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NONFICTION : THE NEXT LEFT: THE HISTORY OF A FUTURE by Michael Harrington (Holt: $17.95; 197 pp.).

April 05, 1987|Helen Kelly

Of Harrington's 11 earlier books (all still in print), only his first, "The Other America," is as brief as this one. In that inaugural effort, Harrington, who is now co-chairman of the Socialist Democrats of America, detailed a level and extent of poverty that influenced the designers of the soon-to-be-declared "war on poverty."

Twenty-five years later, in "The Next Left," he finds the poverty deeper, more intransigent, more focused on minorities, women and children. Economists on left and right, he reports, see this as a sign of profound structural changes already occurring and as a portent of inevitably radical response.

Harrington finds only one comfort in the visible misery he perceives to be the inescapable consequence of economic/social policies premised on the notion that long-range justice can be achieved by short-range injustice. He sees the misery as a sign of hope that a "new left" can be jarred into a politically effective restatement of a moral vision that will radically affect both domestic and international programs.

Many years ago, I taught from "The Other America." Were I teaching today, I would teach from "The Next Left," as much for its model brevity and clarity as for its challenge to conventional wisdom.

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