Having lived through the 1960s, later chronicling the rise of the civil rights, antiwar, and feminist movements on Pacifica radio, then going to graduate school in history at UCLA where I studied 19th and 20th century social movements and how they were taught by UCLA’s radical faculty, I have thoughts on the violent response to the Ferguson Missouri’s grand jury’s decision not to indict policeman Darren Wilson, which was met by lumpen mayhem and/or “protest” in the streets, not only in Missouri, but in larger cities with radicalized minority populations and sympathetic “liberal” white grownups of a certain age.
In response to the looting and burning, conservative pundit Andrea Tantaros suggested on the Fox show Outnumbered that families should sit down and talk to their (adolescent) kids, presumably to keep them on the straight and narrow. This is an understandable wish, but hopelessly naïve. Why?
As most parents know, puberty and adolescence are harrowing times, for youngsters, with or without the discipline of fathers, are rejecting parents for peer groups, and often indulge in ritual rebellions (as in their preference for the “romanticism,” drugs, fast cars, and the defiance of rock and roll). Add to this that the current population of American kids have been instructed by 1960s-70s veterans of social movements that were often New Left in orientation, hence undisciplined and attracted to anarchy and chaos, unlike the comparatively disciplined pre-war 1930s communist activists to whom they are often linked by populist conservatives.
Indeed, academics sometimes link the New Left spirit to that of the Jazz Age in the 1920s. There is the same primitivism and the same fantasy that pre-capitalist or “Third World” societies are closer to Nature, are uncorrupted by technology, and hence are instinctually liberated. It is imagined, incorrectly, that there are no rules about sex or aggression amongst, say, South Sea Islanders. (I have written about this misunderstanding ad nauseum. See for instance https://clarespark.com/2011/05/12/the-great-common-goes-to-the-white-house/, retitled “Rappers, primitivism, and ritual rebellion.” Or try this more recent blog on Robert Redford’s movie The Company You Keep, with its fantasy of a reconstructed happy family close to Nature: https://clarespark.com/2013/11/17/rehabilitating-the-weathermen/. Or, compare Marx to Lenin: https://clarespark.com/2014/06/07/marx-vs-lenin/.
I have left out one crucial cause of the looting, burning, and general protest, and it involves American communist politics in the 1960s. The Old Left should have known better, but having supported a Black Belt in the Southern US in the 1930s, later communists rejected the peaceful, integrationist, pro-American strategy of Martin Luther King Jr. for what should be described as contemporary fascism or proto-fascism: the separatism and anti-“Euro-centricity” of the law-and-order West. It too found supporters in disaffected youth, herded together in ghettoes dominated by the Democratic machine. (I chronicled this partly here: https://clarespark.com/2009/10/31/the-offing-of-martin-luther-king-jr-and-ralph-bunche/.) The Right has correctly pointed out the power of the Democratic machines in opposing school choice, but fails to understand child development, while overestimating the power of the “strong Father,” whose authoritarianism may incite revolt in the children.
It would be better for liberals, moderates and conservatives alike to pay attention to this recent history, which remains alive today. Historians of fascism as disparate as George L. Mosse and Robert O. Paxton similarly agree that European fascism was partially sparked by youth revolt, participants in the disillusion and brutality of the masses that were traumatized and ready to rumble after the horrors of the Great War–a cataclysm whose after effects still haunt us.
The action faction, sadly, is not dead.