Andrew writes to me:
I just wanted to propose a question for your blog, which I’ve read since it launched. Given how the current atmosphere seems a bit like 1968, I was curious who you think comes out of 1968 looking good (or bad) in retrospect. I’m particularly interested in people at universities (my own case), but I’d be curious in general.
A former professor of mine (George Kateb) claimed that my generation (born 1970) was embarrassed by the sixties and I guess particularly by the more radical parts. That’s my impression as well and I assumed that the more radical parts of the sixties and the intellectuals who went along with them would come out looking the worst in retrospect. Is this right? Whose position at the time looks most “correct” today?
It is tough, if only because so many people from both parties then were bad on the Vietnam War issue. Here are a few who, in my judgment, came out of the era looking good, in no particular order:
1. Kareem-Abdul Jabbar (then Lew Alcindor), Billie Jean-King, and Curt Flood.
2. Bob Dylan: pro-civil rights and anti-war, and for all of his phases he never went in for the bad, crazy stuff.
3. Paul McCartney: universalist, anti-war, neoliberal integrationist, and the saner part of the Beatles. Some minus points on the drugs front, however.
4. Julian Bond. And a variety of other civil rights leaders, but MLK not living long enough to “fit” the question as stated.
5. Harry Edwards (who?).
7. Marshall McLuhan
9. Lucille Ball
9. Gene Roddenberry and the rest of Star Trek, including the script writers.
10. Thomas Pynchon: So many others look bad, at least he knew not to say too much or to hang around for too long.
11. Ayn Rand. With qualifications on a number of fronts, but yes. She was in fact good on the major issues of those years.
12. These people from the Bay Area. They are not public figures, but still they deserve mention.
Notes: Marxists, Maoists, and advocates of violence are not going to win. There were plenty of excellent economists back then, but most had a different focus than commenting on the major events of those years, and if memory serves (please correct me if I am wrong) Milton Friedman’s very meritorious anti-draft work came slightly later. I would have to reread the major feminist book authors to pick the best one, but I do mean for at least one to be on the list, I am simply not sure at the moment which one. Ralph Nader too? The astronauts? They knew to keep their mouths shut once they were finished.