Seeds of the Sixties

To the people who lived through them, the 1960’s are remembered as a kind of revolutionary brushfire that swept without warning over the American landscape. The foot soldiers of the movement, student activists, saw their movement as an event without precedent. This book takes a different view. The radicalism of the 1960’s, the authors say, was the delayed result of a process beginning in the 1930’s in which ideas that had been brewing for years in the mental teapot of Europe were transported to this country and blended with native traditions.

One of the noisiest results was the labor movement where for the first time in American history the discontents of capitalism insisted that their voices be heard. Yet political activism of one type or another was going on everywhere in Depression-era America. It went into hiatus through the self-satisfied 1950’s, but did not go away. A new generation of radicals eventually picked up the torch, unaware that they were participating in a process that had been started by their grandparents.

The authors make their case by addressing the achievements of specific individuals, from social critics such as Erich Fromm to trailblazers of environmental activism such as Rachel Carson and Lewis Mumford. While their approach is academic, Andrew Jamison and Ron Eyerman do well by the material. SEEDS OF THE SIXTIES is worth the read.