In this highly entertaining read, the author reveals that the American Left is older than Karl Marx, has never been monolithic and that it's characterized by attitude. There is continuity of ideas from the past to the present. Likewise, the Religious Left goes back a long way although modern mainstream Leftism is a secular faith. Broadly speaking its distinguishing features have always been Utopianism and the rejection of the norm & society as it exists. It tended to be anti-family and it was always the future that mattered; `Change' thus fits the mould exactly.
The book opens with the `Backwoods Millennialists', the Pilgrims & their short-lived collectivist experiment. Robert Owen's New Harmony community rejected marriage, property & religion and then there was Charles Fourier who founded Brook Farm, Massachusetts. The author calls the deviant John Noyes of the Oneida Community a `Bible Communist,' and distinguishes various subdivisions like pre-war reformers, immigrant anarchists, knights of labor, prairie populists, white-collar reds, patriotic progressives, missionaries of the social gospel & single tax advocates.
There were always two main currents: the radicals & the reformers, the force left versus the freedom left or the puritan versus the cowboy. In proper political terms, that would be the authoritarian & the libertarian strains. Between the wars, there were early feminists, red, white & blue reds, new dealers & artists in uniform plus communism was imported to America, drawing fierce reactions from other strains.
Why Flynn lumps the Beats with the Left is inexplicable. Perhaps by lifestyle, as Libertines & Bohemians? Well, Alan Ginsberg was surely liberal but neither William Burroughs nor Jack Kerouac deserves the pigeon-hole. Kerouac was an American patriot that mostly agreed with the government of the day & Burroughs an extreme libertarian who had a family; neither of them were utopianists. Nor was Ken Kesey! To Flynn they represent the freedom left; the next generation did claim their legacy.
Then déjà vu - the 1960s New Left was the same as the old, he argues, with their slogans of the personal being the political and their great society visions. They do seem to have successfully completed the `long march through the institutions,' today controlling much of academia. Multiculturalism, political correctness & moral relativism are the results. The investigation is completed by a look at the 9/12 Left & the author's conclusions.
An intriguing array of characters appears, some of whom were mere eccentrics or libertines, others of whom were psychopaths. The deviant William Kinsey & the racist Margaret Sanger were amongst the more sinister types. It's interesting to note that none of those that caused mayhem ever showed any remorse. Amongst the perennial ideas of the movement are the concepts of the brotherhood of man, human perfection on this earth, equality and the pursuit of desires without consequences. The rebellion against reality persists, the old platitudes recur and the failed experiments are attempted again & again.
The movement may indeed be broadly defined as secular Salvationist with an enduring appeal. Although it has caused damage, the American sense of life/national character has hitherto prevented it from wreaking the havoc & misery there that Europe, Asia & Africa experienced in the Century of Horrors.
This absorbing, well-researched work concludes with an impressive bibliography and an index. For more information & other perspectives I recommend Liberal Fascism by Jonah Goldberg, the various works by David Horowitz & Leftism Revisited by Erik von Kuhnelt-Liddihn.