Once upon a time — back when the Beatles were growing mustaches and picking up sitars, and Sergio Leone was wondering whether he could get away with filming a western in Europe — Americans of the New Left could claim with some credibility to be compelling and iconoclastic. Then, the Flower Children longed earnestly for a Brave New World — a blank slate onto which their “enlightened” generation might expand the heroic social victories of the civil-rights era, destroy the “judgmental” powers-that-be in favor of a more permissive order, and build a Great Society atop the New Deal. That is to say, in which they might recreate society in their own image.
Leftists wore the most interesting clothes and hairstyles, pushed to expand the boundaries of free expression, and made the best new music. They were genuinely open-minded — albeit often to that point at which, as G. K. Chesterton joked, their brains were likely to fall out — but they also knew their enemy, which consisted of almost everyone who had any influence. They had names for it — “the Establishment,” or “The Man” — and they were unabashed in their language. “All the squares go home!” insisted Cynthia Robinson on Sly and the Family Stone’s hit “Dance to the Music.”