Tuesday, November 06, 2007

A Left-Handed Salute

Gitlin's criticism is relentless, and will win him few new friends on the Left, though it will likely energize the many enemies he already has there. He sees a story rich with irony, in which it has been precisely the Left's most triumphant expressions in contemporary American life that led it into the spiritual wasteland in which it now finds itself. And for this lost condition, he believes, the Left has only itself to blame. It embraced the smug disassociation from existing society epitomized in the sweeping call by √©migr√© philosopher and '60s hero Herbert Marcuse for a "Great Refusal" of the confining ideals and crass manipulations of the modern capitalist political economy. But the embrace of Marcuse's influential but ill-defined slogan has amounted in practice to a "great withdrawal," a narcissistic retreat into self-proclaimed "marginality," an obsession with ever more minute forms of identity politics and the infinite "problematizing" of "truth," a reflexive opposition to America and the West, and an immurement in "theories" whose radicalism is so pure that they never quite touch down to earth—follies all underwritten and protected by the perquisites and comforts of academia.

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