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Ideology and action: American liberalism and radicalism, 1945-1972

O'Donnell, Michael Hugh


Michael Hugh O'Donnell


This thesis, titled Ideology and Action: American Liberalism and Radicalisim 1945-1972, is an interdisciplinary study of liberal and radical thought. The term ideology is defined as a consciously held body of values, strategies and goals, and carries no necessary
connotation of "falseness" as when used by some Marxist critics.
The thesis begins with a chapter on post-war liberal thought, particularly as articulated by such end of ideology critics as Daniel Bell, Edward Shils, and Seymour Martin Lipset. Chapter 2, titled "Dissent Within Consensus," deals with the work of the few, isolated, radical critics of the nineteen fifties, notably Marcuse, Mills, Goodman, and Fromm. The first two chapters set the context for the major part of the thesis which is primarily concerned with the development of the ideology of the New Left in a socio-economic context (Chapters 3-9). The first part of Chapter 3 describes and analyses
the social origins of the elite or "leader" group of radical activists. The second part of Chapter 3 attempts to establish that the New Left was an idealistic (i.e. millenarian) movement. This is done by correlating available data on the values of the activist with a model
of political ideology (presented and explained in the introduction). Chapters 4-10, as well as giving detailed treatment of the New Left, also analyse the new socialism, as represented by Studies on the Left, and the social democratic ideas of Irving Howe, Michael Harrington and others. Liberalism, which is considered to be the dominant ideology of the period, is recurrently referred to and analysed as it exerted both positive and negative influences on the New Left.
Chapter 8 deals with the cultural radicalism of the New Left. The attempt to achieve revolution through cultural action with little regard for political organisation end goals is regarded as a particularly pronounced example of the idealism of the New Left. More sympathetically, radical culture is seen in some of its aspects as an attempt to set up alternative or countercultural forms of consciousness creating apparatus. In this perspective the counterculture may be recorded as a direct attempt to combat the dominant system in the area of the socialisation of consciousness.
Chapter 9 analyses and explains the final break-up of the New Left and, Chapter 10, titled "After the Revolution," comments on the current state of the American Left. Chapter 11 presents some conclusions about the role of ideology in politics and on what the experience of the sixties teaches us about radicalism in the United States.


O'Donnell, M. H. (1974). Ideology and action: American liberalism and radicalism, 1945-1972

Additional Information For access to the hard copy thesis, check the University Library catalogue.

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