Diary

How the West Was Lost: 40th Anniversary of a Left Wing Classic

There is a revolution coming,
It will not be like revolutions of the past,
It will originate with the individual and the culture,
and it will change the political structure,
only as its final act…
This is the revolution of a new generation.

Charles Reich wrote that paragraph. It’s not an obscure passage from some obscure book; it was the clarion call of a national best seller, the Greening of America. That quote has lingered in my head for years. Recently, I was flipping through some old books and noticed that the Greening of America is celebrating its fortieth anniversary.

Forty years ago, this liberal intellectual, like so many of his cohorts, was potting a revolution from within, a revolution that exploited the “green” movement as a means to deconstruct the ‘corporate state’. Now, forty years later, they are on the cusp on realizing their dream.

Like Whittaker Chambers, I’ve often admired the patience and resolve of the Left. The Right seems full of self-indulgent intellectuals and activists, who seek immediate gratification. We are bad at fighting the long war. We look around, realize that we’ve lost ground, get upset, and then expect to overturn generations of indoctrination and rot by winning a couple of elections. I wish.

The corporate state cannot be fought by the legal, political, or power methods that are the only means ever used up to now by revolutionists or proponents of social change. We must no longer depend wholly upon political or legal activism, upon structural change, upon liberal or even radical assaults on existing power. Such methods, used exclusively, are certain to fail. The only plan that will succeed is one that will be greeted by most social activists with disbelief… the only means that is realistic, given the nature of the contemporary state: revolution by consciousness.

For nearly a century, the radical Left sought to attack the system through political measures. But despite a great depression, three wars, abject poverty and mass immigration, they could not break fortress America. It frustrated them. But then it all changed. They adopted the attitudes and tactics of radicals like Reich. Only then, did their long march begin to bear fruit.

To the realists, the liberals and radicals and activists who are looking for a program and a plan, we say this: this is the program and the plan. When enough people have decided to live differently, the political results will follow naturally and easily, the old political forms will simply be swept away like immovable logs when the river rises… The new consciousness will bloom, and whatever it gives life to, a university, a public school, a factory, a city, and finally the courts, the Congress, and the Presidency will become responsive to human needs.

Some might say that I am a masochist, but I enjoyed studying under liberals and marxists in places like Amherst and Boston. I enjoyed the rigorous intellectual debates. Initially, I did it out of spite and then to understand my enemy. In time, I actually started to begrudgingly respect some of them. We, or activists of any stripe, can learn a lot from them.

Charles Reich is still alive, living in San Francisco. If I ever had a chance to say something to him, I’d say congratulations old man and then I’d ask him if he felt the winds of change, and I would tell him:

There is a revolution coming,
It will not be like revolutions of the past,
It will originate with the individual and the culture,
and it will change the political structure,
only as its final act.