Louis Menand: 'Freedom Was the Slogan of the Times'

Why postwar culture from Jack Kerouac to Andy Warhol to James Baldwin to Susan Sontag to Yoko Ono battled boundaries hemming them in.


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"Freedom was the slogan of the times. The word was invoked to justify everything," writes Louis Menand at the start of his wide-ranging and endlessly fascinating history of post-World War II culture, The Free World: Art and Thought in the Cold War. After years of economic deprivation, mass slaughter in two world wars, and the continuing negative, repressive example of the Soviet Union, most of the "free world" was ready to bust out into something new and different.

The Pulitzer-winning author, Harvard professor, and New Yorker contributor discusses how major figures and movements such as Lionel Trilling and other literary and cultural critics, Allen Ginsberg and the Beats, Andy Warhol and the pop art movement, James Baldwin and black protest artists, Betty Friedan and feminists, the Beatles and pop musicians pushed all sorts of boundaries in relentless attempts to express themselves and radically transform cultural, economic, and political life. He talks with Nick Gillespie about how those quests took on distinct but related forms depending on the backgrounds of the people involved, and how understanding them is essential to understanding contemporary America.

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42 responses to “Louis Menand: 'Freedom Was the Slogan of the Times'

  1. " . . . unlocks $12,000 worth of news for just . . . "

    Sorry, there is no news worth $12,000.00.

    1. You prove the point by selling it for $75.00.
      It is worth $75.00.

      1. It's only worth $75 if someone pays that. If Noone buys it it is worth less than $75. My guess is it's worth 75 Zimbabwe dollars

  2. The only boundary yoko Ono had was the limit of people willingness to accept her exploitation of John lennon

    1. Fonzie is hopelessly lost in the 70s.

      Who is outside the mainstream pushing for freedom today? Tucker Carlson, Joe Rogan, Heather Macdonald, Dave Rubin, Glen Greenwald, Dana Loesch.

      None of them will ever get favorable treatment in Reason, except Grennwald

      1. Greenwald doesn't exist anymore and neither does Taibbi. They've been memoryholed for blasphemy.

        1. Taibbi still isnt any hero. He doesnt pursue freedom for freedom's sake, because it is wrong to trample the rights of others - he gets mad at Progs thinking that some future R will behave like they are.
          Thats his whole shtick. Kinda like that delusional woketraian podcaster Fonzie inyerviewed a couole of days ago.

    2. "The only boundary yoko Ono had "

      Ono has a strong body of work behind her and was probably a good influence artistically on Lennon. If she can be faulted for anything, it's probably her introducing heroin to Lennon with the idea that artists were gifted with the wherewithal to deal with the drug. (They're not.)

      1. "Ono has a strong body of work behind her and was probably a good influence artistically on Lennon." [I just read that Michael Moore in an "intellectual" and now this WTF].

        Dude, you're gonna have to provide some cites for that statement.

        1. Maybe we can just say Yoko Ono had a body of work.

        2. "Dude, you’re gonna have to provide some cites for that statement."

          Have you checked out wikipedia? There is a page devoted exclusively to her. She's a conceptual artist which is an acquired taste. Lennon was immediately struck by her work.

  3. Art is no longer free in SF the taxpayers are now on the hook for it

    1. I used to busk occasionally in SF. It was a great time, and very profitable. I didn't need a handout from the government to make easy money. But then, I didn't expect my "customers" to pay me more than they thought it was worth.

    2. Don’t the turds the homeless leave on the sidewalks count as art in SF? Those are free…

  4. "radically transform cultural, economic, and political life"

    By enacting the Libertarian Party platform, right?

    1. It's a good point. Which third party is more likely to get what they want over time. The LP or the Green/DSA. Looking back clearly the LP fails more often.

      1. Because libertarianism is and should remain a philosophy and not some stupid political party.

        Rather than electing loser dorks who failed at being Democrats and Republicans but are still hunting for relavance, libertarians should look at increasing the ranks of people who hold libertarian ideals in both parties. Fill the Dems with Greenwalds and the Repubs with Pauls.

  5. Remember that "bipartisan" $1.9 infrastructure bill Reason staff was citing as evidence that the Republicans are just as bad as the Democrats on spending?

    Yeah, well, the Republicans just voted against it unanimously. It's been blocked.

    Mitt Romney seems to think they'll be able to pass it with Republican support come Monday of next week, but he has about as much clout with the other Senate Republicans as Susan Collins. If they get enough Republican support for the $1.9 trillion infrastructure bill to pass the filibuster requirement this Monday, next Monday, or any other Monday between now and November of 2022, I'll be surprised.

    In other "bipartisan" news, Nancy Pelosi has refused to seat two Republicans that were assigned to serve on her January 6 witch hunt--one of whom was Jim Jordan, the ranking Republican on the House judiciary committee. Her January 6 committee couldn't be any more biased and partisan than it is now. The only "Republican" on the committee who may still show up is none other than Liz Cheney--who voted to impeach Trump and has the political future of Justin Amash.

    The Republicans have announced that they won't be participating in the witch hunt. They're holding their own separate investigation. So much for bipartisanship. Maybe Liz Cheney and Mitt Romney should go miniature golfing, grab dinner and movie. Have some drinks. See what happens next. At this point, I'm not sure Mitt Romney could win an election in Utah, and when Liz Cheney goes back to Wyoming, they may try to deport her to California.

    1. Gosh, for someone who claims he is a libertarian who reluctantly supports the Republican Party because of Duverger’s Law, you sound awfully gleefully like a Republican partisan, cheerleading for the Trump faction.

      1. So what are you going to do, never take sides? At some point you have to do an evaluation and pick between those choices where a marginal addition to the weight on one side or the other can affect the balance in your favor, or just forget about trying to have an effect. What's wrong with being partisan if that's a means to a worthwhile end? Why do you think political parties exist?

        1. I will continue to speak out for libertarian ideas, and not give either of the two major parties any moral sanction nor contribute to either claiming they have a mandate.

          By the way, every state I have lived in has either been solidly blue or red, so my vote doesn’t determine anything, anyway. Lots of people are in the same boat as me.

        2. I would outlaw political parties if I could. They are evil. Even the Libertarian Party does a piss poor job of representing libertarianism.

  6. This is supposed to be out Louis Menand's book, right? I read it and found it excellent. Just sayin'.

  7. Perhaps in the free world, life was not only free but got too easy for artists, philosophers, and students to spend all their time in bizarre to delusional pursuits, first challenging the societies that brought them that freedom and ease, and ultimately challenging freedom itself.

    1. What is that they say about good times leading to soft men and soft men leading to hard times? We're at a time when things have been good enough for long enough that a pandemic with a survival rate of 99% passes for "worst pandemic of all time" and people have to invent shit like "misgendering" as a reason to collapse into a puddle of sobbing outrage. All because these assholes have the luxury of being well-off enough that they can afford to think up silly shit to pretend to be afflicted by. Just wait until the Chinese take over and lock your ass up in the slave labor/organ harvesting camps, then we'll see how much complaining you do about being oppressed by the male gaze you stupid people.

    2. Perhaps the free world isn't as free as you think it is. US chess genius Bobby Fischer was hounded by officials and lived much of his later life in exile because of his 'bizarre delusional' idea to play chess in a country the government didn't approve of.

  8. The Whitmer kidnapping G men are true American patriots. But I wouldn't want my daughter to marry one.

    An FBI agent at the center of the investigation into the plot to kidnap and kill Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is accused of smashing his wife's head against a nightstand and choking her after a dispute stemming from their attendance at a swingers' party, according to court records.
    Special Agent Richard Trask, 39, of Kalamazoo, was charged Monday with assault with intent to do great bodily harm, less than murder following the alleged incident Sunday.

    1. Twenty years in a federal penitentiary for each of those hayseeds sounds about right.

    2. The hit's just keep on coming. Mike Laursen and chemleft's narrative must be punch drunk by now.

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  10. Andy Warhol is an interesting figure, and there's a lot more to him than his public image would lead you to believe. He was born into a working class family, studied and worked hard, moved to NYC with his mother and started to draw shoe advertising. He was worth something like half a billion $ when he died. (Though I think his work suffered after his assassination attempt, when he took to hanging around with dubious characters like the Shah of Iran).

    Here is a very comprehensive biography on Warhol:

    1. No he wasn't his art became Lee's cool with a switch in drugs

  11. Except for no one ever having heard of, Nick seems prime material for Medicare Hotline ads, like Jimmie Walker and and Joe Namath

    "Remember those things from 50 years ago? They're still cool, and so is getting Medicare coverage!"

    1. I really can't fault Pleather Jacket.

      Boomer culture has passed its sell-by date. The chances of anyone paying for this sort of "effort" grows smaller every day.

      Were I the owner of a Jimi Hendrix guitar, or any similar memorabilia, I'd be looking to unload it yesterday. Because ten years from now nobody is going to pay whatever it was you paid.

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