Max Rafferty
Max Rafferty; drawing by David Levine

Long ago Carey McWilliams, among the wisest commentators on California, said that “the time has not come to strike a balance for the California enterprise. There is still too much commotion—too much noise and movement and turmoil.” There is still plenty of commotion and turmoil but, if several of the authors under review are right, the time may have come for the Owl of Minerva to take flight. Morbidity is fashionable now, of course, and California is not its only subject. Longeur, fatigue, decay, stasis, playing-out, running-down, destruction, and death are themes so pervasive in contemporary culture that they need no further elaboration here. California, though, seems to provide a special stimulus to the imagination of disaster.

Most of the fear, detestation, and melancholy with which California is analyzed and written about is visited on Los Angeles or southern California, but in Raymond F. Dasmann’s The Destruction of California and in Kenneth Lamott’s Anti-California not even the San Francisco Bay region is let off. Similarly, there is no sense of difference between the north and south in The Secret Boss of California, the memoirs of “Artie” Samish, the king of California lobbyists. In his now dated revelation of the moral and political squalor of decades of government by organized special interests, Samish makes it clear that most legislators holding office throughout California during his reign could be had, and he claims that he had them.

Nevertheless, there are striking cultural and political differences between southern California and most of the rest of the state. The differences are not so great as Michael P. Rogin and John L. Shover allege but these writers offer the most penetrating analysis of California politics of all six books, and their analysis rests finally on the problem of the south. Former Governor Edmund G. (Pat) Brown, in Reagan and Reality, a book that obviously gave him great pleasure to write, puts it as follows:

Legally, the land between the Mexican and Oregon borders is one state, but the societies of people separated by the Tehachapi Mountains are as different as night and day. Northern Californians, particularly in the San Francisco area, tend to be politically progressive, tolerant of divergent viewpoints, and significantly influenced by intellectual leaders. Southern Californians, particularly in such booming areas as Orange County, tend to be politically reactionary, intolerant of individual deviations from majority WASP attitudes, and suspicious of intellectuals.

Brown makes clear his preference for the north, yet, upon his defeat by Reagan, he joined a Los Angeles law firm and took up residence in Beverly Hills.

One cannot understand the politics and culture of California unless one grasps the extent of the north-south difference. But to let it go with the observation that the two regions are as “different as night and day” is to be the victim of a half-truth. Rogin and Shover seem to argue that “southerners,” as they invariably call them, are unstable, authoritarian, intolerant, and fantasy-ridden because they live in “manufactured southern California homes” in “the synthetic southern California landscape” and because this synthetic southern California is itself the “real source of the anxiety” that they feel. But this misses too much about the rest of California and does not tell us enough about the southern Californians as a source of instability in state politics and as the pool of right-wing beliefs and voting strength. The Rogin-Shover analysis is complex and important and will be discussed at length below. But southern California is not the whole state.

Most writing on California that I am familiar with, including the six books under review, offers contradictory explanations for being concerned about California in the first place. Some writers have held that its far-flung geography and its diversity of economic activity, as well as its large and diverse population, make California a microcosm of the nation. On the other hand, some, including Lou Cannon in Ronnie and Jesse: A Political Odyssey, believe that California is “exceptional,” at least in politics.

Certainly Cannon’s careful and often admirable account of the background to last year’s fight for governor between Reagan and Jesse Unruh suggests that Reagan is distinctly a product of the state. He tries to show that under the pancake make-up and the nice-guy manner of the governor there are strange local tensions and churning feelings. But in his book Reagan slips away from us and we are left with Drake McHugh or the Gipper in Sacramento. We still do not understand the precise origin and appeal of Reagan’s almost incredible ferocity toward the weak and oppressed, although it seems somehow to take a singularly Californian form.

By far the most common reason given for the fascination with California is that it is the “wave of the future.” Pat Brown writes that “in some subtle way, California does seem to hint at the outlines of our national society of the future. Perhaps the reason for this portentous impression is the rapid pace of social change in California. The future seems to loom up more quickly in the state….” In The Destruction of California, a work that otherwise omits social speculation, Raymond Dasmann writes that “the problems that face California today, America must meet tomorrow. The waves of the future break first on the rocky California coast; change comes most rapidly.” Lamott’s view is similar, if gloomier: “What I have argued in this book is that the traditional forms of American life have been disintegrating faster in California than they have been elsewhere…” and, he concludes, “as California has gone, so eventually will go the rest of the United States.”


Rogin and Shover develop a version of the “wave of the future” formulation that I am drawn to. Rogin suggests (each author has contributed separate chapters) that in southern California certain crucial general tendencies of American life appear in heightened or exaggerated form. The heightening or exaggeration is owing in part, of course, to the synthetic southern California landscape and in part to the geographical origins and ethnic and religious character of the populations that flocked to the region in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. I would go beyond Rogin to suggest that much of what seems distinctive about California is really the working out of tendencies and forces present from the beginning of national life in the United States.

To say these things to people from the East, or even to many Californians, is to set their teeth on edge. Angelenos joke about it. “My God,” they say, “if this is what the whole world is supposed to look like someday, I hope that I am not around to see it.” When the great hill and canyon brush fires break out late in the long dry season, literate Angelenos gaze in awe at the flames glowing in the night sky and their minds run easily to Tod Hackett’s giant canvas, The Burning of Los Angeles.

Destruction, holocaust, catastrophe, and death can never be far from one’s thoughts in southern California, and, indeed, throughout this still beautiful state. The wonder lies in the coolness and resignation with which so many accept those thoughts of the end in California. Was it not only a few years ago that the national “pop” magazines competed with one another in getting out those breathless, gorgeously illustrated special editions on California and the hard-working but hedonistic new society that was developing here, about the new leisure and the new race of golden people who were being released from the imprisoning constraints that characterized not only the societies of the “Old World” but also the older, more eastern American society?

What has become of all those nubile teeny-boppers photographed with the salt spray glistening on their suntanned bodies? What has become of the handsome aerospace intellectuals who were photographed schussing down Mammoth Mountain and easily lugging a backpack across some remote Sierra trail? What will we do with all those dune buggies, motor bikes, power boats, trailers and campers, and the rest of that vast mountain of para-phernalia of the liberated and fun-filled good new life that California was to usher in for the rest of society? Can all of that have been only preparation for catastrophe?

Nearly fifty years ago, D. H. Lawrence, in the chapter on Hawthorne in Studies in Classic American Literature, wrote that “you must look through the surface of American art, and see the inner diabolism of the symbolic meaning. Otherwise it is all mere childishness…. Always the same. The deliberate consciousness of Americans so fair and smooth-spoken, and the under-consciousness so devilish. Destroy! Destroy! Destroy! hums the under-consciousness. Love and produce! Love and produce! cackles the upper-consciousness. And the world hears only the Love-and-produce cackle. Until such time as it will have to hear.”

Lawrence was not talking about physical destruction. The object of the detonating labor of Americans was Europe, the Old World with its ancient institutions, authorities, systems of law, customs, and hierarchies that kept men constrained and defined their identities, made some men masters and some underlings. The Americans were part of the breaking away that had begun in the Renaissance and continued through the Enlightenment. And the Americans could never rest until they had achieved “freedom,” by which, in Lawrence’s view, was meant mastery, or “masterlessness” for each person. Surely one essential component of the promise of America was that here individual men could have mastery, that is, be masterless.

Rogin argues along similar lines in his chapter on the southern Californians. He makes persuasive use of Louis Hartz’s powerful and suggestive “fragment culture” theory. For Hartz the American liberal tradition resulted from the “extrication of a bourgeois fragment from the turmoil of seventeenth-century England.” In Hartz’s thesis the broken-off fragment selects from the larger world of values those special ones that are especially congenial to it and proceeds, in isolation, to make those selected values into a total ideology which cannot be challenged or even questioned.


Thus, as Rogin notes, certain aspects of liberal, bourgeois culture ” ‘come back at us’ as the American way of life.” I believe that the crucial elements of seventeenth-century English liberalism transplanted in America were the concept of radical individualism and the concomitant notion that both society and government are legitimate only to the extent that they effectively serve the purposes of individual men. To put it another way, men need only love and obey their country so long as its arrangements permit them to be free and to enjoy the fruits of their work. Freedom, then, by which the Americans meant mainly equality, and comfort were the promises that America made to its people.

To be free, though, Americans had not only to do away with the obligations and loyalties of the Old World but also to subdue and eventually destroy the wilderness, the very land that beckoned them. They had to do this not only because the wilderness, the land, was alien and a power over them, but also in order to win that ease and comfort that was part of the promise. “Love and produce! cackles the upper-consciousness. Destroy! hums the under-consciousness.”

Lawrence’s vision is also suggested in Raymond F. Dasmann’s sorrowful and brilliantly written book The Destruction of California. Dasmann is no recently converted ecofreak. This book was first published in 1965, long before the current panic over the environment. Dasmann is a professional in forestry and range management and a sometime professor at Humboldt State College in Eureka. He is a native Californian. He is not horrified at the thought of a hunter dropping a fine buck deer or a fisherman landing a flashing cutthroat trout. (Although I must confess that I am.) In prose that seems slow, autumnal, elegiac even, Dasmann simply tells us what the natural environment of California once was like before the white men came, then before the Americans came for gold, then what it was still like when he was a boy during the Twenties and Thirties, and, finally, what it is like now after the population explosions of the mid-twentieth century. It is a heartbreaking account.

But Dasmann does not make any sensational charges. He hunts for no villains. He is even gentle to the Los Angeles water pirates of 1904-41, who were willing to ravage the Owens Valley in order to impound for Los Angeles’ growth the waters of the Owens River. He is gentle, too, with the San Franciscans who destroyed the stunning valley of the Tuolumne, a smaller Yosemite, for the same reason. In a way, for Dasmann, the enemy is the growth ethic itself. That ethic is a synonym for the greed and exploitativeness that are themselves the product of a relentless drive for individual gratification that is stripped of nearly all restraints, and legitimated as the American way of life.

What is the threat to California, and from whom does it come? The threat comes essentially from all who do not know what California was, cannot see what it is, cannot dream of what it could be. The enemies are those who have looked so long into the blast furnaces of civilization that they can no longer appreciate a sunset—those to whom growth is progress and progress is good, regardless of its direction—those to whom money is the single standard against which all else must be measured. California has been hacked and battered by the forces of ignorance and greed, and is today being forced in a direction that few would want to travel if they could see what lay ahead…. There are times when the change without apparent direction, and the growth without control, give the appearance of a socially acceptable madness….

Dasmann is not a political theorist and we cannot demand of him that he perform as one. His own account, nevertheless, makes it clear that the competing and combining private interests are no surrogate for the public interest. Dasmann wonders why we cannot simply say “Stop!” to the plunder. But a politics that has no other end than to serve the private purposes of individuals and groups has no authority to stop men who are pursuing them.

People have always come to California for reasons of self-interest—wealth, ease, security, even sensuousness and power have been their goals. They could not love the land for itself and when they built their cities they could not love the cities for themselves. They began arriving into a thin and quickly overwhelmed culture. There were no institutions, parties, neighborhoods, customs, and established authorities to receive them and to confine their energies. Successive new waves of immigrants rushed in bringing new problems and new demands upon a social and political order that had not yet begun to mature into settled and organized societies. It was the volatility of nineteenth-century California politics that led Lord Bryce to his famous pronouncement that “California politics is unique,” not that Californians are antic or zany or unpredictable as individuals.

It is the lack of a sense of historical complexity in Kenneth Lamott’s book Anti-California that makes it unsatisfactory. It is an enjoyable book for one who shares, as I do, so many of Lamott’s predilections, and, God knows, it is a glorious arsenal of ammunition for the California hater, which I am not. Its arrangement is cinematic and you can almost hear the camera clicking as you get brief exposures of Reagan and Rafferty, Birchers, Black Panthers and New Leftists, hippies, prison life, the Berkeley scene, a commune, middle California’s almost casual racism and savagery, encounter therapy, marriage counseling, angst and despair in the golden suburbs, the drug scene, the state’s well-known economic dependence on the defense industries and the military services, ex-priests and nuns, and generous discussion of the skyrocketing rates of alcoholism, divorce, and suicide right here in the Golden State.

Lamott is also disturbed by what he takes to be the genuine decline of the meaning and value of work in California, and its replacement by the dream of leisure. Lamott charges California with “parafascism,” a word which he uses to characterize the various scenes he reports so colorfully. Sometimes parafascism seems to mean the opting for Thanatos over Eros. Thus he considers a choice of leisure over work to be one of death over life and hence parafascist. The same goes for suicide, of course, and alcoholism and drug addiction. At other points Lamott seems to say that parafascism is the Reagan-generated and majority-backed repression of blacks and of nonconforming and dissenting young people and disaffected university intellectuals. Max Rafferty, for example, represents for Lamott the “finest flowering of the parafascist style.” He gets around the fact that the thankless voters retired Rafferty last year with a lame “Perhaps he was merely ahead of his time.”

But at his most earnest Lamott finds the true meaning of parafascism in the decline or decay of the great institutions of church, family, union, political party, and university. The implicit assumption is that at one time these vital institutions flourished in California and have only just recently fallen into decline. And this is precisely where, I think, California’s history contradicts him.

In truth, those great institutions never really had a chance to flourish here. Notably, as both Samish and Lou Cannon point out, the political parties have been almost nonexistent in the state since the Progressive reforms of 1911 and were, in any case, weak and easily swept aside or radically penetrated by non-party movements or explosive “third” party movements. California’s politics have been vulnerable to the “star system,” as Cannon calls it at least since 1910. California’s political parties have rarely been vehicles for the generation and enactment of coherent programs of public policy. Instead, legislation originates either in the governor’s mansion or with the swarm of lobbies whose sordid operation in the 1930s and 1940s Artie Samish so blandly describes. For Cannon the Reagan phenomenon is hardly a novelty. Jesse Unruh is the deviant figure, for while hardly a loyal Democratic party man, he did try hard to reform the legislature and to restore to it a measure of its rightful authority and power.

Unruh did not rise to prominence because of a flashy or engaging personality that would have enabled him to use television and the press to appeal over his party to the voters. He rose instead through skillful political maneuvering in the legislature and the Democratic party. He has never evoked much popular affection and to this day he is ill at ease when speaking to an impartial audience or in front of television cameras. But as Cannon tells his story one sees that he might have been a California-style “people’s” politician.

Unruh came to California in 1950 to work in the swiftly growing defense industry, having grown up in great poverty in the hard-scrabble wheat lands of Kansas and Texas, the region that produced the kind of Midwestern populism that has from time to time flourished in California. He was a fat, ungainly, lisping boy for whom nothing ever went right. This background, Cannon assures us, accounted for Unruh’s attraction to extreme left politics on the fringe of the Communist party in the late Forties, at the beginning of his political career. As he moved upward in Democratic politics, he shed more and more of his early radicalism. Still, even after he became the leader of the legislature and one of California’s most powerful politicians, he was capable of risky unexpected gestures that set him apart from other successful Democrats.

In 1967, for example, he tried to persuade Robert Kennedy to challenge Johnson in the primaries, something very few politicians were then prepared to do. There were moments during his almost hopeless campaign against Reagan when Unruh seemed ready to break with conventional politics. He hinted that he would expose the whole system of deals between business and politics in the state, including, presumably, his own role as a conduit of funds from interest groups to Democratic candidates in the legislature.

Although he did not do this, his campaign against Reagan was a brave one, and Republicans accused him of trying to pit the poor against the rich. He did not do that either, but as one reads Cannon’s generally sympathetic account of his life, one becomes convinced that Unruh is not like the compromising politician that we expect to find in the California Democratic party. If he had followed his radical inclinations, if he had not been so eager to escape from his fat, unhandsome, and wretchedly poor boyhood, he might have been a popular leader who could have to some degree changed politics in the state, rather than the successful insider that he has become today.

This is not to argue that parties and legislatures elsewhere in the country are powerful and effective vessels for taming and channeling outrage, grievances, and demands. It is merely to say, as Bryce and nearly every commentator after him have said, that the political parties in California are notably weak and susceptible to capture by volatile movements and able demogogues. Nor have the unions always contributed to a civilized democratic life. Los Angeles was an open shop town until after World War II. In the north the unions were an effervescent but not a continuously effective force until, following a successful general strike, Harry Bridges and his longshoremen won a victory in July of 1934; not long after, pro-union legislation was passed by the New Deal Congress and San Francisco became a solid union town. California churches, again especially in the south, have a similar history of instability. Los Angeles was surely the most churchified major city in the land before World War II but the basic style of those churches was evangelistic and politically volatile.

The Protestant sects of the south were a major contributing factor to the prairie fire success there, for example, of Upton Sinclair’s EPIC movement in 1933-34, as Rogin and Shover and other writers on that movement have pointed out. The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles and its press have been for as long as I can remember, both within the Church and in secular affairs, a voice for a particularly bleak and repellent species of howling reaction. Even in San Francisco, with its huge Irish and Italian populations, the Church was not successful in muting or gentling the periodic outbreaks of savage racism directed against Asians, notably by its very own communicants, from the 1870s to the passage of the state’s Alien Land Law under the “Progressive” Hiram Johnson in 1913.

No, the great social institutions did not sink deep roots in California. They were always in a race with time and vexed by the waves of new population pouring into the state. Their human material, their constituencies, so to speak, were, as they came to California, still acting out the great breaking-away that had begun in the seventeenth century, questing for liberation, mastery, and the good life which was inconceivable except as a wholly private life.

The gross facts of California have been known for a long time—the political and cultural differences between the “liberal” Bay Area and southern California, the land of Reagan, Rafferty, Yorty, and Nixon, which was, during the Thirties, the incubating place of revivalist mass movements in politics, based on panaceas such as the Townsend Plan. Rogin and Shover nevertheless provide the most thorough and convincing demonstration of the differences between north and south that has yet been written. Although an article by Wolfinger and Greenstein made a good case for this in 1969,* their analysis dealt almost wholly with contemporary material. Rogin and Shover, using voting returns and census data, go back to the 1890s, when Los Angeles, having just been swamped with the great migration of the 1880s, was emerging as a major urban center. They show us that the political divergence between north and south was there from the beginning and that the directions in which the divergence moved were nearly always the same, the south to the right, the north to the left.

To explain the political peculiarity of southern California Rogin begins with the fact that the great wave of migration to the region came mostly from the Middle West, from the plains, from the very states and classes that produced populism in the nineteenth century. The Middle Western domination of southern California migration slacked off somewhat after World War II when the Northeast and other regions added more to the swell. But from the 1880s until 1940 they came from the Middle West, the “Good Templars from Sedalia; honest spinsters from Grundy Center.”

They were predominantly Anglo-Saxon and Scots-Irish, overwhelmingly Protestant and predominantly low church. They were pietistic, narrow, rural in origin. We know them well from a dozen literary portraits. Tod Hackett tried to put them on his canvas. They brought their values and their dogmas and their rigidities with them and they stamped their character indelibly on the form of southern California, even though more recent population movements have diluted their strength.

San Francisco and its Bay region, on the other hand, attracted from the beginning a far more heterogeneous migration. It has, for example, large Irish, Italian, Chinese, and Hispanic minorities in addition to its black and chicano populations. In the last federal census that sought religious data (1936), two-thirds of the church members in the city population were Roman Catholic as compared to just over one-third Catholic for the Los Angeles metropolitan area. Rogin makes much of the Protestantism of the southern Californians and one infers that the more liberal and tolerant voting behavior of the Bay Area folk owes much to Catholicism. But why would Bay Area Catholics be more progressive and tolerant than Catholics in South Boston or Queens or Cicero, Illinois? He does not tell us.

In any case, it is the demographic character of the southern population confronting what Rogin calls the “synthetic” southern California landscape that, in his view, produces the peculiar right-wing proclivity. The Good Templars from Missouri cannot face their failure to realize the Grail that drew them to California and are at the same time deprived in the formless and synthetic landscape of the traditional, customary, and institutional supports that perhaps limited opportunity in their old homes but also made failure bearable. Unable to face their failure to be happy, unable to accept the fact that it is southern California itself that is making them sick, and living in a fantasy environment in any case, they turn against the familiar devils of right-wing mythology—communists, atheists, Negroes, long-haired youths, intellectuals. Their politics is a politics of fantasy and, Rogin asserts, their true hero was never Goldwater, “the real cowboy,” but “Ronald Reagan, the man who plays cowboys.” Rogin works this out skilfully and at times convincingly.

But the argument is marred by Rogin’s relentless hostility to southern California and, apparently, all of its population. Rogin uses the terms “southerner” and “right-wing southerner” interchangeably, for example, and one soon develops an image of thirteen million crew-cut and tight-lipped fanatics looking for hippies to beat up. His eagerness to smite southern California and all its works and people leads him, moreover, to other excesses. To argue, as he does, that southern Californian right-wingism owes much to a local preoccupation with the family and family values seems to me preposterous. Rogin does not explain how there can be at once a devotion to the family as an institution throughout southern California and an equally prevalent collapse of the family as an institution. One out of every two marriages in Los Angeles ends in divorce.

In the same vein, how can there be a pervasive hatred of the sensuous in a culture that is drowning in its own sensuousness? When Rogin insists that southern Californians hate the sensuous, he echoes an ancient error of the intellectual left, namely, the belief that right wingers have rotten sex lives. From the Balboa Club to the Santa Susanna Pass the slashed and fire-denuded hills of the southland reverberate with the love shrieks of the populace. There are hot August nights in the San Fernando Valley when you feel the air stir only to the susurrus of the love gasps of the coupling masses. There are plenty of people like Mrs. Grundy in southern California, but I suspect that what might be driving them up the wall is the way of life that is most visible in Los Angeles.

A dogmatism about the southern Californians also seems to me to lead Rogin and Shover astray when they try to show that the elections of the mid-Sixties demonstrate another mass movement to the right in California politics—a movement that smashed the Democrats while bringing Rafferty and Murphy and Reagan to power, repudiated the claims of the rising black movement, cut back on social welfare and education, and sought with every means at its disposal to repress dissent from the left. If the elections of the Sixties were critical elections, moreover, and Rogin and Shover argue that they were, the conservative mass movement they reflected will determine the shape of California’s politics on into the future. It is clear that this movement to the right was powered from the south though, of course, it was felt in northern California as well.

But were the elections of the mid-Sixties so decisive after all? Did they truly produce an enduring new alignment in the state? In 1970 Rafferty was beaten for re-election by a black man with a decisive margin, and would have been beaten even if the elections had been confined to the south alone. Jesse Unruh, hampered by past unpopularity and feuds and severely under-financed, cut in half the margin Reagan enjoyed over Brown four years earlier. George Murphy was beaten by the unknown Tunney and also would have lost even had only the southern counties voted. The Democrats regained control of both houses of the state legislature and hold a majority of the state’s Congressional seats including ten of the seventeen southern seats.

Straw polls are not the hard data that election returns are, but the highly respected Field poll reported in August that in California Kennedy, Muskie, Lindsay, or McCarthy would easily defeat Nixon. More ominously for the Republicans, every indication to date tells us that the 18-21 year olds are registering as Democrats by astonishing pluralities in the south as well as in the north, 3 to 1 in Los Angeles County and 2 to 1 in Orange County. In Riverside, which was until recently the most staunchly Republican county in the state, the new voters are registering Democratic by a 3 to 1 margin. Rogin and Shover could not have foreseen the 18-21 year old vote but I think that they were too quick to leap to the conclusion that that opening to the right of the 1960s generated an enduring realignment of politics in California.

Still, if Rogin and Shover conclude too quickly that the right wing is entrenched in its control of California, how much does this mean? Of course one hopes for victory for the liberal Democrats, indeed for anything that will put an end to the merciless Reagan regime which now falls so brutally on the poor, the elderly, the sick, and on the blacks and chicanos, and which blights the educational system and stifles nonconformity and dissent. But there is no evidence that a return to government by liberal Democrats and liberal Republicans offers any real hope for this state.

The liberal Democrats, as Pat Brown makes clear, are still committed to “growth,” to satisfying private desires, and to a politics based on balancing the claims of powerful interest groups. They have no formula, for example, for controlling the power of the vast water and highway lobbies, each a constellation of corporate pressure groups, ranging from big farmers to auto manufacturers. In fact, more than a few liberal politicians are beholden to these lobbies for campaign funds.

The liberals, then, are committed essentially to “things as they were”—before Reagan. But things as they were produced exactly the destruction of California which Dasmann describes and which is going to continue even if the current cast of politicians and lobbyists leaves the scene. The liberal Democrats and moderate Republicans are not able to transform the mobile and restless Californians from a mass to a genuine public because they still believe that the primary object of politics is to serve private interests.

Rogin is hard on the moralizing conscience of the WASPS who migrated to the Los Angeles basin. He seems almost to resent their intrusion of that conscience into the public sphere, as when Angelenos voted populist, or, in the early days, Socialist, and after that for the Progressive party and Sinclair’s EPIC. It is true that the fleeting leftist expressions of the south have been eruptive and inclined to slogans rather than to the sustained economic and social matter of politics. American populism has never been wholly edifying or admirable and it is easy to caricature the Sinclair movement and the Townsend Plan. But these were at least mass outbursts of rage and conscience against public injustice and immorality. Perhaps that middle-class, Middle Western WASP conscience can be touched again and turned toward the real public issues of this jumpy, divided, and despoiled state.

This Issue

October 7, 1971