Young Americans for Freedom

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Wed Dec 29 09:24:37 MST 1999

The first Internet mailing list I ever subbed to was something called "The
Sixties", which was a combination of American Studies professors, etc. and
60s veterans like myself. They held a yearly conference at a Connecticut
College, where professors presented papers on things like "Jimi Hendrix and
the hermeneutics of trans-gender", etc. I only went to one, where I heard
Rebecca Klatch present a paper that was a defense of the ideas contained in
the book Michael cites. I thought it was generally an overprojection of
what YAF amounted to. Keep in mind that all such groups receive enormous
funding from corporations and foundations like Olin, etc. If anything the
"libertarianism" of the YAF was an adaptation to the power of the New Left.

Having said this, I must confess that I was a member of the YAF in 1960 and
was actually interviewed by Rick Perlstein, a Lingua Franca editor, who is
doing a book on the group. He has a chapter on YAF'ers who became radicals
and wanted to hear my story, which is essentially as follows.

In the upstate village I group up in during the 1950s, New Deal liberalism
was the orthodoxy. 90 percent of our parents voted Democrat and many had
been around the CP as well. I found this world stifling in much the same
manner as Madame Bovary found provinical France in the 19th century. The
only voices of protest against middle-class conformity were both the beats
and William F. Buckley, or at least that's the way it appeared to me. So I
hooked up with both. I had a cousin named Louis Proyect--both named after
our grandfather--and we launched a Young Americans for Freedom chapter in
our highschool, mainly as a way of driving other students crazy. Of course,
cousin Louis had material self-interests in being conservative. His father
Mike owned a lumber yard and made lots of money during WWII in the black
market, while my dad owned a fruit-store. Long after I dropped this
rightwing bullshit, my cousin remained conservative. In 1967, shortly after
I joined the Trotskyist movement, he told me never to darken his door
again. All right, I said.

So what got me off this rightwing trip? In my freshman year at Bard College
in 1961, I was in a dorm with a lot of upperclassmen who used to sit in the
alcove late at night and argue politics. One night I joined in the bull
session and announced that I was a conservative. WHY?, they asked. I told
them that liberalism drained the life-force from the individual. Look at
Sweden, I said. The government provides for people's basic needs. They
don't have to worry about unemployment, etc. One of these upperclassmen,
who I have remained friends with over the years, looked me in the eyes and
said, "That sounds okay to me." I paused momentarily and decided he was
correct. It was okay. Beyond that, it was generally not "cool" to be a
conservative and I was happy to conform to peer pressure in a place where I
felt at home for the first time in my life.

Later that year I joined some of these folks who had put together a
"Welcome the Bomb" committee--a sardonic protest against nuclear defense
drills, etc.--in a trip to NYC to protest the yearly YAF convention. That
was my first act as a leftist.

By the way, Doug Henwood was a rightwinger himself as a tender youth. His
story appears in the Bad Subjects article, "I Was a Teenaged Reactionary"

Louis Proyect

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