American Culture Studies Ph.D. Dissertations

Title

New Deal To New Majority: SDS's Failure to Realign the Largest Political Coalition in the 20th Century

Date of Award

2015

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Department

American Culture Studies

First Advisor

Clayton Rosati (Advisor)

Second Advisor

Francisco Cabanillas (Other)

Third Advisor

Ellen Berry (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Oliver Boyd-Barret (Committee Member)

Fifth Advisor

Bill Mullen (Committee Member)

Abstract

Many historical accounts of the failure of the New Left and the ascendency of the New Right blame either the former's militancy and violence for its lack of success—particularly after 1968—or the latter's natural majority among essentially conservative American voters. Additionally, most scholarship on the 1960s fails to see the New Right as a social movement. In the struggles over how we understand the 1960s, this narrative, and the memoirs of New Leftists which continue that framework, miss a much more important intellectual and cultural legacy that helps explain the movement's internal weakness. Rather than blame "evil militants" or a fixed conservative climate that encircled the New Left with both sanctioned and unsanctioned violence and brutality––like the Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI) counter intelligence program COINTELPRO that provide the conditions for a unstoppable tidal wave "with the election of Richard M. Nixon in 1968 and reached its crescendo in the Moral Majority, the New Right, the Reagan administration, and neo-conservatism" (Breines "Whose New Left" 528)––the key to this legacy and its afterlives, I will argue, is the implicit (and explicit) essentialism bound to narratives of the "unwinnability" of especially the white working class. In this dissertation, I demonstrate that a Gramscian analysis resists this essentialism and fatalism, and is better suited for an historical analysis of competing social movements vying for hegemony in the 1960s.

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