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Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 October 2013

Department of History, Trinity College Dublin E-mail:


By embodying the hopes of a set of qualitative liberals who believed that postwar economic abundance opened up opportunities for self-development, David Riesman's bestselling The Lonely Crowd influenced the New Left. Yet Riesman's assessment of radical youth protest shifted over the course of the 1960s. As an antinuclear activist he worked closely with New Left leaders during the early 1960s. By the end of the decade, he became a sharp critic of radical protest. However, other leading members of Riesman's circle, such as Kenneth Keniston, author of the influential Young Radicals (1968), applied Riesman's ideas to create more sympathetic understandings of the New Left. Examining reactions to the New Left by Riesman and his associates allows historians to go beyond the common understanding of the key ideological divisions of the 1960s as existing between liberalism and radicalism or between liberalism and conservatism to better appreciate the significance of splits among liberals themselves.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2013 

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I thank Nathan Glazer, Roger Hagan, Robert Jay Lifton, and Michael Maccoby for discussing their memories of Riesman with me. I gratefully acknowledge those scholars whose suggestions aided my revisions of this article: Charles Capper, Howard Brick, and two anonymous MIH readers; Jamie Cohen-Cole, Anna Creadick, Larry Friedman, Jennifer Frost, Andrew Hartman, Dan Horowitz, Richard King, Julie Rubin, and Steve Whitfield. This article is dedicated in loving memory to Joie.


1 David Riesman, “The Lonely Crowd: Twenty Years After,” Box 40, HUGFP 99.16, David Riesman Papers, Harvard University Archives (henceforth referred to as “Riesman Papers”), 3, 5. I quote here from unpublished excerpts of a draft preface to the 1969 edition of The Lonely Crowd.

2 David Riesman to Nathan Glazer, 8 July 1968, Box 13, HUGFP 99.12, Riesman Papers.

3 “The Young Are Captives of Each Other: A Conversation with David Riesman and T. George Harris,” Psychology Today 3 (Oct. 1969), 28–31, 63–6, 28.

4 George Harris, T., “The Children of the Lonely Crowd,” Psychology Today 3 (Oct. 1969), 26Google Scholar.

5 “The Young are Captives of Each Other,” 28.

6 Harris, “Children of the Lonely Crowd,” 26.

7 Brick, Howard, Transcending Capitalism: Visions of a New Society in Modern American Thought (Ithaca, 2006)Google Scholar.

8 Collins, Robert M., More: The Politics of Growth in Postwar America (New York, 2000)Google Scholar.

9 Schlesinger, Arthur Jr, “The Failure of World Communism,” Saturday Evening Post, 19 May 1962, 14; see also Arthur Schlesinger Jr, “The Future of Liberalism,” The Reporter 14 (3 May 1956), 8–11Google Scholar.

10 As quoted in Braunstein, Peter and William Doyle, Michael, eds., Imagine Nation: The American Counterculture of the 1960s and ’70s (New York, 2002), 11Google Scholar.

11 Some historians have argued that “New Left” should apply more broadly to the entirety of left-wing activity during this period. See Gosse, Van, “A Movement of Movements: The Definition and Periodization of the New Left,” in Agnew, Jean-Christophe and Rosenzweig, Roy, eds., A Companion to Post-1945 America (Malden, 2002), 277302Google Scholar.

12 Rossinow, Doug, The Politics of Authenticity: Liberalism, Christianity, and the New Left in America (New York, 1998)Google Scholar.

13 Cohen-Cole, Jamie, “The Creative American: Cold War Salons, Social Science, and the Cure for Modern Society,” Isis 100 (2009), 219–62, 219CrossRefGoogle Scholar, 222.

14 For biographical details see Riesman, David, “Becoming an Academic Man,” in Berger, Bennett M., ed., Authors of Their Own Lives: Intellectual Autobiographies by Twenty Sociologists (Berkeley, 1990), 2274Google Scholar; Riesman, “A Personal Memoir: My Political Journey,” in Powell, Walter W. and Robins, Richard, eds., Conflict and Consensus: A Festschrift in Honor of Lewis A. Coser (New York, 1984), 327–64Google Scholar; Riesman, “Biographical Statement,” Box 54, HUGFP 99.16, Riesman Papers; Horowitz, Daniel, “David Riesman: From Law to Social Criticism,” Buffalo Law Review 58 (July 2010), 1005–29Google Scholar. For historical interpretations of The Lonely Crowd see especially Genter, Robert, Late Modernism: Art, Culture, and Politics in Cold War America (Philadelphia, 2010), 7389Google Scholar; McClay, Wilfred, The Masterless: Self and Society in Modern America (Chapel Hill, 1994), 233–61Google Scholar; Lunn, Eugene, “Beyond ‘Mass Culture’: The Lonely Crowd, the Uses of Literacy, and the Postwar Era,” Theory and Society 19 (Feb. 1990), 6386CrossRefGoogle Scholar; and Brick, Transcending Capitalism, 172–80. Given its greater historical significance and Riesman's judgment that the abridgment was an improvement over the original, historians have every reason to consider the 1953 edition the definitive version of The Lonely Crowd. Riesman later claimed that the abridged version is “not only more available, but also a better book.” Riesman to Robert Lifton, 4 Oct. 1968, Box 28, HUGFP 99.12, Riesman Papers.

15 Neil McLaughlin, “Critical Theory Meets America: Riesman, Fromm, and the The Lonely Crowd,” American Sociologist (Spring 2001), 5–22.

16 Mancini, Matthew, Alexis de Tocqueville and American Intellectuals: From His Time to Ours (Lanham, MD, 2006)Google Scholar.

17 Larrabee, Eric, “David Riesman and His Readers,” in Martin Lipset, Seymour and Lowenthal, Leo, ed., Culture and Social Character: The Work of David Riesman Reviewed (New York, 1961), 404–16, 408Google Scholar.

18 David Riesman with Glazer, Nathan and Denney, Reuel, The Lonely Crowd: A Study of the Changing American Character (New Haven, 2001), 163Google Scholar. I cite the most recent edition of The Lonely Crowd. This version is a reprinting of the 1969 edition, the third edition of the 1953 abridgment; it contains the important prefaces from both the 1961 and 1969 editions.

19 On this point, see Horowitz, “From Law to Social Criticism.” For the argument that The Lonely Crowd should be viewed as part of the postwar crisis of masculinity see Gilbert, James, Men in the Middle: Searching for Masculinity in the 1950s (Chicago, 2005), 3461Google Scholar.

20 Riesman, The Lonely Crowd, xlii.

21 McClay, The Masterless, 257.

22 Riesman, The Lonely Crowd, 307.

23 Ibid., 255.

24 Ibid., 239.

25 Ibid., 240.

26 Ibid., 245.

27 Ibid., 72.

28 Ibid., 260.

29 Ibid., 249.

30 Ibid., 240.

31 Ibid., 96.

32 The Doubleday paperback edition of 1953–60 sold 543,111 copies. In 1961, however, Yale University Press took back the paperback rights to the book. That edition had sold 411,000 copies by 1970. See “Memorandum to Authors of The Lonely Crowd,” 10 Dec. 1970, Box 39, HUGFP 99.16, Riesman Papers.

33 Riesman to Kerr, 8 Oct. 1963, Box 39, HUGFP 99.16, Riesman Papers.

34 Riesman to Toni Maura, 4 March 1961, Box 40, HUGFP 99.16, Riesman Papers.

35 David Riesman, “The College Student in an Age of Organization,” Chicago Review 12 (Aug. 1958), 50–68, 68.

36 Larrabee, “David Riesman and His Readers,” 416.

37 Friedman, Lawrence J., Identity's Architect: A Biography of Erik H. Erikson (New York, 1999), 306–9Google Scholar. In a 21 Jan. 1965 letter, Riesman reported to Glazer that his class had 350 students; see Box 13, HUGFP 99.12, Riesman Papers.

38 Riesman, “A Personal Memoir,” 339.

39 See Wittner, Lawrence S., The Struggle against the Bomb, vol. 2, Resisting the Bomb: A History of the World Nuclear Disarmament Movement, 1954–1970 (Stanford, 1997)Google Scholar; Isserman, Maurice, If I Had a Hammer: The Death of the Old Left and the Birth of the New Left (Urbana, 1993)Google Scholar.

40 On the Committee of Correspondence and TOCSIN see Daniel Geary, “The New Left and Liberalism Reconsidered: The Committee of Correspondence and the Port Huron Statement,” in Richard Flacks and Nelson Lichtenstein, The Port Huron Statement at 50 (forthcoming from University of Pennsylvania Press); Lipset, Seymour Martin and Riesman, David, Education and Politics at Harvard (New York, 1975), 206–8Google Scholar; Riesman, “A Personal Memoir,” 346–50; Gitlin, Todd, The Sixties: Years of Hope, Days of Rage (New York, 1987), 87104Google Scholar.

41 Riesman, David, “Postscript to the Postscript,” Newsletter of the Committee of Correspondence 9 (15 Sept. 1961), 31Google Scholar.

42 Riesman, David, “John F. Kennedy and After,” The Correspondent 30 (Jan./Feb. 1964), 20Google Scholar.

43 Riesman, David and Maccoby, Michael, “The American Crisis,” in Riesman and Maccoby, Abundance for What? And Other Essays (Garden City, NY, 1964), 28–51, 46Google Scholar.

44 Ibid., 42.

45 Ibid., 47.

46 David Riesman and Michael Maccoby, “The Search for a Challenge,” in Riesman and Maccoby, Abundance for What?, 349–67, 360.

47 Mirra, Carl, The Admirable Radical: Staughton Lynd and Cold War Dissent, 1945–1970 (Kent, OH, 2010)Google Scholar.

48 Riesman to Hughes, 10 Jan. 1961, Box 29, HUGFP 99.12, Riesman Papers.

49 Riesman, David, Thorstein Veblen: A Critical Interpretation (New York, 1960)Google Scholar, xvi.

50 Ibid., xi.

51 Riesman, Abundance for What?, 96.

52 Riesman to Mr Morin, 27 Dec. 1963, Box 39, HUGFP 99.16, Riesman Papers.

53 Riesman, The Lonely Crowd, lxvii; Goodman, Paul, Growing Up Absurd: Problems of Youth in the Organized System (New York, 1960)Google Scholar.

54 The Port Huron Statement, reprinted in Miller, James, “Democracy Is in the Streets”: From Port Huron to the Siege of Chicago (New York, 1987), 329–74, 329Google Scholar, 332.

55 Ibid., 373.

56 Preface to The Lonely Crowd (French edn, Feb. 1964), Box 40, HUGFP 99.16, Riesman Papers, 1–2.

57 David Riesman to Seymour Martin Lipset, 22 July 1968, Box 29, HUGFP 99.12, Riesman Papers.

58 Rossinow, Doug, Visions of Progress: The Left-Liberal Tradition in America (Philadelphia, 2008), 240–53Google Scholar

59 As Michael Kazin points out, this phrase, initially uttered by Free Speech Movement activist Jack Weinberg, was taken out of context; see Kazin, American Dreamers: How the Left Changed a Nation (New York, 2011), 212.

60 Riesman, David, “Postscript,” Newsletter of the Committee of Correspondence 7 (21 July 1961), 24Google Scholar.

61 Riesman, David, “Morals and Politics,” The Correspondent 35 (Autumn 1965), 8Google Scholar.

62 Riesman to Keniston, 5 Jan. 1966, Box 24, HUGFP 99.12, Riesman Papers.

63 Nathan Glazer, “What Happened at Berkeley,” Commentary (Feb. 1965), 39–47.

64 Keller, Morton and Keller, Phyllis, Making Harvard Modern: The Rise of America's University (New York, 2001), 308–18Google Scholar; Eichel, Lawrence al., The Harvard Strike (Boston, 1970)Google Scholar.

65 Lipset, Seymour Martin, American Student Activism (Santa Monica, 1968), 2Google Scholar.

66 Glazer, Nathan, “Student Protest in the U.S.,” Economic and Political Weekly 2 (25 March 1967), 602Google Scholar.

67 Lipset, Seymour Martin, Rebellion in the University (Boston, 1971)Google Scholar, xxii.

68 Riesman to Hughes, 1 May 1963, Box 12, HUGFP 99.12, Riesman Papers.

69 Lipset and Riesman, Education and Politics at Harvard, 370. It was not only Jews, however, who drew parallels between the New Left and fascism. Writing to Robert McNamara following SDS's disruption of his visit to Harvard, Harvard president Nathan Pusey apologized for the students’ adoption of the “tactics of Brown Shirts.” See Keller and Keller, Making Harvard Modern, 308.

70 Lipset and Riesman, Education and Politics at Harvard, 361.

71 Riesman, David, “The Business of ‘Business as Usual’,” Change 2 (Sept.–Oct. 1970), 68, 6CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

72 Jencks, Christopher and Riesman, David, The Academic Revolution (Garden City, NY, 1968), 541Google Scholar.

73 Hughes, H. Stuart, Gentleman Rebel: The Memoirs of H. Stuart Hughes (New York, 1990), 285Google Scholar.

74 Glazer, “Student Protest in the U.S.,” 603.

75 Riesman, David, “Some Reservations about Black Power,” Transaction 5 (Nov. 1967), 20–22, 20Google Scholar, 22.

76 Riesman to Hofstadter, 28 March 1969, Box 19, HUGFP 99.12, Riesman Papers.

77 Riesman to David Marcell, 4 Dec. 1968, Box 40, HUGFP 99.16, Riesman Papers.

78 Esteve, Mary, “Shipwreck and Autonomy: Rawls, Riesman, and Oppen in the 1960s,” Yale Journal of Criticism 18 (Fall 2005), 323–49CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

79 Riesman to Glazer, 8 July 1968, Box 13, HUGFP 99.12, Riesman Papers.

80 Riesman to Jencks, 1 Nov. 1967, Box 23, HUGFP 99.12, Riesman Papers.

81 Riesman, The Lonely Crowd, xxii.

82 Ibid., xxii.

83 Riesman to Michael Maccoby, 13 Feb. 1968, Box 29. HUGFP 99.12, Riesman Papers.

84 Riesman, The Lonely Crowd, xxxi.

85 Riesman to Gordon Zahn, 30 Oct. 1970, Box 16, HUGFP 99.16, Riesman Papers.

86 Irving Howe, “New Styles in ‘Leftism,’” Dissent 12 (Summer 1965), 295–317; Brown, David S., Richard Hofstadter: An Intellectual Biography (Chicago, 2006), 163–87CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

87 Herman, Ellen, “Being and Doing: Humanistic Psychology and the Spirit of the 1960s,” in Tischler, Barbara L., ed., Sights on the Sixties (New Brunswick, NJ, 1992), 92Google Scholar; Hoffman, Edward, The Right to Be Human: A Biography of Abraham Maslow (New York, 1988), 292Google Scholar. See also Theodore Wisniewski's excellent “Experimenting with Power: Liberal Psychologists and the Dilemma of Social Reform,” PhD diss., City University of New York, 2008.

88 Keniston to Riesman, 1 Jan. 1969, Box 24, HUGFP 99.12, Riesman Papers.

89 Riesman to George Mahl, 20 Jan. 1966, Box 24, HUGFP 99.12, Riesman Papers.

90 Keniston to Riesman, 1 Jan. 1969, Box 24, HUGFP 99.12, Riesman Papers.

91 Keniston, Kenneth, The Uncommitted: Alienated Youth in American Society (New York, 1965), 13Google Scholar.

92 Keniston, Kenneth, Young Radicals: Notes on Committed Youth (New York, 1968), 347Google Scholar.

93 Ibid., 239.

94 See Flacks, Richard, Youth and Social Change (Chicago, 1971)Google Scholar.

95 Keniston, Young Radicals, 276.

96 Ibid., 241.

97 Ibid., 233.

98 Ibid., 230

99 Ibid., 296.

100 Ibid., 9.

101 Kenniston, Kenneth, Youth and Dissent: The Rise of a New Opposition (New York, 1971), 271Google Scholar.

102 On Riesman's trip to Japan see Riesman, David and Riesman, Evelyn Thompson, Conversations in Japan (New York, 1967)Google Scholar.

103 Lifton, Robert Jay, Witness to an Extreme Century: A Memoir (New York, 2011), 342–7Google Scholar.

104 Ibid., 54.

105 Lifton, Robert Jay, History and Human Survival: Essays on the Young and Old, Survivors and the Dead, Peace and War, and on Contemporary Psychohistory (New York, 1970), 312Google Scholar.

106 Ibid., 313.

107 Ibid., 324.

108 Ibid., 371.

109 Ibid., 356.

110 Lifton, Witness to an Extreme Century, 197–204.

111 Riesman to Mahl, 22 Jan. 1966.

112 Lecture Notes, 22 April 1970, Box 1, HUGFP 99.62, Riesman Papers.

113 “Further Notes on Keniston's The Sources of Student Dissent, for Lecture Monday, April 29,” Box 1, HUGFP 99.62, Riesman Papers.

114 Riesman to Keniston, 5 July 1967, Box 24, HUGFP 99.12 Riesman Papers.

115 Riesman to Lifton, 8 Oct. 1968, Box 28, HUGFP 99.12, Riesman Papers.

116 Lifton to Riesman, 29 Oct. 1968, Box 28, HUGFP 99.12, Riesman Papers.

117 Lifton, Witness, 214. Lifton did not learn of this comment until after Riesman's death.

118 Lifton, Robert Jay, Thought Reform and the Psychology of “Totalism”: A Study of “Brain Washing” in China (New York: Norton, 1961)Google Scholar. In a letter to Riesman, Lifton had written, “I share your horror of Maoism. Lifton to Riesman, 29 Oct. 1968.

119 Riesman to Lifton, 8 Oct. 1968.

120 Lifton to Riesman, 29 Oct. 1969.

121 Bellah to Riesman, 3 Feb. 1971, Box 1, HUGFP 99.12, Riesman Papers.

122 As quoted in Friedman, Identity's Architect, 321, 355.

123 Gillon, Stephen, Politics and Vision: The ADA and American Liberalism (New York, 1987), 228Google Scholar; Keller and Keller, Making Harvard Modern, 314.

124 Yardley, Jonathan, “Reconsideration: The Lonely Crowd,” New Republic 167 (4 March 1972), 27Google Scholar.

125 Riesman, The Lonely Crowd, xxvi.

126 Riesman to Bellah, 5 April 1971, Box 1, HUGFP 99.12, Riesman Papers.

127 See Riesman, “A Personal Memoir.” For example, in 1976, Riesman served as part of a committee of social scientists advising Jimmy Carter, but criticized Carter when he later adopted an aggressive stance toward the Soviet Union.

128 The work that best captures neoconservatism as a variant of postwar liberalism is Steinfels, Peter, The Neoconservatives: The Men Who Are Changing America's Politics (New York, 1979)Google Scholar. For an account emphasizing the different phases of neoconservatism see Vaisse, Justin, Neoconservatism: The Biography of a Movement (Cambridge, MA, 2010)Google Scholar.

129 On recent scholarship on American conservatism see, “Conservatism: A Roundtable,” in the December 2011 issue of Journal of American History. In her contribution, Kim Phillips-Fein (“A Response,” 771–7, 773) notes the paucity of recent historical interpretations of liberalism and observes, “the next historians of American politics in the late twentieth century may need to focus as much on the history and evolution of liberalism as they do on analyzing the Right.” See also Kim Phillips-Fein, “Conservatism: The State of the Field,” 723–43.

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