Loyal Opposition

The Intellectuals and the Flag

Todd Gitlin

Columbia University Press, $24.95, 192 pp.

Every time I read something by Todd Gitlin, I realize again how much he and I have in common. We are roughly the same age and grew up Jewish. We were once both activists on the left (although Gitlin became president of Students for a Democratic Society while I never joined much of anything), and have since shifted, not to the right, but to a more moderate liberalism. Each of us has taught sociology, and both of us, unhappy with the professional direction of the field, try to practice social science in the spirit of David Riesman (The Lonely Crowd) and C. Wright Mills (The Power Elite). Indeed, both of us have written introductions for two of Mills’s classic texts.

Having read The Intellectuals and the Flag, I realize that we have one more thing in common: we both love the United States and despair of the man who currently serves as its president. The 1960s, which did so much to shape Gitlin (and me), were not years in which love of country was an easy emotion to summon. Assassinations, a botched war in Vietnam, urban conflagration, Spiro Agnew-none represented America at its best. Gitlin, and again I, watched as the New Left and the Black Panther Party, reacting to the turbulence of that time, lavished praise on totalitarian dictators...

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About the Author

Alan Wolfe is director of the Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life at Boston College, and the author of Political Evil: What It Is and How to Combat It (Knopf).