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The Politics of Authenticity: Liberalism, Christianity and the New Left in America (Columbia Studies in Contemporary American History) Paperback – 22 Apr 1999


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Product details

  • Paperback: 510 pages
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press; New Ed edition (22 April 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 023111057X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0231110570
  • Product Dimensions: 2.5 x 15.9 x 23.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,012,431 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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In a masterful blend of political, cultural, social, and diplomatic history, this book brings the crucial decade of the 1980s to life--and it does so in a highly original, imaginative manner. An ideal book for students, general readers, and speciallists alike. -- Robert McMahon, Ohio State University

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THE WHITE RADICALS of the 1960s were shaped by both political and personal ideals, by the twin search for democracy and authenticity. Read the first page
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Format: Hardcover
Rossinow's largely sympathetic--nay, empathetic-- assessment of the legacy of the New Left in our political/cultural history is both refreshing and insightful. That assessment is made more significant, I believe, by Rossinow's not having been part of the events which he chronicles, which he mentions to good effect in his "Introduction" . As one who was sympathetic to the goals of the Students for a Democratic Society (albeit while tucked away in a small state university deep in the Intermountain West), I found his analysis to be nicely balanced and persuasive- -a perfectcounterpoint to the shrill, "Corbett Canyon-like" echoes of the Spiro Agnews, Ronald Reagans (who, on April 7, 1970 was reported to have said in response to the student disturbances at UCB and San Francisco State, "If it takes a blood bath, let's get it over with."), and Max Raffertys who commanded the attentions of the media with their colorful imprecations about the New Left.
Most persuasive was his argument that the roots of the New Left were grounded less in the politics of the "Old Left" than the result of a curious admixture of Christian teachings and liberal principles, all bound together in the search for an authenticity. I doubt whether I or those few of my fellow students who agreed with what the SDS was trying to effect would have had much truck with Rossinow's thesis. In Idaho, few references were heard to elements like Progressive Labor or the Student League for Industrial Democracy; SDS and the Weathermen might be recognized. More simply, most lumped them under the comforting rubric of "commies" or "pinko's.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 4 reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Quest for Meaning 7 Nov. 2011
By TS - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Doug Rossinow argues for a broader definition of the New Left than has been common among historians of the 1960s. He constructs an atmosphere of anxiety and personal and spiritual alienation as the setting for youth activism, and he places the search for authenticity--the antithesis of separation from God and part of the existentialist quest for meaning in late capitalist society--at the center of New Left activity from its beginning in the late fifties. "[T]he most organized and most politically consequential source of existentialist ideas in this era . . . was the student Christian movement of the nation's campuses" (pp. 5-6). This movement developed much of its momentum at the University of Texas--Austin, where, not coincidentally, the largest and most active New Left coalition in the South and Southwest emerged. Shifting from Austin to the national scene and back again, Rossinow thus widens the lens for viewing and defining the New Left and for analyzing its grievances and goals. He concludes that "the new left was less an outgrowth of a continuous history of radical politics in the United States than the evanescent leftist branch of a search for authenticity in industrial American life" (p. 345).

This book had a profound effect on the direction of my research in grad school. In view of the political disaffection, spiritual anomie, and economic difficulties that have re-energized social contestation all over the world, particularly in the United States, it continues to inspire me and seems more relevant than ever to the non-academic audience.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
the new left 6 Dec. 2006
By ozzy - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Unlike many histories of the New Left, which emphasize its exceptionalism and separatism, this one emphasizes the Left's continuing conversations with other traditions of American reform-Christian evangelicalism, the Social Gospel, the lyrical Left, mainstream feminism--even liberalism. For example, Rossinow stresses the importance of the populist liberalism of the Lone Star State to the social construction of the Texas New Left. Early leftists were encouraged by liberals like Ronnie Dugger, and later leftists found that they could form some constructive coalitions with liberals. While Rossinow acknowledges the general hostility of the Left to liberalism, he also shows that leftists could be creatively eclectic and inconsistent in forming coalitions.

Like other Sixties analysts, Rossinow shows how, as Kurt Vonnegut said, "America radicalizes Americans." Indeed, non-leftists shaped the late Sixties Left by their intransigence and their attacks. University repression, Black Power, and the Vietnam War also drew leftists away from the optimistic assumptions of the early years. Still, this backlash also led to the richness of "new working class" analysis, which Rossinow explains extraordinarily well. The idea that "alienation isn't restricted to the poor" (p. 194) allowed leftists a wider range for radicalism, interrogating most of the institutions of American society. When the Vietnam War ended, and the national Left disintegrated, this wide-ranging cultural activism was what was left.

By the end of the decade, the emphasis on authenticity, coupled with the intransigence of the political "System" and the factionalism of the Left, led activists to an emphasis on cultural change through counter-cultural living. Instead of overthrowing American government, they would undermine American society by creating a new society in the shell of the old. Like the New Left, the counter-culture emphasized authenticity. Indeed, Rossinow suggests that "starting in 1966, counter-cultural activity became "the new left's most important strategy for fomenting social change in America" (p. 251). Like the lyrical Left of the early twentieth century, this prefigurative politics had its own (usually small, usually local) successes, but it also succeeded in bringing cultural issues into mainstream American politics, most often in the Democratic Party. And as Rossinow points out, it complemented the cultural modernism of the American middle classes. In either case, cultural radicalism became cultural meliorism, and reinforced the liberal individualism of the mainstream culture.

This book is valuable, not just for its own original and nuanced interpretation of Sixties politics, but for its historiographical insights. Rossinow knows virtually all of the literature on Sixties politics, and, both in the text and in the footnotes, he sets his interpretation in conversation with other Sixties analysts. The result is not just a first-rate monograph that complexifies the Sixties, but a guided tour of important scholarly thinking about that decisive decade.
5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Nothing but the facts... 19 Nov. 2001
By "spf80" - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Rossinow paints a detailed picture at the activist life of the University of Texas during the days of the SDS and SNCC. It is amazing that someone like himself, who wasn't there and is much younger than the participants, can create such a tale. I'm too young to have been there also, but I've had the opportunity to meet some of these incredible people in my time here at UT-Austin. The activist blood still runs warm here, and will for years to come, and it is because of the people Rossinow has chronicled in this book. Want to know how things happened? Here it is. Want to be inspired toward change? Here it is.
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Reviewing This Book is Reviewing My Own History 10 April 2010
By Charlotte Gosselink - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Doug Rossinow's book was recommended to me by someone who knew that I would be quite familiar with the Austin, Texas setting, the people, and the era of the prime illustrations for his text. This turned out to be true, and therefore it was of interest to me. However, I would have to say that his political philosophy and theological discourse is not easy for the typical lay reader to follow.
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