Commentary Magazine

The Decline of Liberal Politics

We cannot find an explanation for the decline of liberal politics in this country without questioning the relevance of the modern tradition of liberalism, and even the relevance of the Left—for this country is above all a creation of the Enlightenment and of the liberal tradition, and in the 20th century its politics and government have been dominated by the liberal Left. Our troubles today are in considerable measure troubles which we share with the liberal and socialist states of Europe.

The parties of the Left, here and abroad, today find themselves defending “the system,” not attacking. The “system” is their system; they made it. Thus today they justify the status quo, the way things are done, what has been accomplished—the record. This was the campaign of Mr. Humphrey and American labor unions last fall. Prime Minister Wilson is bleakly beginning the same thing in Britain as the general election draws nearer. The socialists in France in this year's election were unable to put together a serious challenge to Gaullism, only a poor parody of the Popular Front. The socialists in West Germany have sunk themselves—without trace?—into the Grand Coalition. Why? Because the status quo, liberal or socialist welfare government, as it exists in all these countries, amounts to the fulfillment in principle and for all practical purposes of what the Left has sought for more than a hundred years, and the Left therefore finds itself without a coherent and convincing program—or conception—of further structural change in our society.

Thus it seems necessary to consider whether the Left, as it has existed as an intellectual and political force in recent history, may not have run its course; and whether the need today may not be for programs and innovations which in important respects contradict what the Left has come to stand for—and stand by—in the immediate affairs of this country and Western Europe.

By the Left I mean that political movement which has, since the 18th century, made it its primary purposes to extend political power to the masses of people and to bring about an egalitarian redistribution of wealth. Much else has attached itself to so huge and vivid a movement, but these two seem the distinguishing marks of the democratic Left—of the social-democratic parties of Western Europe, the contemporary Democratic party in this country, the non-party progressive and socialist movements. There obviously has been an illiberal Left as well, but I am speaking of the mainstream Left which has, however reluctantly at times, committed itself to a parliamentary system created by the liberal bourgeoisie and to a competitive political struggle which guaranteed minority interests and individual rights. That part of the Left which balked at this commitment has also, in the West, failed, and even where it has succeeded, in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, it now finds itself under internal political and intellectual pressures to adapt to this liberal political process.

In this century the liberal Left has presided over the emergence of the modern mixed economic and social system—the system of planning and welfare, of democratic government, unprecedented class mobility and egalitarian education, and, it must be added, of continued ruthless competition of interests, of constrained but unbroken profit-motivation in industry, of national wealth and power pursued at considerable cost to those individuals and groups unable or unwilling to compete. From one point of view the liberal Left may be said to have capitulated to bourgeois and capitalist values. From another, it can be said to have decisively won the struggle of values, with bourgeois society itself conceding the central values and objectives of the Left. There has not been a government in the industrialized West since 1945 which could be described as rightist or conservative in the meaning those terms bore in the past, or as rightist government still exists in the pre-liberal states of Spain, Portugal, and Greece. Konrad Adenauer and Charles de Gaulle, or even Dwight Eisenhower, might be called conservative in temperament or style, but their political programs were egalitarian and democratic. If they were conservatives, it was to conserve (rather than to extend) the system of one man, one vote, of mass affluence, classlessness, and the limiting or removal of gross and institutionalized discrepancies in private wealth.

Such a “success” by the Left unmistakably leaves much—“everything”—to be completed in practice. But surely it also amounts to as much of a success as any political movement ever enjoys. The Left has set the goals of modern society, it dominates the form and assumptions of modern government, dominates the political imagination and intelligence of the age.

Yet in the midst of this success, the Left today experiences rebellion on its own Left, a serious defection of its traditional voters to parties on the Right, and disorientation, conflict, among its leaders—a split over fundamental issues of program and direction. The Democrats here, Labour in Britain, the socialists on the Continent—none seems able today to agree on programs which promise more than a dull recapitulation and marginal extension of their own old policies. Last year in this country it was Mr. Humphrey who seemed the reactionary figure, the sunny New Deal optimist evading his inheritance of war and American moral crisis. The European socialists, when they are not in coalition with the center or conservative parties, have only token programs of further socialism, further nationalization; they understand that the further nationalization of industry will change little of any consequence. The younger theorists of the mainstream parties produce sensible but lifeless programs of incidental reform, refurbishings of the New Deal or Labour party or social-democratic programs of the 1930's.

Their principles almost universally conceded, their fundamental programs widely accomplished, the established parties of the Left find the public restless and resentful, critical of their achievements and of the system they have created. The young defect to romanticism and violence. The old Democratic and socialist voters prove unexpectedly vulnerable to the appeal of the bourgeois parties, to the appeal to consolidate the welfare society, to economize and retrench. These voters even prove susceptible to a Poujadist populism directed against the distant liberal and socialist leaders, the liberal “establishment.”


There are endless explanations of why this reaction should take place, but the fundamental reason seems to me this: the most important political and social anxieties felt today within the industrial societies fall outside the traditional categories of the Left. They no longer are economic issues, and the tradition of the Left has been to define politics in economic and class categories. They are issues of identity and social community, recalling past conservative critiques of industrial and urban society. Thus Glen L. Tinder: while “to be free is to be separate and individual . . . liberalism has expressed and encouraged personal distinctness and individual activity as opposed to social cohesiveness. . . . [Its] central theme has certainly been the single individual, and . . . [it] has been a force making for disintegration.” These new anxieties express an ambivalence about technology—the source of egalitarian affluence—and a reaction (often blind, but increasingly influential) against the centralization of authority in modern society, the anonymity of power, and—perhaps most of all—power's seeming escape from reasonable control.

For a great many individuals there is a sense of individual powerlessness in the midst of seemingly limitless material and organizational power. Nothing seems to work properly any more. Confidence in the rational control of technology and the rational organization of society is seriously weakened even among the liberal and professional intelligentsia, the very quarters which, traditionally, have held this at the core of their beliefs.

Or to put it practically, and in terms of the present American debate, good intentions have got us Vietnam.1 Technology invents thermonuclear bombs, ballistic: and anti-ballistic missiles. Industry makes cheap goods but wrecks the landscape and pollutes the air and rivers. Technocrats tell us that all problems are soluble, but their submarines sink at the dock and scientific administrators spill nerve gas onto grazing lands and then lie about it. Experts' programs of urban reconstruction and racial reform seem to accomplish little good, but radicalize the poor and jeopardize the security of a middle strata of white workers and civil servants who have themselves just escaped poverty and the ghettos. Bureaucracies make the system function, but meddle in private lives, humiliating the poor and annoying the rich. Medical progress underwrites a population growth which crushes our communities. Mass education produces a million yahoos, undermining high culture, and at the same time cannot teach reading and arithmetic to the slum poor. The centers of urban civilization itself, cities and the liberal universities, begin to disintegrate under these pressures. The middle classes complain that the police cannot protect them, that the garbage cannot reliably be collected or the trains kept running. The poor complain that the police are their enemies and that no one even tries to clean their streets; and even among the unpoliticized poor there appears to be a distinct rise in nihilistic social behavior.

Overwrought or overstated as all of these complaints may be, they contain too much truth for comfort. They are not simply the complaints of a minority or of the intelligentsia, but increasingly are expressed by very large numbers of people. There is, additionally, moral anxiety, a sense that society has lost its moral direction and for that reason its moral authority. In this the Vietnamese war has played a crucial and devastating role for Americans because of the peculiarly close connection of political to individual moral identity in this country. Even many of those who do not believe the war itself to be immoral, or who support an interventionist American foreign policy, express distress at the moral issues of proportionate action, proportionate force—at the discrepancy of weapons, the use of B-52s against peasant guerrillas, the use of gas and napalm, at the killing of civilians and connivance at terrorism which is inherent in guerrilla wars. Combined with that other great demoralizing factor in postwar political life—the simultaneous commitment of governments to social welfare and the weapons of hyperbolic, and intrinsically irrational, modes of war—there has emerged a powerful sense of irremediable immorality in our national situation. This clearly has undermined the moral legitimacy of government; and when Steven Marcus describes even the new pornography of American popular entertainment and the arts as “a form of pseudo-radicalism” tied to the loss of moral authority of the formal structure of society, he certainly is right. Where is moral assurance or security to be found? When Minutemen cache arms and train themselves to the guerrilla defense of their families, and black students removed from the urban slums to Cornell arm themselves, both are in some degree reacting to this loss of moral security. They are arming themselves against (nameless?) dangers which political authority can no longer be relied upon to prevent. If there is no security within the political system men must act for themselves. And this is a profound sign of the breakdown of the political order.

I know that to list these anxieties, which can be summarized in familiar abstractions—anomie, “existential dread,” alienation, the fear of arbitrary violence or war, powerlessness felt in the midst of anonymous power, a loss of individual connection with the centers and levers of power (or doubt that effective levers of power any longer exist; can anyone, anything, alter the momentum of events?), the rootlessness consequent upon class and social mobility—I am not exhausting the political problems of the day. To talk about armed students or nihilistic behavior in the ghettos is to deal with the periphery of a plain and tangible problem of how wealth is distributed in this wealthiest of all societies. To talk about the moral or psychological effects of the Vietnam war can be to ignore the simple and politically accountable decisions which put us into that war and could end it. I am trying to describe the mood of our society but without discounting the tangible issues. The mood seems to me increasingly hostile to the traditional remedies of the Left, while at the same time this mood is proving increasingly important as an influence on voting and as a motive for action.

Poverty is a practical, definable issue. By definition it is susceptible of economic solution in the great tradition of the Left. Yet the persistence of poverty in American society, as Nathan Glazer argued in these pages over a year ago,2 no longer is really a political issue in the sense of involving a deliberate choice among coherent alternative courses of action.

There are few Americans, and no major American political movement, which will argue the necessity or inevitability of a poor proletariat in America. Few Americans will explicitly defend racial inequities, to say nothing of racial discrimination, as a matter of principle or social necessity (or inevitability). But there is a profound difficulty amounting almost to despair over how to make a great change in either situation. The problem is how to do what nearly everyone agrees should be done. Underlying the surface debates—guaranteed income versus black capitalism, bureaucratic reform versus community control, politicization of the poor communities versus programs of family support and social welfare—is deep uncertainty over what any of these programs can really accomplish. Whether it is justified or not—and in considerable measure it may be unjustified—there is among the public a persistent sense of the futility of such measures.

There ought to be a way to get income to the poor. There ought to be a way to get schools that work for the poor, and decent housing. This country ought, above all, to be able to build houses and reconstruct the basic social services of the city—street cleaning and garbage collection, medical service, cheap mass transportation. Whatever the present rhetoric or historical reality of institutionalized racism in this country, there is an unmistakable commitment to racial justice in government and the public today. No doubt the popular commitment is gradualist, integrative; no doubt it implicitly demands assimilation to white, middle-class values; no doubt there is plenty of residual racial hostility, as well as panicky official repressions of black radicalism. But the reality today is a community of frustration, of shared impotence.


The seriousness of the situation is well-enough understood, but the attempts to deal with it have divided the Left. Three classes of response can be identified, at least in American politics. There is what might (for the sake of the argument) be called reactionary reformism, there is the romantic-radical neo-Marxist or New Left defection from liberalism, and there is the New Politics movement.

The reactionaries—they do not, of course, deserve that epithet except in its narrowest sense—hold that the old policies of the Left are sound. The American worker is not leaving the liberal voting coalition: he is being driven out by too little emphasis on the old economic issues and by irresponsible social experiments carried on by liberal intellectuals largely at the expense of the working man. A new Democratic party platform of major income redistribution, of big new taxes on business and the rich, reducing taxes on workers and pumping money into the established school system and social agencies, could calm the country and revitalize the liberal coalition. Gus Tyler has made an imposing statement of this case in a recent series of New Leader articles, and it seems to be substantially the position of American labor's leadership and the surviving membership of the Humphrey wing of the Democratic party.

Among the radicals are not only students but disillusioned technocratic temperaments such as Noam Chomsky, a radical optimist who might be said to have belatedly discovered sin but not original sin. In horror at the Vietnam war he has felt compelled to elaborate a general theory of a linked imperialism and liberal elitism which suppresses popular revolutions whether they appear in Europe in the 1930's or Asia in the 1960's. But popular revolution remains in his writings a suspiciously sentimental category, embracing American black nationalists, Asian peasants, and Spanish anarchists; libertarians and terrorists; campus activists and Rosa Luxemburg. Other neo-Marxists, such as Gabriel Kolko, make an easier and more traditional argument: American liberalism is simply the façade of economic imperialism. Herbert Marcuse, of course, writes off the “narcoticized” urban masses and places his confidence in a new proletariat of students and intelligentsia. He is another utopian optimist in an age whose clearest lesson has been dystopian.


But the New Left is slipping into factionalism, and while the anti-ideological wing responsible for launching the student protests remains morally most impressive, it is easy to feel sympathy for the young Maoists and Trotskyites who are attempting to take control of the students. They, at least, understand that programs and organization are essential to a serious political offensive, to say nothing of a revolution. They grasp that the New Left as a whole, born out of a reaction against the uses of power, consistently shrinks from the implications of organizing to seize and use power. There are—there can be-no Lenins among the New Left so long as the movement keeps its present character, and its present character is faithful to its sources.3

The motives of the New Left are libertarian and egalitarian; but increasingly their mood is intoxicated with violence, with the possibilities of a cleansed and purged world, a new reign of virtue. Max Beloff describes them as committed to “a mythological twilight where it can be asserted that, provided one's feelings are sincere and held with passion, the choices need not be made and Utopia can come about as a mere byproduct . . . of destruction.” But despite what he charges, theirs is not a fascist politics as we have known it—how consoling that would be to the beleaguered old liberals and socialists they attack!—though it is the fascist sensibility: visionary, committed to purity of feeling, anti-intellectual, antipragmatic.

However, the students will not take over the world, or even the universities. Their hostility to serious programs is an inherent bar to success, even if their ambition of alliance with the industrial working class were not fantasy. They trade on the inhibitions of liberal government, a wrecking tactic of great importance. The power of the weak, whether it is in Vietnam or at the university, depends upon the contradiction that the powerful will not use their ultimate means of power. But there is a penultimate threshold: the powerful can violate their avowed values and repress, jail, terrorize; the powerful can make total war. The war in Vietnam, like the war in the universities and cities, could be “won” in a way that would vindicate New Left theory while eliminating its practitioners.

By exploiting this paradox, the radicals acquire very considerable power, and their moral effect on liberal governments and the Western publics as a whole has been given a convincing demonstration over the last three years. But the movement's positive power—its power to articulate, to say nothing of calling into being, an alternative organization of modern society—is negligible. Unlike the revolutionary movements of 1789 or 1917 the new radicals have, and seemingly can have, no creative issue capable of evoking a mass response. However romantic or “unrealistic”—or ignorant—the Jacobins, they had an issue, popular sovereignty. However intolerant or naive the Leninists were, they proved to be supremely opportunist tacticians of power, and again they had an issue, power to the Soviets. Insofar as the American radicals have a positive issue, it seems to be the abolition of power itself.


Within the liberal Left, the reformers who make up the New Politics wing of American liberalism understand organization and power but also seem fatally weak in relevant ideas. Michael Harrington,4 from the socialist wing of the “established” Left has attempted to describe a way of recreating a majority party of the Left. But his program for a “conscience constituency,” like other proposals of this kind, relies on a revived union movement which will be dependably liberal and militant on non-economic issues. In the past this could be the case because the overriding importance and difficulty of the economic struggle allied workers to a liberal leadership. The decline in urgency of the economic issue for organized workers, the success of the Left in breaking down class barriers and moving workers into a classless middle class, has proved a critical blow to the old alliance. As the 1968 election demonstrated, the mass of wage-earners cannot reasonably be expected to be more liberal on racial issues, or more tolerant of painful social reforms, or less chauvinist or conventionally American-messianist in their foreign policy views, than the society as a whole. Increasingly the tangible interests, the real grievances, of working men—the “forgotten men”—have pushed them in quite other directions.

Obviously, unionizing the unorganized poor could affect the political complexion of the labor movement and increase pressures for programs to help the unskilled and black proletariat. But the numbers involved are too few to offer any convincing prospect of a radically altered labor movement or a revivified liberal-labor alliance.

Nor is it clear that the growing class of suburban executives and corporate technicians will re-invigorate the American Left—even if, as Harrington says, their education has made them socially progressive rather than, as the New Left insists, merely the unquestioning technocrats of established power. What was striking about the McCarthy movement in 1968, so influential in the suburbs and among the professional intelligentsia, was its conservatism. Senator McCarthy wanted to cut Presidential power, provide cabinet officers with unprecedented authority, “liberate individuals so that they may determine their own lives.” He said: “This is a good country if the President will just let it be.”

As the McCarthy experience suggests, the really new elements in the New Politics seem ultimately conservative. Richard Goodwin, for example, would transfer government power to “the smallest unit consistent with the scale of the problem.” But this was the core principle of the Roman Catholic Distributist movement of the pre-war years, philosophically and politically quite conservative. Theodore Lowi,5 criticizing American liberalism for having institutionalized pluralist competition at the expense of those unable to compete, also wants decentralized power (as well as federal reform), strengthened regional government, and new checks on power, in part by strengthening the (essentially negative) authority of the judiciary.

Goodwin and Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.6 both would decentralize federal authority and the bureaucracy, end foreign interventionism, and emphasize political “participation”—especially of the black and poor communities. The last point belongs to the tradition of the Left, extending the (effective) franchise. The first two proposals surely are conservative in origin and emphasis, contradicting the centralization of power and the manipulative (foreign as well as domestic) reformism of the modern liberal tradition. States' rights and local initiative are old Republican issues. The conservatism of the New Politics foreign policy (which is the mood of the country as well) is unmistakable. “Neo-isolationism,” so-called, has its intellectual roots in the pessimist-“realist” school of political philosophy, irreconcilably hostile to the progressive optimism and historicism of the traditional Left and of recent American liberalism.

But is it of any importance that the new ideas of the New Politics seem largely a disguised conservatism? Certainly it constitutes evidence bearing on the intellectual relevance of the Left. But there is a practical significance to this as well. In critical respects these new ideas contradict not only established beliefs of the Left but certain practical imperatives of liberal society as it exists today. How is economic rationality to be reconciled with a serious decentralization of economic authority? How is the administration of very large, horizontally integrated and interdependent, social groups accomplished if real power is radically decentralized? The solution surely involves a challenge to the existing priority of values in our society. The pursuit of GNP, growth, “development,” and popular affluence may simply be inconsistent with the forms of social organization which people profess to want. Are the people of the big industrial states really ready to accept the consequences of what they say they want? There are formidable problems of political and economic theory as well as of political practice involved here which the publicists of the New Politics (with the honorable exceptions of Lowi and Paul Goodman) hardly have begun to acknowledge. Addressing simply the question of Presidential power in this country, Schlesinger ends with a strained recommendation of a weak executive in foreign policy (contra-Johnsonian) but a strong one in domestic reform (pro-Roosevelt). Pragmatism is a virtue, but a serious New Politics needs something a good deal more coherent than this.

Moreover, any retreat from the goal of popular and classless affluence undercuts the appeal which has given the Left its mass following in this century. The Left has always experienced a contradiction between the moral demands of individual autonomy and liberty, and the needs—and chiefly the economic needs—of the masses. Historically, centrally-directed social-democratic government, with all its social compromises and concessions, and Leninism have emerged as the two left-wing “solutions.” Is there a third way for the Left? The Marxism “with a human face” of Eastern Europe represents the most serious contemporary attempt to find that third way, but in Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia the new way seems very like the social-democratic way. It is interesting that the French New Left, in its moment of revolutionary triumph in Paris in 1968, seemed virtually to reenact the ideological history of the Left, frantically sifting through all of the old and discarded experiments of Proudhon and Kropotkin, of doctrinaire populism and anarchism, to end up either in intellectual abdication—the revolution will make itself—or confronting the hated alternatives of liberal social-democracy and Leninism.


I do not mean to say that no third way can exist. I do mean to insist that America's New Politics—if this represents our search for that new way—today is being conducted as if our problems were matters of election-year tactics, whereas what are involved are fundamental questions affecting the political organization of industrial society. Any serious “new politics” must address basic structural changes in our society. And the modern Left may be quite unequal to this challenge. Its intellectual inheritance of economic determinism, of economic and class analysis, its practical commitment in modern times to centralized state power and planning, and to the centrally-administered economy, may be insurmountable handicaps. Federalism, local autonomy—these have been conservative or reactionary issues, based on a non-leftist social philosophy. The Left, historically, has committed itself to internationalism, whereas—as Gaullism recognized—the restoration of community and identity may be effectively related to the symbols and traditions of nationalism, the national community. The liberal Left has historically committed itself to parliamentary government, whose troubles today in trying to control or monitor the executive arm of government are in considerable degree the result of the growth of rationalized central authority acting by technocratic criteria. Yet people, in the attempt to reestablish their links with power, conduct a risk-filled search for charismatic leadership, for those great personalities who can speak directly to them over all the intervening apparatus of government and society, and who seek their mandates in referendums or generalized votes of confidence which are only indirectly related to programs and issues.

Thus, to make theoretical distinctions about where ideas come from, and to identify the moral and political assumptions which conservative or liberal ideas imply, may be an indispensable clearing of the intellectual ground. The vital elements in the new political thinking of this country and Western Europe may be exactly those which challenge the traditions and institutions of the established Left; and not to acknowledge this will simply add further confusion and contradiction to our politics.

If the parties of the Left today are unable to assimilate the new ideas or are incapable of responding to the new popular anxieties, can a practical response develop on today's political Right? In Europe, Tories and Gaullists seem rather more sensitive to the new situation than the parties of the Left. In this country one can only regard the rightist or avowedly conservative intelligentsia with dismay, and the Republican party with despair. While there is interest in the fact that Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a New Politics man and an iconoclast, and Henry Kissinger, a political “realist,” hold office under Richard Nixon, the Republican party as a whole seems beyond redemption. Could this defiantly unintellectual businessman's party, with its instinct for the status quo and its hostility to innovation, its middle-class incomprehension of the new anxieties and dispossessed classes of American society, really make any serious response to the present situation?

It may be that for the present the best we can do is attempt to carry through the intellectual clarification of our condition. I have spoken insistently and specifically of the left-wing parties and the Left intellectuals, because the Right is negligible. The Left is modern politics. But it is the modern political system as much as the Left itself which is in crisis. The public's doubt of the Left is a withdrawal of confidence from the modern system as it exists today—and at a time when an alternative hardly is imaginable.

Perhaps we should abandon the language of Left and Right as a cause of confusion. Perhaps the modern Left, which began in 1789, has served its historical function, and we need a post-Left or post-liberal politics willing to deal with a radical redefinition of the relationship of individuals to power. If we have to make drastic changes in the modern system of government and economy, we may be better off if we have freed ourselves from the intellectual inheritance of the parties of the Left.

An Oedipal act? Without so drastic an act by those who now consider themselves men of the Left it may be that the immediate future is rather bleak. The fatal social migration, of defections from democratic politics, has already reached significant proportions, and not only among the young or a minority intelligentsia.

There is, in the United States, no real cynicism about politics. Individual identity is tied to political identity as in no other country, so that America cannot experience a political crisis that does not affect the national sense of meaning and value. To be an American is, primarily, to acknowledge a political commitment, not a national or cultural identification. This country was—the national myth has it—an empty place, where people came to make a novel political covenant among one another. We have, then, no distinction between pays légal and pays réel. Americans cannot imagine a second republic; a Frenchman can easily contemplate—or struggle to bring about—a sixth. If constitutional political order broke down here, what would Americans do? What would sustain the society? The Constitution is all. This is why the political troubles of the last three years have so shaken this country, have had so severe a moral impact upon individual Americans.

It is for this reason that political reconstruction in this country is so urgent a matter; we simply have no resources for a survival outside of politics. The new anxieties of the mass of people, having to do with their own relationship to power and their identities in the political community, could in time provoke meta-political and chiliastic responses. The least that must be said is that when the public loses faith in the competence of a government, in its ability to solve problems and do justice, and when the men who rule—as recently was the case and as may recur—lose confidence in their right to rule, or turn to a defiant or repressive defense of themselves, then the political society has begun to break down.


1 And Vietnam is the liberals' war. Arthur Schlesmger, Jr. has objected to this statement, calling it an instance of liberal masochism. But to argue, as he does, that John Foster Dulles was a globalist or that President Nixon in the past spoke well of the war cannot alter the fact that neither Dulles nor Nixon got us into Vietnam, and the Republican administration they both served in the 1950's specifically refused to intervene there even though it was placed under heavy pressures to do so. It took a visionary liberal administration fully to translate the globalism of American rhetoric into a program of national action. Vietnam was deliberately made into a test of liberal international reform by the Kennedy and Johnson administrations—of liberal “nation-building,” carried on behind a shield of Green Beret counterinsurgent warfare—against the Asian Communist “model” of radical national transformation.

2 “The New Left and Its Limits,” July 1968.

3 The New Left's canonization of Che Guevara is interesting in this respect. Surely he represents revolutionary death, not life—failure, not success. His Bolivian campaign was an exemplary case of sheer, and even willful, incompetence, a search not for power but for martyrdom. Poor Che!—who couldn't speak the language of the Indians he wanted to save, who lost his asthma medicine, his records, his supplies, his maps, his way, his life. The whole New Left commitment to Third World revolution is sentimental, a largely unreciprocated love-affair. Vietnamese, Algerian, Peruvian rebels have perfectly comprehensible and conventional goals: power, in order to remake national societies by “modernizing” them—which means building sophisticated economies, armies, centralized governments, recreating the conditions against which the urban rebels of New York, Paris—and Prague—are reacting. The one, whatever their illusions, deal in life and death in the real world. The others, culturally alienated rebels, would capture something of the supposed simplicity, solidarity, and austerity of the pre-industrial Third World.

4 Toward A Democratic Left, Macmillan, 224 pp., $5.95.

5 The End of Liberalism, Norton, 332 pp., $6.95.

6 The Crisis of Confidence, Houghton Mifflin, 313 pp., $5.95.

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