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This book explores changes in the values and ideas of a large part of the political Left in recent decades. The author identifies that a questioning of the merits of economic growth; an ideal of environmental sustainability overriding the old radical visions of material abundance; a critique of instrumental reason; a suspiciousness towards universalist claims; and an attachment to subjective and pluralistic identities, have been dominant in the narratives of the Leftist milieu and of social movements.
Yet the author suggests that such changes, known as ‘lifestyle activism’, could be understood in a different way, one characterised by suspiciousness towards the belief that human action guided by reason can lead society towards a future that will be better and more affluent. Using a range of case studies from the 1960's to the present day anti-austerity movement, Sotirakopoulos argues that the New Left and its ideological heirs could be understood not so much as a continuation, but as an inversion from the Old Left and, most importantly, from humanistic visions of modernity.
The book will therefore be ideal reading for students and researchers of political sociology, radical politics, modern political ideologies, contentious politics and political theory and to scholars of new social movements and the New Left.



1. Introduction

In the years following the financial crisis, the left seems to be gaining some ground in influencing the political narrative. Issues such as inequality and calls for stronger regulation of the banking sector have been adopted even by the mainstream among the political and cultural elites. Yet, such influence has not been translated into a political alternative. The hypothesis of the book is presented: namely, that this might have something to do with changes that have taken place in the ideas and values of the left in recent decades, especially a problematization of economic growth and an emphasis on a cultural critique of capitalism, rather than the construction of an economic alternative.

Nikos Sotirakopoulos

2. From the Dictatorship of the Proletariat to Woodstock

In this chapter, the rise of the New Left in the 1960s is examined. The focus is on the main theorists who influenced its rise (mainly the Frankfurt School) and the reasons behind its success: that is, the new cultural and social trends that were in need of political representation. New and old left are compared and the ways in which the New Left constitutes a historical breach with the old left are examined. The 1960s radicals left behind a contradictory legacy: on the one hand, promoting freedom and individual rights and, on the other, drifting towards emotionalism and questioning some of the fundamental premises of modernity. The case study examined is the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS).

Nikos Sotirakopoulos

3. The 1970s and Beyond: A Counter-Revolution of Capitalism or the New Left Fears Going Mainstream?

Despite the 1970s and 1980s being seen as an era of a ‘counter-revolution’ and of a defeat of the spirit of 1960s, these decades could actually be understood as a time when some of the narratives of the New Left gained ground in the mainstream. The focus in this chapter is on the rise of environmentalism and its fellow-travelling with the New Left, and the gradual increase in popularity of the philosophical trend known as ‘post-modernism’; what they both share in common is that they build upon the narratives that became popular in the 1960s, questioning both materialism and instrumental reason. The case study examined is the German Green Party.

Nikos Sotirakopoulos

4. De-Universalizing Political Subjects: Neo-Tribes and New Forms of Action

The changes in the ideas and values of a large part of the leftist milieu also had an influence on forms of action. This chapter examines such developments through the prism of Maffesoli’s theory of the ‘neo-tribes’: that is, the need for belonging and the search for new identities as a reaction to the perceived decline of the project of modernity. The focus is on the ‘protest camps’, where activism is fused with the construction of alternative communities and identities, and where the vision of the participants for a new society is ‘prefigured’.

Nikos Sotirakopoulos

5. Linking Two Eras: The Anti-globalization Movement

An understanding of the anti-globalization movement is crucial, as it links the ethos of the New Left with the movements of today. This chapter examines how globalization and ‘neo-liberalism’ were constructed as a point of reference for social and political movements around the turn of the century and how this gave rise to an international wave of mobilizations. It also shows how the inability of the new left to propose an actual alternative on the political and the economic level was also present in the anti-globalization movement, leading to its inability to achieve tangible results.

Nikos Sotirakopoulos

6. From Lifestyle Activism to Left-Wing Populism: The New Left in Times of Crisis

The global financial crisis of 2008 opened a window of opportunity for the new left to make a reappearance and gain momentum. This chapter examines the global wave of mobilizations of the period 2010–12, focusing on the case study of Occupy London. In times of economic downturn the anti-materialist message of the new left has limited appeal, so in countries like Greece, where the crisis has been severe, a more successful political phenomenon has been a new left-wing populism. Thus, the case of the rise of the Coalition of the Radical Left in Greece (Syriza) is examined, and the dead ends it faced evaluated.

Nikos Sotirakopoulos

7. Conclusion: Conundrums and Opportunities for the Left

The thesis of the book has been that (a) the New Left constituted itself by moving away from some of the core values of the modernity project (and creating a rift between itself and the old left) and (b) that this has had an impact on the ability of the New Left to construct a convincing alternative to capitalism on the level of economics and of production. Thus, the new left finds itself caught between the limited impact of lifestyle activism on the one hand and integration into the political programme of social democracy on the other. The need for a reinvention of the left as an advocate of the project of modernity and a re-evaluation of its libertarian roots, placing individual autonomy and freedom at the forefront, is emphasized.

Nikos Sotirakopoulos


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