The Dream of a New Society: Why Paul Berman Was Right

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Alecsandra Roe
5 December 2010
The Dream of a New Society: Why Paul Berman Was Right

The year 1968 and the immediately preceding years were one of the most tumultuous times of the twentieth century. There were protests and uprisings in all corners of the globe, for many different reasons: the Soviet Union was in its post-Stalin era and tensions with the United States were high. When the USSR placed nuclear missiles in Cuba in 1962, it raised the hairs on the neck of the US and ignited the Cuban Missile Crisis. China was in the midst of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (Duiker 269), where Mao Zedong struggled to keep balance in his Communist regime. Czechoslovakia was making its way through Prague Spring, a short lived state of euphoria brought on by the diminished strictness of government ruling that lead to a Soviet invasion (Duiker 198). In the United States, the Civil Rights Movement was at its peak and students at universities across the nation we protesting the US governments decision to use Vietnam as a “muscle flexing” outlet to display its “manliness” (Suri 318). Not only in the United States, but around the world, university students made clear their dissatisfaction with the way contemporary leaders were shaping the world. Jeremi Suri’s The Global Revolutions of 1968 detail all of these events, but also provide three different interpretations of all of these events: Paul Berman’s The Dream of a New Society, Arthur Marwick’s The Consummation of a Cultural Revolution, and Suri’s own Power and Protest. Marwick focuses more on the cultural aspect of the revolutions, how the protests of 1968 reshaped the world culturally. I found this to be somewhat credible, but his theory had flaws. Suri blames the protests of 1968 on “contradiction between idealistic claims and stagnant politics among state leaders” (Suri 316). While there is some truth to this, I do not see that as the sole cause of the worldwide political unrest. It was Berman’s ideology that there were four different (though related) revolutions that did not produce considerable change at the time, but laid the framework for later change, that I found to be the most convincing interpretation of the revolutions of 1968.

According to Berman, “ four enormous revolutions were roiling the world at that one moment, each of those revolutions different in nature and purpose from the others, each of them far too huge and unprecedented for anyone, no matter how old and experienced, to comprehend at the time” (Berman 302). These four revolutions were a revolt against communist regimes, a revolt against western imperialism, student protests (anti-war, civil rights), and a spiritual movement. The first revolution, or as Berman calls them “the student uprisings” (Berman 302) was essentially a battle between old and new, “… the insurrections that were sexual, feminist, and gay… the noisy entrance of the first mass group of African-American students into the previously segregated American universities, the slightly crazy effort to raise insubordination into a culture, to eat, dress, smoke, dance differently” (Berman 302). Berman refers to the second revolution as a cousin of the first, as it deals with the spiritual uprising that took place around the country. In today’s time we recognize this as the time of the hippie. This revolution took all the idea of challenging the norm and applied it to a more spiritual level, mixing Buddhism, poetry, transcendentalism, folklore, psychedelic mind expansions (drugs), and “God knows what else” (Berman 302). This wave of change was not solely contained to philosophy, but even made its mark (significantly) on the music scene as well. In this instance, the word spiritual does not solely apply to the new bohemian lifestyle. This spiritual revolution shone light into many, many more aspects of the world than just the university towns; it was large enough to even shake the establishment of the Catholic Church....
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