Democracy Derailed

Boy, oh boy. The apologies are coming in fast and furious these days. Aware that things have gone woefully awry on the Left, thinkers and activists everywhere are stumbling over themselves to be the first to acknowledge the failure of progressives to inspire renewal and generate new political vision after the Cold War.

In his new book, The Twilight of Common Dreams: Why America is Wracked by Culture Wars, journalist and sociologist Todd Gitlin joins the club, arguing that the current failure of Americans to dream common dreams rests on the shoulders of the splintered and misdirected New Left which, after the civil rights movement of the ’60s, took a road less traveled until then—the “aggrandizement of difference.” According to Gitlin, such a path has made all the difference, bringing an originally unified vision to a dead end in the myriad and mired footpaths of “identity politics,” with none leading back to the center.

While the New Left spent its time in the woods perfecting identities and mistrusting majorities, Gitlin argues, the Right marched down the yellow brick road to the White House. In the process, the latter succeeded in hijacking the banner of universal values that until then had flown over the progressive camp.

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Sojourners Magazine July-August 1996
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