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It is said that if an author does not cry at least twice while writing a novel, there is no reason to write it. Ken Pipes and Gene Ross gave me plenty of reason to write this story.
FP: Altamont Augie is unique among literary works of fiction about the Sixties in its treatment not of the Generation Gap, but of a conflict within the Baby Boom generation, a “peer gap” if you will. Your author’s comments on Amazon call it, “…the seldom-told story of campus showdowns between Students for a Democratic Society and Young Americans for Freedom, student activists of the New Left and New Right battling for a generation’s political soul—a battle that rages still.”
What makes you say that this battle does rage on?
Barager: The great untold story of the Sixties—at least untold in American literary fiction—is of the ideological civil war that took place among the new youth culture of the day, the Port Huron Statement of SDS squaring off against the Sharon Statement of YAF. The defining issue then was Vietnam, with YAF wanting to confront worldwide communism to preserve American liberty and SDS desiring instead to remake America into a pacifist society free of social inequity. But I believe they were fighting over an even more universal political concern: the natural tension between liberty and equality—and the proper calibration between the two—in a constitutional republic.
The conflict dramatized in my novel between the New Left and New Right in the 1960s never really ended. The New Left would go on to dominate academia, the arts, and media, while the New Right would give rise to the Reagan Revolution, talk radio, and the Tea Party. The New Right’s greatest triumph was the Reagan Revolution; the New Left’s greatest triumph was the insertion of Barack Obama into the White House.
The Supreme Court’s recent decision to uphold ObamaCare has guaranteed that the 2012 election will once again, as in the Sixties, be a national referendum on the proper weighting of the competing first principles of liberty and equality. For the Left, which is in general more concerned with equality than liberty, ObamaCare promotes social justice by redistributing wealth and guaranteeing equal access to health insurance to all Americans. To the Right, which is in general more concerned with liberty than equality, ObamaCare represents government coercion of the many to provide health insurance to the few who lack it, thereby establishing a dangerous precedent for future government coercions to curtail individual liberty in the name of “the general welfare.”
Election 2012 is a plebiscite on whether ObamaCare strikes the right balance between the first principles of equality and liberty or not. The stakes could not be higher. Liberty in the absence of civic virtue and obligation leads to chaos and survival of the fittest; equality without regard for merit or personal property leads to tyranny and national mediocrity. We must strike the right calibration.
My novel, hopefully in an entertaining and thought-provoking way, provides historical context that helps frame the choice.
FP: I would like to refer to two book reviews of Altamont Augie posted on the social media site Goodreads (first review, second review). The first is a young woman who is only 23 years old; the second is a Canadian woman who lived through the Sixties and had fixed views of the decade prior to reading your book. These readers appear to be more evidence of Ed Gillespie’s assertion that politics lies downstream of culture, and why having conservatives active in the arts is so critical to our cause. Your thoughts?
Barager: Politics is downstream from culture. Does anyone doubt the political impact of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, the best-selling novel of the nineteenth century? Or of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s The Cancer Ward, with its symbolic contempt for twentieth century totalitarianism? Literary fiction’s use of descriptive detail and drama to reveal character and theme show us, more than any other art form, how the world really works.
I take great satisfaction in knowing that the two women whose reviews you cited were moved by my novel to see the ideological civil war between the New Left and New Right—and their political descendants—differently than they did before. They entered David Noble’s world, the world of an instinctual conservative—the world of The Other— and were deeply affected by it. It is the highest compliment a novelist can be paid.
The arts and literary fiction in particular can sometimes persuade where polemic cannot. The fictive dream immerses readers in an experience of time and place and circumstance otherwise inaccessible to them—often from the viewpoint of a character they would have little contact with in real life. A sympathetic protagonist is presented with a moral dilemma. Resolution of the dilemma, through a critical moral choice, leads to an emotionally powerful and redemptive climax that is capable of altering readers’ worldviews.
Even, perhaps, their view of the proper calibration between liberty and equality.
FP: Richard Barager, thank you for joining Frontpage Interview and congratulations on the awards that Altamont Augie has won. We wish you the best.
Barager: And thank you and David Horowitz and Michael Finch for being such wonderful patrons of my story.
Purchase Altamont Augie here.
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