News Release

Against Comparing This Moment to the 1960s


In his column for The American Prospect, Rick Perlstein argued against comparing this moment on U.S. college campuses to the 1960s. 

RICK PERLSTEIN;, @rickperlstein 
    Perlstein is a historian and journalist who often writes about the post-1960s conservative movement. 

Perlstein told the Institute for Public Accuracy: “My main intervention here is that the intersecting forces––from all different kinds of institutions, from all over the ideological spectrum––contributing to a confusion of basic terms and an escalation of fear could result in a violent outcome that no one group intends… Grownups with guns are more dangerous than young people with slogans.

“[I get] requests every day asking me to compare this [moment] to 1968. But we don’t really understand what’s going on now, how the militarized response by police brought in by administrators repeats itself over and over again. Where did the notion that this is bureaucratic best practice [come from]? Is it the police or the administration’s idea? What kind of negotiation is going on? This is what goes on when you do journalism that makes glib comparisons to the past. But it’s a very strong temptation. 

“I see the militarization of policing––in a way that was inconceivable in the 1960s––as an exemplification of the weirdness of the moment we’re in right now. You can use the sixties to make that point, but it’s kind of a bank shot. It’s better to get at what is unique about what’s going on right now… There’s only so much space and energy and financial resources and time for journalists and journalistic institutions. Even something as simple as talking about protests in the sixties crowds out talking about Anti-Apartheid protests in the 1980s, which are much more similar to what’s happening now. 

“Another thing you can’t really understand [through comparison], because it didn’t exist in the same way in the 1960s, is the political weaponization of events on campus in order to advance the conservative goal of sabotaging liberal universities as an institution in this society. I would much rather have someone compare what’s going on now to what Chris Rufo is doing [by] delegitimizing universities and Harvard professors in 2024, than what Tom Hayden was doing in 1968. Because that part is new-ish.”