cover image The Rise and Fall of the American Left

The Rise and Fall of the American Left

John Patrick Diggins. W. W. Norton & Company, $22.95 (432pp) ISBN 978-0-393-03075-4

About halfway through his thorough and often engaging look at the American left, Diggins ( Mussolini and Fascism ) refers to his subject as ``what never happens twice.'' This brings to mind lightning, which strikes quickly and never in the same place twice. And so it seems with the history of the American left, which Diggins divides here into four periods, or generations--the Lyrical Left, the Old Left, the New Left and the Academic Left. Each phase was relatively brief, and ``there was little historical continuity and even less political sympathy'' among the generations. Diggins is admirably comprehensive; he discusses the left as an ally of the working class and assesses the role of blacks, women and artists in the movement. He also points to the ``values of the American Enlightenment,'' liberalism and the pragmatism of John Dewey, as possibly halting ``the decline and fall'' of the left, a conclusion potentially surprising to some while comforting to others. Photos not seen by PW. (Jan.)