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Nonfiction in Brief

SOPHISTICATED REBELS The Political Culture of European Dissent, 1968-1987 by H. Stuart Hughes (Harvard: $20)

September 25, 1988|ALEX RAKSIN

Stuart Hughes, a professor of history emeritus at UC San Diego, clearly admires these artistic and political leaders who have had the courage to "speak otherwise"--from Lech Walesa to Milan Kundera. "Sophisticated Rebels" is not a simple tribute, however, for Hughes soberly realizes that these dissidents have largely failed to shake the hold of conservative rule. Were they "pygmies, then," he asks, "when pitted against the giant forces which technology unleashed . . . or were they merely heeding their own dreams, oblivious to the thunder of the overwhelming realities which were now shaking the planet?"

The latter, Hughes concludes, is largely the case, though he sees some degree of obliviousness as an asset, for by "speaking truth to power," rebels such as the Greens of West Germany have won the grudging admiration of their enemies and have shaken the complacency of the rest. At the same time, Hughes studies how other groups, such as Welsh and Scottish separatists, and French Socialists, have retained some important principles while compromising their platform to meet the demands of popular opinion. Hughes' theories, while not new in themselves, are extraordinary for the way they intricately interrelate artistic and political ideas from 1968-87.

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