She can only lump New Left and New Right together, for instance, if she ignores the very different things each group was saying, and surely for both groups, words and ideas carried meaning they wished to convey. This failure to give weight and meaning to words is a bit unusual in a writer otherwise sensitive to people’s speech.
Several times in “A Nation of Outsiders” Ms. Hale points out the cruel irony of how alienated whites needed blacks to stay poor and repressed in order to see them as authentic. What blacks wanted, of course, was a share in the American Dream, not to serve as examples of authenticity.
It is possible Ms. Hale rejects all efforts of the past 50 years to find authenticity through the romance of the outsider. Her last (and supercilious) sentence reads, “The time has come to make a new romance.”
This is a dumbfounding statement for a historian to make. It’s out of the welter of the past that the present emerges. We never start from scratch. Most certainly, if we are a nation of outsiders as Ms. Hale claims (correctly to a great extent), there’s no way to declare that fact at an end.
We have to work with what we have, which, fortunately, is a great deal.
Stephen Goode is the author of “Affluent Revolutionaries: A Portrait of the New Left” (New Viewpoints, 1974).
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