Roger Kimball: The Long March

How the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s Changed America

Encounter Books, 2000

Book Description:

In The Long March, Roger Kimball, the author of Tenured Radicals, shows how the “cultural revolution” of the 1960s and ’70s took hold in America, lodging in our hearts and minds, and affecting our innermost assumptions about what counts as the good life. Kimball believes that the counterculture transformed high culture as well as our everyday life in terms of attitudes toward self and country, sex and drugs, and manners and morality. Believing that this dramatic change “cannot be understood apart from the seductive personalities who articulated its goals,” he intersperses his argument with incisive portraits of the life and thought of Allen Ginsberg, Norman Mailer, Timothy Leary, Susan Sontag, Eldridge Cleaver and other “cultural revolutionaries” who made their mark. For all that has been written about the counterculture, until now there has not been a chronicle of how this revolutionary movement succeeded and how its ideas helped provoke today’s “culture wars.” The Long March fills this gap with a compelling and well-informed narrative that is sure to provoke discussion and debate.
Front and Back Flaps:
“The Age of Aquarius did not end when the last electric guitar was unplugged at Woodstock”, Roger Kimball writes in this controversial look at America’s cultural revolution. “The 1960s continue to reverberate in our national life today. This decade transformed high culture as well as everyday life in terms of our attitudes toward self and country, sex and drugs, and manners and morality.”
Others may think of the 1960s as The Last Good Time, but Kimball – author of Tenured Radicals, a brilliant and acerbic study of the radicalization of American universities – has no patience with such nostalgia. He sees this decade as a seedbed of excess and moral breakdown. He argues that the radical assaults on “the System” that took place then still define the way we live now – with intellectually debased schools and colleges, morally chaotic sexual relations and family life, and a degraded media and popular culture. “This inheritance has addled our hearts and minds”, Kimball writes, “and perverted our dreams while also preventing us from attaining them.”
How did we get from there to here? In the late 1960s and early 1970s, after fantasies of immediate political revolution faded, many student radicals urged their followers to begin “the long march through the institutions”. Radical philosopher Herbert Marcuse characterized this approach as working in the institutions of American life while also working against them. Kimball says that to see how well this strategy succeeded, “you need look no further than your local museum, your children’s school, your church (if you still go to church) and your workplace.”
The Long March is organized around incisive portraits of the architects of America’s cultural revolution – among them, Beat figures like Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac, and celebrated or once celebrated gurus like Norman Mailer, Timothy Leary, Susan Sontag, Eldridge Cleaver and Charles Reich. In examining the lives and works of those who spoke for the 1960s, Kimball finds a series of cautionary tales, an annotated guidebook of wrong turns, dead ends, and blind alleys that, tragically, became the roadmap to the present.
For all that has been written about America’s counterculture, until now there has been no chronicle of how this revolutionary movement succeeded and how its ideas helped to provoke today’s “culture wars”. The Long March fills this gap with a witty and intelligent narrative that transforms the subject from what it was before Roger Kimball discovered it. Review:
The 1960s, writes Roger Kimball, “has become less the name of a decade than a provocation.” This incisive critique of that turbulent time won’t calm the debate. The Long March will enthrall conservatives who think of themselves as culture warriors and infuriate liberals who still celebrate “the purple decade.” Kimball, managing editor of the New Criterion and author of Tenured Radicals, is one of the Right’s most articulate writers. He argues forcefully that the pernicious influence of the 1960s can still be felt: “The success of America’s recent cultural revolution can be measured not in toppled governments but in shattered values. If we often forget what great changes this revolution brought in its wake, that, too, is a sign of its success: having changed ourselves, we no longer perceive the extent of our transformation.”The Long March proceeds as a series of stimulating essays on important cultural figures and movements, beginning with the Beats. Norman Mailer comes in for an eloquent trashing (“From the late 1940s until the 1980s, he showed himself to be extraordinarily deft at persuading credulous intellectuals to collaborate in his megalomania”), as do any number of counterculture icons. I.F. Stone’s articles, writes Kimball, “read like neo-Stalinist equivalents of those multipart articles on staple crops with which The New Yorker used to anesthetize its readers.” And of The New York Review of Books, that bastion of elite liberal opinion, Kimball says: “Quite apart from the irresponsibility of the politics, there was an intellectual irresponsibility at work here, a preening, ineradicable frivolousness toward the cultural values that the journal was supposedly created to nurture.” There’s a distinctly conservative crankiness to Kimball’s writing; the jazz of Miles Davis is inevitably “drug-inspired” and rock music “was not only an aesthetic disaster of gigantic proportions: it was also a moral disaster whose effects are nearly impossible to calculate precisely because they are so pervasive.” Yet this inclination can lead to fascinating, if arguable, insights about modern American culture: “Everywhere one looks one sees the elevation of youth – that is to say, of immaturity – over experience. It may seem like a small thing that nearly everyone of whatever age dresses in blue jeans now; but the universalization of that sartorial badge of the counterculture speaks volumes.” Kimball’s writing is at once highbrow and accessible. Fans of Robert Bork’s Slouching Towards Gomorrah and Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind – or readers who have never quite believed all the English professors proclaiming Allen Ginsberg a poetic genius – will find The Long March engrossing and indispensable.
John J. Miller

Booklist Review:

Despite naming his book after Mao’s protracted war against Chiang Kai-shek, Kimball spends less time demonstrating that ’60s radicalism won its long march and became turn-of-the-millennium orthodoxy than he does denouncing the usual suspects. His targets – the Beats, Norman Mailer, Susan Sontag, liberal university presidents, the Berrigan brothers, Norman O. Brown, Timothy Leary, Eldridge Cleaver, the New York Review of Books, etc. – are relatively easy, for they were often contradictory and illogical. Recalling just how outrageous they were is a sobering corrective to ’60s nostalgia. But Kimball also scores his betes noires for sexual misbehavior, which for him means anything except conjugal rights. This obsession leads him to rope the bisexual Paul Goodman into his rogues’ gallery, even though Goodman disagreed with nearly all the others. Goodman did, however, place sex at the center of his social and psychological thought. That Kimball can’t abide, at some cost to the cogency of his rebuttal of David Allyn’s Make Love, Not War, and other wistful backward glances.

Ray Olson

Back Cover Blurbs:

“How deeply rooted are our nation’s cultural problems? What is the legacy of the 1960s? Where are America’s culture wars going? Few people take these important questions more seriously than Roger Kimball. And few write about them with such clarity and eloquence.”  William J. Bennett

“I think it is terrific…We haven’t had a radical analysis like this – ever.”  William F. Buckley, Jr

“Deftly and with memorable wit, Roger Kimball shows how banal and derivative, how intellectually trivial cherished Sixties icons like Susan Sontag, Norman O. Brown, Allen Ginsberg, and all the rest of the really are. Kimball is as astute as he is amusing.”  John Ellis

“The extent of the cultural revolution we have lived through since the Sixties is still not clear to us, nor is its meaning. Roger Kimball has produced a searching and comprehensive study that brings it alltogether, high and low, from Herbert Marcuse to Monica Lewinsky. His well-told story is equal to the amazing event. It shows the routinization of exciting ideals, and the power and impotence of ideas.”  Harvey C. Mansfield

“Roger Kimball is among our most intelligent, thoughtful, and provocative cultural critics. He also is uncommon in that he writes lucidly and persuasively.”  Irving Kristol

 About the Author (from the Back Flap):
Roger Kimball is managing editor of the New Criterion and an art critic for the London Spectator. He is author of Tenured Radicals: How Politics Has Corrupted Our Higher Education [and many more – JOB] and editor (with Hilton Kramer) of several books on art and politics. Mr Kimball lives with his wife and son in Norwalk, Connecticut.
JOB’s Comment:

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