Review: “The Politically Incorrect Guide to the 1960’s”, by Jonathan Leaf – By eugenicist

The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Sixties is a short, entertaining book which aims to set the record straight about life in 1960s America. “For the overwhelming majority of Americans,” Leaf writes, “the 1960s was a conservative decade.” The radical left was neither popular nor valuable, but evidence for this has been shoved down the memory hole. Leaf’s book tries to correct that.

The book is divided into three parts: “The Social Sixties,” “The Cultural Sixties” and “The Political Sixties.” The first part covers student radicalism, feminism, civil rights and other social movements of the decade. The second part covers 1960s music, media, fashion and culture. The third part covers, briefly, the politics of the sixties, including Johnson’s War on Poverty, the Vietnam War and “Camelot as it really was.”

Few readers of this blog will be surprised that black economic progress slowed after the civil rights movement, or that the sexual revolution led to broken families. However, there is much of interest in this book, even if it is unsurprising to you. Here are some examples:

  • The UC Berkeley “Free Speech Movement” led to less freedom of speech in the long run. In 1964, when the movement began, Berkeley students could join the College Democrats or Republicans, but on-campus political activity was otherwise banned. A group of students intimidated the administration into changing this. On-campus activism, mostly liberal, blossomed at Berkeley and around the country, which led to more “civil disobedience” at the expense of academics. Student draft deferment only encouraged radicals to stay in school, where some became professors and “hired their allies…and refused to hire those who didn’t share their beliefs.” A year before the Free Speech Movement protests, UC chancellor Clark Kerr said that even “avowed communists” would be permitted to speak on campus. Would Berkeley’s current president say the same of “avowed racists”? I woudn’t bet on it!
  • The music we associate was not as popular as we’re led to believe. While bands like Jefferson Airplane, the Who and the Grateful Dead had zero number one singles during the 60s, now-forgotten Bobby Vinton had four. Other chart-topping performers included Dean Martin, Pat Boone, Petula Clark and Nat King Cole. Some of the biggest selling albums of the decade were soundtracks to musicals like Mary Poppins, My Fair Lady and West Side Story. Rock was not obscure, but it was not the most popular genre.
  • After President Nixon ended the draft in 1973, campus protests declined sharply. Too, much of the antiwar movement wasn’t so much anti-war as pro-communist. Hence chants like “Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh, the NLF is gonna win!

My favorite part of the book covers the resurrection of “Students for a Democratic Society.” In 2006, some young activists and former SDS members revived the organization, but “The group…has had some problems.” Leaf explains:

[W]hat exactly does the reborn SDS stand for? The organization unleashed an extremely long mission statement filled with stilted political jargon…the statement pledges to “target structures of domination,” “build powerful diverse movements for change,” and combat “systems of white supremacy, patriarchy, capitalism, imperialism, heterosexism, transphobia, and the many other forms of oppression.”

Good luck with that.*

The book is full of this sort of gloomy hilarity. In the 1960s, in many areas of public life, intellectuals––the people who are “always somewhere else when the trigger is pulled“––championed progressive ideals like urban blight, easy divorce, even psychopathy. “So much of left-wing thought,” George Orwell wrote, “is a kind of playing with fire by people who don’t even know that fire is hot.” Of course, it’s rarely the person playing with fire who gets burned.

This book omits one important myth. The Woodstock music festival is mentioned once, in passing, while the Altamont Free concert merits in-depth coverage. This, to my mind, is a mistake. Altamont is not romanticized; Woodstock is. I think it would have added to the book to have a brief description of, for example, the capitalist impetus that made the Woodstock festival possible.

Jonathan Leaf is an entertaining writer, occasionally witty, but this book offers no sense of what life was like for the “overwhelming majority,”  or even the leftists. Good history books convey something of the atmosphere of a period. Perhaps doing this for an entire country and decade, in just 200 pages, was too tall an order. Still, it makes a disappointing reading experience. In contrast, Joan Didion’s “Slouching Towards Bethlehem,”  by describing day-to-day life for a few San Francisco drop-outs, conveys something of the time that demographic and economic statistics cannot.

The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Sixties  is a good starting point for those who want to know the truth about this decade. If you have teenage or college-age relatives, I recommend giving them this book to counterbalance whatever lies and half-truths they’re being taught. I wish I had read this book before I went to college; it would have spared me, and my friends, a lot of unnecessary bemusement and aggravation.

*Masochists can read the full mission statement of the “New SDS” here.

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16 Responses to Review: “The Politically Incorrect Guide to the 1960’s”, by Jonathan Leaf – By eugenicist

  1. jewamongyou says:

    Our perceptions of the sixties are molded by the history books – and history is written by the victor. The Left, in this case, is clearly the victor.

    The problem with conservatives is that we try, for the most part, to play fair. The Left makes no such effort. The Left thus changed the rules, and we failed to adapt.

    • Bay Area Guy says:

      @ JAY

      What our perceptions of the sixties today also demonstrate is that it only takes a small but vocal and aggressive minority to raise hell and intimidate the powers that be into caving in to their demands.

      Nixon was right when he spoke of the “silent majority.” Of course, going with the left’s logic that “silence is consent” and therefore all white Americans are collectively responsible, one could just as easily say that the unwillingness of this silent majority to raise its voice is even more problematic than the aggressive radicalism of our enemies.

      And I admit, I too am publicly silent, and generally bite my tongue when having discussions on immigration/multiculturalism with non-whites and DWL’s/SWPL’s.

      If we can all just say “silent no more!” we would be in excellent shape.

      • seedofjapheth says:

        Bay Area Guy,

        I can understand you wanting to avoid discussing racial matters with non-whites but why do you feel you need to avoid discussing immigration with them? There are many non-whites who think that the amount of immigration we have is too big too and really immigration isn’t a racial issue like some members of the left and right wing try to make it out to be.

      • Bay Area Guy says:

        @ SOJ

        Since the vast majority of my non-white friends/acquaintances are either Asian or to a smaller extent Hispanic, I understandably shy away from the immigration issue.

        Most Asians I know are second generation/American born, but a few are first generation immigrants.

        That means that either they or their immediate parents/relatives are immigrants.

        Ditto for many Hispanics.

        Let’s just say I won’t exactly get too far espousing immigration restrictionist talking points with them.

        Although, there was one time where an Asian guy I knew expressed his concern about illegal Hispanic immigration from Mexico, so I guess there are times when you can broach the subject.

        You just have to be really careful, especially when you’re the white minority, as I mostly am in my daily life.

      • seedofjapheth says:

        I can see your point with hispanics but are you sure your not being overly cautious with the asians?

      • Bay Area Guy says:

        are you sure your not being overly cautious with the asians?

        Even though I know many Asians, I must say that their views on race and immigration aren’t exactly the easiest to pinpoint.

        If political/voting trends are an indication of anything, Asians tend to be liberal on issues such as affirmative action and immigration.

        Also, considering many of them are either immigrants or raised by immigrants, they’re going to generally lean toward a liberal immigration policy.

      • seedofjapheth says:

        If you approach the immigration issue from an environmental preservation perspective with them I doubt they will be offended as long as you don’t make it a racial thing.

  2. seedofjapheth says:

    Does the book get into what geographical regions and cities the hippie movement was centered in? I am guessing it was largely a west coast phenomenon… while areas throughout the rest of the country may have been largely unaffected.

  3. DFA says:

    The “politically incorrect” books I’ve read were all good for beginners, but not much more in depth than that. For more on what a disaster the 60’s were “The Dream and the Nightmare” is very good and Thomas Sowell is also a good source for the truth about the 60’s.

    Even as a leftist in my early 20’s I came to realize the 60’s weren’t what the media and my teachers had hyped it up to be. Rewriting history and utopian dreaming are trademarks of the shameless leftists in media and academia.

  4. countenance says:

    The Altamont riot is alluded to in “American Pie.” It was the reductio ad absurdum of the “image” of 1960s leftist politics.

    By the way, as a political statgeek, the only election cycle that really could said to have been a left-wing landslide was 1964, and the only reason for that was because of JFK’s assassination the previous November. But for that, ’64 would have been a good year for Republicans in all likelihood. 1960 was a push overall, 1962 was a push overall, 1964 was a Democrat landslide, 1966 was a Republican landslide, 1968 if you combine Nixon and Wallace was an anti-liberal solid win.

  5. Bill says:

    While bands like Jefferson Airplane, the Who and the Grateful Dead had zero number one singles during the 60s, now-forgotten Bobby Vinton had four.

    Bullshit. “The sixties” is the period 1965-1974. Bobby Vinton had zero #1 singles during the sixties. Similarly, “the fifties” is the period 1945-1964 and “the seventies” is the period 1975-198x. Not sure what the x should be, but it’s clearly not 0,1, or 2 (just look at their ties).

    Is the whole book bullshit in this same way? I.e. does it absurdly lump together 1960-1964 with 1965-69 and marvel at the incongruity?

    Nothing sixties-ish really got started before 1965. Vietnam became a serious war in 1965. SDS was nothing before 1965. Black Power was nothing before 1965. Obviously, the music was different. The fashions were different.

    Oh, and Bobby Vinton rocks!

  6. bob sykes says:

    I entered college in 1961, and I would agree that 1965 is a good break point for the transition. But, I do not agree that there was a great cultural etc shift. The various “revolutions” only affected a small group of people, mostly college kids, and even a minority of them.

    All in all, the 1960s, however defined (I like 1964-1973) were a disaster. And the small minority shown on tv every night were scary. There was rock and roll but the sex and drugs were nowhere to be seen.

    As to rock and roll, I don’t think it was ever the dominant genre in terms of sales. I think that has always been country/western (which I despise). The rock and roll myth is like the jazz myth. Jazz died in the 1940s, but lingered on as a cult object for another 50 years or so.

  7. countenance says:

    Maybe the better way to think about recent American history isn’t with literal decades, but with inflection points. V-J Day, JFK Assassination, Watergate, Reagan’s Inauguration, 9/11 are some good ones.

  8. The issue of what the 1960s was really about is a very complicated issue.

    Leaf is right about one thing: 1960s radicals were not nearly so radical as today’s radical leftists are. In fact, many of them admired such devout Catholics as Dorothy Day (a candidate for canonisation) and J.R.R. Tolkien – something unimaginable with the radicals of later decades or to students in today’s schools. There has been quite a long pacifist tradition in American Christianity, and via Day, it influenced the anti-Vietnam movement even though otherwise Day was exceedingly conservative. (Dorothy Day is not in Leaf’s book at all).

    At the same time, the underground of the early 1960s was dominated by such jazz artists as Coltrane, Ayler, Mingus and Coleman. Whilst these were never known outside specialist jazz circles, they had much influence on later rock music and are quite interesting in themselves – Ayler himself was intensely religious and his music is based on Pentecostal chants. Even more “mainstream” black musicians like James Brown are whitewashed by Leaf, as is 1960s literature in its diverse forms.

    Anti-religious themes only became a key part of “underground” culture with the rise of such “new atheists” as Singer, Dennett and Richard Dawkins in the middle 1970s. The present atheistic popular culture really began with AC/DC later that decade, and it was with bands like Metallica and Pantera much later still that we see it in its modern form.

    As a last point, the hippie culture was in many ways “Western”, though not in the same way thrash metal and grunge were in later decades. In fact, the original Beats were at large religious critics of the materialistic and empty culture the Pacific Northwest acquired generations before the rest of the United States (one sees the same thing with New Zealand poet James Baxter, like Day a Catholic convert and political activist in a culture very like the Pacific Northwest).

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