Democracy and the Sixties [2 posts]
Mon, 24 Jun 1996 12:01:57 -0400


In an earlier post, I wrote that:

>The problem with the "pro-democratic" tag is that it is not accurate.

Ted Morgan replied:

>You seem to be using the term "democratic" in a conventional sense, focusing
>only on the tactics and behavior of 60s movements. Of course, not every
action >was "democratic" or "pro-democratic" -- conventionally defined or
not. No one >claims that.

Well, you're right, Ted, I was using the term in a "conventional" sense. I
like using words in the way that people normally understand them, especially
since the conventional sense makes some, while your unconventional "pro
democracy" seems strained and ambiguous. It reminds me of people who read
horoscopes or tell fortunes, they tell people a few favorable things, like
they're for equality and empowerment, make some vague connection to the
arrangement of the stars, or Athenian democracy if you like, and the listener
feels you've described them to the T.
I find your methodology to be both dangerous and ultimately
counterproductive. Once we give the green light to being selective with
one's facts and interpretations, you can connect the sixties to numerous
political ideas, many of which aren't nearly as favorable as "pro-democracy."
I see no reason to accept such an approach unless it can demonstrate some
discernable connective tissue; demonstrating that there were either some
identifiable movements who actively -- with real live people -- carried their
"pro-democratic" ideas into the sixties or that these ideas were so
demonstrable strong that numerous people described themselves in that fashion
at the time. You can do neither.

I appreciate what you're trying to do. If you had been pressing for this
means of identifying ourselves back in the sixties, I would have supported it
all the way. But it is a little late to be claiming a "vision" that somehow
didn't occur to anyone at the time and, as you have admitted, scarcely
defined their actual conduct, at least in the "conventional" way. I can
certainly understand why using the term "pro-democracy" feels unbearably
enticing. On the one hand, it has a wonderfully positive connotation, and on
the other, as Grover Furr noted, it's really unclear what it means. No one,
after all, is avowedly "anti-democratic." So why not describe ourselves, and
all our beliefs, as "pro-democratic" and their's as "anti-democratic." After
all, conservatives get away with this crap all the time; why can't we cash in
on a similar deal?

The underlying difficulty is reality, the sixties simply didn't go down like
that. The sixties weren't fundamentally about democracy; rather it was an
effort to create a moral revival, to get America to conform to the morality
it professed. Take Julia's example of the Berkeley faculty supporting them 7
to 1 during the free speech movement. What if they had refused to take a
position, or voted against the students, would they have quit? I don't think
so. The sixties were like that, we weren't going to be bound by the tyranny
of a democratic majority, we were going to do what we thought was right. And
we did. Sometimes we were right, sometimes maybe not, but we sure weren't
waiting for a majority to catch up with us.

Yes, I know, there I go again, talking about that conventional democracy
stuff. The problem is, the people to whom we're trying to peddle this
interpretation to, the American people, they think like that. Their memories
are real conventional. If we start trying to claim that the sixties were
"pro democratic," they aren't going to remember it like that and when they
start pointing out the contradictions, what are you going to tell them, that
you didn't mean it in the "conventional" way. Uh huh, I'm all for improving
the reputation of the sixties and garnering any rhetorical advantage we can
get, but Ted, this isn't going to float. Martin


Martin writes,
>In an earlier post, I wrote:
>>The sixties . . . didn't begin until after the voter registration drives in
>>the South.
>Ted Morgan replied:
>>Perhaps ironically, it echoes the bizarre (but convenient) notion of "the
>Sixties" paraded by conservatives like Jonathan Yardley, Joseph Sobran and
>Allen Bloom

Martin, no offense intended, I said "perhaps ironically" because I didn't know
where you were coming from ideologically --though I hardly thought you were a
"right wing ringer" (nor was Allen Bloom...).

In your new message you date the Sixties beginning at a time when the voter
registration drive BEGAN, whereas in the first post you said the Sixties didn't
begin until AFTER the voter registration drives (which to my mind sounds like
'64-65 at the earliest); which happens to be the date that both Bloom and
Yardley cite as the beginning of "the Sixties." That's what triggered my
response. Of course, there are many possible beginnings, as you say, and a
good case could be made for the beginning of the voter registration drives in
the very early 60s by SNCC. I think the infusion of students into the civil
rights movement beginning with the sit-ins is another pretty persuasive
"beginning." It also coincides with the year 1960.

Ted Morgan

Annie Gottlieb's book.... well, that's another issue.