual fads, and political orthodoxy. Gitlin argues for a renewed sense of patriotism based on the ideals of sacrifice, tough-minded criticism, and a willingness to look anew at the global role of the United States in the aftermath of 9/11. Merely criticizing and resisting the Bush administration will not do -- the left must also imagine and propose an America reformed.

    Where then can the left turn? Gitlin celebrates the work of three prominent postwar intellectuals: David Riesman, C. Wright Mills, and Irving Howe. Their ambitious, assertive, and clearly written works serve as models for an intellectual engagement that forcefully addresses social issues and remains affirmative and comprehensive. Sharing many of the qualities of these thinkers' works, Todd Gitlin's blunt, frank analysis of the current state of the left and his willingness to challenge orthodoxies pave the way for a revival in leftist thought and a new liberal patriotism.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-51035-6
    Subjects: Political Science, Philosophy, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [vii]-[x])
  3. Introduction: From Great Refusal to Political Retreat
    (pp. 1-8)

    This book assumes that political thinking matters to the fate of American democracy and therefore to the prospect for decency in the world. It also has a more specific objective: to contribute to a new start for intellectual life on the left.

    But surely this sounds presumptuous. Why should political intellectuals of the left need a new start? It is hard—perhaps impossible—to disentangle the practical from the philosophical reasons, for they are intertwined. All in all, the criticism of established arrangements—which is the left’s specialty—does not convince a critical mass of the populace to put the...

  4. I. Three Exemplary Intellectuals

    • [I. Introduction]
      (pp. 9-14)

      Intellectuals of the left need to do more than dissent—or praise. We need to see the world steadily and see it whole: to see without blinkers, to explain how things came to be as they are, to sharpen values and make them explicit, to sketch visions, to connect with publics in such a way as to suggest where our limping democracy might go. All this is our calling, even—or especially—in a time when most of the people one would expect to be paying attention, the morally alert young, are otherwise occupied.

      “Ideology is a brain disease,” said...

    • 1 David Riesman’s Lonely Crowd
      (pp. 15-26)

      In an age that views books as quaint artifacts on the fringes of the entertainment business, we may find it hard to recall that books ever guided national conversations in the United States. Sometimes the effect on history has been direct. Upton Sinclair’s 1906 polemical novel, The Jungle, galvanized public sentiment in behalf of the Pure Food and Drug Act. In the 1960s Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, Michael Harrington’s The Other America, Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique, and Ralph Nader’s Unsafe at Any Speed helped the antipoverty, environmentalist, feminist, and consumer movements get under way, and subsequent reform-minded conservative books,...

    • 2 C. Wright Mills, Free Radical
      (pp. 27-48)

      Whether the rest of this sentence sounds like an oxymoron or not, C. Wright Mills was the most inspiring sociologist of the second half of the twentieth century, his achievement all the more remarkable given that he died at forty-five and produced his major work in a span of little more than a decade. For the political generation trying to find its bearings in the early sixties, Mills was a guiding knight of radicalism. Yet he was a bundle of paradoxes, and this was part of his appeal, whether his readers were consciously attuned to the paradoxes or not.


    • 3 Irving Howe’s Partition
      (pp. 49-66)

      Irving Howe edited the left-wing quarterly Dissent for more than thirty-eight years. He had coeditors, but Dissent was his magazine: he was its public face and it was his primary outlet. He was, at the same time, probably the most prolific literary critic of his generation, the one most attuned to political surroundings, to the burdens that they placed on writers, and to the possibilities that they opened up. Yet his criticism hardly ever appeared in his own magazine. It was as if he had two sets of relatives, loved them both, but knew better than to seat them at...

  5. II. Two Traps and Three Values

    • [II. Introduction]
      (pp. 67-72)

      Weak thinking on the American left is especially glaring after September 11, 2001, as I’ll argue in part III, but this is hardly to say that the right has been more impressive at making the world comprehensible. For decades the right has cultivated its own types of blindness and more than that: having risen to political power, it has been in a position to make blindness the law of the land. The neoconservatives’ foreign policy is largely hubris under a veneer of ideals. The antigovernment dogma of deregulation, privatization, and tax cuts exacerbates economic and social troubles. A culture war...

    • 4 The Postmodernist Mood
      (pp. 73-86)

      What was postmodernism? Commentators pro, con, serious, fey, academic, and even accessible seem agreed that something postmodern happened in the last generation or two, even if we were virtually all Mr. Jones, who didn’t know what it was. The volume and pitch of the commentary implied that something about this postmodern something mattered. Something, it seemed, had happened in the world. It would be cute but glib and shortsighted to dismiss the talk as so much time-serving space filling, the shoring up of positions for the sake of amassing theoretical property, or propriety, or priority. There was anxiety at work...

    • 5 The Antipolitical Populism of Cultural Studies
      (pp. 87-102)

      Perhaps it’s not surprising that academic fields tend to be cavalier, or embarrassed, about their own origins. A surplus of self-scrutiny might undermine the confidence with which a field goes about its business—except perhaps for philosophy when it’s in a rollicking mood. A sociology of sociology, a history of history—by and large, these flower only when flowers are going to seed.

      During its period of giddy expansion, cultural studies proved no exception to this rule. Yet a moment’s reflection should assure us that cultural studies did not spring full blown from its object of study, culture. It has...

    • 6 The Values of Media, the Values of Citizenship, and the Values of Higher Education
      (pp. 103-124)

      Talk about values is in the American grain, and so it has gone since 1776, when the United States was deliberately imagined as a nation distinguished by its ideals rather than by the nationality of its inhabitants. In principle, Americanness is a matter of principle. There is, of course, a recurrent nativist streak, which looks to ethnic or racial origin as a stand-in for qualification, but nevertheless, no other nation speaks so incessantly about values as the foundation of its existence.

      Might it be that the rhetoric of values, repeated with a recurrent pounding of rostrums, conceals as much as...

  6. III. The Intellectuals and the Flag
    (pp. 125-158)

    To tell the truth, September 11, 2001, jammed my mental circuits, and I spent much of the ensuing year trying to get them unjammed, first of all, and, second, trying to make sense of both the jolts and the jamming and to learn from them. This was as much an intellectual as an emotional undertaking. Resisting what is called “closure,” I did not shy from bewilderment, from unprecedented feelings and thoughts, whole shelves stocked with cans of worms. I did not try to dispel my immediate feelings, horror and astonishment, because feelings can be links to reality, even if sometimes...

  7. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 159-160)
  8. Index
    (pp. 161-174)