Cover image for The end of utopia : politics and culture in an age of apathy
The end of utopia : politics and culture in an age of apathy
Jacoby, Russell.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York, NY : Basic Books, [1999]

Physical Description:
xiii, 236 pages ; 25 cm
General Note:
Includes index.
Reading Level:
1290 Lexile.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Central Library E169.12 .J277 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
Central Library E169.12 .J277 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



We are facing the end of politics altogether, Russell Jacoby argues in The End of Utopia. Political contestation is premised on people's capacity for offering competing visions of the future, but in a world that has run out of political ideas and no longer harbors any utopian visions, real political opposition is no longer possible. In particular, Jacoby traces the demise of liberal and leftist politics. Leftist intellectuals and critics no longer envision a different society, only a modified one. The left once dismissed the market as exploitative, but now honors it as rational and humane. The left used to disdain mass culture, but now celebrates it as rebellious. The left once rejected pluralism as superficial, but now resurrects pluralist ideas in the guise of multiculturalism.Ranging across a wide terrain of cultural and political phenomena--the end of the Cold War, the rise of multiculturalism, the acceptance of mass culture, the eclipse of independent intellectuals--Jacoby documents and laments a widespread retreat from the utopian spirit that has always been the engine for social and political change.

Reviews 1

Choice Review

Jacoby (Univ. of California at Los Angeles) argues that a utopian spirit has vanished to be replaced by dystopic and fragmented realities. He argues that many political analysts are simply dressing old ideas in new clothing and calling them a fashion breakthrough in ideas. He sees a lack of newness and asserts that the establishment has been taken over by nay-sayers and those out for their own and not for communal purposes. Jacoby perceives intellectual "weariness" and defeat all around. He concludes that this ideological fatigue need not be the case and suggests that people need to return to a "visionary" view of philosophy and political action. To the question, "what is to be done," he responds, "nothing is to be done, but a lot is to be imagined." Like many liberals, Jacoby pines for the good old days of liberalism, while he lives in a world of political players of different genders, color, and visions. Maybe the utopian spirit has changed, and Jacoby has yet to see this new reality. Recommended for graduate libraries. P. Barton-Kriese; Indiana University East



Chapter One The End of the End of the End of Ideology In September 1955, several hundred writers and scholars from Raymond Aron to Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., assembled in Milan's National Museum of Science and Technology to discuss "the future of freedom." Their outlook was roughly liberal and anticommunist, their mood, upbeat. Stalin had died; the new First Secretary of the Soviet Communist Party, Nikita Khrushchev, spoke of detente and peace. Western Europe and the United States were prospering. Perhaps Marxism had a future in the underdeveloped nations, but elsewhere its day seemed past. One participant observed that an "atmosphere of a post-victory ball" prevailed. "There was," noted Edward Shils, "a sometimes rampant, sometimes quiet conviction that Communism had lost the battle of ideas with the West."     "In most Western societies, the ideological controversy is dying down," stated Aron in an opening address. History has "refuted the exaggerated hopes placed in Revolution." Aron admitted that tensions still "arise" over equality, employment, wages and inflation, "but the reasonable anxieties they evoke do not give rise to any fundamental conflict." Serious people now agree on the basic framework of the welfare state.     Several months later, Khrushchev startled the delegates to the Party Congress with a secret speech denouncing Stalin as a murderer, liar and maniac. Of 139 members of a previous Central Committee, 70 percent had been "arrested and shot," Khrushchev announced. "Or let us take the matter of the Stalin Prizes," he continued. "Not even the tsars created prizes which they named after themselves." After decades in which Stalin had been deified, the hold-no-punches indictment stunned the delegates. The transcript of the speech underlined the response: "Animation in the hall," "Tumult in the hall."     Not only in the hall. News of the "secret" speech caused dismay among loyal Communists around the globe. For many critics, including those who had gathered in Milan, the Khrushchev speech only confirmed the ideological dissolution. Moreover, communism suffered other blows in the mid-1950s: widespread protests in East Berlin, riots in Poland and a Soviet invasion of Hungary to put down a revolt. The Berlin strikes on June 17, 1953, inspired Bertolt Brecht's mordant poem "The Solution": After the uprising of the 17th June The Secretary of the Writers Union Had leaflets distributed in the Stalinallee Stating that the people Had forfeited the confidence of the government And could win it back only By redoubled efforts. Would it not be easier In that case for the government To dissolve the people And elect another?     Raymond Aron's The Opium of the Intellectuals , his criticism of Marxism, appeared just before the Party Congress. Aron, who had been a principal organizer of the Milan conference, evoked what he called "the end of the age of ideology," or "the end of the ideological age." Ideology meant revolution and utopianism: These were finished. No one could pretend that an alternative to advanced capitalism existed.     "Imperfect and unjust as Western society is in many respects, it has progressed sufficiently ... so that reforms appear more promising than violence and unpredictable disorder." Nor could we return to a pure laissez-faire economy; undiluted capitalism was also obsolete. Liberalism and socialism were no longer pure doctrines or pure opposites. "Western `capitalist' society today comprises a multitude of socialist institutions." The old ideologies were over. In a foreword to an American edition, published after Khrushchev's speech, Aron wondered, "Is there still a need to denounce the opium of the intellectuals?" He asked, "Didn't Stalin carry off with him in death not only Stalinism, but also the age of ideology?"     Aron joined a chorus of voices in Europe and the United States that intensified during the 1950s. The authors proclaimed, celebrated and sometimes lamented the end of ideology and utopia. They did not simply glorify unvarnished capitalism; rather, they argued that the new economic and political realities had advanced beyond both Adam Smith and Karl Marx. The welfare state encompassed politics; modifying, not transforming, liberal capitalism defined the future. Nevertheless, their emphasis lay on the demise of the radical vision.     The term end of ideology may have first appeared in the writings of Albert Camus, the French essayist and novelist. In a 1946 piece for Combat , the Resistance newspaper paper he edited, Camus criticized the recent efforts of French socialists to reconcile Marxism and ethics. For Camus this could not be done; the Marxist belief that ends justify the means legitimates murder. The socialists had to choose to either accept or reject Marxism as an "absolute philosophy." In doing the latter socialists would "show that our time marks the end of ideologies, that is, absolute utopias which in reality destroy themselves."     Several years later a junior Harvard professor, H. Stuart Hughes, used the term end of ideology in a report on the mood of European intellectuals. Hughes observed that the "leftist European intellectual" now realized "with considerable sense of shock" that he preferred capitalism to communism. "The end of the mystique of the Left is the clearest sign of what has happened" since the war. The left lacks conviction and ideas, he stated in his 1951 essay "The End of Political Ideology."     Many scholars and commentators in the 1950s presented kindred arguments. Judith N. Shklar titled the last chapter of her After Utopia: The Decline of Political Faith "The End of Radicalism." Radicalism, she wrote, "has gone totally out of fashion." It requires a "minimum of utopian faith" that people can transform their social environment, but today this spirit is lacking. Socialism "has not been able to recover the lost spirit of utopian idealism and is neither radical nor hopeful today." She concluded, "All that need really be stated is that socialism no longer has anything to say."     Seymour Martin Lipset agreed. "`Politics is now boring,'" he stated in his 1960 Political Man , quoting a Swedish journalist. "`The only issues are whether the metal workers should get a nickel more an hour, the price of milk should be raised, or old-age pensions extended.'" For Lipset, as for Aron, "the fundamental political problems of the industrial revolution" no longer give rise to ideological disputes. He put it emphatically: "This very triumph of the democratic social revolution in the West ends domestic politics for those intellectuals who must have ideologies or utopias to motivate them to political action."     Daniel Bell's The End of Ideology offered the sharpest formulation. The old nineteenth-century ideologies were "exhausted," undermined by the horrors of Soviet communism and the success of liberal capitalism. "Such calamities as the Moscow Trials, the Nazi-Soviet pact, the concentration camps, the suppression of the Hungarian workers, formed one chain [of events]; such social changes as the modification of capitalism, the rise of the Welfare State, another." At the end of the 1950s, Bell stated, "the old passions are spent" and "the old politico-economic radicalism ... has lost its meaning." The situation seemed clear: "The ideological age has ended." As Bell put it, "... In the Western world, therefore, there is a rough consensus among intellectuals on political issues: the acceptance of a Welfare State; the desirability of decentralized power; a system of mixed economy and of political pluralism."     The End of Ideology , published in 1960, closed with reflections on the fate of younger intellectuals in a world that had put radicalism and utopianism to rest. The new generation, with "no meaningful memory" of old debates, finds itself in a society that has rejected "apocalyptic and chialistic visions." "There is a restless search for a new intellectual radicalism," but nothing is found. Ideology is "intellectually devitalized"; politics offers "little excitement." Social reforms do not provide a "unifying appeal." "Whether the intellectuals in the West can find passions outside of politics is moot."     Two years later Bell brought out a slightly revised edition of The End of Ideology registering a small shift in political realities. Between 1960 and 1962 something had appeared on the scene: a new left. "To close the book" on ideology, Bell now added, "is not to turn one's back upon it. This is all the more important now when a `new Left,' with few memories of the past, is emerging." Bell wondered where it was going and what its politics entailed.     For good reason. In the early 1960s history was speeding up and radicalism found a new life; ideological conflict was intensifying, not weakening. Fidel Castro swept into Havana in 1959, and two years later the United States broke off relations with Cuba. Castro and his comrade-in-arms "Che" Guevara appeared to many as romantic heroes, inspiring revolution throughout the Americas. Students protesting segregation in the southern states galvanized support from youth in the North. A new politics was spreading across the land.     "Walking through Harvard Square" in 1960, recalls Todd Gitlin in his history of the 1960s, "I saw a poster tacked on a telephone pole." It announced a rally against nuclear weapons with a speech by Erich Fromm and music by Pete Seeger and Joan Baez. "The previous year, I might have passed such a notice with barely a glance, but this one was irresistible." Something had changed, and not simply for Gitlin. That night the arena was jammed with six thousand people.     The new left and the 1960s resist a brief summary; it remains disputed when the "1960s" began, what they accomplished or when they ended. For some conservatives, the 1960s are only too alive, the origin of America's malaise, drug problem and underclass. A fairer account might credit the 1960s with ending the war in Vietnam and creating a new awareness of racial and social inequalities. Few doubt that the 1960s marked a period of relentless disputation. Not only a political revolution, but a revolution in life, morals and sexuality was discussed, and sometimes pursued. The 1960s slogan "The personal is political" meant that private life, once considered outside of politics, was now the subject of manifestos and criticism. The 1960s buried talk of "the end of ideology."     At least this is what many believed. Already in 1960, C. Wright Mills, the radical sociologist, denounced the "end-of-ideology" proponents as smug conservatives, tired liberals and disappointed radicals. "Ultimately, the end-of-ideology is based upon a disillusionment with any real commitment to socialism." Its partisans believe "that in the West there are no more real issues.... The mixed economy plus the welfare state plus prosperity--that is the formula. U.S. capitalism will continue to be workable." For Mills this was bunk; the end of ideology was "on the way out." A new left was emerging that was not afraid to be utopian. "Is not our utopianism a major source of our strength? ... Our theoretical work is indeed utopian--in my own case, at least, deliberately so. What needs to be ... changed, is not merely first this then that detail ... [but] the structure of institutions, the foundation of policies."     For the next several decades the end-of-ideology thesis took a beating. The civil rights movement, black power, antiwar protests, national liberation struggles, feminism--the world seemed drenched in revolution and ideology. "What is the evidence for the increasingly fashionable thesis of the gradual extinction of ideology in the West?" asked an observer in 1967. He found little, and argued in an essay titled "The End of the `The End of Ideology'" that ideology was "waxing stronger than ever." Bell's argument, stated another commentator, smacked of the past. "The sixties have now passed their half-way mark and it seems that perhaps Bell's death sentence was a bit premature." "One would have thought, a few years ago," stated another analyst, "that the age of ideology was at an end." The emerging student movement, however, refuted the idea.     In 1968, using Bell's phrase as an epigraph, Christopher Lasch blasted the notion of the end of ideology. "All of Western society faces insurrectionary threats from within," stated Lasch. "Vietnam has exploded the cold-war consensus.... Riots threaten to become a permanent feature of urban life." Militant blacks attack America and support Third World revolutions. Students are rebelling in Paris, Berlin, Rome and Madrid. For Lasch, postindustrial society generated new conflicts. We are witnessing "a revival of ideology."     "Not so very long ago," summarized a reviewer in 1972, "Raymond Aron, Daniel Bell and Seymour Martin Lipset, among others, were confidently predicting the decline of ideological fervor in the Western industrialized countries.... This was wrong.... The past two decades have been characterized by a growth and proliferation of total ideologies." Little seemed more bankrupt than the notion of a widespread agreement in the welfare state and pluralism. Nothing seemed more ridiculous than the pronouncement of the demise of fundamental political fissures, the end of ideology.     Until today. In 1989 communism collapsed in Eastern Europe; the disintegration of the Soviet Union soon followed. History does not repeat itself, but sometimes it comes close. When Erich Honecker, the East German leader, learned of the mass demonstrations in Leipzig in October 1989, he asked, referring to the strikes of 1953, "Is it another 17th of June?" It was, and worse, since this time the people dissolved the state and indicted Honecker for crimes against its citizens.     The events of 1989 mark a decisive shift in the Zeitgeist: History has zigged or zagged. No simple lesson follows, but it is clear that radicalism and the utopian spirit that sustains it have ceased to be major political or even intellectual forces. Nor is this pertinent simply to adherents of the left. The vitality of liberalism rests on its left flank, which operates as its goad and critic. As the left surrenders a vision, liberalism loses its bearings; it turns flaccid and uncertain.     Bell had it right, only he did not draw out all the consequences--and he jumped the gun. To use Bell's words from 1960, responsible political thinkers believe in "the acceptance of a Welfare State; the desirability of decentralized power; a system of mixed economy and of political pluralism." Who objects to these now? However, Bell missed a fundamental irony--the defeat of radicalism bleeds liberalism of its vitality.     To be sure, reading the Zeitgeist leaves room for argument. Many pretend that nothing has changed. With bravado or blindness they repeat familiar adages. In 1995 Paul Lauter, a leftist English professor, denounced "the end of ideology" as the rant of quacks: "The academy has always had its share of charlatans, lowlifes, and scurvy reprobates: they produced an Aryanized version of the classics, faked twin-studies, ... history without black writers, and my favorite bit of academic nonsense, the `end of ideology.'"     Lauter is hardly alone. Nevertheless, the evidence is everywhere that the wisdom of "lowlifes" speaks to the present better than the dicta of well-heeled English professors. A seismic shift in political and cultural realities has taken place. To put it bluntly, the demise of communism eviscerates radicalism and enfeebles liberalism.     Francis Fukuyama's much discussed The End of History and the Last Man partly addressed this issue. His argument reformulated with a philosophical flourish the more prosaic "end-of-ideology" proposition. Fukuyama added Hegel and Alexandre Kojève, a Russian-French Hegelian, to Daniel Bell. In an article that preceded the book, Fukuyama stated that "the triumph of the West, of the Western idea , is evident first of all in the total exhaustion of viable systematic alternatives to Western liberalism." Even the language evokes The End of Ideology , whose subtitle referred to the "exhaustion" of political ideas.     Fukuyama sensed an affinity between his and Bell's positions and tried to distance himself from Bell. The "ultimate triumph of Western liberal democracy," he wrote, does not lead "to an `end of ideology' or a convergence between capitalism and socialism ... but to an unabashed victory of economic and political liberalism." Yet this was exactly Bell's argument, not a "convergence," but the victory of welfare or liberal capitalism. Fukuyama defends the same proposition.     He admits isolated Marxists may exist "in places like Managua, Pyongyang or Cambridge," but radicalism now lacks historical force or future. Misgivings cloud Fukuyama's good cheer. With the demise of a radical opposition, passion and idealism also depart; only commercial regulations and tariffs remain contentious. Alluding to the fact that the brilliant Kojève ended his days organizing a trade group, the European Common Market, Fukuyama regretted that a "Growing `Common Marketization'" defines the future. In the original article Fukuyama ended on a bittersweet note that recalls Bell's doubts. Fukuyama expressed "nostalgia" for the history of big ideas and robust ideologies: The end of history will be a very sad event. The struggle for recognition, the willingness to risk one's life for a purely abstract goal, the worldwide ideological struggle that called forth daring, courage, imagination, and idealism will be replaced by economic calculation, the endless solving of technical problems, environmental concerns and the satisfaction of sophisticated consumer demands. In the post-historical period there will be neither art nor philosophy, just the perpetual caretaking of the museum of human history.     Fukuyama's argument has provoked extensive and damaging criticism, but at least half still stands. In the book version Fukuyama perceived a "worldwide liberal revolution" or a "Universal History of mankind in the direction of liberal democracy"; he announced not simply the end of ideology, but the end of history. However, history did not end; and liberal democracy will not triumph everywhere. Authoritarianism and despotism have a glorious future. On these issues Fukuyama overplayed his hand. Moreover, he paid no mind to a paradoxical result of defeated leftism, the loss of liberal resolve and clarity.     Yet his statement that the hour of radicalism is past rings true. Apart from a few diehards in stray capitals and campuses, intellectuals have become willy-nilly liberals. In our grandparents' time, many reasonable people could foresee a radiant socialist future in which private property and capitalism had been abolished.... Today, by contrast, we have trouble imagining a world that is radically better than our own, or a future that is not essentially democratic and capitalist. Within that framework, of course, many things could be improved ... homeless ... minorities ... jobs.... We can also imagine future worlds that are significantly worse that what we know now.... But we cannot picture to ourselves a world that is essentially different from the present one, and at the same time better.     Fukuyama stated a verity that many refuse to acknowledge. Today socialists and leftists do not dream of a future qualitatively different from the present. To put it differently, radicalism no longer believes in itself. Once upon a time leftists acted as if they could fundamentally reorganize society. Intellectually, the belief fed off a utopian vision of a different society; psychologically, it rested on self-confidence about one's place in history; politically, it depended on the real prospects.     Today the vision has faltered, the self-confidence drained away, the possibilities dimmed. Almost everywhere the left contracts, not simply politically but, perhaps more decisively, intellectually. To avoid contemplating the defeat and its implications, the left now largely speaks the language of liberalism--the idiom of pluralism and rights. At the same time, liberals, divested of a left wing, suffer from waning determination and imagination.     At best radicals and leftists envision a modified society with bigger pieces of pie for more customers. They turn utilitarian, liberal and celebratory. The left once dismissed the market as exploitative; it now honors the market as rational and humane. The left once disdained mass culture as exploitative; now it celebrates it as rebellious. The left once honored independent intellectuals as courageous; now it sneers at them as elitist. The left once rejected pluralism as superficial; now it worships it as profound. We are witnessing not simply the defeat of the left, but its conversion and perhaps inversion.     Of course, this interpretation, of the recent past can be challenged. Why charge radicals with the grievous misdeeds of Stalinism? Why accuse the wider left of the crimes of Soviet Marxism? For the last forty years, certainly in the United States, the left harbored little sympathy for Stalinism or Stalinist regimes in Eastern Europe. Sift through stacks of leftist tracts, newspapers and leaflets of the 1960s and 1970s and you will be hard-pressed to find a single word praising East Germany or Poland.     The new left broke with the old left on this very issue--Stalinism. The new left wanted nothing to do with authoritarian leaders, bureaucratic functionaries and barracks communism. For this reason, the new left scandalized not simply conservatives, but stolid Communists, who considered it too anarchistic. Communist parties almost everywhere reacted with horror to the new left. Anti-Communist Myths in Left Disguise , a typical book by a Communist apparatchik from the 1970s, attacked new leftists as anarchists and libertines.     It is possible to go further: The new left helped break up Stalinism. "Here and there," writes the critic Paul Berman in his Tale of Two Utopias , "the leaders of the revolutions of '89--a Václav Havel in Czechoslovakia, an Adam Michnik in Poland--turned out to be the same heroic persons, now adult liberals, who as young radicals had helped lead the movements of '68, just to show the relation of one uprising to the next."     Michnik at least half agrees. "For my generation," he has written, "the road to freedom began in 1968." He admits that "at first glance," rebelling students in Berkeley and Paris, on one side, and those in Warsaw and Prague, on the other, shared little. The former rejected democratic liberties and championed the Communist project; the latter championed democratic liberties and rejected communism. "Nevertheless, I think there were also some common threads: the anti-authoritarian spirit, a sense of emancipation, and the conviction that `to be a realist means to demand the impossible.'"     Havel also found sustenance in 1960s culture, partly derived from a 1968 visit to New York. The Czech dissident movement, writes Berman, was an "odd" confirmation of "some of the wilder youth-culture theories that became popular circa 1969 in the American New Left." When Czech authorities banned a rock group, the Plastic People, Havel and others rallied to their defense in a committee that eventually became Charter 77, which spearheaded the opposition for the next ten years. Almost confirming the argument, after less than a month in office, the new Czech president Havel invited Frank Zappa to Prague; he was met by ecstatic fans, "hippies from 1968, preserved in amber" (in Berman's words). "The Czechs were delighted to point out," Timothy Garton Ash observed, "that '89 is '68 turned upside down."     Yet to credit the new left for undermining Stalinism is a stretch. Perhaps it played a small role in Czechoslovakia and Poland; nothing more. Nor is there a need to be simplistic about the new left; what "the" new left did over twenty-odd years cannot be neatly categorized. Some individuals despised the old left; some came out of the old left and never abandoned Stalinism; other individuals and splinter groups reembraced it.     For instance, in 1972, a mainstream American publisher, Doubleday, brought out a collection of Stalin's writings edited by H. Bruce Franklin, a new-leftist English professor. His introduction began this way: "I used to think of Joseph Stalin as a tyrant and butcher who jailed and killed millions, betrayed the Russian revolution, sold out liberation struggles." Franklin continued, "But to about a billion people today"--a billion and one including Franklin--" Stalin is the opposite of what we in the capitalist world" believe. According to Franklin, who is now a chaired professor at Rutgers University, Stalin was an authentic liberator, a true leader who is revered by working people throughout the world. This stuff was hard to take in 1972--indeed, it would have been hard to take in 1932--but it was not representative of the new left.     No matter. Setting forth the history of the new left is important, but most people ignore it. Anarchists, Trotskyists and new-leftists might despise Stalinism, but they partake in the wider left and share its fate. This is indisputable. The demise of the Soviet Union and its Communist allies eviscerates the idea of socialism. Intellectually cogent protests in the name of an unsullied socialism or "classical" Marxism are both necessary and useless. "With the final collapse of the Soviet system," writes the French leftist André Gorz, "it is not just a variety of socialism that has collapsed.... What has also collapsed is the conception of `authentic' socialism (or communism)."     Numerous critics and observers have seen the handwriting on the wall, although their interpretations differ. Eric Hobsbawm, a veteran Marxist historian, admits: "Those of us who believed that the October Revolution was the gate to the future of world history have been shown to be wrong." He concedes that today "there is no part of the world that credibly represents an alternative system to capitalism," which "has once again proved that it remains the most dynamic force in world development." Robin Blackburn, editor of New Left Review , concurs: "The ruin of `Marxist-Leninist' Communism has been sufficiently comprehensive to eliminate it as an alternative to capitalism and to compromise the very idea of socialism. The debacle of Stalinism has embraced reform Communism, and has brought no benefit to Trotskyism, or social democracy, or any socialist current."     For the left in South America, writes Jorge E. Castañeda, "the fall of socialism in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe represents the end of a stirring, effective, nearly century-old utopia. Indeed, the very notion of an overall alternative to the status quo has been severely questioned.... The idea of revolution itself, central to Latin American radical thought for decades, has lost its meaning."     Exactly. Socialism may not be dead, but confidence in a new and different society is. Instead of championing a radical idea of a new society, the left ineluctably retreats to smaller ideas, seeking to expand the options within the existing society. Immediately after noting the link between "'89" and "'68," Ash observes the difference, the absence of a new socialism or utopia. The Eastern European left does not reach for a new society beyond capitalism; rather, it supports parliamentary democracy, rule of law and a market economy--the familiar institutions of Western Europe and North America.     Michnik concurs. He notes the "common threads" linking '68 and '89, but emphasizes the contrast. "At that time," he writes of the 1960s, "we defined ourselves as socialists and people of the left," but now "this formula" gives rise to "an internal protest." After living in a Communist "utopia" for forty years, he can no longer "subscribe" to its ideology. Michnik is not alone. As the English-Czech scholar Ernest Gellner stated shortly before his death, "No one, virtually no one has a good word to say for Marxism itself.... Never was a sinking ship abandoned with such alacrity and unanimity, never was an experiment condemned so conclusively."     Even Misha Glenny, who tries in his informed study of the East European revolutions to salvage socialism, comes up short. His very title, The Rebirth of History , implies that Francis Fukuyama's idea of the "end of history" (and socialism) is misleading. To a degree he is surely right. When he witnessed Alexander Dubcek, who had been deposed by the Soviets twenty years earlier, addressing a half million cheering Czechs in 1989, Glenny along with the throngs melted into tears. "It was the only way to comprehend what I was witnessing--the rebirth of a history that the forces of reaction thought they had killed off forever."     Other observers agree that the events of 1989 could be read not as the end of history, but its beginning. The long night of repressive communism had lifted. In 1989 several hundred thousand Hungarians gathered for a massive state funeral, the reburial of their president, Imre Nagy, executed following the Soviet invasion of 1956; this was an act of liberation and sadness. "The somber and sometimes even tearful mood of the huge crowd," writes a historian, "testified to the depth of the emotional burden of powerlessness and humiliation that Hungarians had felt since 1956." Now they were taking charge of their fate.     Nevertheless, as David Marquand observes, "The crowds that thronged the squares of eastern Europe" were "acting in the spirit" of the French or American, not the Bolshevik Revolution. "They were protesting against the October Revolution" and against Marxism. Even Glenny admits that for Eastern Europeans "the vocabulary associated with socialism is identified with economic failure and political repression." The "socialism" that survives in Eastern Europe consists of little more than a skepticism about the market and a desire to preserve a social-security network.     In other words, this "socialism" does not differ from a Western end-of-ideology liberalism bound to the welfare state and planning small improvements to it. The point is, everywhere the left becomes practical, pragmatic and liberal. "We perhaps need to rethink and reconstruct the concept of socialism," writes Douglas Kellner, a leftist professor, in an essay titled "The Obsolescence of Marxism?" "Perhaps socialism should be seen more as a normative ideal than as a historical force."     Socialist thought, writes Norman Birnbaum in an overview of the plight of socialism, is "defensive," with no grand, new projects or hopes. European socialists are "chastened ... content with very small stakes, afraid to ask more of themselves and their electorates." "The brute fact," summarizes Stanley Aronowitz, is that "there is little to distinguish the U.S. left from yesterday's everyday social welfare liberalism.... Most appalling, we live in a time when the left has run out of ideas." One of the left's savviest thinkers concedes that the outlook is grim. "None of the political currents that set out to challenge capitalism in this century has morale or compass today," concludes Perry Anderson in a lengthy encounter with Fukuyama. The "socialist vision" has "fallen into radical doubt."     What is true of the socialists need hardly be proved for those closer to the center: liberals. The differences between these political categories have never been clear, but it can be safely assumed that if leftists have abandoned a belief in a different future, liberals commit themselves more than ever to the welfare state. As the philosopher Richard Rorty puts it, "We liberals have no plausible large-scale scenario" for the future; we have no ideas analogous to those of "our grandfathers ... for changing the world." We must junk the big proposals and ideas that misled us in the past. "I hope that we can banalize the entire vocabulary of leftist political deliberation." We must drop the term capitalism and "conclude that bourgeois democratic welfare states are the best we can hope for."     In an era without a left, political philosophers like Michael J. Sandel use a new or refurbished vocabulary to revive liberalism. He tells us in his well-received book Democracy's Discontent , that we need a new "political agenda informed by the civic strand of freedom." What does that mean? The answer must be, not much or not clear. Goodwill and earnestness mark Sandel's book, but its language turns soapy with incessant calls for civic virtue and republican freedoms. "A political agenda informed by civic concerns would invite disagreement about the meaning of virtue and the forms of self-government," he writes with mounting excitement. If this says little, Sandel clarifies that the agenda faces two specific challenges: "One is to devise political institutions capable of governing the global economy. The other is to cultivate the civic identities necessary to sustain those institutions, to supply them with moral authority they require." Or, he writes that "to revitalize the civic strand of freedom" Americans "must find a way to ask what economic arrangements are hospitable to self-government, and how the public life of a pluralist society might cultivate in citizens the expansive self-understanding that civic engagement requires."     This is liberalism that has lost its moorings. Sandel runs on about moral authority and civil allegiances. The terms sound edifying and almost religious, but their meaning is obscure. The nouns pile up in neat mounds across the page: civic virtue, civic identity, moral authority, common identity. To be sure, Sandel on occasion specifies activities that exemplify new citizenship. The practices seem worthy, but not particularly fresh or original; nor do they require a new rhetoric. He points to "sprawlbusters," people who oppose national chain stores in their communities, or to new urbanists seeking to "build communities more hospitable to a vibrant civic life."     These are not stray examples of an earnest and woozy liberalism. The chatter on civic virtues and republican purpose fills endless essays and talks. In well-appointed lecture halls poker-faced professors gather to reflect on the crises of America before adjourning for the banquet dinner. What they offer is not wrong, but uplifting and vague. "A more communitarian version of liberalism," writes Thomas A. Spragens, Jr., a Duke University professor, "would permit liberalism to recapture some of the normative complexity and moral weight that characterized its inception." Like Sandel, Spragens finds practical implications in this rhetoric. Liberals "seek to design social institutions and policies in ways that promote civic friendship and a sense of common purpose.... They will seek to promote institutions, such as the public schools, that bring people from different backgrounds together.... And they will champion a public rhetoric of common identity and inclusiveness."     Political theorists crank this stuff out by the truckload; perhaps someone is buying. It is hard to protest the sentiment and ethos, but it is also hard to know what it means aside from a general support for the liberal state and democratic politics. The problem is, this liberalism has turned vapid because a left that kept it honest has disappeared or turned liberal or both. A left constituted the liberal backbone; as the left vaporized, the backbone went soft. The decline or fate of liberalism without a left might be glimpsed in the distance traveled since John Stuart Mill, whose name is often invoked by today's liberals.     To put it crudely, page for page, sentence for sentence, Mill's writings delivered a kick that contemporary liberals never match. The new liberals have adopted an idiom that is uplifting without being transcendental, profound without being deep. The emergence of a watery liberalism derives not simply from a lack of talent or genius. Rather, Mill partook of a socialist world; he was drawn to utopian socialism and wrote sympathetically about socialism.     His grip of economic realities may be one reason his prose and ideas retained an earthy radicalism his successors relinquish. One example: Mill defended private property, but he challenged as unacceptable "landed property," that is, private ownership of tracts of land: When the "sacredness of property" is talked of, it should always be remembered, that any such sacredness does not belong in the same degree to landed property. No man made the land. It is the original inheritance of the whole species. Its appropriation is wholly a question of general expediency. When private property in land is not expedient, it is unjust.... It is some hardship to be born into the world and to find all nature's gifts previously engrossed.... To reconcile people to this ... it will always be necessary to convince them that the exclusive appropriation is good for mankind on the whole, themselves included. But this is what no sane being could be persuaded of. (Continues...) Copyright © 1999 Russell Jacoby. All rights reserved.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgmentsp. ix
Prefacep. xi
1 The End of the End of the End of Ideologyp. 1
2 The Myth of Multiculturalismp. 29
3 Mass Culture and Anarchyp. 67
4 Intellectuals: From Utopia to Myopiap. 101
5 Thick Aestheticism and Thin Nativismp. 125
6 Retail Sanity and Wholesale Madnessp. 155
Notesp. 183
Indexp. 225

Google Preview