The time has come for Americans to focus on a new kind of conspiracy in our country—a movement called the New Left. In recent months the effects of the New Left have been seen in many places: in demonstrations against American policy in Viet Nam, in civil disobedience, in calls for young men to resist the draft, in campus turmoil, in attacks against law and order, in desecrations of the American flag.
What is the New Left?
Actually, the New Left as a movement is difficult to define. If you visit a New Left meeting, you will find some of the participants smartly dressed, others with dirty T-shirts and baggy trousers. A high percentage are Beatniks—wearing long hair and beards, unkempt clothes, and sandals. A few are Hippies, experimenting with drugs and enamored with esoteric rituals such as “love-ins,” “be-ins,” and “happenings.” If you listen to their conversation, you will hear a steady flow of obscene and foul language. Sexual promiscuity is not considered in bad taste.
Most of the participants are students. The New Left is predominantly a college-age movement found in the college and university community—but not exclusively. Besides undergraduates, the New Left contains a wide assortment of other participants: college faculty members (mostly young), graduate students, guitarists, writers, intellectuals of various types, ex-students still “hanging around” the campus, curiosity-seekers, Communists, Trotskyites.
“We have within our ranks,” comments the national vice-president of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), the largest and best known of New Left groups, “Communists of both varieties, socialists of all sorts, three or four different kinds of anarchists, anarcho-syndicalists, syndicalists, social democrats, humanist liberals, a growing number of libertarian laissez-faire capitalists, and of course, the articulate vanguard of the psychedelic liberation front.”
In this amalgam is found much nonsensical chatter but also serious conversation by some highly motivated and articulate young people seeking to understand vital problems facing our nation today, such as poverty, civil rights, world peace, automation, the student’s role on the university campus, human dignity in a rapidly developing urban and industrial economy. Here is the paradox of the New Left: Many of the New Leftists are mere intellectual tramps who seek the exotic and eccentric as emotional outlets; but some, in one way or another, are seriously searching—not only for answers to society’s problems but for values of human existence in a world of great uncertainty.
To equate the New Left with a political party or a tightly disciplined organization is to miss its true identity. It is not an organization. It does not have a constitution, bylaws, or an official membership.
Rather the New Left is a mood, a philosophy of life, a Weltanschauung, a way of looking at self, country, and the universe. And in this mood lies its tragedy—and its danger!
For the New Left’s mood—and philosophy of life—is not one of support for America and its traditions, of upholding moral and democratic values. Rather, it is one of defiance, hostility, and opposition to our free society. It seeks to destroy, not to build. Its whole approach is one of negativism—to criticize, belittle, denigrate the principles on which this nation was built. Cynicism, pessimism, and callousness are its mottoes. At its heart, the New Left is nihilistic and anarchistic.
Hence, to dismiss the New Left, as some do, as a collection of simpletons, eccentrics, and jocular fools is to commit a grave mistake. Its adherents should not, as so often happens, be judged strictly by their Beatnik dress and ways (repugnant as they may be to most Americans). New Leftism poses today challenging and provocative questions for the nation—questions that each thoughtful citizen should carefully analyze, study, and understand. Who are these young people? Why have they chosen to disparage the society and institutions that gave them birth? Why is their gospel one of nihilism? Why have they rejected the values of our Judaic-Christian civilization?
The imperative need for knowledge is shown by the rapid growth of the movement. Just a few months ago the SDS’s national vice-president enthusiastically reported that his group had some 30,000 adherents. “Starting from almost zero,” he said, “we have achieved that number in seven years; we have grown ten-fold in only two years.” More and more the New Left is reaching into the high-school age group. New Left Notes, organ of SDS, comments:
The 600 members of SDS who are in high schools are the most underrepresented group in our organization.… A high school organizer would be able to make high school members more than peripherally involved in the affairs of SDS. Moreover, he could begin to help build a more solid high school movement. This would not be difficult.
To analyze the New Left is to become suddenly aware of the nihilistic wasteland it presents.
Basic to the New Left’s mood is the idea that contemporary American society (contemptuously called the “Establishment”) is corrupt, evil, and malignant—and must be destroyed. To reform it, to change it for the better, is impossible. It must—along with its Judaic-Christian values—be liquidated. “Let’s face it. It is, to use the crudest psychological terminology, a sick, sick, sick society in which we live. It is, finally, a society which approaches collective insanity—a system of authority-dependency relationships which destroys life and health and strength and creates debility, dependency, and deathliness.”
For that reason, members of the New Left take great delight in desecrating the American flag, mocking American heroes, and disparaging American history. They contemptuously hiss and boo officials of our government and show scornful disdain for opinions with which they disagree (the New Left at heart is extremely totalitarian, intolerant, and opinionated in nature). They urge resistance to the draft (even on occasions try to interfere physically with the legitimate activities of armed-services personnel on college campuses present for the purpose of recruiting), burn or mutilate draft cards, endeavor to dictate to university administrative officials how these institutions should be run.
In this spirit of nihilism, the New Left manifests a nauseating air of self-righteousness, as if it alone knows how to solve the problems of twentieth-century society and alone can be trusted to carry out these solutions. There is almost a hysterical repudiation of the older generation (defined as any person over the age of thirty—though this age minimum is rapidly decreasing). The older generation (our “impotent, neurotic elders”) is characterized as having sold out to “imperialistic monopoly capitalism” (note the use of Marxist terminology), and having “betrayed” the youth. Hence, it is not to be trusted—and no wisdom and advice can be expected from it.
Therefore, the New Left has little appreciation of and respect for history (“we have little or no sense of history”) or for the accumulated heritage and wisdom of former years. By rejecting the past, they lack a clear view of the future and fail to understand the nature of man as a human being. They are anarchistic iconoclasts, breaking and destroying, whose eschatological vision has no practical or even idealistic idea of what the future should be. Their chief aim, despite their protestations to the contrary, is to destroy, annihilate, tear down.
Their heroes are Castro, Che Guevara, Mao Tse-Tung, Ho Chi Minh, or whoever they ebulliently believe is a fighter (preferably the romantic guerrilla type) against a “status quo” capitalist nation.
Ideologically, the ideas of existentialism, especially as reflected in the writings of the French authors Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus, have been influential. But a major influence has been Marxism. Karl Marx is frequently quoted in their writings. They talk much about the concept of “alienation,” which derives in large part from Marx. By “alienation,” they mean their separation from, and lack of allegiance to, the institutions of contemporary society. These institutions (such as our educational system, private industry, the government, the military services), they claim, are “choking,” “stifling,” and “stunting” young people, creating in them a “slave psychology.” As one New Leftist put it: “From the moment he enters school, the student is subjected to innumerable procedures designed to humiliate him and remind him that he is worthless and that adults are omnipotent.”
In part, the New Left’s Beatnik style, their use of obscene language, their inclination towards drugs, is an attempt to shock their elders, a way of ostentatiously declaring their “freedom” from what they call the “old,” the “decadent,” the “bourgeois.” All too frequently, the hallucinatory world of drugs not only leads to permanent physical addiction but also makes even more difficult any transition to the world of reality. For many young people the use of drugs is a retreat, a withdrawal into a psychedelic world where they can evade making the basic decisions of life. This problem of drugs should not be taken lightly by our society.
How should this “decadent” society be destroyed? New Leftists are not sure. Their talk is vague but violent. “The only overtly political power we have,” says one New Leftist, “is the power to disrupt. But even this limited power can be significant.… We need to develop techniques of creative disruption.” To “radicalize” the youth, to build a “radical or revolutionary consciousness,” to create a “sense of radical self-identity”—these are constant New Left phrases.
This mood of “creative disruption” in the past has been reflected in various tactics of protest, such as demonstrations, sit-ins, petition campaigns. But the mood of New Left protest, unfortunately, is now giving way to one of resistance. This is one of the tragedies of any movement of protest that refuses to find an outlet through legitimate channels of society and in cooperation with other groups—it moves to more radical, extreme, and bitter positions. Many New Left leaders, making judgments from increasing feelings of personal frustration and hatred, are talking in terms of resistance (a word frequently used by them) to the society they detest.
One SDS leader says:
We have to build a movement out of people’s guts, out of their so-far internalized rejection of American society, and present people with a revolutionary alternative to the American way of life.
Many of us in SDS share a conviction that this is what has to happen. That we must resist, and that people must break free. None of us is sure we can win. All we can say is that there are other ways to lead our lives in the face of the obscenity of what American life is—and that we intend to live them that way.
Still another New Leftist talks about the movement’s future:
There is a continuing need for serious discussion of alternative scenarios for an American revolution. I do not believe advocates of electoral activity have offered one.… I feel the formation of counter-communities of struggle and the creation of local pockets of power is the way to begin to find a strategy of revolution.
After favorably quoting Karl Marx, an SDS writer says:
It is important that we begin to talk in terms of five, ten, fifteen years because that is the time and energy it will take to build a Revolutionary movement and socialist political party able to take power in America. At this point, we in SDS must begin to write about and talk about socialist theory, so that we will be prepared to play a major role in developments, creating larger numbers of socialists, and developing socialist consciousness in all institutions in which we organize.
The news media not long ago quoted a top New Leftist as saying: “We are working to build a guerrilla force in an urban environment.” “We are actively organizing sedition.” Another stated: “I think violence is necessary, and it frightens me.”
What does all this mean? That there are young people who disagree with society, who are willing to protest and make their views known—this is all to the good. America needs a questioning generation. It needs young people who will speak up frankly and firmly. The spirit of protest and dissent is inextricably interwoven in the fabric of American society. We want no silent generation. In a dangerous nuclear world, beset with uncertainty and fear, the human spirit will—and must—seek answers.
But when young people, in categorical and dogmatic terms, reject all of society, and reject it with bitterness and disdain, questions should be asked. What is their purpose? What is their vision? What is wrong?
For a better society, conceived on Judaic-Christian realities, cannot be brought about by New Leftism. The New Leftists claim a high moral purpose (“Basically SDS politics stem from disaffection and a moral outrage …”) and a spiritual sensitivity to injustice, intolerance, and unfairness. But how can this be?
When you sweepingly denounce the responsible leadership of the nation, even those who are honestly and sincerely trying to correct the many ills of our society (legitimate reform leaders are regularly lampooned by the New Left), who remains?
When you bitterly distrust the older generation and accuse it of the most base mendacity and dishonesty (usually without proof or facts), where is fairness?
When you find incidents of hypocrisy and sham in our society (there are some), and then indict all of society, overlooking what is good and positive, isn’t this having a distorted vision?
When you speak (as does the New Left) in terms of a dogmatic moralism that considers itself right and all other viewpoints wrong, where are the possibilities of creative dialogue?
When you denounce and denounce and denounce and offer nothing constructive, what happens?
When you constantly view your country as being in the wrong but say nothing really critical about Communism, or Castro, or Mao, or Ho, isn’t this indicative of a preconceived bias?
No concrete proof exists that the New Left is sincerely interested (as it claims) in improving this country. That’s why it is at heart a form of neo-paganism.
The whole mood of the New Left makes the movement particularly susceptible to infiltration and manipulation by the so-called “Old Left”—meaning the Communist Party and the Trotskyites. And that is exactly what is happening. The Communist Party, for example, and its youth front, the W.E.B. DuBois Clubs, have deeply imbedded themselves in the New Left—helping organize demonstrations, participating in planning sessions, making policy decisions.
Not that the entire New Left is Communist-dominated. It is not. Some elements of the New Left have criticized the Communist Party. This criticism, however, is not so much opposition to Marxist-Leninist principles as opposition to Communist concepts of discipline and organization. Though sympathetic to Communist aims, they do not want to become Communist members and be caught up in the Party’s bureaucracy.
As part of its youth program, the Party is today making strenuous efforts to reap benefit from the New Left. In a recent discussion of the New Left in the Party’s theoretical journal, Political Affairs, a writer made these frank comments in an article entitled “Many Can Be Won for Communism:”
I believe it is time for the Party to consider the New Left as a recruiting ground for militant cadre.… Proctor [one of the other writers] is correct in stating that there is a surprisingly large section of the New Left ready to listen to Communists, and willing to see Communist ideas in action. I hasten to add, and to join the Communist Party, if and when the opportunity presents itself. Let us prepare classes, develop open youth leadership, establish social contact with individuals of the New Left, and, in short, bring those whom we can into our ranks. In doing so we will go a long ways towards preparing our Party for the new radical period ahead.
Here is the danger—that a disciplined, experienced revolutionary organization, like the Communist Party, will be able to reach into the variegated, at times almost chaotic, New Left movement, recruit young people, and then train them into revolutionary cadres. Remembering the words of Lenin, the Party realizes that revolutionary zeal, vociferous and outspoken, is not of great value unless it is channeled into revolutionary cadres—the dedicated men and women who are trained for revolution. The tumultuous unpredictability of some of the New Left leaders makes the Party distrustful of them; but the New Left as a movement has given the Party an ideological bonanza undreamed of just a few years ago.
In the book of Isaiah (5:4) is a verse which often comes to my mind:
“What more was there to do for my vineyard,
that I have not done in it?
When I looked for it to yield grapes,
why did it yield wild grapes?”
Why the New Left? What has caused this nihilist group—small in numbers yet potentially great for evil? Why have these wild grapes grown in a society which has lavished so much time, attention, and wealth on its young people, to train them to be responsible citizens?
“We come from homes with all the status tickets,” a New Left student told a newsman. “We were born into comfort and security. Our disaffection comes from having all that society has to offer—and feeling shallow. Other kids have the American dream before them. We were born into the American dream.”
Maybe society has lavished too much of the wrong kind of things on these young people? Too much money for personal use? Too much permissiveness? Too much affluence? A high percentage of college-age New Leftists come from affluent homes—where they have never wanted in the physical things of life. Have too many parents placed a false emphasis in the lives of these young people, stressing the material rather than the spiritual? Have young people been taught to prize what is expedient and easy rather than to work hard and do an acceptable job?
Maybe we have emphasized too much the rights and privileges of the individual rather than his duties and responsibilities?
Just what are the churches doing? Are clergymen and concerned laymen devoting the attention they should to youth? Are they involved in a dialogue—a heart-to-heart conversation—with these young people, endeavoring to answer some of their probing questions about human existence, such as: Who am I? Why am I here? What is the purpose of life? What values have meaning?
All of us, clergymen and laymen, need to look deeper into our hearts to answer these questions.
1. We need to know our young people better. Young people want a helping hand, love, care, and nurture. There are too many broken homes, separated families, and failures of the parent-youth relationship. Too many parents don’t know their children today.
2. We must realize that monetary affluence (money, home, swimming pool) cannot by themselves capture a child’s affection. Money is too often used to bribe children—to keep them falsely happy, to simulate a parent-child relationship that doesn’t exist. The irresponsible flabbiness of affluence has become a deterrent to spiritual growth.
3. We need to inculcate in our young people the idea that in a free society the single person counts. Too many of these young people complain of powerlessness, impotence, spiritual sterility. Their vision is distorted. They can, by exercising intelligence, moral example, and initiative, influence the world in which they live. Our society is not, except to the perennial pessimist, a closed, fixed society that defies efforts to change it.
4. We must emphasize that the generations must work together. Trust runs from child to parent and parent to child. Civilization is created by the constant interaction of generations. In a society growing increasingly young, there must be a new respect for the wisdom of the elders.
5. We need to instill a love of country in the hearts of young Americans—that they are heirs of a great tradition of liberty and that if it is to remain meaningful it must be won anew each day. Patriotism is not old-fashioned. Being proud of country and flag is the natural response of concerned and intelligent citizens.
6. We need to encourage our young generation to understand fully that obedience to law is the heart of democratic society. If a person disobeys a law just because he doesn’t like it, or feels it is wrong, this can only bring chaos. Our free society contains constitutional processes whereby laws can be changed. Unilateral disobedience is wrong.
7. Young people must realize that spiritual faith is the ultimate lifeline of fruitful living. God is the eternal hope. Man-made gods, like chips of wood, perish. They hold temporary thrall, but disintegrate in the burning sun of human experience. To live fully, abundantly, and courageously, man needs God.
In the history of the world no figure has reinforced the true and the good more than Jesus of Nazareth, and no book has wielded greater power for godliness and decency than the Bible. To know the Judaic-Christian realities afresh is the great consuming need of the younger generation today, and there is little hope of their renewal unless adults make these commitments their own. Never have the churches—clergy and laity—lived in a time of greater opportunity to exhibit the importance of faith and trust in God and of obedience to his will, and never in the history of our generation would their failure to do so be more calamitous.
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