Missing Revolutions

Growing Up Absurd
Paul Goodman
New York Review Books, $17.95, 312 pp.

Nearly everything that Paul Goodman complained about in Growing Up Absurd—his influential critique of 1950s America, originally published in 1960 and recently reissued by New York Review Books—is now worse. Rather than being trapped in dull jobs as company men, many people now have trouble finding any kind of decent work. Rather than merely feeling alienated from our natural environment, it is now clear that we’re damaging that environment irreparably. Schools are still inadequate, but now many of them have armed police at the doors. And today’s young misfits are subjected not just to discipline and derision, but also to brain-altering medication. A country that in the late 1950s was a superpower still on the rise (notwithstanding some postwar malaise) now appears to be a sinking ship determined to go down shooting. Instead of what Goodman called the “world-wide demented enterprise” of the Cold War, the country now wages open-ended robot battles on ever more fronts.

Goodman wrote Growing Up Absurd on an assignment to explain the “juvenile delinquency” manifested variously in the Beats, the bums, the existentialists, and the hipsters of his time. He placed the blame not on the youth themselves, nor even on their parents exactly, but on the society that...

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