In my journal, I identify myself as a "radical". The label of radical should be read with caution. I was not a radical in the sense of being a political activist. I was not a political revolutionary. I was a registered Democrat and did not belong to a radical organization, such as SDS. In the years covered by the journal, I spent one weekend as a volunteer working for Eugene McCarthy in Pennsylvania, I marched in one anti-war demonstration in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, I attended a few anti-war rallies, and I attended a few lectures by anti-war and black power radicals. I took a minor role in the organization of graduate students at my university. I was a serious graduate student conscientiously working on my advanced degrees, with little time to do anything but read and take notes on the large literatures for which I was responsible, and research and write my theses. A fellow graduate student reported to me that my major professor, who supervised my thesis, thought I was conservative and nonpolitical. He was surprised to learn I had political opinions and had spoken out at a graduate student meeting, calling for reform of grievance procedures. His surprise revealed how seldom I expressed my views publicly and how much the radical ideas I expressed in my journal contrasted with my conventional reputation in the graduate school.
In undergraduate college, I was not politically active; I would go so far as to say I was not politically aware. I did not read a daily newspaper or watch television. I occasionally listened to the radio (Paul Harvey's program was my favorite). I did not belong to a political club or social fraternity. I served my mandatory two years in ROTC (Air Force), without protest, unlike some of my classmates who left the land grant university, because they refused to participate in ROTC. When JFK was assassinated, my senior year, I was briefly shocked, but I was not distressed in a lasting way. My girl friend and I had a trip planned to a nearby city, which we did not cancel and took on the day of the assassination. I remember being remonstrated by a man in a city park for showing insufficient sorrow, because my girl friend and I were obviously enjoying our visit to the city. In my first two years in graduate school, I strongly supported the Vietnam War. I defended the war in lengthy correspondence with an old college friend, who opposed the war. Only in 1966 did my view of the war change. My jump to the anti-war position resulted from my being a teaching assistant for a brilliant, intellectually left historian, who could see no national interest or foreign policy justification for the war at all.
The same year, 1966, I was called up for the draft. I wrote to my local draft board requesting an extension on the date for my physical and AFQT (following which I would be inducted, in the normal course of things), so that I could complete my master's thesis. I had no concerns, however, that I would be drafted. I knew several childhood diseases would disqualify me. As I expected, I was classified 4F. I did not oppose the war, therefore, out of a fear of being drafted. If anything, my exemption from military service dampened my willingness to speak out publicly. The war and the draft were not existential issues for me. I thought I had not earned a public leadership role in opposition to the war. (See my extended discussion of my experience with military service.)
Also, I was not a 1960s radical in life-style. I thought of myself as alienated from the American mainstream, but this alienation existed comfortably within my enthusiastic enjoyment of married, mainstream life. I disdained the alternative life-style from free sex to communes to free-loading. I had contempt for the mush-brain thinking that characterized much popular imagery and literature of 1960s radicalism. I did not experiment with drugs; I have never taken any illegal drug, not even marijuana, not once. I did not drink a lot of alcohol or drink to excess. My father and my father's father were alcoholics. I was wary of over-drinking. I loved wine. My wife and I enjoyed trying new wines and matching them with foods. I did not care for rock and roll as a musical genre. I liked the Beatles, though a musical friend had to explain to me what was innovative in their music. My main musical loves were Broadway musicals, jazz, and new jazz. I was happily proto-bourgeois. I understood clearly that life's greatest gift to me was a clear mind and I did not want to do anything to cloud it.
To the extent that my private journal has any larger significance, it is, I think, because it throws light upon several under-appreciated aspects of 1960s radicalism, which I exemplified.
First, radicalism could be a broad intellectual stance, not simply political opposition to the Vietnam War or a psychological state or life-style choice. My radicalism pushed me toward philosophical views that would later be called, post-modernism. I will discuss these views and their sources in another post.
Second, I thought of myself as left, but I was not Marxist or a Communist. I did not embrace socialism or the abolition of private property. I was intellectually opposed to Marxist theory. My immediate frame of historical reference was the second world war and the struggle against totalitarianism. Totalitarianism repulsed me emotionally as well as intellectually. I was an individualist and proud of it. My anti-war position was within a strain of indigenous American radicalism that linked back to Progressives, such as Jane Addams, who opposed the Spanish American War and other Progressives who opposed U.S. entry into World War I. This radical tradition with which I identified was over-shadowed by the radicalism of Marxists and Communists in the anti-war movement and has since, I am sure, been forgotten.
A long-held principle that would qualify me as a radical made little appearance in the journal. This principle is world government. Since early high school, I believed that America's national sovereignty should be limited in favor of the United Nations, or some kind of world government. I thought world government was the best means to prevent total war, such as the world had recently been through, and to control nuclear weapons. In high school, for two years I participated in the model UN. This experience cemented my youthful idealism. My conviction in the necessity of world government would last until 9/11, when it became obvious the UN was a charade, world government was a figment of leftist ideology, and only sovereign national strength could protect us.
Third, what I did with my radical views shows one of the ways left radicalism entered the American universities in the 1970s and later. I channeled my philosophical radicalism into professional scholarship in my discipline. My scholarship helped to shift my fields (the history of science and technology) toward leftist pedagogy and theory. My scholarship had this influence without any explicit political label for its political position. It is a mistake to think that domination of America's elite academe by the political left is simply a matter of professors being registered Democrats or voicing their explicitly left-wing political opinions in the classroom. The more serious--and insidious--leftist influence is the very structure of the academic, disciplinary learning they teach to students. I will have more to say about this in my discussion of how the ideas in my journal presage what was later called post-modernism.