Printer Friendly

Seeds of the Sixties.

Explanations of the social movements of the 1960s occupy an idealism-materialism continuum. Frequently (and wrongly), scholars of these movements seem to perceive an iron link between idealist explanation and sympathetic interpretation of a movement, and likewise between materialist explanation and hostile interpretation. Concerning the "new social movements" (NSMs) that have emerged in the United States since World War II - the phrase is a European import that is supposed to denote, basically, movements that are not class based (but which really means movements that do not see themselves as class-based) - only the best studies of the civil rights movement have managed to combine idealist and materialist factors. Seeds of the Sixties, by Andrew Jamison and Ron Eyerman, purports to direct attention to the origins of all these NSMs, but its teleology is the New Left and those branches of environmentalism, the 1960s counterculture, and feminism that most resemble the New Left. "As we see it, fundamental to the 1960s were the ideas of liberation and participatory democracy and the forging of autonomous realms for individual and collective growth" (p. 220). In its argument concerning the sources of these movements, their book perches on the far idealist edge of the spectrum. It is a set of intellectual sketches of fifteen independent-minded thinkers active between 1945 and 1960; these sketches possess intrinsic value, but their relation to "the sixties" is far more problematic than the authors admit.

Jamison and Eyerman are U.S.-born sociologists working in Sweden, who came of age in the 1960s. They tell us that this work is "at once a voyage of self-discovery and an attempt to identify some of the intellectual roots of our generation" (p. xi). Their specialties are, respectively, the sociology of science, and of social movements and intellectuals. Previous collaborations include a recent overview of social movements that presents their full theoretical apparatus (mostly kept in the background here) and, revealingly, an anthology on environmental activism in northern Europe.(1) Environmentalism is both the social movement where the authors' research interests intersect and the one most congenial to their theory of social movements. This theory revolves around the concept of "cognitive praxis," by which Jamison and Eyerman mean a movement's "active relations to science, to technology, to nature, and to society that [are] articulated and practiced [within the movement], often in innovative organizational forms" (p. 10). Innovative cognitive praxis offers new ways of seeing the world, and thus of seeing ourselves; it furnishes the materials needed to make new identities, a project which it is not surprising to find is a priority of Jamison and Eyerman, given their avowed generational concern with "liberation." They articulate a democratic concept of knowledge-production, one in which many can participate and from which all may benefit.

Their theory of social movements is problematic because the authors hold not only that a movement's "cognitive praxis" is what interests them the most - which is understandable, since they are sociologists of knowledge - but that all social movements derive "their main significance" from their cognitive praxis (p. 23). This claim is unacceptable for at least two reasons. First, it marginalizes the issue of social change. In contrast to these authors' approach, one could evaluate the significance of social movements according to their success in achieving social change, keeping in mind the impediments that these movements face in their efforts.(2) This might lead to conclusions that partisans of some movements would find dispiriting, but it would keep one's eyes on the prize, as social movement participants usually have identified it, and it would steer one clear of that never-never land where the picture of a new and different society becomes confused with the achievement of progress toward that society. To view cognitive praxis and self-fashioning as the be-all and end-all of social movements is to unfairly convict the participants in those movements, even if unwittingly, of the very solipsism for which their harshest critics indict them.

The second major shortcoming of this interpretive approach is that it privileges intellectuals and ideals in the explanation of social movements. One needn't have anti-intellectual inclinations to think this might be a bad idea. It may make those social movements that stress an explicit cognitive praxis - like environmentalism, in many of its manifestations - seem more valid or authentic than other movements, whose effectiveness has lain less in contesting scientific expertise and more in mobilizing a mass base for direct action. Aside from this evaluative issue, the priority given to intellectuals and their work can be particularly treacherous for historians wishing to make use of social movement theory, for it leads to the unproven assertions of influence and causation that plague Seeds of the Sixties.

Jamison and Eyerman, like many historians with similar sympathies, are interested in recovering what they consider lost voices of dissension and criticism in the American past - specifically, in this case, dissenting thinkers from a predominantly conservative period. But even those who applaud such a project may find the authors' depiction of the 1950s, which opens the book, occasionally cartoonish. It was, to them, an era of "moving out to the suburbs and leaving behind both historical tradition and a sense of community" (p. 14); it was "an age that . . . perhaps more than anything else witnessed the loss of Emersonian man into the lonely crowd of mass society" (p. 22). Despite their sneer at the suburbs, they also rail against "the ugly sterility of postwar American cities" (p. 73). Their cliched dislike for the 1950s United States seems as much a matter of aesthetics as ethics; intelligent criticism easily collapses here into New Class condescension. (Simple ignorance about postwar U.S. history may be a factor, too: the authors, for example, make the neophyte error of calling Dwight Eisenhower a "formidable . . . opponent" of the military-industrial complex, p. 218.)

If you can get past this, Jamison and Eyerman provide an alternative intellectual history of the 1950s that will be useful for the uninitiated. It can be bracing indeed to recall the "witness" that many of the figures covered here made at the Cold War's height. The authors include in their 1950s pantheon intellectuals by now widely known both through their own writings and from studies by admirers (Martin Luther King, Jr., Mary McCarthy, C. Wright Mills, and Hannah Arendt); those who are still read by circles of devotees but not much studied in the academy (Lewis Mumford, Rachel Carson, James Baldwin, Herbert Marcuse and Allen Ginsberg); and those with whom we could usefully get reacquainted (Dorothy Day, Saul Alinsky, and perhaps especially the great radical humanist Erich Fromm).(3) None receives treatment in depth here, and the authors' remarks are occasionally misleading, but these portraits seem largely introductory in intention. It is a slightly arbitrary but surely worthy gang of suspects; one wonders how closely it resembles the authors' one-time dormitory room bookshelves.

The central assertion, however, that these people planted the "seeds of the sixties" is in many cases unconvincing. King, Mills, Carson - of course. Fromm, Ginsberg, Marcuse - maybe: they probably were more often discovered during the 1960s by young people who already had become sympathetic to the kind of ideas they promoted. I've never read nor heard of any radicals in the 1960s taking inspiration from Mumford or Margaret Mead (another honoree); Jamison and Eyerman offer no support for their claims regarding such surprising figures. Some of the choices for inclusion are suggestive not only in the ways the authors intended. Fairfield Osborn, founder of the Conservation Foundation and author of the 1948 book Our Plundered Planet, enjoys generous treatment here for helping "implant an environmental consciousness in his fellow Americans" (p. 65). His ecological perspective, sound in many respects, emerged from a eugenicist milieu that Jamison and Eyerman do not acknowledge.(4) A few cases, like Arendt's, are genuinely complex.

The authors awkwardly try to work the "seeds" of feminism into their argument as well, by including a few women, regardless of their politics. We learn that Mary McCarthy "brought a feminist sensibility into literature almost in spite of herself," immediately after reading her comment in a letter to her friend Arendt: "'As for Women's Lib, it bores me"' (pp. 176, 175). Apparently Jamison and Eyerman see McCarthy as an unconscious feminist because she liked sex. (Naomi Wolf, move over). They claim that "[m]uch of the substantive program of the women's liberation movement and the environmental movement was first articulated in [the] writings" of McCarthy, Mead and Carson (p. 222). They must have in mind an idiosyncratic concept of the women's liberation movement. The influence of any of these writers on that movement is obscure at best, and certainly not a major factor in the movement's emergence.

Only in the book's conclusion do Jamison and Eyerman spell out with any precision what kind of influence they think these intellectuals had on the sixties. Mainly two kinds of influence, they say, in differing combinations: first, straightforward intellectual work, the transmission of "intellectual traditions and modes of thought" (p. 220); and second, serving as "exemplary role models," offering lessons in how to stand against power and against the main drift of things, and in how to combine work and life into an all-embracing "partisanship" (p. 221). This latter function is overemphasized. The authors offer Day, Alinsky, and King as the pure types of "role model" influence. While this may be Day's main significance, the other two were surely the most important institution-builders of all those discussed (and Day was no slacker); to neglect this dimension of their influence is less the result of ignorance than of a theory of social movements that searches endlessly for mental images of rebellion and systematically downplays the homely work of organization.

Since the concept of partisanship is so dear to the authors, it is a bit jarring that they praise their lineup for having a "commitment . . . not to any one idea or ideology, or even to a political party or party program." These figures are truly heroes, Jamison and Eyerman write, because they were "partisans of critical process" above all (p. 210). This anti-"ideological" touch, including the requisite slander against intellectuals who sullied themselves by joining "Communist or socialist parties" in the 1930s (p. 211), sits uneasily at the end of a book devoted to a celebration of intellectual partisanship. The critical autonomy of the intellectual is easily defended, as is some middle ground between partisanshmp and independence; yet the authors here present independence as the ne plus ultra of partisanship, which is ridiculous. They do not even admit any tension between the two ideals. The authors explain that their subjects, for all their differences, "were all concerned with resolving that particular kind of identity crisis that confronted postwar intellectuals" (p. 219). From across the sea, these alternating notes - a desire for inclusion in social struggles, a validation of professional detachment - give us, at least, an insight into the latest permutation of that seemingly permanent "identity crisis."

1. Ron Eyerman and Andrew Jamison, Social Movements: A Cognitive Approach (1991); Andrew Jamison, Ron Eyerman, and J. Cramer (with J. Laessoe), The Making of the New Environmental Consciousness: A Comparative Study of the Environmental Movements in Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1990).

2. This is closer to the approach of "resource mobilization theory," which is not without problems of its own. For a summary of this and other trends in social movement theory, see Barbara Epstein, Political Protest and Cultural Revolution: Nonviolent Direct Action in the 1970s and 1980s (1991), pp. 227-61.

3. For a recent appreciation of Fromm, see Wilfred M. McClay, The Masterless: Self and Society in Modern America (1994), pp. 197-203.

4. Fairfield Osborn's father, Henry Fairfield Osborn, and his first cousin, Frederick Osborn, were among the most prominent American eugenicists of the last century; Fairfield apparently absorbed his love of nature and his sense of stewardship over natural resources from his paleontologist father. None of this means Fairfield Osborn was a eugenicist (I don't know whether he was or not). But his environmentalist activities, which included a prominent role in the population control movement after World War II, had a eugenicist pedigree that Jamison and Eyerman seriously underplay. See Linda Gordon, "The Politics of Population: Birth Control and the Eugenics Movement," Radical America 8 (July/Aug. 1974), p. 83, for mention of Fairfield Osborn's role in Planned Parenthood-World Federation.

Doug Rossinow, Department of History, the Johns Hopkins University, is at work on a book entitled Breakthrough: Christianity, Radical Humanism, and the New Left in Texas, 1944-1973.
COPYRIGHT 1995 Johns Hopkins University Press
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1995 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Rossinow, Doug
Publication:Reviews in American History
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 1, 1995
Words:2087
Previous Article:New Musical Figurations: Anthony Braxton's Cultural Critique.
Next Article:Race in America: The Struggle for Equality.
Topics:

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2019 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters