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Opinions & Views

Notables – Of Socialism and Sentimentality

"Socialism," wrote Dostoevsky in The Possessed, "spreads among us chiefly because of sentimentality." He was, of course, writing about upper-middle­ class, 19th-century Russian society, but a reading of Tmubled Journey: From Pearl Harbor to Ronald Reagan (Hill and Wang; New York) by Frederick Siegel suggests that the rise of the American New left during the 1960's was also made possibleby the spread of rootless senti­mentality during the 50's. Among conser­vatives, the 50's are often uncritically lauded as a time of social stability when leftism was vigorously opposed both at home and abroad. But, however bravely the Marines may have fought at Inchon, and however zealously the House Un­American Activities Committee may have pressed its case in Hollywood, middle America in the 50's was in the process of surrendering its religious convictions, the most important stay against the sentimentality that precedes leftist innovation.

Though long deeply divided over questions of religious doctrine, Amer­icans have for most of their history been firmly united in pondering such questions with unsentimental moral seriousness. In the 1950's, Dr. Siegel shows, that changed, as doctrinal religion melted into "a syrupy religion of good feelings" in which the pursuit of personal and familial happiness was guided by an outlook "relaxed, unadventurous, comfortably...

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