One Historian's Journey
Book Review

Clawson, Dan
Date Written:  2014-09-01
Publisher:  Against the Current
Year Published:  2014
Resource Type:  Article
Cx Number:  CX20817

A book review of "A Contest of Ideas: Capital, Politics, and Labor" by Nelson Lichenstein.



A Contest of Ideas is a collection of Nelson's essays, mostly those of the last dozen years or so. It's always difficult to review a collection of essays, so I will focus on a couple of main themes rather than attempting to summarize all the essays, which are grouped in five sections.

Part I, "shaping myself, shaping history" has the most autobiographical focus. The second, "capital, labor, and the state", is the closest to the labor history to be found in Nelson's first two books, both archival studies of the auto industry.

Part III, on which I'll concentrate here, looks at "the rights revolution" with a special focus on civil rights, but combined with provocative attention to global human rights. Part IV looks at "the specter on the right" from the 1930s ("was the fascist door open"”) to today, and the fifth and last part looks at a set of intellectuals and their ideas -- C. Wright Mills, Harvey Swados, B.J. Widick, Jay Lovestone, and Herbert Hill.

I don't always agree with these essays -- Lichtenstein doesn't always agree with himself -- but I frequently find them stimulating. Time and again Lichtenstein gives you a new way to think about an issue, or draws on history to show what is surprising and new (or old) about a situation or development.
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