Why Liberals Need Occupy Wall Street, and Vice-Versa
by David Greenberg for The New Republic
Associate Professor of Journalism and Media Studies and History
This article is a contribution to ‘Liberalism and Occupy Wall Street,’ A TNR Symposium. Click here to read other contributions to the series.
It was the spring of 1968 and the Columbia University campus was in revolt. “You must come right up, Dwight!” F.W. Dupee, a Columbia professor and one of the originalPartisan Review editors, beseeched Dwight Macdonald. “It’s a revolution! You may never get another chance to see one."
Macdonald raced uptown. “He was right,” the critic said of Dupee, delighting in the “atmosphere of exhilaration, excitement” they found at Columbia, where “communards” made decisions through a deliberative, democratic process. Here were hopeful signs, thought Dupee and Macdonald, a new generation productively channeling its radical energies.
I don’t think that Occupy Wall Street represents the coming revolution any more than did Columbia ’68—which, of course, ended disastrously, with university president Grayson Kirk calling in the cops to bust heads. But having visited Zuccotti Park, having shared drinks with a handful of its (self-identified) instigators, having found myself drawn to reading compulsively about the plans and politics of the movement (if this heterogeneous outburst can be even labeled with a singular noun), I plead guilty to a frisson of the excitement Dupee and Macdonald felt more than four decades ago. At a time of quiet despair about the failure to reform the catastrophic pro-business policies of the Bush years, this spontaneous outpouring of mass support—sustained day after day, spreading from city to city—offers a sense of hope that can hardly fail to inspire.
Now, it is a hallmark of the hardheaded brand of liberalism that The New Republic rightly cherishes that such enthusiasms be met with scrupulous skepticism. Cold water runs freely at the magazine’s offices. Amen. The magazine’s party-pooping editorial about Occupy Wall Street at least has the virtue of questioning the spreading delirium that unfortunately resembles nothing so much as the Obamamania of 2008, to which embarrassingly large numbers of hardheaded liberals happily succumbed. It’s worth recalling, too, that in 1968, among the New York Intellectuals, Macdonald and Dupee were challenged not only by the incipient neoconservatives Sidney Hook and Irving Kristol; left-liberal stalwarts like Irving Howe and Diana Trilling also found more grounds for concern than celebration when SDS’s Mark Rudd told Grayson Kirk, “We will destroy your world, your corporation, your university.” Suspicion about extremist tendencies in Occupy Wall Street should not be the exclusive property of the right. ...
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