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The Long March:
The 1960s, writes Roger Kimball, "has become less the name of a decade than a provocation." This incisive critique of that turbulent time won't calm the debate. The Long March will enthrall conservatives who think of themselves as culture warriors and infuriate liberals who still celebrate "the purple decade." Kimball, managing editor of the New Criterion and author of Tenured Radicals, is one of the Right's most articulate writers. He argues forcefully that the pernicious influence of the 1960s can still be felt: "The success of America's recent cultural revolution can be measured not in toppled governments but in shattered values. If we often forget what great changes this revolution brought in its wake, that, too, is a sign of its success: having changed ourselves, we no longer perceive the extent of our transformation."
The Long March proceeds as a series of stimulating essays on important cultural figures and movements, beginning with the Beats. Norman Mailer comes in for an eloquent trashing ("From the late 1940s until the 1980s, he showed himself to be extraordinarily deft at persuading credulous intellectuals to collaborate in his megalomania"), as do any number of counterculture icons. I.F. Stone's articles, writes Kimball, "read like neo-Stalinist equivalents of those multipart articles on staple crops with which The New Yorker used to anesthetize its readers." And of The New York Review of Books, that bastion of elite liberal opinion, Kimball says: "Quite apart from the irresponsibility of the politics, there was an intellectual irresponsibility at work here, a preening, ineradicable frivolousness toward the cultural values that the journal was supposedly created to nurture." There's a distinctly conservative crankiness to Kimball's writing; the jazz of Miles Davis is inevitably "drug-inspired" and rock music "was not only an aesthetic disaster of gigantic proportions: it was also a moral disaster whose effects are nearly impossible to calculate precisely because they are so pervasive." Yet this inclination can lead to fascinating, if arguable, insights about modern American culture: "Everywhere one looks one sees the elevation of youth--that is to say, of immaturity--over experience. It may seem like a small thing that nearly everyone of whatever age dresses in blue jeans now; but the universalization of that sartorial badge of the counterculture speaks volumes."
Kimball's writing is at once highbrow and accessible. Fans of Robert Bork's Slouching Towards Gomorrah and Allan Bloom's The Closing of the American Mind--or readers who have never quite believed all the English professors proclaiming Allen Ginsberg a poetic genius--will find The Long March engrossing and indispensable. --John J. Miller [via]