“The irony is that the supposedly bland, conventional schools and colleges of the 1950s and early 1960s incubated what was perhaps the most radical generation of American citizens since the country’s founding. Young people who were incensed by the denial of voting rights out there, the Vietnam War out there, nuclear proliferation out there, capitalism out there, colonialism out there. The universities of our time instead cultivate students so obsessed with their personal identities and campus pseudo-politics that they have much less interest in, less engagement with, and frankly less knowledge of the great out there. Neither Elizabeth Cady Stanton (who studied Greek) nor Martin Luther King Jr. (who studied Christian theology) nor Angela Davis (who studied Western philosophy) received an identity-based education. And it is difficult to imagine them becoming who they became had they been cursed with one. The fervor of their rebellion demonstrated the degree to which their education had developed in them a feeling of democratic solidarity, which is rare in America today.
Whatever you wish to say about the political wanderings of the sixties generation—and I’ve said a lot—they were, in their own way, patriots. They cared about what happened to their fellow citizens and cared when they felt America’s democratic principles had been violated. Even when the fringes of the student movement adopted a wooden, Marxist rhetoric, it always sounded more like Yankee Doodle Dandy than Wagner.”
Taken from the ending of Mark Lilla’s The Once and Future Liberal: After Identity Politics. I highly recommend Lilla’s short book, a rare example of someone writing, as it were, across the aisle — to try and problem-solve for those he has no direct political allegiance to. Since these kinds of prescriptions aren’t being offered from the left-wing of the liberal coalition now, take your good advice where you can get it.
This is the second-to-last paragraph of the book, and it ends with a continuation of this thought:
… Most [of my generation] remain well to the left of me but we enjoy disagreeing and respect arguments based on evidence. I still think they are unrealistic; they think I don’t see that dreaming is sometimes the most realistic thing one can do. (The older I get the more I think they have a point.) But we shake our heads in unison when we discuss what passes for politics and civic education in our country…
The screenshot: from The Graduate